“You’re so vain…” (Carly Simon, dissing Warren Beatty)
I’ve been meaning to explain some things to y’all for a while, and there’s no better time than now to do it.
Cuz, huzzah, my latest ebook just zoomed to the top of the pile in multiple categories on Amazon last week. “Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About” is the first (of several) “best of” compilations from the archives of this blog… and anyone who’s enjoyed reading my drivel should probably pony up the $2.99 and grab it. (Here’s the link.)
Great for you brain. Great for your motivation. Great for your bottom line (if you’re after wealth and happiness). Great all the way around, I gotta say.
… I still feel the need to warn folks that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Long-time readers of my rantings know what to expect, of course — deliberately mangled grammar, lots of cussing and outrageousness, and absolutely no quarter given to bullshit at any time. This is hard-core biz and living-well advice, tactics and solutions.
… most of my stories revolve around my misadventures out there in the cold, cruel world.
This is not because I’m some rabid egomaniac. (I actually advocate murdering your ego, because it does more harm than good in anyone’s life. Including mine. At the beginning of my seminars, I always spend some time theatrically having people “toss” their ego, so the event can progress without folks getting offended, feeling personally attacked, or just getting their panties in a twist because their ox got gored. Ego sucks.)
No. The reason my books and lessons usually feature a look inside my head is simply because that’s how I learned everything I know about life and business. Since the very first days of my career, I have tried to live an “examined life”, just like Aristotle advised. (Or was it Socrates? Never mind.) I reconsidered my life as an ongoing movie, and I had input to how the script played out…
… so I strove to understand what happened to me each day. And then I deconstructed each event — what the facts were, how I reacted, what I did that was okay, what I did that was clearly a dumb-ass blunder, and what the other “actors” did or didn’t do to contribute to the scene.
This is how I managed to find the great lessons of life and biz. You do something, things cook or explode or simmer, and consequences ensue. And then you study every shred of it.
I was a one-man living laboratory for testing out the theories and advice and tactics I encountered. Because my freelance career kept me busy with a now-uncountable number of fresh clients (all with unique businesses and situations and neuroses and problems), I had a front-row seat for the biggest show around: How things get either done or botched-up in reality.
If I read a biz book that offered advice on negotiating with clients, for example, I could often put it to use the very next day. If it worked, I used it again and kept refining it. If it didn’t work, I tried to see how I could have screwed it up… or how it was bullshit advice in the first place. (This happened a lot, by the way. Books are essential to learning, but theories that do not actually WORK in the real world are useless. And yet, maybe half the biz books out there are just spring-loaded bullshit dispensers.)
Same with all the tactics I picked up from other writers and mentors, or observed during biz transactions. And also with all the advice for how to prosper, or live healthier, or reduce stress, or a thousand other nuggets of insight (or drivel) that could affect the quality of my life.
I was relentless, too. I wanted to figure out what created success, and what triggered failure. There were HUGE lessons no matter what happened — in fact, I learned more from failing than I ever did from accidentally doing anything correctly…
… as long as I dissected what happened, and learned from it.
I’ve often said that — because I was so freakin’ clueless when I started out — I made most of the mistakes possible in the first decade of my career (and throughout my private life). And… I learned SO MUCH from those mistakes, that I’m sorry I didn’t make EVERY mistake possible. It simply would have expanded my self-education even further.
… when I write about a lesson in biz or life in general… it’s a lesson I’ve learned personally. Usually by making a mess, and immediately cleaning it up, examining every detail of what went down, deconstructing the good and bad points… and figuring out what I could have done differently.
THEN… and this is important… I went back out (often the very next day) and DID IT RIGHT. Whether it was negotiating with a client, using naps to organize my thoughts (like David Ogilvy), writing better bullets, dealing with a disgruntled customer on the phone, finding the best lists to mail, or whatever…
… I learned my lesson, and re-engaged with the world to see if what I learned was spot-on, or needed refinement, or was part of that “nuanced” arsenal of biz tactics that require focus, new skills and multiple decision points to put into action.
So, yes, I’m the dude in the center of the story. I’m not discussing theory here, or something I’ve heard about from some wonderful source.
Nope. My stories are about me, out there in the jungle, chewing up scenery and knocking stuff over and making huge messes…
… and then figuring out how to do better, and then DOING better almost immediately.
