Gratitude, Schmatitude

Friday, 2:22pm
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones…” (Bob Dylan)


Lots of talk about gratitude these days. There are entire movements (run by schmaltzy guru’s in nice suits) centered on getting folks to feel the gratitude, to embrace and become it.

Like it’s magic or something.

It ain’t.

Knowing how to appreciate the important stuff in your life is a good thing, of course. Being grateful for what you have should be a daily moment, part of being mindful about what’s going on around you and within you (and around and within those you love, deal with, oppose and haven’t met yet).

Early in my career, while devouring self-help books — I read one Og Mandino for every biz book I read for awhile, just to keep my heart and soul moving forward along with my brain — I even went so far as to acknowledge the non-living things around me. I would thank a keyboard, for example, for serving me so well when I replaced it. And mean it. Give it a decent burial in the trash, introduce myself to the new keyboard and get back to work. Same with my shoes, my thrashed car (which needed the encouragement, I can assure you), my favorite pens, and so on. It doesn’t even seem silly now… it makes sense to be mindful of the tools that help us do what we do. Astronauts name their shuttles, sailors name their ships, and I assign my beat-up leather coat a personality.

So I’m an old hand at thanking the universe and the things and people around me as I move along.

But a little perspective, please.

For too many business people, there’s no real thought given to the notion of gratitude. They act like just saying the word creates a magical forcefield of wonderment and power.

So we get airline flight attendants urgently crooning over the intercom that if there is ANYTHING they can do to make our flight more comfortable, just ask.

Which is, of course, pure bullshit.

The things that would make me more comfy — like more leg room, wider and plusher seats, and maybe a mickey in the drunk’s beer next to me so he’ll shut up — are not within their toolkit. I mean, a foot massage would be nice, too, but even mentioning it would have the air marshals on your butt in a heartbeat.

So why do they even say it?

Sometimes it’s just habit, from the old scripts they used to read. The job requirements included big smiles, friendly demeanor even in the face of rudeness, and a steady stream of patter to calm folks down while the jet screamed through the heavens eight miles high.

So even in towns like Reno, you still get the pilots schmoozing about “we know you have a choice when you fly”… when we absolutely do NOT. And every passenger on the plane knows it. If you’re headed anywhere on the beaten track, it’s Southwest or the highway.

And AT&T robots love to drone while you’re on hold, about how grateful they are to have you as a customer. It’s all please and thank you and yes, sir. The gratitude practically drips from the phone…

but they aren’t grateful enough to hire more operators to handle your complaint. I mean, c’mon, people. Get real. Those 30-minute hold times are planned… to cull the mob down. Just part of the biz strategy created by evil fuckers with big smiles all bubbly with gratitude for your business.

Yeah, get real. Which is what I always advise entrepreneurs and biz owners to do when crafting their business plans and operating scripts. Don’t use the drivel doled out by big corporations when you’re creating pitches to your prospect and customer bases. Be real, tell the truth, and don’t make promises your ass can’t fulfill.

The worst are businesses that hire some PR firm to write up a “mission statement”. This is all the rage every so often, as the MBA schools recycle old tropes on doing biz. Not understanding what a USP is, and possessing no clue on how to actually deal with a prospect or customer, dazed biz owners will spend a lot of time and money positioning a statement out that is supposed to “define” the “culture” of the joint.

So we get lots of vague “the customer is king” and “you’re the boss” crap… which sounds great, but is just blabbering babble if not put into action.

Just like your old drinking buddy who would swear on his mother’s grave to pay you back for the ten-spot he borrows when he needs it… but, of course, has no ability to bring that promise along with him into the future, because he spends every dollar he makes, can’t plan to save his life, and gets offended when you become that asshole who wants his money back. Being true to your word is a vague concept without real meaning. Stop bugging me, man.

If you decide you want to shine at customer service, then DO IT. Don’t talk about it. Don’t slime me with your bullshit sincerity and grandiose promises. Just be really fucking good at customer service. The word will get out, trust me.

Think about this, and about your relationship with gratitude.

Yes, you’re VERY thankful to the grubby dude from the garage who drove out to fix your car in the rain. At the time he’s getting things done, and you’re sensing you’re gonna get out of this ordeal after all, you want to hug him. And you say, over and over again, how grateful you are that he exists.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’re not grateful enough to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner, are you? You gonna help him move to a new apartment next weekend? Go watch the big game with him at the garage?

No, you’re not. Your main tool is expressing your gratitude, by saying it over and over. But once you’re off on your way, he’s a distant memory.

A nice twenty buck tip gets oodles more mileage than another heartfelt handshake. He may even go out of his way to rescue you the next time you run into a tree, remembering how monetarily grateful you were.

On the other hand, he may demure and not come at all, if he’s all creeped out over your slobbering hugs of impotent gratitude.

