“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…
… in a very, very short time (much too soon to be fair), YOU will be the one desperately grasping for a clue (and holding up the line because you’re slow).
I marvel at my Pop’s life (he was vivacious and awesome until finally checking out at 95). Born in the Industrial Age, dug foxholes in Belgium saving the world from the Hun, witnessed the birth of the Nuclear Age, tried to ignore the Cold War while keeping his head low and raising a family, and we spoke via Skype every week for years. On his PC.
He was impressed with his new HD teevee (you can see the blades of grass in the outfield!), read every page of the newspaper every day (but fact-checked the editorials on Google, the lying bastards)…
… and if we all had to go live in caves for awhile after the space aliens bombed us back to the Stone Age, he would have been the guy you’d want in your tribe (cuz he knew how make stuff and fix machines).
Mostly, though, I now sympathize (finally) with his sense of wonder of how the details of life keep changing, making his prior assumptions and habits almost criminal (though he tried to keep up, separating his recyclables and watering on odd days). He was never bitter, and revealed a enviable patience with punk tailgaters, ESL customer support, and rude clerks.
And, following his example, I actually relish the way my former talents and abilities become obsolete (and even mocked) as things change, and change again.
There’s a core sense of “self” that includes a Zen attitude of living well no matter what Life hoists on your ass, and working on what you do well…
… that only seems to become evident as you get really old and decrepit.
You shrug off the bad shit (like modern pop music, which just objectively sucks the big one, I mean, c’mon, people), and adjust your own groove as you go (so you aren’t in the way of the punks in Daddy’s Beemer determined to die on the highway in a flaming pile-up).
The key: Don’t fight change. It’s gonna happen, and you’re gonna get grazed at best, wounded and left behind at worst.
You are not required, however, to change your “core” self…
… unless you’re a bigot or so dangerously stupid that you need to shut up and listen more.
Change is a bugger. It’s like that rogue wave that even the most experienced surfer can’t handle — it arrives without warning, defies the natural laws you’ve learned to navigate, and seems to have it out for you personally.
The universe is wired to fuck with old animals in unpleasant ways.
Accept that, and do your best, and cultivate your sense of wonder and joy.
Everybody’s ticket gets punched sooner than they’d like. The ride may seem long and never-ending at times, but it ain’t.
Hope you’re enjoying this bitchin’ autumn weather.
Go tell someone who deserves it you love them, will ya?
P.S. If you haven’t devoured my two books on Amazon, you’re just cheating your bad self of a stone-cold advantage in life and biz that your competitors are probably using to beat you over the head with.
They’re both fast yet exhilarating reads…
… and if you bother to read the reviews about them, you’ll see that the benefits pile up fast.
Stop missing out already.
P.P.S. Yeah, that’s me in the photo…
… just after I’d taken over the Big Desk at Gary Halbert’s office on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. Like 30 years ago.
For me, looking at that smiling nutball with the out-of-control hair reminds me of the radical changes that have happened since. Both glorious and heartbreaking.
But I embraced change, and even sought it out, even back then.
What a great ride so far…
“Under my thumb is a squirming dog who just had her day…” (Stones)
I’m republishing this off-beat rant, cuz it’s been one of the most-discussed and helpful posts I’ve written over the years.
And it’s a totally counter-intuitive take on a subject most biz books not only ignore, but aggressively seek to dismiss.
Yet, in my decades of consulting, I see it bubble up in nearly every entrepreneur I meet at some point.
So, enjoy another nugget from the archives:
Do you suffer from the heartbreak of envy?
Are you jealous of friends and colleagues who attain success, while you continue to struggle?
Would you like to learn a simple cure for feeling inferior to others?
Well, then step right up…
Here’s the story: I grew up with the definite impression that ambition was a moral failing. The operative phrase was “Don’t get too big for your britches“…
… which was a cold warning to anyone who dared attempt to rise above their (vaguely defined) place in life.
And one of the greatest joys was to gleefully watch the collapse and humbling of the High & Mighty. I believe there’s some evolutionary fragment left in our systems that wants a solid check on keeping folks from leaving the pack.
Now, if you risk failing and succeed, that’s great. We were there for ya the entire time, Bucko. Rooted for ya. Got yer back.
I think our innate need for leadership allows for a select few to “make it” without hostility. And, as long as they provide whatever it is we need from them — protection, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, decisive action, look good in a tight sweater, whatever — they get a pass.
But we seem to have a ceiling of tolerance for others moving up the hierarchy too fast. Whoa, there, buddy. Where do you think you’re going?
And when the unworthy grab the brass ring, it can trigger a hormone dump that’ll keep you up all night.
Because, why did HE make it, when he’s clearly not the right dude towin.