The charge I sometimes hear –that I’m an egomaniac who is arrogant about giving advice –is just pure bullshit. I’m a total introvert, and prefer to spend the majority of my life away from crowds. My books seem autobiographical simply because sharing the best lessons require giving you a peek into my life… and so that’s what I do. I share what I’ve learned (the hard way) as a copywriter, as a business owner, as a consultant, as a regular person just trying to do the right thing out there.
I’ve lived a great life, crammed with adventure, heartache, stark terror, love, and more success than I’ve ever felt I deserved. I’m humbled that others consider me a resource for learning, and proud that my career of blunders and missteps can serve as a shortcut for others. So you don’t have to spend decades making every mistake out there, just to figure out what the good lessons are. I’ve already done that. I’m bruised, scarred, and grizzled from the process, but happy to share.
In truth, you’ll still want to learn some of the really juicy lessons yourself anyway. Like “money doesn’t buy happiness”. It’s just more effective (and often more fun) to discover that for your own bad self… though, having a little foreknowledge from a trusted dude like me will at least prepare you when Reality smacks you in the face (and wallet, and soul, and heart) later.
I knew NONE of the essential lessons when I started out. I was like a babe in the forest, blundering along with nothing but a small amount of skills, a huge amount of chutzpah, and a raw determination to get it right (based on my flimsy plan, which didn’t have an alternative to making freelancing work as a new career.) I literally had no idea what I’d do if I failed — a situation I do NOT advise anyone else to attempt, though the motivation was pretty spectacular (if scary as hell).
There is plenty of real arrogance and “full of yourself” attitudes in the biz world. I’ve dealt with a vast mob of clients, colleagues, customers, prospects, looky-loo’s, rubber-neckers, jerks, heroes, lovers, haters, n’eer-do-well’s and basket cases…
… and I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out what makes them tick. And buy. And flee, and get mad, and go off the deep end, and melt down, and everything else this crazy human race is capable of.
I love it all. And I love my fans and readers dearly, and really care about making this process of learning fun, funny and memorable.
So that’s why I write my stories from a personal point-of-view.
And it’s why those tales are so vivid, and crammed with twists and turns. It’s real life. I want the freakin’ pain I experienced getting educated to have had a purpose.
Again — I’m honored that you find my blog, my books, my courses and speeches worthwhile. I get chills when I hear from someone who had a breakthrough, or a sudden success, or even just started on a better path because of a lesson I shared.
Get the latest ebook, or don’t. (Just click on the icon at the top of the right hand column here.) You can wander through the archives on this blog for free, of course, and track the posts down in their original form. That’s why we priced this ebook so low (it’s just $2.99), because it’s all from the blog. But it’s edited, and organized, and in a pretty awesome presentation. Easy to read, nice to have on your Kindle or iPad or whatever, a damn good kick in the butt for any entrepreneur or freelancer wanting to take your game up a few levels.
If you don’t mind, if you DO purchase the ebook, go back to the Amazon page (here) and leave a review. No matter what you thought of the stories and advice, other potential readers rely on reviews like yours to help decide whether to invest some time in the ebook or not.
Some of the reviews I’ve had for other books have been outraged at my language, at the raw honesty, and at what they perceive as my “arrogance” in writing from a personal point of view.
Doesn’t matter. For every person who is insulted or angered, I know that multiple other folks were relieved to have found a nutcase like me who tells it like it is, and has the experience, savvy and track record to help out.
Stay frosty, my friend.
P.S. Love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section. I’ll wander in there to see what kind of ruckus you’re causing.
“But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”)
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 fifth 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?
Bullshit. Okay, maybe if you go to Yale or Harvard, you can make the connections on Wall Street and in Washington to get your game on. Maybe. (More likely, those connections are already available, if you’re gonna get ’em, through family bloodlines… and the Ivy’s are just playing up their famous track records in a classic sleight-of-hand. And good luck to you if you’re not an insider.)
Put aside the advancement opportunities offered to spawn of the oligarchy, though… and the realities of life-outside-of-academia do not jive at all with the propaganda doled out by the university systems.
Many of the richest guys I know are drop-outs. Some are HIGH SCHOOL drop-outs. The few friends who did go to the kind of school whose name causes eyebrows to rise…
… are ALL working far outside their major. To the point that nothing they learned has proven to be even remotely useful to their adult life. (Unless they stumble upon another over-educated dweeb at a cocktail party and get into a bare-knuckle Trivial Pursuit marathon.)
Too many people get all confused and bewildered about “education” as opposed to “going to college”.
It’s not the same thing, folks.
