“Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange…” (David Bowie)
Let’s have an uncomfortable discussion, what d’ya say?
Let’s talk about the dirtiest word most adults know: Change.
Here’s the thing about change: Learning how to become a functioning adult is hard, as in requiring every shred of skill, talent, brain power and ability you possess.
And when you “arrive” (however you define it — get a job, get hitched, get pregnant, get out of jail, make a fortune, whatever) you’re kind of exhausted from the effort…
… and you really don’t want to go through all that crap again.
And then the world changes around you.
In our lifetime, that change has been dramatic, jarring, frequent and brutal. Very little of what worked for you even 5 years ago is still viable. The music on the radio sounds like static, people stare at you when you dance, and your job can be done faster and better by machines.
You think I’m talking about the generation just ahead of you, don’t you? All those clueless old fucks slowing you down and mucking up the vibe.
But here’s the truth: No matter how hip you are right now…
It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…
… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.
So, without further ado… here’s the sixth redux of that post:
Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.
That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.
See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…
… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…
… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.
I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…
… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?
While today’s graduates are facing similar grim economic times, there’s been a significant change in the concept behind a college education. Somehow, over the years, a bizarre mantra has taken hold in kids minds: “Get a degree, and it’s a ticket to the Good Life.”
A job is expected to be offered to you before the ink is dry on your diploma.
And it really, really matters WHICH school you get that diploma from.
You know what I say?
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen, “Papillon”)
I was talking to a colleague the other day, and he asked me how I liked retirement.
Uh, what retirement is that, I asked.
Well, he said, I thought you’d pretty much left the biz.
I guess I need to address this now. I mean, seeing as how I’m speaking next week to a seething crowd of 500 copywriters at one of the biggest bootcamps of the year (the sold-out AWAI gargantuan event in Florida). AND, the following week, hosting our autumn Platinum Mastermind meeting (now in it’s 7th year). While, you know, handling multiple calls from colleagues looking for advice, plus paid consulting gigs, writing a new book, monitoring the next Simple Writing System classroom, and…
If this is “retirement”, it sure looks an awful lot like a regular workweek.
But, yes, there has been a rumor floating around that I’m retired (or “semi-retired”), not traveling anymore, not taking clients, etc.
And, in a word, it’s all bullshit.
What happened was, a couple of years ago, I decided I sucked as a manager, and sold the Marketing Rebel corporation to my longtime business partner, Stan Dahl. Who has been handling it quite nicely ever since. The Insider’s Club membership site is cooking on high heat… the Simple Writing System just had another All-Star Teachers session (with A-Listers like David Garfinkel, Mike Morgan, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, and former Gary Halbert sidekick Scott Haines all hosting classes)… and all the good work we’ve always done in the advertising and marketing worlds has continued without a hitch.
It’s working so well now, because I realized what a bottleneck I was as a manager. Once I got out of the way, things blossomed.
Jeez Louise, that’s humbling. But it’s all worked out great.
And I got back to what I do best: Writing, consulting and being one of the most notorious bad-ass creative advisors in the game.
This is a VERY common entrepreneurial blunder, by the way. You get a biz going by handling almost everything personally… the ideas, the planning, the implementation, the writing, the schmoozing and networking, and all the hiring of tech help and support teams and lawyers and contracts and…
… and pretty soon, you’re working 70 hours a week, the biz is thriving, but you aren’t doing the creative stuff you’re good at.
For me, the calls and meetings with lawyers and accountants and affiliate managers and everyone else’s lawyers and biz operatives just crushed my spirit and will to live.
I was unhappy.
And so I sold the biz, and moved back into my old role as writer, creative dude, and consultant extraordinaire. The “wheelhouse” of my talent and skill-set, where I’ve always made the most impact.
And, I was happy again. While working around 20 hours a week, just like the first decades of my career. A 20-hour workweek is just about perfect, and because I know all the productivity hacks allowable for humans, I get more done in that 20-hours than most folks do in the 60 hours they slave at.
So, I’m in my “bliss groove” again. Good writing requires lots of down time, so your brain can cogitate on the crap you’ve stuffed in there, cook it up in a fresh batch, and make it all accessible when you sit down to actually write. Reading lots of books on different subjects, including gruesome fiction and light articles on diverse (even dumb) subjects, is also part of a well-lived writer’s lifestyle. Plus engaging in the adventures, pleasures, misadventures and bumbling horrors of modern life.
In fact, without immersing yourself in the culture and the Zeitgeist, you quickly become stiff and boring as a writer.