This is totally fucking unfair, and makes ME look bad now.
The lucky creep.
I hope he screws up and gets what’s coming to him…
And so on.
I’ve felt it, you’ve felt it, the nicest person you’ve ever met has felt it. Humans are constantly comparing themselves to others, and we do not like it when Mr. Envy comes a’knockin’.
Dan Sullivan (of Strategic Coach) has a good take on this: He suggests you stop comparing yourself to others… and instead, compare yourself to yourself. Get happy with the progress you’ve made from wherever you were before. Don’t allow your brain to start measuring how short you came up against your lofty dreams, or other’s success. (Which is what most folks do.)
I like that tactic.
However, I have another one I’ve been employing ever since I began my solo career, so many decades ago.
It works, and I think you’ll like having it in your tool kit.
Back then, as a raw rookie, I was dangerously inept. And woefully inexperienced and unprepared for the tasks ahead of me.
Had I allowed my Inner Scaredy-Cat to win the argument, I never would have left the house to go snag my first gig.
Worse, as I moved into inner circles (at joints like Jay Abraham’s offices), I began to encounter other writers my age and younger… who were light-years ahead of me in every category. Fame, skill, wealth…
… and especially that precious sense of feeling like you earned your place in the world and belonged there.
Mr. Envy showed up frequently, and occasionally I would find myself secretly wishing for these guys to fail.
I mean, why them and not me yet?
The bastards were too big for their britches…
But that wasn’t gonna work. If I wanted to earn my OWN place in the world, I realized I needed to knee-cap Mr. Envy, and lock that demon away somewhere forever.
Because the better way to look at things…
… was to congratulate these guys on their success, learn from their adventures getting there, and encourage even more success for them.
There was, I knew (once Mr. Envy was muzzled), plenty of room for everybody in the writing game…
… and the other guy’s success didn’t impact my own even a little bit.
In fact, once I selflessly began networking with them, they helped me out.
It was win-win, all the way.
… that nagging sense of “Gee, I wish I was him” kept lurching back into my head. I wanted to be an MTV rock star, a drooled-over novelist, an infamous international lover, a frequent guest on Larry King (this was a long time ago, folks), David Letterman’s best friend, a gazillionaire with no worries about rent or…
And that’s when I stumbled on this extremely cool CURE for envy.
I’m sure I nicked it from some other source, somewhere…
… but I haven’t been able to find it explained anywhere else. Maybe I really did invent it.
At any rate… it works.
Wanna know what it is?
Okay. Here is my…
Super-Potent Envy Cure: When you find yourself wishing you were someone else… or at least in their shoes, enjoying all the great stuff they seem to be enjoying…
… just imagine being inside their skin — really inside them, being them — for 5 minutes.
Dealing with everything that makes them who they are.
And then see if their life still looks so good.
Most envy comes from a lack of something, perceived or real. When you’re broke, the dude with two hundred bucks in his checking account looks like a winner. When you’re desperately horny, the guy getting laid all the time looks like the hero of a 007 novel. When you’re being ignored in your market, the mogul with the big business machine looks like a cushy gig.
This is where your street-level salesmanship comes in. (Which is what I’ve been trying to share with y’all over the past 13 years here in the blog.)
Great salesmen lead better lives. Not because they sell lots of stuff…
… but because they live in the real world.
You can’t be efficient selling when you’re hobbled with a belief that the world (and everyone in it) “should” behave a certain way… or you wish they would.
Naw. You gotta be hip to how people actually operate.
So you take off the blinders, and peek behind the masks, and get to know your fellow high-end primates REALLY well, from deep inside their hearts and minds.
This raising of the curtain — shocking at first — will actually make you love people more…
… while also helping you understand why they do what they do.
You’ll understand why good people do bad things, why bad people do good things, and why the inner life of everyone around you is unique.
And while you love your fellow beasts…
… once you feel comfy with yourself (because you’re finally going after your goals and engaging in your own rollicking adventure in life)…
… you won’t want to spend even a full minute inside the skin of anyone else.
Because it is CREEPY AS HELL in there.
I love to read autobiographies and biographies. (Or skim them, when they’re horribly written.)
It has changed my outlook — and my petty jealousies — to learn the real story of the people I once idolized, and often wished I was living their life.
Wow, does it ever change your outlook. Especially when you discover the wicked little secrets that fueled their motivation to attain whatever it is — fame, acclaim, wealth, accomplishments — that triggered your envy button.
The novelists loathed themselves. The movie stars craved adulation like junkies. The great lovers were joyless asshole sociopaths. The wealthy barons were infested with sick needs.
Big men still pitied themselves over Mommie’s inattention. Forceful leaders were quivering lakes of insecurity. Debonair social stalwarts harbored unquenchable dark desires.