Some of the most clueless individuals I’ve ever met have impressive diplomas… while nearly all of the most savvy (and wealthy) individuals I know done got educated all on their lonesomes.
I learned more about history, business and psychology in 2 weeks of serious pre-Web library surfing (with a speed reading course under my belt) than I did in 4 years of college.
And I learned more about life in 3 months of hanging out with street-wise salesmen than I did from ANY source, anywhere, up to that time.
By all means, go to college if that’s part of your Master Plan to having a great life. You’ll meet interesting people, and it’s a Rite Of Passage for many Americans these days.
But don’t do it blindly. Just cuz The Man says it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.
Do some critical thinking before you jump in.
And if you really want that degree in Russian literature, or women’s studies, or political science, or whatever… then fine. Go get ’em. Grrr.
Just KNOW that you can probably educate your own damn self on those subjects… and even get a deeper understanding of it all… by reading every book written about it, and interviewing a few experts. And if you can get private mentoring from someone, even better.
This can all take place during evenings and weekends, over the course of a few months, while you hold down a day job. Even if you buy the books, instead of hitting up libraries, you’ll have spent less on this specialized education than you’d pay for a single semester in “real” school.
And, unless you’re the laziest screw-up ever, you’ll actually learn MORE in those few months of intense immersion… than you would with a full-on degree.
You know how I can make this bold claim with a straight face?
Because this is what I’ve been doing as a freelancer for decades. Every time I wrote for a new market, I spent weeks immersing myself in it… learning everything I could about it from the inside-out. And this process often made me more of an expert than the client himself.
And I did it over and over and over again.
It was just part of the job. All top freelancers do this.
Once you lose your fear of self-education…
… you can finally let it sink in that WE LIVE IN THE FREAKIN’ INFORMATION AGE. The joint is crammed to bursting with books, ebooks, videos, websites, courses…
… the whole world is CRAZY well-stocked. There are teachers and coaches and mentors available if you need supervision. (I’ve partaken of this opportunity frequently over my life.) Boards and fan-zines and forums and membership sites abound (for bitching and moaning, as well as for networking with peers).
It’s a cornucopia of knowledge, experience and adventure out there.
Yes, there are blind alleys and pitfalls and wrong turns…
… but once you’re committed to learning something, these are just brief excursions off the main drag… and you can use even your failures as advanced learning tools as you gain expert status. (In fact, it’s really required that you screw up at least a little bit. Otherwise, you never get perspective.)
And best of all…
… you can engage with life as you go. And skip the jarring nonsense of the Ivory Tower bubble.
(One caveat to self-education: You must, early on, read up on how debates are actually taught. Or join a debate club.
I’m serious. Best thing I’ve ever done. As you sample debating, you should demand that you get to defend the OPPOSITE viewpoint that you currently hold for any subject. This forces you to look beyond your petty biases, and open your mind to other points of view.
This is a HUGE advantage to have in your toolkit throughout life. Everyone else will be hobbled with un-examined party-line nonsense and indoctrinated crap they can’t even begin to defend when challenged…
… while you — with your rare ability to walk in anyone’s shoes, and to feel the pain or glory of alien thought patterns — will forever more see beyond the sound bites and cliches. And be able to eloquently explain anything, to anyone.
You will actually begin to sense vestiges of “truth” in the wreckage of our modern culture.
I don’t have to tell you how that might apply to marketing, do I?)
Most people will not go this route of self-examination and immersion-learning, of course. The concept of taking control of your own education seems kinda threatening and foreign to the majority out there.
We spend the first years of our lives sitting quietly in classrooms, being brainwashed to believe we don’t know shit (and that Teacher knows everything). That’s excellent training for hitting a groove in college and post-grad pursuits…
… but it’s piss-poor preparation for Life In The Concrete Jungle.
Again, nothing wrong about going with the status quo. No shame.
Just don’t expect to learn much about the way the world works. You’re learning how academia works. Different animal.
Wanna hear my short speech on how to prepare yourself for life? (I’ve edited this from a recent post I wrote for the Simple Writing System mentoring program. Lots of great stuff keeps coming out of that gig…)
(Okay, quick plug: Check out www.simplewritingsystem.com to start your own adventure as a high-end sales master, if you’re so inclined…)
Here’s my mini-rant: I’m extremely prejudiced about this subject, of course. If I ran the world, everyone would get at least a taste of being an entrepreneur, during their formative years.
It will taste bitter to most people. And that’s fine. No harm, no foul. Move on to getting that job with The Man.
