Category Archives for living life well

The Dark Side of Passion

Thursday, 10:15am
Reno, NV


Sometimes marketers like to pretend they exist outside the “real” world of politics, war and social upheaval.

This attitude is especially evident in certain commercials and ad-heavy publications that reveal a thick-headed cluelessness about life outside the box of privilege. In the past months, I’ve seen TV ads mimicking revolution in the street for a frivolous product… and read articles on celebrities that used references to famine and actual murder cases, trying to be ironic and hip.

These efforts are clunky and embarrassing. Yet, they never abate. (Mind you, I adore irreverent humor and M*A*S*H-style commentary… but you can’t accomplish this kind of wit from the sidelines. Cluelessness makes knowledgeable people cringe.)

I first noticed this disconnect between pain and fun as a teenager waiting for my draft notice during the Vietnam war. The evening news was dominated by combat zone film bringing the war right into America’s homes (something The Man has since realized should never happen again, if he wants to continue blowing people up for vague and unsupportable campaigns)… so for half an hour between typical fluff like “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Gilligan’s Island”, we were treated to glimpses of Hell, half a world away. Guys just a few months older than me crouched behind shattered walls, bullets zinging into the stucco while swaying palm trees burned under distant napalm assaults. And the wounded were evacuated, swathed in bloody bandages, the stretcher-bearers ducking and weaving.

And then, during the break, here comes this bright and cheerful commercial for laundry soap… with a pretty housewife flying a WWI-era bi-plane, dropping tablets like bombs from the sky. The slogan — and all TV ads back then were centered on slogans — was some bullshit reference to “blowing up” germs in your dirty clothes with this new, improved way of keeping your family clean.

Seconds away from the grime and gore of a real battlefield, here’s Read more…

The Naughty List For Businesses

Sunday, 11:59pm
Reno, NV


Quickie post here, cuz I’m a walking petri dish of germs. There’s a slug of Nyquil sitting here with my name on it, and I’ll be worthless about three minutes after I slam it.



Here’s the post (while I can still type): One of the grand traditions of year-end journalism is the round-up of “worst” lists.

I love ’em all.

In truth, 2007 had some totally bitchin’ highlights for me and my colleagues. The gloom-and-doom mainstream media would prefer that we all become quivering masses of hysterical anxiety… but after you’ve been around the block as many times as I have, you get some perspective.

Things have been worse. And they’ve been better.

That’s kinds how the world works.

Still… there are all these wonderful lists to enjoy.

So here’s a good one, in case you missed it. Not your standard “celebrity eats own head” kind of material, either.

It’s literally a “worst of biz” 2007 list. By Fortune magazine.

Read, enjoy, discuss:

Stay frosty… and don’t catch what I have…

John Carlton

The Difference Between Cash and Happiness

Sunday, 11:16pm
Reno, NV


Let’s chat about money.

Cash, moolah, the big bucks, treasure. Greenbacks. Funds. Scratch. Coin of the realm.

You know — the stuff we kill ourselves (and sometimes each other) to get ahold of.

People who pretend to know will tell you that money cannot buy you happiness.

In fact, they say, too much of it can even cause you grief, and ruin your life.

There is ample evidence that there’s something to this, too — lottery winners are often right back where they started, financially, a short time after taking possession of their loot… wealthy business owners often lead lives of desperate loneliness, estranged from their own family and without any real friends… and many folks who strike it rich go into life-long funks worrying about losing it all, and the paranoia makes them suspicious, nervous, unlikeable pricks.

Still… most of us want to experience the horror of having lots of dough for ourselves, thank you very much.

We’ll take the risk of being ruined forever by a too-fat bank account.

Well… as with most of the good info in life, this topic bears a little airing out. It’s not black-and-white, and it’s definitely worth exploring a bit.

In fact… I just returned from a weekend brainstorm at my pal Joe Polish’s joint in Phoenix (attended by a bevy of bucks-heavy business mavens) where this very subject was a hot discussion point. (I was there as a guest lecturer. The regulars were all part of Joe’s schockingly-successful “$25K Mastermind Group” — who literally write twenty-five thou checks just for the privilege of attending four of these carefully-presented events each year.) (If you’ve ever demanded real-world proof that mastermind groups are worthwhile, this should shut you up quickly: The event I spoke at was the last of the year, and everyone in attendance considered the cost a genuine bargain… and most were eager to pay again for another year.) (Think about that.)