Yes, there are folks out there who succeed without secret vices and immature cravings.
They’re also boring as hell. And you’d be screaming for release after ten seconds inside their skin. (Many have just been unusually successful at quashing their sweaty-palmed desires. In fact, the boring ones are often sitting on the nastiest payloads of demons. See: Every Bible-thumping politician recently caught with hookers and drugs.)
You want wit, a lust of adventure, forceful opinions and a knack for winning in your heroes?
I do, too. But I’ve learned to like them despite the roiling mess of complexity coursing through their veins.
In fact, I embrace it. I like my heroes flawed — it brings out the luster of their accomplishments.
It also highlights the elusive (and quickly disappearing) moments of satisfaction they seek.
You’re alive. You are here on this earth with a ticket to ride that expires (sometimes sooner rather than later). You may wish you had a better set-up… finer bone structure, a thicker mop of hair, more muscles, more impressive genitals, bluer eyes, a rich uncle with you in the will, whatever hang-up is spoiling your enjoyment of life…
… but the simplest way to attain lasting happiness is to let your dumb-ass desires drift away, and get jiggy with who you are now, and what you’ve got to work with.
It’s kind of Zen, and it takes effort to get there. But it’s worth it.
You can’t be happy all the time, but you can actually enjoy the down times, too, once you change your basic orientation from “I wish” to “Here I am”.
Some of the most satisfied people I know are butt-ugly trolls who have learned that natural beauty is fraught with negative side effects (and not worth pursuing)…
… and that, at the end of the day, what really counts is what you bring to the table in terms of being a quality human being.
I’ve known a MOB of successful people in my career (including many of the most famous and infamous “bigger than life” legends in business). I’ve been friends with them, been let in behind the scenes, and hung out long enough to see underneath the mask.
And I wouldn’t want to spend 5 minutes inside any of their skins, ever.
I like who I am, with all my faults and all my regrets and all my inherent stupidity. I fit well inside my own skin.
And — though it took a VERY long time — I earned my place in the world. Really earned it.
Nothing happened from wishing, or cheating, or relying on luck.
Naw. I blundered my way into the Feast of Life. Utterly fucked things up along the ride…
… but kept learning from mistakes, kept cleaning up my messes and fixing what I broke when I could, kept trying and growing and staying true to the goals that resonated with me.
That’s all I had going for my sorry ass.
We’re all pathetically flawed. All of us, from James Bond on down through your neighbor who just bought the new Jag (and won’t stop gloating about the deal he got).
Nobody gets out of here unscathed. You can’t live without making mistakes and stepping on toes.
And yes, sometimes you will get too big for your britches, when you’re going for the gusto. When it happens, buy new ones.
Stay frosty (and true to yourself),
P.S. My recent reads include the autobiographies of Keith Richards and Christopher Hitchens. Keith’s may be the best-written of all-time — he’s a brilliant storyteller, used a writer who knew him for decades to help collect his thoughts coherently… and he is tough on himself. Hitch bares all, but can be a bit long-winded.
The key to biographies is NOT to settle old scores, or try to spin your existence so your legacy looks better. Screw that nonsense.
The key is to spill the beans, relentlessly. Lift up your mask, raise the curtain on your demons, cop to your trespasses.
And share the juicy details. The story is not the broad overview, but the detail. You lived it, dude. I wasn’t there.
P.P.S. What biographies or autobiographies have you liked?
And let us know, in the comment section here, how you’ve handled envy (good or bad) in your life. Along with the realization that your fellow passengers on this whirling planet are one scary-ass species…
VERY Special P.P.P.S. While not exactly an autobiography, my book “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” reveals a ton of behind-the-scenes adventures and insider advice aimed straight at the tender beating heart of the struggling entrepreneur.
Get your copy now, either as an ebook or in paperback. For a few measly bucks, you’ll be ushered into a front-row seat to see how I stumbled upon the amazing result-getting lessons of great marketing…
… and I guarantee you’ll laugh your ass off along the way.
Get it here: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“.
Rome, Italy (yeah, I’m on vacation)
“Wither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car at night?” (Jack Kerouac)
I’ve been asking people, lately, what I consider a great question: “Is there anyone in your life who could write your biography?”
Most folks never think about their legacy.
The writers I know all do, of course, though few take the time to work up an autobiography (beyond the blurbs we use for promotion). You gotta be really full of yourself to think you’re worthy of a book.
Still, it’s a question to ponder. Who in your life knows you well enough to tell the tale?
I have no one. Because I’ve moved around a lot, and had radically different sub-plots in my life many times that brought in new batches of friends and cohorts, leaving prior ones in the dust.