But for some… it will be sweet nectar. A thrill like nothing else they’ve ever experienced before.
Being an entrepreneur takes balls.
But you don’t have to “be” a ballsy kind of person.
You just have to understand how to implement your goals… which requires a little savvy about getting stuff done in the face of opposition and obstacles. Which is the definition of “ballsy”. Most folks who are successful at achieving goals were not born with the necessary attitude.
They learned the skill of living life with guts, just like they learned every other important skill associated with the gig.
I OFTEN intervene even with long-time professionals (like freelance writers, or veteran biz owners) who are screwing up their efforts to be successful.
My main advice: “Stop being a wuss. Everyone is scared. The successful ones acknowledge that fear, put it aside, and just get busy taking care of business.”
It really is that simple.
Life beyond childhood is for grown-ups. If you’re scared, you can take a regular job somewhere, and stay far away from the risks and realities of being your own boss.
On the other hand… if you’ve got entrepreneur’s blood in your veins… and you really DO want to be your own boss…
… then allow the reality of doing so to wash over you, and embrace it.
Everyone is unsure of themselves out there. There are no guarantees in life for anything… and getting into biz is among the riskiest things of all to do.
A tiny percentage of skydivers will die each year while jumping… but a vast chunk of rookie business owners will fail.
This is why you pursue the skills of salesmanship. Learning how to create a wicked-good sales message, how to close a deal, and how to bond with a target market is the PRIMARY weapon you want walking into ANY business environment.
Will you still fail? Maybe.
But you will NOT fail because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. If knowing how to persuade and influence can make your business sizzle, then learning salesmanship means you’re armed to the teeth. Like everything else in life, having the right tools for the job at hand is the best way to put the odds in your favor.
MOST people are not meant to be their own boss. The world needs followers, too.
Here’s what I tell students in the Simple Writing System, when doubts about their future bubble up: “Just by diving into the SWS, you have shown that there is something different burning inside you. No one held a gun to your head and forced you to come here to learn these skills. You decided to join all on your own.
“Even if you’re not yet sure why you’ve joined us here… you need to understand that MOST people would never even consider doing anything like this.
“Independence freaks most people out. The thought of standing up and taking responsibility for the birth and success of a business is terrifying… and most will refuse to even entertain the thought.
“This is, by the way, why you should always enter the entrepreneurial world WITHOUT relying on your current crop of friends for support.
“They will not applaud your efforts. They think you’re batshit crazy for daring to even consider being your own boss. They will (consciously or unconsciously) sabotage your progress if they can, and rejoice in your failures… because if you DO succeed, that kills their main excuse for not succeeding themselves. Most folks believe success is all about luck and magic. When you dig in and actually do the work necessary to succeed, you piss all over their world view that The Little Guy Can’t Win.
“If you’ve made friends or started a network of fellow travelers here in the SWS, great. Most entrepreneurs have to operate alone (until they stumble on places like this, where they can find help, advice and coaching). That loneliness just intensifies the fear and sense of risk.
“But I’ll tell you the truth: As scary as being independent is…
“… once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be hooked.”
Most entrepreneurs who enjoy even a little success instantly become “unemployable”. After thinking for yourself, after taking responsibility for your success or failure, after engaging the world fully aware and experiencing the thrill of living large…
… you’re worthless to a boss. He can’t use anyone who thinks for themselves.
Are you wracked with doubt?
That voice you hear — the one knocking you down, digging a knife into your gut and highlighting your worst fears — is JUST A VOICE.
In psychoanalytic talk, it’s your “Super Ego”… the scolding parent’s voice, the doubter of your abilities, the whiny little bastard bent on keeping you down.
And it can easily be sent packing.
Most people allow others to rule their lives. Rules and bad advice and grim experiences dating back to childhood somehow become “the way it is”…
… and regardless of any proof otherwise, they will obey that voice until they die.
And yet, all you have to do…
… is acknowledge the voice (“Yes, I hear you, you little shit”), realize it’s not your friend… and lock it in a dungeon deep in your brain, where you can’t hear it anymore.
I speak from experience on this subject. I was ruled by The Voice Of Doom for the first half of my life. I didn’t even try to take responsibility for my success, because The Voice told me it was hopeless. That I was hopeless. That Fate had nothing but failure in store for me.
Then, I realized that The Voice was actually full of it. I proved it, slowly at first, by setting a goal outside The Voice’s warnings… and then achieving it. And then doing it again.