Joe asked me to clarify an operating statement I’ve been tossing around for years. It goes like this:Read more…

Slippery Truth


Let me share with you an important re-discovery I was just bludgeoned with about the nature of what is “true”, and what is manufactured bullshit.

It’s a version of “truth” I believe is critical for all marketers and seekers of success (both in life and in biz)… and yet remains shockingly elusive and hard to nail down.

Why? Because some very dedicated people do not want you to get hip about it.

Here’s the story: Technically, I just got to share a stage with Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines/Virgin Records this past weekend.

Maybe “virtually” is the better word, though. I was in Phoenix, at Joe Polish’s stunning Super Conference, and I pulled a shift onstage chatting with Joe and then putting the audience of 700+ though their paces writing some headlines.

Branson was “on” the following day, via satellite. Very cool technology — totally live (well, almost, with a 3-second delay bouncing the images and sound off the orbiting junkpile up there) — and amazingly intriguing for a live audience. I had no idea a real audience could be held captive so effectively by someone’s huge head on a screen, broadcasting from half a world away.

But it works.

And I gotta tell you: I was prepared to NOT like Branson, and was ready to bolt the room the second he bored me.

Why? I’ll get to that in a moment. But by the third or fourth minute of his talk, I found myself really liking this guy… and thoroughly enjoying both what he had to say, and how he said it.

By the time he finished his “speech” and generously began to answer questions from the audience, I felt bad that he and I would never have the opportunity to hang out together. I felt that simpatico with him.

Later on, I thought about my prior feelings about him… and how they had been formed.

Bottom line: I was duped.

By the media, and probably also by corporate monsters who hate his message of independence and responsibility for taking care of the world.

The Man (the icon of the beasts who control this world) loathes rich people who attain success by alternative means, and then insult the Power Structure by challenging the “pillage and rape” methods they use to acquire and hold dominion over markets, populations and the “reality” most of us experience through media. (The beasts really, really, really want us sedated and mollified by the value-less aspects of such things as Youtube and Facebook, which act as opiates to keep the bulk of society from questioning anything The Man is doing.) (There IS some value to Youtube and Facebook, of course… but they’re not exactly sterling examples of enlightenment.)

Branson’s main ventures have all been centered on his experiences in modern life… and how he found them lacking and in dire need of updating or complete revolutions. Air travel has sucked for several generations, and so he created Virgin Airlines, which apparently rocks. (I’ve never had the pleasure, but my partner Stan gives it 10 out of 10 stars.) He created his record label to fill the huge gap of taste and relevance that the Big Ugly Record Companies left open… and they have despised him for it ever since.

Now, of course, he’s doing amazing things to try and make the world better… and The Man is apoplectic with rage for the effort. (Branson had Nelson Mandella and Kofi Anan of the UN ready to go to Iraq and convince Saddam to step down and go live in exile in Liberia — which would have been a bloodless, peaceful coup that accomplished everything the Bush administration said it wanted — but the day they were ready to leave for Iraq, the war started and it was too late. I remember this getting scant media attention — at least here in the US — and being completely squelched soon after. The Man hates being second-guessed.)

All this has reminded me, yet again, of the unpleasant responsibility of enjoying the privileges of a free society: We can NEVER take the word of those in power as gospel… and we are saddled forever with the need to stay vigilant and challenge authority on every major point.

The media has not been totally unkind to Branson… but the general attitude about him (if you never actually listened to his side of the story) was skeptical and sneering. Rich do-gooder guy, who was a self-admitted “party animal”, trying to ignore the rules the rest of us have to live by. Deserves to be taken down a notch or two, the little bastard.

Which, of course, is an ABSURD notion for a guy like me to have in his head at all. Heck… I never play by the rules, and I distrust authority with the best of them.

In fact, my entire teaching style is centered on “waking up”… ditching the zombie lifestyle The Man prefers you to stumble though life with… and claiming your place at the Feast.