But I don’t count the cool, fun stuff as “working”. I love the process of being a complete, well-rounded writer with his pulse on the culture. It’s what makes this the best damn gig on the planet (for introverts or wannabe introverts seeking influence, wealth and happiness).
In the 1990s, I both wrote most of the ads for which I’m now infamous (all the screamingly successful golf, self-defense, health, music and small-biz ads that changed the way entire industries approached marketing)…
… while ALSO taking off three-to-six months a year to go do something else. I was following Travis McGee’s advice (from the “you gotta read ’em” novels by John D. MacDonald) of “taking your retirement while you’re young, in pieces, and returning to work when you need to replenish the coffers”. For me, that meant indulging in exciting mid-life crises (I’ve had six so far, and loved every single one) like when I disappeared from the business world for half a year, formed a 3-piece rock band, and played all the biker bars in Northern Nevada. What a blast.
I also took time off to write some novels, and dip a toe in the world of writing fiction for a living. It was enormous fun, but the pay was dismal. Most of the working novelists I met made less in half a decade than I did for writing a couple of winning ads in a good market (and it only took me a few weeks to write those ads). I decided to keep fiction as a side hobby, and came back to my old clients to write a string of ads that doubled their bottom line.
And then, just after the turn of the century, I decided to get serious for a few years. And write a monthly newsletter (the notorious “Marketing Rebel Rant” that mailed for 6 years to the most influential marketers alive), while maintaining a client list that required me to be available the entire year. No more taking off massive chunks of time. I loved the whole process, which happened to coincide with the explosion of the Web as a viable marketing vehicle…
… and I hung out in a very insider network of movers-and-shakers that included Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, Eben Pagan, Joe Polish, Dean Jackson, Tony Robbins, Jon Benson, Joe Sugarman, Ed Dale, and of course my best friend in the biz, Gary Halbert.
It was FUN. And thrilling, because we were inventing the marketing models that would become the STANDARDS for all online marketers for a generation. My first website, which I designed on a napkin, was a go-to template for many businesses for a long while. I recorded one of the first ever podcasts in the marketing section of iTunes (with help from Dean Jackson)… became one of the hottest speakers on the global seminar circuit (hosted by Armand Morin, Dan Kennedy, Rich Schefren, Kern and others)… and of course our Simple Writing System has pumped over a thousand entrepreneurs and copywriters through the process of creating killer ads on demand.
While some old-school marketers fought the Web and resisted new technology, I was an early adopter. I grabbed many of the first generation gizmo’s, created early video sales letters (before the term was even invented), hosted some of the first online webinars and membership sites, and in general surfed the new wave of modern possibilities right at the crest.
I’m not bragging. I’m just as amazed at the way things have turned out as anyone else. I happened to write “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” at the precise time a vast mob of newbie marketers were becoming online entrepreneurs… and it was the perfect fit for them.
But it also led almost directly to those 60-hour weeks that eventually started to fry my brain.
I’ve counseled biz owners against burning out a lot in my career as a consultant. It’s common, it’s horrific, it can ruin your life…
… and, it’s completely avoidable.
But you have to act FAST when you sniff the burning rubber coming off your brain.
For me, it meant backing away from the reins of a business I’d nurtured for a decade… and sliding back into the more comfortable position I knew so well, of being a writer-consultant. Working a fraction of the hours required of a manager.
To some folks, this somehow meant I’d “retired”.
Nope. Just moved back into my former career lifestyle.
Like I said — I suck at management. I’m not built to argue with lawyers, or proofread contracts, or get deep into the weeds of making the day-to-day details of running a biz work. I KNOW what needs to be done, and I can spell it out for you in precise steps.
But that doesn’t mean I’m the guy who should be doing it.
A big part of happiness is finding out where you fit. And then sliding your bad ass into that position, away from the drudgery and angst of doing stuff you’re NOT built to do.
And let’s set the damn record straight: I’m NOT retired.
I love this biz too much to leave. I’m traveling as much as I ever have (though being more picky about which gigs I travel for). I’m flying out to Florida next week, as I said, to speak in front of 500 folks who rightfully expect to have their cages rattled by me from the stage. I’m flying to Los Angeles both for our mastermind, AND to hang out with Jon Benson at another biz gathering (including James Schramko from Oz).
And we’ll be in Vegas in January for another mastermind, in Phoenix for secret tapings of a new show, I’ll continue co-hosting the rollicking (and still free) Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast with Kevin Rogers…
… and I still maintain a full-time desk in the Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club… where I personally answer questions from members, do monthly “Hot Seat” consultations (free, for members) alongside Stan Dahl, and generally act as the community’s resident copywriting expert.