It’s like superstition. I used to be the most superstitious guy you’ve ever met. Literally, my life was dominated by superstitions.
Then, one day, I just decided to see how real those superstitions were. So I violated every single one of them. On purpose. If I had previously thought some action was “bad luck”, I would do it, blatantly, just to see what kind of bad luck occurred.
And, of course, no bad luck ever appeared.
The human brain is crammed with nonsense like this. Superstitions, bad rules, dumb beliefs, unfounded fears and ridiculous feelings of guilt and shame.
Especially guilt and shame.
You know what a fully functioning adult does? They don’t approach life believing it should be a certain way, or wish that life was a certain way.
No. They engage with life the way it really is. You make your own luck. Rules sometimes make good sense, but deserve to be broken when they’re clearly stupid. Belief systems often have nothing to do with reality. (You can “believe” you’re gonna win the lottery with all your heart and soul… and it won’t change reality one tiny bit.)
Fear is a natural part of our defense system… and it can get out of hand in modern times.
So you need to dig in and get to know your fears. Some are fine — don’t walk down that dark alley if you’re not prepared to deal with the things that happen in dark alleys.
Others are counter-productive — you had a bad experience once when you were 12, and so what? Get over it, put on your Big Boy or Big Girls Pants, and re-engage with life.
And shame? Guilt and shame are useless. On the road of life, feeling guilty about something is like setting up camp and refusing to move or progress any further.
Instead, try “remorse” — recognize when you’ve done something wrong, clean up the mess, fix what you’ve broken as best you can, and make amends to people you’ve hurt.
And don’t “vow” to do better next time.
Instead, actually DO something to change your behavior or habits. Promises are bullshit. Action is the only way to move through life in a positive way.
Don’t promise to do better. Just do better. This will probably involve learning something new — a new skill, a new way of dealing with life, a new set of behaviors.
Doing this will set you apart from the majority of other people out there, too.
The modern Renaissance Man or Woman is something awesome to behold. While the rest of the world increasingly sinks into a snoozing Zombie-state — indoctrinated, fooled, manipulated and played– you have the option of becoming MORE aware, more awake, more alert and ready to live life with gusto.
However, no one is going to force you to do this.
If you want to join the Feast of Life, you have to step up and earn your seat at the table. You will not be invited in. You will not stumble in by accident, or stroke of luck.
Nope. You must take responsibility for your own life… figure out what you want… and then go get it.
It’s a daunting task for most folks… too daunting to even contemplate.
For the few who know it’s what they want, however… it’s all just a matter of movement and action.
Yes, it can be scary. Life is terrifying, at times.
It’s also only worth living, for many people, when you go after it with all your heart.
There are no replays on this game. No second tickets for the ride.
You’re allowed to sleep through all of it. Most folks do.
If that’s not good enough for you any more, then welcome to the rarefied air of the entrepreneur world.
It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s scary, and there’s no safety net below you.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And that’s the commencement speech I’d give.
Put you to sleep, didn’t it.
Okay, my work is done here.
What would YOU tell new grads? Lay it out in the comments, below…
John “The Prof” Carlton
Wednesday, 8:59 pm
“What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” (Nick Lowe)
One of the first things you hear, when you’re learning about fundamental copywriting and ad creation…
… is to avoid humor like the plague. The great David Ogilvy said “People do not buy from clowns.” This pre-dated Jack-In-The-Box’s latest commercial model (where they’re so obviously going after the stoner market with late-night “Munchie Meal” take-out boxes that it’s funny on multiple levels)…
… yet, overall, most high-end marketers still agree with it.
Even the funniest copywriters I know (and let me assure you that many of the best bust-your-gut-laughing humans alive are, indeed, copywriters) (weirdo bunch, totally) almost never insert humor into their sales copy. Almost. Occasionally, when it’s absolutely safe (like writing to your own house list, full of folks proven to have the EXACT same sense of humor you have, right down to the Animal House reruns and Adult Swim shows you all watch)… they may go off the reservation and aim for making readers spit up their morning coffee over an email.
But it’s rare. More likely, the funny-guy guru’s you follow have a “meta-text personality” that includes some risky guffaw moments here and there, just to position them in their market as too-cool-for-school (and thus intellectually superior to their competition)…
… which they’ll jettison at the point of closing any sale.
Cuz money is serious biz. And most buyers (not looky-loo’s, but buyers) aren’t keen on being the butt of a joke, and tend to distrust salesmen who seem a bit too… funny. (Even the word “funny” means both being humorous, and also being weird, brain-damaged and untrustworthy.)