So what I’ve come away with — from this little exercise in awareness — is the POWER of the media in this regard. I hadn’t bothered to go deep, and get the story myself. To be fair, I’m a tad busy to be doing my own research on everybody in the news… but in this case, we have a guy who is knocking himself out trying to do the right thing in many, many ways that require courage, vision and piles of his own money… and I allowed the snarling media to gobble up his basic message and keep the BEST part of it away from me.

Entirely my fault. I dozed, and got snookered.

The truth will always be slippery, hard to nail down, and subject to misinformation and propaganda.

Still, it’s worth remembering who’s in charge of most of the “news” you are spoon-fed. Rich people who have a stake in you NOT becoming rich, too. They got theirs, and aren’t too happy about you getting yours.

It’s a good thing to spend just a little more energy to get a better view of any story by uncovering alternative news outlets.

And it’s also a good thing to remember how nasty The Man can get when riled. I have zero interest in any kind of “real” fame specifically because of this. I’m fine with the very minor celebrity status I enjoy on the seminar circuit, and among my subscribers and clients and customers. It’s like having a big, raucous, fun and interesting extended family to hang out with.

But the kind of fame that would regularly get you on the front page? Forget it. You instantly become canon fodder for a heartless media that doesn’t care a whit about truth or serving the Greater Good.

Me? I’m gonna get Branson’s book and read it right away.

The dude has me intrigued… and I feel I owe it to him.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Pulling The Plug

We live in a nice joint, in a nice neighborhood.

The house is big, comfy, secluded (somewhat), wired… and full of technological whoop-de-do’s that break down with alarming regularity.

Last week, it was the dishwasher.

Now, for most of my life I was old-school about cleaning up. I have an old R. Crumb cartoon of Mr. Natural doing the dishes — it’s hilarious to a certain demo from my generation, but somewhat obscure to everyone else. He just rolls up his sleeves and does the dishes, in frame after frame of a page-long cartoon. The last panel has him walking away drying his hands and saying “Another job well done.”

That’s old school.

However, I quickly fell into the trance of having a dishwashing machine once we moved in. Load ‘er up, punch a button, go do something else.

So it was discombobulating when the little bastard broke down. We had to run off to Target to get a dishrack, and I was re-aquainted with the old Zen mindset of washing by hand.

After a few days of that, though, we made the modern decision to replace the automatic beast under the counter.

It’s a beauty, too. Brand new ’08 model, bristling with gadgetry and options, yet efficient and quiet (like a little troll that sneaks into the kitchen at night to tidy up).

It’s also another electricity-eating robot… and after the first couple of cycles, it just went HAL on us. (HAL being the evil narcissistic computer in the movie “2001”, of course.) Then it appeared to burn out completely.

Mocked by unresponsive blinking lights, we called the repairman, who said he might make it by the house at some point, while insisting we not “try anything” to fix the machine ourselves. And no, he said, there is no “reset” button. We needed to wait for him, Mr. Expert.

Screw that. I immediately did two things: (1) I tried every tactic I could think of to trick the damn thing into working again… and (2) I asked my assistant Diane for advice.

Diane has been with me for years, and understands the “real” world in ways that only a smart, fearless single mother can.

“Did you unplug it?” she asked, without hesitation.

Uh, no, I hadn’t. I didn’t even know where to find the plug.

Under the sink, it turns out. Obvious.

Diane learned this trick of unplugging, waiting a few beats, and re-plugging electrical monsters long ago. It works with computers, printers, phone answering machines, televisions, cable boxes… and dishwashers.

Works like a charm, too. We’re washing a big damn load of dishes right now. Told Mr. Expert to forget stopping by.

This “unplug and reset” thing reminded me of a critical lesson from Eben Pagan’s killer “Altitude” seminar from a few weeks ago: One of his guest speakers was a sports shrink (as well as a biz consultant)… and he emphasized the need for “recovery” in everything humans do.

Top athletes know how to relax during every pause in the action of their sport. Rookies stay tensed up, and often collapse in exhaustion, while the pro’s dance in elation after the most grueling contest.

Bodybuilders certainly know the necessity of recovery — you can’t build muscle without lots and lots of rest between workouts. In fact (important point here), you will DESTROY muscle if you overwork your body.