Okay, I’m not putting the old rock band back together, though. It was fun, but I’m kinda done with the bar scene. And I get bored on cruises and tourist-trap trips. I like to travel with a purpose.
I’m built to handle the advanced, high-level workload of a top copywriter and business consultant. So that’s what I’m concentrating on these days. While flying out to speak at seminars, networking with my pals, and staying rooted on the pulse of the modern business environment.
It’s a wild time to be alive, and to be an active member of the hottest entrepreneurial movement the world has ever seen.
I ain’t retiring for a long, long time. Baring getting hit by the occasional city bus while jaywalking, I should say. Nothing’s guaranteed in life, is it.
If you, like so many of the best (and happiest) marketers and writers around, value the input, savvy, advice and experience of a guy like me…
… who’s been around the block a few times, and knows the game inside and out…
… then check out some of the stuff we’ve got for you all over this blog page. Including a deep, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-down-to-work consultation.
It’s only going to get more exciting out there in the big, bad biz world… with more opportunities to either thrive or get lost in the weeds than you can imagine. If you’re in biz, you need a resource like me watching your back.
Why not make 2016 (coming up fast) the best damn year of your life? Put your team together now, and see if including me and Stan and the rest of the gang here doesn’t make so much sense you can’t stand it.
P.S. The photo, by the way, is from another huge event this past year where I was a featured speaker. And got to hang with my buds (from left) Kevin Halbert (Gary’s son), A-List copywriting legend Clayton Makepeace, marketing legend Dan Kennedy, me, former CEO of Boardroom Brian Kurtz, and A-List copywriter (and my podcast partner) Kevin Rogers.
Quite the little braintrust right there…
“Step right up, we got bargains galore…” (Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”)
I’ve had a flood of new folks wander in through the side door of this blog lately…
… so I thought I’d just catch everyone up on what’s happening.
Happenin’ Thang #1: I’m speaking at my dear friend (and legend in the biz) Joe Sugarman’s seminar (in Vegas, baby!) on the 24/25th of October.
The line-up of speakers is pretty shocking — Joe Polish, Jon Benson (VSL wizard), just a mob of snarling experts who rarely are in the same room at one time.
Rather than re-explain how awesome this seminar will be (and it’s a “must be there” event… and nearly all the hottest “A List” copywriters I know booked their spot the moment they heard about it)…
… I’m just gonna post the URL, so you can check it out for yourself. Time is tight. And anyone who understands how unique this kind of event is, and why it’s so critical for entrepreneurs to hang out at live seminars and brush elbows with experts is already salivating over the opportunities this opens up.
Go here to see why so many pro’s are going to the Sugarman event.
Happenin’ Thang #2: As many of you already know, I’ve been co-hosting a killer new podcast series called “Psych Insights for Modern Marketers” with my colleague Kevin Rogers (who has authored several guest posts on this blog).
It’s killer stuff… all focused on going deep into the street-level salesman’s psychology of what makes people buy. You won’t find subject matter like this anywhere else, and you sure as heck won’t get the deep-behind-the-scenes insight from grizzled professionals like me on any other podcast.
Plus… it’s free.
Go here to check out the latest podcast. I hang out in the comments section, too, so feel free to start a thread or join one of the existing brouhaha’s already getting frothy in there.
Happenin’ Thang #3: If you haven’t subscribed to my Facebook page, you’re missing out on the frequent posting I do there… especially the Monday Mentoring Sessions, which reveal the essential lessons I’ve learned (always the hard way, by getting bloody first and only then figuring out where I went wrong and how to fix it next time) on becoming a happy, successful dude.
I’m usually over the limit on “friends” there, so just subscribe as a “follower” — you get the same privileges.
My Facebook handle is: www.facebook.com/john.carlton
Last note: I’ll be posting more original articles next month.
For now, if you’re jonesing for more stuff to dive into, just hit the archives over in the right-hand column here.
Coming up on nine years of material in there. All free.
Be sure to sign up for alerts, though, so you find out when new posts are added. Top of the right hand column, in the “Keep Informed” box.
Use your best email, not your slog one. I’m not gonna spam you, or send too much stuff — I usually send out no more than a couple of emails each month, all related to things you (as an entrepreneur, writer, biz owner or freelancer) will appreciate discovering.
Okay, that’s it for today. Lots of great stuff available here, and you ignore any of it at your peril.
Enjoy your Halloween, and I’ll see you here next month.
“Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)
As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.
We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.
Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair, of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways, of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery, of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…
It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.
But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.
Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).
Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure. We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.
Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.
However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.
This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.
I just learned to loathe cynicism long ago. Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…
… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.
Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.