There are folks who could tell you intimate things about me, within a limited “chapter” of time… but never the whole story, as an overview. Childhood, youth, the middle years, geezerdom. Each of these eras are like separate John’s, completely different people.
Guys like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have been close their entire lives, from late childhood on, because of the band. They may not know all the details of each other’s tale, but they could hold forth with pretty decent accuracy on the main themes.
I have a cousin who married his high school sweetheart, and they have that kind of relationship — total lifetime knowledge of each other. Maybe, at one time, that wasn’t so rare. Now, it seems almost quaint (at least among the circles I run in).
I guess you can count yourself lucky if you have someone who could pen a relatively factual obituary for you, today.
The flip side: On the other hand, I could write the biography of MANY friends…
… because I’ve practiced the simple tactics from Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends And Influence People” for most of my life.
I ask questions, and then follow up with more questions. I’m interested in how people live, how they make decisions and how they handle the consequences. What their happiest memories are, what their darkest days were like, how they got here from there.
It’s not magic. It’s empathy, combined with a genuine interest in other people. It’s easy to get someone to tell their life story, when you simply ask them.
It’s not done all at one shot, either. You need to spend some time together, share some history, earn the trust required to divulge the juicy secrets.
And, because you don’t betray confidence, you never share what you hear capriciously. You simply know more about certain folks than even their other trusted pals do. But your reputation as a person capable of keeping secrets is solid. It has to be.
As a writer who needs to understand how people operate, this is a main tool. Empathy, plus interviewing.
And here’s the Big Secret: So few people know my entire story… because they never ask.
They’ll wax prolific on their own tales, when asked. But they never ask bac. Most are just too overwhelmed with living their own lives to care about anyone else’s, and it’s understandable. Others are genuinely uninterested in how others live.
But most just don’t know how to ask. They confuse respect for privacy with refusing to go deep.
Back in college, I had a great prof who forced us to go into the community and get an old person to tell their tale. It was an anthropology class, and we would have flunked without doing it.
It was freaking great. These oldsters — ignored, forgotten, in the way — lit up when asked about their lives.
No one had ever asked before.
And the tales told were fascinating, like the best novels you’ve ever encountered. War, loss, love, discovery, travel, horror, insight…
… all the rough and tumble intricacies of a long life were there.
It opened my eyes, tell you what. I was young, full of myself, obsessed with the now-relics of a Boomer existence (sex, drugs and rock and roll, mostly).
Yet, these folks who came before me went through similar periods (swing, prohibited booze, flappers, illicit sex)…
… and then entered new chapters, usually family, job and generational upheaval. It all made sense.
It was like glimpsing my own future, told from the past.
Just saying. We get so deep into ourselves, we forget to pop our heads out of our ass ever so often to see what’s going on with everyone else.
Life is a gorgeous, horror-filled wonderland, relentlessly bombarding us with incoming drama, tragedy and comedy.
Those who get to enjoy/endure it for many years are the lucky ones.
And the tales told are never boring, when you know how to translate them.
For a marketer looking to succeed, this is the key to the kingdom.
P.S. If you’ve followed me for any length of time (here on the blog, in my books, or on social media) you know I frame my advice on being successful within stories.
I do it, because that’s how ideas stick. We’re hard-wired to listen to stories, and remember the good ones.
If you’re interested in the lessons I’ve learned about success and living large (from a very long career at the roiling edge of life and biz)…
… then you’ll be interested in this.
You can thank me later.
“It’s game over, man, game over!” (Corporeal Hudson, “Aliens”)
Folks who’ve followed my ramblings and rants for a while know that I’ve had a healthy, life-long love of psychology. Both the academic discoveries, and the street-level revelations that only savvy, old school salesmen ever discover.
And that’s the useable stuff. The insights and tactics that work in marketing, for example. And in dealing with people (who, as you well know, can be whacky and illogical at the worse times).
So here’s one piece of what I call Psych Insights that may help you at a very fundamental level.
Dig: I’ve hung out with — and learned a lot from — a number of professional psychologists.
Most are whacked (with personal lives in complete disarray)…
… but it’s like knowing an insane plumber who can nevertheless fix any pipe problem you have.
You don’t judge the guy you let into your brain’s plumbing by his whackiness, but by his ability to help you.
Anyway, Gary Halbert also shared my fascination with shrinks, and even had one in his inner circle for a few years. (We tried, and tried, and tried to help him get an entrepreneurial project going… but, you know, he was just too caught up in the academic mindset to “get” marketing.)
This particular shrink really understood the territory of human behavior and belief, though. (He’d spent so much time inside people’s heads, he could recognize your particular neuroses before you opened your mouth.) (Yes, you’re neurotic. Get over it. We all are.)