In business, I long ago learned the lessons of burn-out: I did it exactly once, frying my brain with workaholism, lack of sleep and a refusal to take vacations around 15 years ago.

It sucked, and I became a relaxation junkie. Part of what I teach freelancers, in fact, is the glory and necessity of weekly massages and monthly mini-vacations. Plus a routine of frequent “Miller Time” breaks to end your day. (Doesn’t have to include booze, but very much DOES have to feature real relaxation and complete brain shut-down.)

Miller Time means: Work, done for today.

Not another conscious thought about the office is allowed until morning.

I can’t count the number of up-and-coming copywriting stars I’ve counselled over the years who ignored my advice and just piled on the jobs until they literally collapsed. A young man should not suffer a physical or mental breakdown. An older dude should know how to avoid it, too.

Sadly, most don’t. The American mindset is suspicious of anything that smacks of slacking off… and that’s just a dumb way to live. (Most of the successful entrepreneurs I know are shockingly lazy, though capable of intense bursts of short focus and disciplined work.)

Burn-out is not your inevitable fate. It is, in fact, a CHOICE people make. They mostly do it unconsciously, denying they’re pushing themselves too hard… but it’s a choice nonetheless.

You can choose to install GOOD habits, instead.

Like unplugging from the grid on a regular basis.

Find ways to turn your mind off. It needs the recovery period, and needs it every day.

Washing the dishes by hand reminded me of the Zen “no thought” mode I’m able to slip into, when I give myself the opportunity. It took years to develop, and I forget about this skill often. (I tend to rely on weekly massage to take me there, which makes me lazy about doing it myself.)

So it’s VERY worthwhile to be reminded, regularly, about the need and the joy of unplugging. Find ways to do it without technology — no Playstation, no websurfing, no staring at the tube.

Find an old school way to do it. My buddy Frank Kern surfs for real in the ocean. My buddy Stan gorges on the live music in his town. Last night, I just stood in my yard staring at the full moon cruise across the sparkling autumn sky for a while… not lost in thought, but alive with no-thought.


Even a moment or two of it can reset your system.

You can play at being a cyborg with video games, but in real life you’re in dire need of very human recovery periods.

Take the advice of a dude who experienced burn-out and figured out the alternatives. You don’t ever have to experience it yourself to learn the lesson.

The number one rule of living well has always been “First, be a good animal.”

Words to live well by.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

On Giving

Sunday, 10:58pm
Reno, NV
Who’s on first?” (Abbott & Costello.)


Have you read Gary Bencivenga’s latest “bullet” newsletter? It’s at — and the story told there is so uplifting that Gary Halbert reproduced it in his newsletter (

I’m a sap for good inspirational stories. It’s one of the hazards of being in touch with your emotional side, which is absolutely necessary if you want to write world-class copy — hell, I sometimes tear up watching sappy television commercials. Often, it’s the snarly, cynical guys who have the biggest soft spots.

Bencivenga’s story reminded me of something in my own past I’d long forgotten about.

This was in the early seventies, in my college town. A friend asked me to help him coach a kids baseball team — there were no parents available.

This was before the movie “The Bad News Bears” was made, and I believe it’s something that has happened multiple times (and is still happening) all across the country: One team in the league is created to house all the kids the other teams don’t want. The lousy players, the outcasts, the orphans of society.

And then, a coach is lured in, also from the outside. And then the team is taken for granted as a perpetual loser, but everyone can feel good about having “given the little bastards a chance“.

In this case, our team was a true menagerie of mutts. We had a couple of kids who didn’t speak English… several obese kids who couldn’t run to save their lives… a few emotional basket cases who would burst into tears for no reason (this was before the age of heavy medication)… and the only girl in the league.

Make no mistake — as coaches, we were mutts, too.

The other coaches were upstanding parents, still sporting their crewcuts from their glory days as star jocks. They took baseball very seriously.

And there we were, my friend Bob and I — two long-haired hippies in torn jeans and “Up The Establishment” tee shirts. We did, however, share a love of baseball. We’d both played organized hardball through our teens, and knew a bit about the game.

The first practice was a disaster.