Now, I’m a fairly humorous fella. (And any brain damage I’ve sustained is all better now.) I’ve made a colleague snort coffee through their nose as recently as… well, yesterday, on the phone. Other writers collect my private emails, and read them to family and friends. (Part of that may be a self-defense strategy against their spouse’s assessment of a life in advertising as being “boring”.) I’ve also caused entire ballrooms to laugh so hard, some attendees almost wet themselves. And I’ve even used “okay, you got me” sarcasm to get my point across to a reluctant client during consulting.
Of all the things I value the most in life… laughter and humor rank in the top five. (Just below sex, In ‘N Out hamburgers, craft IPA beer, and the NBA.) (Oh, and my Jack Russell terrorist dog. Sorry, girl. Almost forgot you…) (And my ’64 Stratocaster. And Turner Classic Movies. And…)
Okay, whatever. It ranks high, anyway. It’s a big part of who I am, and what I bring to the table as a friend, colleague, writer and consultant.
And yet, when a sales process gets down to the shorthairs…
… I’m as serious as a mortician.
Losing a sale because you screwed around is NOT funny. It is, rather, a fucking tragedy.
So all the top writers I know have a strict rule against tickling the funny bone of a prospect… at least, when things get to “that point”.
However, we also really, really, really want to find exceptions to this rule. We figure there’s GOT to be an exception, somewhere.
Which means we’ve all become minor experts on the topic of humor. Because, it turns out, while everyone believes they own a “great” sense of humor… the truth is, few (if any) civilians understand humor at all.
So, I thought I’d share some of the research I (and some of my colleagues) (including writers like Kevin Rogers, who spent a decade as a stand-up comic before getting into advertising) have dug up…
… in no particular order…
… just as a starter guide to why we mostly don’t (but sometimes do) use humor in our marketing:
The Joke’s On Us #1: In the last few decades, Ivy League universities have started studying humor, trying to get a baseline understanding of what’s funny to most people, and why.
And their first biggest discovery was that many people have no sense of humor at all. None.
However, while these funny-challenged folks have no idea why you’re bent over laughing at a certain joke or situation…
… they are often very astute to the social cues of humor, and will be holding their bellies right along with you, laughing out loud.
They’re faking it. Or, more precisely, they wait a beat after observing other people laughing, and join in as a social “bonding” routine. They’re supporting the good vibes that mass laughter brings to any social setting… kinda like nodding in agreement, or applauding.
Researchers figured this out by tricking people in studies — seeding a small crowd with actors who laughed on cue at non-funny things, and recording the actions of study participants. Folks with actual senses of humor would smile in a bewildered way, wondering why they weren’t getting the joke. But the fakers had no such objective judgments — the crowd laughed, so they laughed, too.
Reading about these findings blew my mind. I’d suspected something like this was going on, because I had friends who laughed a bit too hard, or who seemed to mainly use loud guffaws as a way to show dominance in a conversation. So I did some of my own testing, watching closely when fakers actually began laughing (a beat behind everyone else).
If you ask, most people will say they have a great sense of humor. Insider their world, they do. Whatever they find funny (or socially acceptable to laugh at, as a bonding process) is what’s funny. This is how humans operate. All measurements of behavior begin with what you’re doing as the universal standard for normal, or moral, or just “the right way”… and if others don’t agree, then they’re just wrong.
Marketer’s Insight: While no one is sure what percentage of the population is actually humor-challenged, it IS a large chunk of your fellow citizens. So when you’re creating marketing aimed at a large group of prospects, you cannot assume that ANY of them will grok your sense of humor.
Just like half or more will reject your politics (and yes, I know you have a superior understanding of politics to everyone else on the planet). And your religious views.
The rule in bars is “no talking about politics or religion”… because it leads to fights.
For marketers, you can add “no funny stuff” to that list. You simply cannot predict what any list will find funny, or not find funny, or be offended or baffled.
The Joke’s On Us #2: One of the first challenges the researchers found was agreeing on how to “measure” what’s funny.
Turns out it’s not a simple thing at all. In fact, the commercial uses of humor is relatively recent — the stand-up comic was invented during vaudeville, which required between-act ring-leaders to keep the audience happy. Shakespeare and Mozart and other post-Enlightenment entertainers made liberal use of what we now call slap-stick (the term literally refers to Medieval clowns using a paddle on each other) and “low brow” humor to delight certain audiences… and more intellectual mockery and sarcasm to make the sophisticated elites titter.