Lying is lying. The small lies in life set up the big ones. Nobody trusts nobody these days, for good reason — trust is and always has been earned, one act at a time. You can’t just announce that you’re trustworthy and have it mean anything.

In fact, one of the old street maxims is: Take whatever the guy says, and figure the opposite is true.

In biz, the client who brags about money not being a problem… has a cash flow problem. The colleague who talks big about trust is screwing your spouse. The accountant who has a mission statement centered on “serving the client” is embezzling. The joint is filled with liars.

This means there is always one darn good way to stand out in even the most crowded, cutthroat market out there. Just be honest, without making a big damn deal about it. In fact, don’t even bring it up. Don’t bullshit your audience, and don’t try to front-load your reputation with promises you can’t fulfill.

Your audience will let you know what your reputation is, soon enough.

Don’t be like that pilot blabbing about choices when there aren’t any. He is announcing to everyone that he is, at best, a mindless corporate shill. And if he wanders into the cabin during the flight and tells you something about not worrying, everything’s just dandy…

… you will be excused if your next act is to look for a parachute.

Consequences matter. Stop lying to yourself, to others, and to your business. Yes, to your business — it may not be a living, breathing thing, but it still operates in the corporeal world, just like the rest of us.

Don’t turn yourself into a lying shit heel, just because you want to sound all corporate-like.

It matters. Real gratitude has teeth, and is connected at the hip with action. Not bluster.


No, really, thanks.

Stay frosty,


P.S. Make sure you check out all the goodies available in the right hand column here. My books and courses make excellent Christmas gifts, you know…

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Lisa Wagner says:

    Waiting to see the first corporation to use \”BITE ME!\” as a slogan. Of course, if it is a donut company, that might work. Takes care of the false gratitude and is the call to action all wrapped into one.

  • Chris says:

    Cheers for this John, I’m really grateful 🙂

    I thought I was the only one who felt like throwing up every time I seem to hear these days how grateful all these big companies are as they rip me off

  • Riz Aseem says:

    John — loved the insight, “Take whatever the guy says, and figure the opposite is true.”

    It always creeps me out when a company has to say ‘we don’t use any antibiotics or hormones in raising our chicken’ — my guard just goes up saying ‘yeah, right!’

    Or the regular, ‘Service with integrity’ — because I usually like to be served by people who will rob me!?!?

    I’m printing this one out

    – Riz

  • Mark says:

    You said it perfectly, John.

    Gratitude a platitude or some breezy corporate slogan, it’s action.

    Nordstroms and snow tires pretty much says it all.

  • Don Sturgill says:

    Good stuff, John. Thank you.

  • Karl says:

    You have my gratitude for this post.

  • C. Erpenbeck says:

    The truth is simple. I wish to live well, therefore I need my business to do well. And if I prosper, if I have more than the minimum I need, I’m able to offer other people help if needed.
    That’s the whole mission statement I need.

  • Powerful message, John. Full of great reminders, as I’ve come to expect from your posts.

    You deserve to be in Cana with Michel sipping piña coladas.


  • Nathan says:

    The bad news: They don’t even care that they don’t care. The good news: It makes it far easier to be a reminder in someone’s head when a reminder is beneficial to you both. Great stuff John, thanks.

  • Man. says:

    It takes courage to speak truth in the way you do. It is so much easier to be popular, to go along with the crowd, and to resist the urge to be different by speaking about substance rather than fluff. Only the Truth can lead to a joy-filled Heart. Thanks.

  • Varun Sharma says:

    I really get choked up when I see an ‘overdelivering mission statement’.

    This goes without saying, but what some people may not realize that doing your job well and meeting your expectations is the only thing that a brand needs.

    Isn’t it just about mastering the basics? I think delivering amazing value is the best way to repay your appreciation.

    But then, someone needs to justify those bloated business degrees.

  • Alex says:

    Hi John,
    You’ve provoked some thoughts. Question for you… do you think it matters if a company treats customers incredibly well because they really care, or just because they want to be known for great customer service (to differentiate and ultimately influence their profit margin)? Must the origin of that care come from a place of authenticity? Is it even possible to make employees truly *care* about clients? Doesn’t it require some kind of personal investment that ideally isn’t financially motivated?

    • John Carlton says:

      It’s complicated. It’s part of the entrepreneurial arc — you care, when it’s just you and some folks doing the work… and much later, after you incorporate and get a board and a CEO and layers of middle management, you get removed from dealing with customers directly. Way removed.

      Typically, small companies freak out over every complaint. Large companies only care when their stock value is affected (see: Wells Fargo).

  • Dan Sullivan talks about using the word appreciate instead of gratitude. I like this idea cause the word gratitude may be ruined at this point by all the glib, flaky or clueless company it has gotten mixed up with.

    The word appreciate has a good square-jawed unsentimental power to it AND a delicious double meaning: gratitude and growth. Its a financial term and a word that describes a quality of human attention. I started a gratitude journal a while ago and ended up using the word appreciate instead of gratitude and now I feel less embarrassed and more energized by the change in my entries.