What I learned from him (and other shrinks, both the good ones and the close-to-being-committed-themselves ones) gave me awesome persuasion tools to work with in ads.
But I also learned a lot about living well, too.
Here’s just one example: Generally, you can divide everyone you meet into two main camps:
This seems obvious until you start realizing how this belief is the foundation of just about every decision people make in their lives.
Experience will affect your outlook over time, of course…
… but that fundamental belief usually remains.
I grew up considering the world mostly safe… with lots of caveats.
This meant we were fearless about getting ourselves into tough spots as kids, as we tested and retested our boundaries and abilities to deal with dangerous (and often idiotic) situations. I discovered there really are lots of unsafe corners in the world…
… but I also discovered that you can build new skill sets that help you deal with the danger.
The kids who were too terrified to follow us into adventures never learned much about avoiding getting hurt. They missed out on both the skinned knees and the confidence of having survived yet another brouhaha.
The bruised-but-better-equipped kids went off in one direction in life, and the scaredy cats went off in the other direction. Forever.
In marketing, there are many audiences who fall into one or the other of these two camps…
… and realizing this can make your communication with them massively more effective.
The self-defense market loves paranoia, for example. Golfers who buy lessons are often positive the game hates them and course designers personally created sand traps to gobble up their shots. (Seriously.) And the “find romance” markets are full of folks who, usually out of fear, delayed their entry into the mating game.
Some markets — like guitar lessons — don’t fall into either camp.
Other markets may need a bit of research first to figure out this “first step” in understanding them…
… but knowing where the majority are helps you start your copywriting journey off in the right direction. (Diet markets, for example — most prospects have been burned over and over again by fads and BS, which makes them distrustful. However, workout markets are inherently more positive about change.)
You don’t bully the fearful, and you don’t coddle the fearless, basically. Just this insight alone will help you go deep into closing pitches that work shockingly better, simply because you’re speaking directly to your prospect’s main belief system.
Never assume anything about your market, without researching and garnering enough real info so you would bet your ass on being correct.
Two completely different directions in attitude, communication and influence.
Hope you’re having a great summer…
P.S. Most of my books are filled with insight on how to deal with your fellow humans out there in the gnarly biz world.
“The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” is an excellent place to start. Grab your copy here.
“I’m handy with the love and I’m no fool, I fix broken hearts, I know I really can…” (“Handyman”, Jimmy Jones)
There’s a lesson here somewhere: I use a certain well-known phone company for my Interwebs access, and over the years I’ve learned…
… not to trust them.
Their customer service is all talk and no action. Everything I’ve wanted done has required multiple calls to agents who sound nice, promise immediate action, apologize profusely for past transgressions…
… and who then proceed to fuck up the simplest of transactions.
I gotta believe some of them are doing it for spite, just because they’re bored.
The others are simply incompetent fools.
Anyway, the better customer I prove to be, the worst it gets.
I pay my bills on time, and never bother to try gaming the system. Which means I occasionally get mired into obsolete billing models, where I’m paying more for less.
And when it’s discovered by some agent while she’s trying to un-fuck whatever the most recent mess is, they act like it’s my fault I’ve been ignored and abused.
In their world, any customer who does not obsess over their phone bill, constantly fussing with the options and sucking up the deals, is complicit in any bad deal that develops.
I just want the phones and Web to work.
So, you know, I can do my job, and help civilization progress another iota along the slow crawl to oblivion.
I don’t buy things on sale, because that’s a sucker’s game — I buy what I need, when I need it, and happily pay more for a fair value.
In other words…
… I’m a high-end, diamond-plated, near perfect customer.
Which, in the phone company’s eyes, makes me a chump to be exploited, over and over.
Shame on me, I know.
I toss everything they send me, except the bill. I don’t trust them to do the right thing in any deal they offer, and I will bolt for the first hint of a competitor who has better customer service…
… when and if such a competitor arrives. No luck so far.
I went through this in the 90s with first Gateway computers, and then Dell. I’ve bought a couple dozen computers in my time, and I always get the most hot-rodded model possible. Add on every gewgaw and dangling option they’ve got (and then add some of my own).
But I require good customer service. At first, Gateway rocked. Nurtured me through every new computer buy, and were there for me when the occasional problem rose.
Then they did some finagling with their model, and thought “Hey, why are we paying so much to staff the customer service division? Let’s cut ’em all loose. That’s the FIRST place to save real money.” And they ditched their super-excellent customer service department. Sent it all overseas, where non-English-speaking folks struggled to even answer the damn phone when you called.
After a lengthy battle to get them to fix the shoddy-ass new computer I’d purchased, I was done.
Went over to Dell, their main competitor. And, for a few years, I got great service again.