So the people creating entertainment, or trying to influence public opinion or sway a vote, might know how to get a response… but it was an inexact science. Making one part of the audience laugh might offend another part.
The researchers have gotten lost in the weeds trying to define humor. (Some studies have claimed to be able to determine your socio-economic status by what you laugh at, in fact. Fart jokes and pratfalls for the working class, existential stories based on willful misinterpretations of esoteric knowledge for the elites.) (The flaw in this kind of study, of course, is that semi-illiterate yahoo entrepreneur’s can make buckets of moolah with a good biz, and over-educated snobs may be dead-broke slackers.)
It’s gonna take a while for researchers to get it all straight (if they ever do).
The thing is, humor is complicated.
But it’s also a major element of business and social life, so thinking critically about it gives you an edge.
Here’s how I’ve broken it down (through a long life of observing):
Marketer’s Insight: Just understanding the fundamentals of how humor is delivered and consumed can help you immensely. If you’re not a witty dude, don’t try to fake it. You can’t. If you like jokes, go ahead and memorize some… and use them when you’re in a situation where everyone is yukking it up over memorized jokes.
But consider the audience, always. Don’t shock when it will offend. Never assume your audience shares your religious or political views (and triple-check your perception of this before wandering down the very dark alley of potentially-offensive jokes). And it’s fine to just be part of the audience, to laugh and enjoy the wit or the prepared humor — you’re actually bonding with your supporting laughter.
Quick Story: A well-known colleague of mine — a really nice guy, liked by everyone, and a killer marketer — once took me aside and asked how he could develop a more interesting personality. He was lost in witty conversations, had no jokes memorized, and didn’t understand why some folks found some stuff so fucking funny.
I took the challenge, and with my pal Kevin Rogers (the former stand-up-turned-copywriter), we gave him a list of things that might help (which included watching George Carlin routines critically — figuring out how each story unwound, and when the laugh points popped up… memorizing a handful of jokes from the Playboy jokes page and also from Reader’s Digest — so he had something a tad ribald, and something very middle-of-the-road… and critically reading witty authors like P.J. O’Rourke or Molly Ivins — one conservative, one liberal.)
It didn’t work. I know you can develop real wit, because I’ve progressed myself from a joke-telling kid (sharing stuff from Mad magazine or jokes my drunk uncles used to shock the aunts), to a rookie good conversationalist, to a high-end witty dude who can hold his own in any crowd. On any subject.
But I think you need to start with a basis sense of humor… which we’ve discovered is not default equipment with all humans.
Still, by all means, learn how to tell a joke properly. Find them written out, and memorize them, right down to the exact words used. It’s like memorizing scripted lines for a play. Some advanced actors may wing it occasionally… but if you can’t do that, don’t wreck the scene by trying. Study the process, if it interests you, but otherwise just follow the path already laid out.
Another Quick Story: Gary Halbert and I loved to mess with each other’s minds on stage at seminars. The ultimate prize was getting the other guy to lose his cool by laughing too hard to speak (or come back with a wittier line). Spitting coffee through your nose was a bonus point.
We’d get vicious, too… using insults, practical jokes, rumors, everything was fair play. It kept us loose and happy during long weekends of Hot Seats.
But it also taught us a good lesson in the limits of humor. During one break, Gary and I were chatting at the side of the stage… and an attendee walked up and leveled a gross, tasteless insult my way. Then he laughed heartily. In his mind, he was inserting himself in the Inner Circle — he’d thought, “Hey, I’m a funny guy, too”, and figured insulting me was an easy way to get special attention.
Cuz, you know, Gary and I were so vicious with each other.
It doesn’t work that way, of course. Neither Gary nor I laughed. We just stared at the guy until he slinked away, humiliated.
Hey — I can call my friend a fuckhead and get away with it. Because that’s how we roll.
But YOU call him a fuckhead, and I’m in your face in a heartbeat. You’re not allowed that privilege.
If you have to ask whether you’re in the Inner Circle or not… you’re not in it. This is pretty much universal in human experience. You can loudly berate your bowling buddies and get a laugh back… but that goofy yahoo on the other team says the same thing, and them’s fighting words.
It’s stunning how often people don’t grok how this simple social paradigm works. And it can ruin business situations for you, handled poorly.
Just a word to the wise…
The Joke’s On Us #3: Finally, for this primer on the subject, never underestimate how much some people value humor…
… while an equal number are threatened by it.