    • John Carlton says:

      Words are important, but actions are more so, in my view. I don’t care what you call it — just make gracious appreciation of what’s making your life better part of your everyday groove. And act to move it forward, do the right thing, and be generous with your gifts.

  • Rick Harmon says:

    Two essentials to my business rely on my attitude and my actions.

    I’m convinced that some kind of juices flow more freely inside my body when I’m in a grateful state. I can’t seem to explain it any better than to say it that way. When I’m consciously in that state of mind my actions see much easier to do, including the ones that are necessary but I’m reluctant to perform. Maybe that’s a bit of willingness, too.

    A few years back some major health issues restricted my movement and made doing some of the most basic things a struggle, even impossible. So, if I can remember what it was like when I couldn’t even tie my own shoelaces its much easier to put things in perspective. (I guess I’m lucky to have shoelaces, let alone feet to put shoes on).

    Now as a guy who lives in Carbon Canyon, I’m really wondering what were you doing in Rancho Cucamonga?

    • John Carlton says:

      I grew up there. I wrote this during one of my last visits, on a family matter. It was a great place to be a kid, and formed me as a person — but the place has changed dramatically, and little of what made it so great is left. Now that I have no more family connections there, I may never see the joint again…

  • Bob Long says:

    I recall telling the daughter *she worked for me for a while) of the President of the College I had gone to, to make notes in case something happens, I can read about it and know where to go from there. She said “Why not just ask me?” My reply “You might not be around tomorrow in case you might get hit by a bus!” She couldn’t believe I said that to which I said, “Most business owners think this way.” Andy Grove from Intel wrote a book whose title was, “Only the paranoid survive.” If you can be “grateful” along the way, so much the better.

  • Robin Moore says:

    I liked “just be honest.” Short and simple and the only way to be. Period.

  • Christopher says:

    Hey John,
    being grateful for being healthy means to take care and diet properly. That’s what came to mind after reading your piece. Your stuff works everytime. It’s fun to see you using copywriting tricks _while_ at the same time observing how they work on me, even though I see what you are doing. I still clicked on that link in the email and wrote this comment. Love it! Thank you!

  • dANNY8bALL says:

    Right on as usual John. The old adage has never been more true than it is today, “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”.

    I’d be more grateful for a bit less false gratitude.

    Now, about that foot massage…

  • Stephie says:

    I went to college in Claremont so I know where Rancho Cucamonga is. Thought it was the most hilarious name for a place. Coo-ka-MUNG-ga! Rhymes with cowabunga.

    Anyways, well written piece as always. I would just point out this: if you were really busy being grateful, appreciative or whatever you call it… you wouldn’t even notice BS. 🙂 And if you did you’d find it mildly amusing for about 2 seconds. (Using you in the third person, not you as an individual.) Airline announcements are right up there with “have a nice day.”

    It’s been said that you’re never upset for the reason you think you are…. so if fake gratitude pisses you off this much, what might really be under that? Food for thought.

    And speaking of food… love the picture… 47 million turkeys are slaughtered every year so we Americans can be “grateful.” Which means poor fellow in pic is probably long gone.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yes, most folks are not aware of what’s “really” pissing them off. I’ve spent a lifetime looking under the hood, however — both my own, and the global marketplace. It’s kind of what I do.

      My beef is with mindless destruction of trust and the absurd level of inaction on promises in our culture. When your word becomes meaningless, it’s tough to get shit done. All the top pro’s I know are good on their word… right down to honoring stupid nets. None would dream of promising something they couldn’t deliver.

      I have no illusions about changing anything. My posts are for the enlightenment of folks who care about living a better way, both in biz and in general.

      Thanks for the note. Which college were you at? Claremont was always a refreshing joint to hang out. I was a regular at the folk music store…

  • Irene says:

    Avoiding abuse of gratitude is key … too many have played fast and loose with the term!

  • Ray says:

    I keep coming back here because of your honesty John. I watch your videos scattered over youtube and you can tell when a fella just says what he knows instead of flubbing on. When I picked up your Freelancers Copywriting Course I read where you said if you were good, you should be making money writing for your own products…. that rang a bell. I spend less time chasing clients now and writing for products that I think are good, that I can make money on. At any rate, just wanted to say thanks.

  • Bob says:

    When you lie to yourself about yourself, it’s a form of self-rejection, This self-rejection has a way of baking itself into everything you do. And other people can tell.
    Self-acceptance also bakes itself into everything you do. Again, other people can tell.
    The obvious question is, given the choice of doing business with someone who exudes honest self-acceptance or someone who seems to be covering up self-rejection, who would YOU choose.

  • Sanjeet Veen says:

    “Customer is the king” – soul to our life, we the mind, what is the heart -“product we provide to customer”, we never ever forget that we all are customers of this nature, nature nourishes our life, so we all need to keep nature’s souls neat and clean.

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