Then, some shit-for-brains MBA weaseled his way into the hierarchy and gutted their customer service.
Not “cost effective”, you know.
With a monopoly — like the cable company (which I hope is swallowed up by a passing black hole soon) — you can get away with Soviet-style customer service (or lack thereof). At least, until other options appear (like abandoning cable altogether and just finding shows elsewhere online) (or, God forbid, finding something better to do with your limited time on earth, and eschew TV altogether).
Meanwhile, don’t you DARE treat your customers like the Big Dogs do. Entrepreneurs are closer to the action, and should know that finding ways to keep that sliver of a percentage of your best customers happy can bring in a fortune.
Chasing the mobs of looky-lou’s who are dead broke and prefer stealing your content anyway is a fool’s errand (which is all too common in biz today).
Know where your real wealth comes from. Hint: It’s quality, not quantity.
Some of the more successful entrepreneurs I know have the tiniest lists imaginable…
… but those lists are stuffed with the best customers any biz could wish for.
And they trust each other.
They’ve earned it.
Just think about it, as you ignore customer service for another day.
That sudden draft of cold wind is another opportunity leaving your world for better prospects elsewhere…
P.S. For more insight to making customers get all excited about giving you money…
… be sure you’re armed with the right info. Start here…
P.P.S. Yeah, the photo above is me, back at the beginning of my freelance career. First big computer buy. This was in the mid-80s, way before Gateway or Dell’s computer-shipping concept was even viable.
I had this computer put together piece by piece — a bulky monitor (orange dots on a black screen only as the interface), two IBM floppy disc drives stacked (and we’re talking REAL floppy discs, 5-1/4″), and a slooooooow dot matrix printer. I had to load DOS, then load the word processing software (MultiMate, now extinct)…
… and then load up a blank floppy to work on.
It was like being on the flight deck of the starship Enterprise, though. Just amazing technology. The prior day, I’d been writing my ads on an IBM Selectric typewriter. If I wanted copies made, I had to drive to the “copy making place”, usually a small printer. Nobody had Xeroxes in their home office at that time.
You laugh, now — but back then, this was the height of computerized entrepreneurialism.
I’ve been around the block a few times. It’s been a blast, but also very disorienting at times. I mean, my iPhone has more computing power than NASA used for the moon shots in ’69. Stunning…
“I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)
For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country.
Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments…
… we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.
For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.
Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment…
… particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace.
For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter…
… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes.
We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception.
Yet, the opposite is true.
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?
“Nothing is impossible for a man who refuses to listen to reason.” (Gary Halbert)
I learned a lot from Gary Halbert, but the lesson that most affected my life had nothing to do with copywriting.
Rather, it was about living well.
I began my freelance copywriting career back in the “dark ages” of the mid-eighties, when direct response advertising had gone out of fashion and there were just a handful of us “true believers” in the game, devouring the ancient (and often out-of-print) books on advertising while doing the hard work of becoming masters at old school salesmanship…
… so we could relentlessly obliterate our clueless competition in every market we went after.
I was fortunate to live in Los Angeles at the time… because multiple large agencies had just opened up branches there and were starved for competent copywriters. I quickly became the guy the creative directors snuck in the back door to do the work their house staff couldn’t pull off (because none of them studied the craft).
Then the large mailers back east caught wind of my work, and I found myself moving in the “A List” crowd of now-legendary copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Jim Rutz (who I ghost-wrote for).
However, the corporate world bored me to tears. It was primarily financial and health newsletters with the large mailers, and insurance and equipment sales with the agencies. Yawn.
That’s when I met Gary, at Jay Abraham’s house. He was the most arrogant, vain and outrageous person I’d ever met in the business world…
… and I liked him immediately.
“Well, excuuuuuuuse me.” (Steve Martin)
One of the very bright dividing lines separating happy, successful folks from the unhappy wannabe’s…
… is the role of excuses in moving through life.
Dudes and dudettes who get stuff done stare down obstacles and find ways through or around them…
… no matter how long it takes, or how many times they fail at it.
They’re the minority.
Much more common is the notion that having a good excuse lets you off the hook for getting something done.
Our bollocked-up school system encourages this — oh, your dog ate your homework? Okay, you can have an extra day.
And it just gets worse in adult life — oh, sorry I T-boned your car there, but I just broke up with my girlfriend and was re-reading her last text to me… sniff…
At some point, most civilians will be on their death-bed, looking back on their failures and crushed dreams, and have to find cold comfort in the idea that at least they had good excuses.
They tried, sort of, and had their feelings hurt or their efforts rebuffed, and what can you do?
Life’s hard, right?
Okay, fine. Cuddle up with your excuses.
You might garner a bit of sympathy from some folks, but you’ll just continue to be disregarded by anyone feasting on life and getting stuff done.