And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to beRead more…
“If you see my little red rooster, please send him home…” (Howlin’ Wolf)
Just a quick dispatch here to let you know all is well, and I’ll be getting back to regular blogging soon.
I got waylaid by some things, including my first serious sports injury ever: A major boo-boo in my rotator cuff. Which is a marvel of biological engineering, but nevertheless prone to problems in people who insist on abusing it over a long lifetime.
So, while it doesn’t really qualify as a Shakespearean tragedy (yet), it has still consumed a lot of my time with MRIs, x-rays, doc visits, and now long painful (“Ow! Ow! Hey, that hurts, mofo! Ow, you did it again!“) physical therapy sessions.
Stuff like that can take over your brain for a few weeks. I’m not complaining — I have too many friends with more dire health problems (and I’ve been through other surgery dramas with people close to me many, many times) that puts this in perspective.
In fact, tonight — after another round with that sadistic physical therapist (the bastard) — I’m relatively pain-free, and able to type without problem.
And I’ve got several blog posts mapped out in draft form, waiting for my attentions. (With titles like “The Sociopaths Who Are Eating Your Lunch”, and “Learning How To Brag”… really fun, and essential stuff for anyone looking to live a better life and make more moolah without guilt.)
But it’s already Superbowl weekend, so you’re gonna have to wait a little longer for a real post. I’ve got an old, cherished college pal and his son (to whom I’m kinda like an uncle) coming up for what is now our rock-solid tradition: We find the sleaziest sportsbook in downtown Reno, settle in, and enjoy the chaos and pompous nonsense of the grand game amongst the weirdest set of characters this side of a Fellini movie.
God, it’s fun. And I expect Madonna’s halftime show to rile up the geezers in the crowd (and we can only hope for a few wrestling matches between blowhards and bums as people take the game personally).Read more…
“They’ve all gone to look for America…” (Simon & Garfunkel)
I want to wish the country a happy birthday on this fine July 4th.
She’s looking not too shabby for 235 years old. I’ve been here for a lot of those b-days, too… and here are a couple of random thoughts (before I get drowned out by fireworks):
Random Thought #1: I’m not gonna discuss politics, and I hope you have the presence of mind not to start in on it yourself in the comments. However… as far apart as we seem today on the multitude of problems faced… I can tell you it has ever been thus.
At our very best, the country has always been like a dysfunctional family forced to co-exist at a perpetual holiday dinner. My own family shows signs of it occasionally — somebody gets hot about some subject, voices rise, someone gets called an idiot, feelings are hurt…
… and then, minutes later, all is well and we’re laughing about some story from the family archives. (I had uncles who couldn’t get through a game of gin rummy without throwing cards across the room and giving us kids an excellent lesson in swearing like a sailor before the aunts corralled them back into some semblance of civilized behavior again. I miss those old farts, and a whiff of beer and cigars can take me back instantly…)Read more…
“She’d drag me through the streets of Baltimore…” (Gram Parsons)
Quick note to let you know I’m still kickin’.
I’m just taking a little time off here to split the home-dive… meet up with some biz pals in Maryland (including Rich Schefren, Bill Glazer, and Perry Marshall)… and ponder the wonders of life. (Okay, and maybe catch an Orioles game).
I’ve got several blog posts almost ready for publication, so I’ll continue with my prodigious outpouring of voodoo and shinola (in equal parts) when I get back to Nevada.
Meantime, why don’t you slip into the archives over in the right-hand column (right there, see ’em, inches from your right hand), and dig into some of the stored posts. I’ve been laboring over this damn blog for years… and the joint is awash in treasure for writers, marketers, and bohemians of all stripes.
Also, I see all new comments when I’m doing admin stuff here, so if you care to leave a note on an older post, I’ll likely see it. The most popular articles here still generate some nice outrage and fresh insight from new readers.
The comment section is half the fun of this blog.
Anyway, I’ll be back next week. There’s beer in the fridge if you want some…
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing, because he could only do a little.” (Edmund Burke)
It’s hard to know how to help when horrible things happen far away.
Hell, it’s hard to get decent information… in spite of the 24/7 cable news channels. (I just saw a rerun of one show from earlier in the day — with no admission by the network that it even was a rerun — spreading several completely false rumors that had been debunked online when it ran the first time. I wish there was one freakin’ news source that would stop searching for the “human interest” story — or worse, grind some hack political point — and just report the goddamn facts.)
Okay, I’m an idiot for even dreaming that TV news could ever rise above sniveling mediocrity. Shame on me for wasting time trying to learn anything from the boob-tube.
In fact, I instinctively went online to get more info when news of the earthquake hit… Read more…