Kids showed up with decrepit gloves that fell apart with the first catch, there was rampant crying and hurt feelings, and my feeble Spanish wasn’t cutting it with the ESL kids. And no one was paying the coaches much attention.

It was chaos. Being a nice guy did not have much effect.

So, in frustration, I just decided to screw the nice guy attitude…

… and told the team to take a lap as punishment.

They looked at me in disbelief, and I had to chase them toward the far fences. They got back, huffing and gasping, and I made it clear that we were gonna do laps every time they got out of hand. And I stuck to it, too.

Was I being cruel?

Nope. I was treating them as ballplayers. And, to my astonishment, they loved it. I don’t think too many adults in their lives had set down boundaries before. These kids were, for the most part, treated as losers, and acted like it.

Out of nothing more than frustration, I had accidentally given them a taste of respect — by demanding that they stop acting like losers.

Even when, once the league started, we lost every single game in the first half of the season except the last one. At first, we got blown out…

… and then we started getting closer, even scaring some teams. The fat kids stopped wheezing when they ran, and it turned out the girl had a wicked bat at the plate. And once the emotional kids realized we were going to just ignore their crying jags, they stopped doing them. Mostly. There would be a few tears and sniffles every game, but no one tannted them or paid them extra attention.

It just became no big deal.

And I’m not making this up: The last game of the first half was against the arrogant first-place team… and we beat them by a run.

Our joy was compounded by the humiliation of the jocks in the other dugout.

It got better, too. In the second half of the season, we won most of our games. It wasn’t enough to win the league, as Hollywood would have done it, but the real victory was the change in the kids.

I never once saw any of their parents in the stands for a game, and I wasn’t about to adopt any of them. I had a lot going on in my life, and this was a one-time volunteer thing, a couple of evenings each week. Come summer, I was going to be gone.

To give you an idea of how different a time that was — and how indifferent Bob and I were to social conventions — here is how we celebrated the final game: We brought an ice chest into the dugout. Soda pop for the kids, and beer for the two coaches. And long, heart-felt hugs and slaps on the butt after the last out.

And no tears.

I never saw any of those kids again. I have no idea what became of any of them.

But I remember their faces. I wasn’t such a sap back then, and I wasn’t proud of my effect on them, or even really aware of it. It was a job to be done, once I agreed to do it. A challenge, to get this motley crew of losers in some sort of shape. And, if we could, to beat the sneers off the faces of the other teams.

As a coincidence, I worked as a crisis-intervention counselor for institutionalized teenagers as my next job. It was the only gig my fancy degree in psychology could get me during the Carter recession.

And, just to put things in perspective, I learned fast that the majority of kids who get dealt a bad hand in life don’t get happy endings.

You can try as hard as you can to change some things, and wind up only with a broken heart and dashed illusions. The burn-out rate of adults working with state-owned kids is near to one hundred percent.

Still, you take the little flashes of magic when you can.

Those kids on the baseball team got to experience a few weeks of discipline and the attention of two adults who — no matter how scroungy and off-beat we looked — refused to let them wallow in victimhood. Who knows what curves life threw them after that. Maybe we had no lasting impact whatsoever.

Or maybe we did. When I reflect on the people who were forces of change in my life, it’s clear that major turning points often come as small moments. A casual comment, a fleeting extra lesson, a simple nudge of acceptance.

As adults, as business owners and marketers, we tend to believe we have to be tough as nails all the time. There’s even more pressure to be a rock when you lead others.

And it’s easy to forget just how fragile we are, as humans. We can be brought to our knees by microscopic bugs, rendered destitute by events we never see, decked by the uncontrollable forces of nature, fortune and destiny. And you’re vulnerable no matter how rich, or strong, or important you are.

But it works the other way, too. The power of a short phone call, an unexpected letter, or a visit “just for the hell of it” with someone who’s down can change history.

I’ve advised every writer I’ve worked with to strive to “be that one thing your prospect reads today that gets his blood moving”.

And that’s not bad advice for your personal life, either. Be that one person who is willing to share a moment — no matter how brief — with someone who needs your attention. Unlike business transactions, there may not be instant results.

You may never know what your actions accomplish. And, in truth, you shouldn’t care. You don’t reach out to others because there are rewards. You reach out because you can.

Have a great holiday.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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