Start with being late. If you think it’s okay, as long as you have a plausible excuse (the traffic lights were absolutely conspiring against you, or gosh, clocks are just hard to understand, you know?)…
… then move to the back of the line right now.
You may actually HAVE a good excuse this time…
… but if being late is “who you are” (and yes, you are judged harshly and continually in the biz world on this stuff)…
… then consider WHY it’s a habit.
Look deep. It may be passive-aggressive behavior you picked up as a kid. It may be a symptom of happiness-corrupting disorganization (which no potential client wants any part of). It may be undiagnosed ADD, or even the first ripples of real cognitive disorder.
But usually, it’s just a habit. You keep getting away with it — or you THINK you’re getting away with it (and really, the people around you just stop relying on you, and consider you a liability).
The consequences seem mild — maybe somebody gets pissed off once in a while, or you miss a flight. Whatever. Life is hard, right?
Get off my case.
The problem, of course, is that if you want to play in the level above you — in biz, romance, sports or just generally effective living — you are going to pay dearly for your bad habits.
Top clients won’t put up with sloppy non-professional behavior. Self-respecting potential romantic partners will avoid committing to you.
And a whole bunch of cool life experiences will vanish…
… all because you think having a good excuse absolves you from the responsibility to be where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there… prepared to do what you said you’d do.
Getting away with something is NOT the same as “succeeding”.
Highly effective people, who get shit done and succeed at life, rarely allow excuse-artists into their lives in any meaningful way.
Buy a fucking watch. Add twenty minutes to your estimation of how long you’ll need to get somewhere (or more)…
… and if you’re early, find a spot to kick back and check email or Facebook or just relax. Or read a book. There’s no such thing as “wasting time by being early”. Be prepared for it.
And it’s worth repeating: Yes, the people operating in the level above you ARE judging you by these small behaviors.
Maybe other folks in your world are just character actors, whose time isn’t worth much. (That’s the way stone-cold sociopaths think, you know.)
However, the successful crowd you want to be dealing with will not put up with that bullshit.
Okay, you better get moving. You’re gonna be late…
P.S. The foundation of living effectively…
… is really just a bunch of simple insights, rules and strategies that are easy to adopt…
… once you figure out what they ARE.
Simple shortcut to finding them out, right here.
P.P.S. Yeah, I drew the cartoon at the top. College days, when I was the staff doodler at The Cal Aggie Times in Davis.
This was my idea of wickedly insightful humor.
I dunno… what do you think?
Photo, clockwise from bottom left: Big Jason Henderson, Brian Kurtz, me, Stan Dahl, Joe Sugarman, and Scott Haines, Las Vegas, after one of our Platinum Group mastermind meetings.
Several years back, Mongo and I were road-dogging with Gary Halbert in Beverly Hills, looking for a new-fangled television option that had just become available…
… allowing you to project video images onto a huge screen in your home. This was ages before 70″ HD TVs were even a glint in a Samsung engineer’s eye.
As usual, Gary needed to find out every detail of this wondrous new contraption. He loved cameras, movies, and all interesting new technology… especially when it promised to entertain him.
Hanging out with Gary meant exploring the world deeply, with gusto.
Also with lots of irreverence.
We parked on Sunset and wandered across the street to an audio/visual store, where the awesome new projector TV was being sold. Several salesmen descended on us immediately, ushering us into a special room displaying the magic.
We stood there for a few moments, watching some soap opera show play out larger than life on the screen. It was pretty impressive.
Mongo and I looked at each and raised our eyebrows. We both had the same thought.
“Um…” said Mongo. “Do you have any porn you can put on? This soap opera crap is pretty boring.”
Gary nearly choked, laughing. I grinned at the salesman, nodding.
He looked sheepish, then grinned back. “Of course,” he said, leaning close. “We watch porn after-hours on this thing all the time…” and he went over to fuss with the video player.
“Score,” said Mongo.
“I’m gonna buy this thing,” said Gary. And he did. But not until after the demonstration.
So we watched some late-nineties grind-and-slobber video for a while (much more intriguing than the soap opera crap) before getting bored and wandering back outside to see if there was better trouble to get into.
Because that’s what we did, Mongo and I, when we were with Gary. A little research, a little exploration, a little visit to the tavern next door to share tall stories and see what else we could get into on this fine sunny day in Southern California.
Mongo is, of course, my great pal and cohort Scott Haines. After I’d done my several years being Gary’s main road dog, Scotty took over. We both were thick as thieves with Gary, traveling around the country to seminars and biz meetings and chewing up scenery in as many different cities as possible. Miami, San Diego, Key West, Phoenix, LA, Orlando, New York city… it was an education in how the U.S. was cobbled together, as much as an ongoing lesson in dealing with clients in every type of market imaginable.
Scotty earned the prized nickname “Mongo” after the Alex Karras character in the movie “Blazing Saddles”. Scotty was a short, broad shouldered, incredibly strong man — with martial arts skills that would have made him fearsome, if he wasn’t also saddled with a heart as big as any man I’ve met. If you were Mongo’s friend, you had someone who would watch your back and sacrifice himself without hesitation when the chips were down.
I valued him as a pal, and also as a colleague. He was a brilliant copywriter (the only way you could get the road dog job with Halbert), and understood the marketing game as well as anyone. He arrived into our world from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the late nineties…
… suffering some serious culture shock moving near Gary in Key West, and then Miami and Hollywood. Sort of a trial-by-fire for a young man eager to tackle the big wide world on his terms.
Scotty and I got along famously, liking each other on first sight. Writers are like that, you know. The “tribe of scribes” is an ancient guild, going back to the beginning of civilization. We’re the dudes and dudettes who get the stories down on paper, who translate the culture into novels and ads, who keep watch over the way history is tracked. It’s a lonely gig, often just you and the blank page…
… and that inherent loneliness bonds us together. We know the drill. We understand what goes into the process, how tough it can be even while seeming like we’re goofing off driving around Hollywood destroying shit.
Writers love to hang with other writers, cuz we never need to answer the question “how do you do it?” We get to skip past the mystery and incredulous quizzing, and just move straight on to our other main job: Drinking and making each other laugh so hard it hurts.
Mongo remained a close friend with Gary, as did I.
And when I decided to become a guru, writing my books and courses and hosting the now-legendary “Copywriting Sweatshop” seminars, I didn’t hesitate to ask Scotty to be my sidekick. He was there for the first three seminars, right beside me, as I faced down 40 marketers who paid $5grand each to have me critique and fix their miserable ad copy. They expected a lot. We delivered more than they ever dreamed possible.
He also was one of the first teachers we hired to honcho a classroom in the Simple Writing System. His students adored him, and he became good friends with many of them.
When I had a problem myself, whether in life or biz, Mongo was one of the first guys I called. Level-headed, despite his shocking appetite for good booze. Fearless when facing problems, despite being a shy introverted giant.
He was the most fun, thoughtful, and generous man I’ve ever known.
And he’s gone. Left this mortal coil today at noon Tulsa-time, surrounded by grieving friends and family, to go see what Gary’s been up to in that Big Marketing Joint in the sky these past ten years.
He was just 46 years old, far too young to leave us so suddenly. The entire writers’ community is in deep shock, emotionally shattered by the passing of a beloved colleague, friend and cohort.
I talked to him the day before he left Austin for Tulsa, to visit with family over Christmas. Twenty-four hours later, he suffered a massive stroke, and was on life support for almost two weeks before his family was convinced by the docs to let him go.
I can still hear his thunderous laughter. We joked and shared old Halbert stories during that call, howling at the misadventures and insanity that wonderful man could generate. It was two longtime pals, talking like we always had. I expected to talk to him again this week, when he got back from the holidays, maybe meet up somewhere for fresh adventures.
Those adventures will have to wait, now.
I’m not a religious man, but I do have a raucous spiritual side, and you can’t tell me I won’t see both Gary and Mongo again, somewhere. In due time.
Life is wondrous, but also heartbreakingly fragile… and you can never predict what the morrow will bring.
Hug your loved ones. Never assume there will be plenty of time later to tell them you love them, plenty of time to enjoy their company, plenty of time left to share your best stories.
Scotty lives on in our hearts, of course. In that ever-growing place where those who have left remain with us. So crowded, that special place.
But that’s what happens when you live large, and embrace life fully. You collect friends, you love them, and sometimes… they have to leave early.
Folks, he’ll never be forgotten…
… but for now…
… Mongo has left the building.
I love and miss you dearly, pal.
Here’s to you.
For the rest of you:
P.S. Feel free to share your own Mongo stories in the comments here. His very large group of fellow writers have been supporting each other since Scott went down, and while we’re grieving, we’re also laughing through the tears… sharing the funny, embarrassing, wild stories and memories of the big guy.
He was a force of nature. A damned good friend.
And someone we’ll all miss for a very long time…
UPDATE: Big Jason Henderson, one of Scotty’s best pals, set up a GoFundMe site to help with the funeral and hospital expenses Mongo’s family is now faced with.
Go here if you want (and are financially able) to contribute. Doesn’t matter how much. Every penny is appreciated.
You are invited to leave comments and stories on the page. You’ll see that many of Scotty’s cohorts, clients, colleagues and many notorious and famous friends have already done so…