Look critically at long Facebook threads for evidence. You’ll find in-jokes that you cannot possibly understand, because you’re aren’t privy to the back story. You’ll find other people gleefully trying to keep up with the witty back-and-forth’s, who miss the point entirely. (You can get real-world examples of how different people find different stuff funny… and keep in mind the research claiming to predict status by what you laugh at.)
And you’ll find many examples of people trying desperately to disrupt funny threads. Every time someone inserts comments like “First-world problems”, they’re trying to kill the conversation. Ask yourself why they’d want to do that. Often, it’s simply being uncomfortable with the discussion, and yet feeling desperate to comment. Just as often, though, it’s a crude attempt to establish dominance. (It’s the same with comments like “Bang! for the win”, which attempts to control through judgment.)
I consider these kinds of disruption offensive, because they can murder a good thread. Hard to continue laughing about some modern situation when reminded that kids are starving in India. It’s Debbie Downer on steroids.
It’s the same with sarcasm. Shielding cynical comments by claiming “you’re just joking” is a blatant cop-out, and a failure to take responsibility for the consequences of your statements. It works, unfortunately, in politics and personal grievance. “Can’t you take a joke” is the icing on the insult.
Humor evolves on a society-wide level. What was hilarious a decade ago in a movie is now a cringe-inducing example of obliviousness. Outside the US and Britain, stand-up tends to be joke-oriented… whereas our comics and cartoons careen toward the absurd, employing more long-form stories than standard punch-lines.
Humor is very important to some people. It’s my main defense against a heartless universe obviously out to get me.
And at the same time, humor is a very foreign and scary thing to others.
This is why it doesn’t mix well (usually) with serious sales pitches, where money is on the line.
I may do another post on this, if folks are still wanting more.
Meanwhile, love to hear your take and experience with humor in biz situations, in the comments section below…
P.S. One last tactic: If you’re going to use humor in biz settings… it’s a good idea to make yourself the butt of any joke. It’s called “self-deprecating” humor, and it allows you to use every shred of your wit, sarcasm and sharp humor to make a point… you simply make yourself the target, rather than risk offending or insulting anyone else.
I make sure my audiences at events understand that I know the answers to so many problems… because I personally failed or got waylaid by nearly every problem possible in life and biz myself. It’s absolutely true… but a less forthright speaker might avoid spoiling his reputation with confessions like that.
If I nail an attendee with some shocking assessments (like calling him an idiot)… I make sure he understands, first, that I’ve been the biggest idiot in the universe myself. Many times. And making mistakes, learning my lessons, and then using those lessons the next time is how I became successful.
In fact, I don’t know of any other way to progress in life and biz.
P.P.S. By the way…
… if you’re a victim of what my colleague David Garfinkel calls “intellectual loneliness” (where you’re withering away because you lack witty, funny, smart-as-whips pals… who also happen to share your passion for business, copywriting, marketing and the entrepreneurial lifestyle)…
… then it might be time for you to seriously explore my Platinum Mastermind group.
It’s a small (under 20 members) group that meets four times a year… where we do Hot Seat-style consults on each member’s situation (problems, biz plans, ad copy, anything at all that’s bugging them)… with a focus on GETTING SHIT DONE. No vague philosophy. Just hard-core, detailed, specific brainstorming and sharing of experience that leads to actual things you can do to unclog the moolah spigot, and get your biz and life back on the fast track.
We also have guest experts who come by just because they like the way I operate. And they share, and help brainstorm, and just pour themselves into the weekend. Recent guests: Joe Sugarman… Gary Halbert’s sons (Bond and Kevin)… Jay Abraham… Brian Kurtz (former CEO of Boardroom, Inc)… Dean Jackson (marketing superstar)… Joe Polish… and many more.
Just see what’s up, for cryin’ out loud. The site won’t bite you: Carlton’s Platinum Mastermind.
Oh, yes. This could be the day you remember forever, where everything changed for you…
“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…” (Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”)
A lot of my social media focus lately has been on Facebook. As much as I distrust and mildly despise The Zuck, I have to hand it to the little sociopath for figuring out a dynamic that allows for real interaction with folks…
… which lasts, on average, around one to three days. Then, even the most viral post disappears down the social media rathole and is gone forever.
So I like to rescue some of the better posts I’ve carved into the FB newsfeed, and stack ’em up here on the blog… where they’ll survive in the archives for as long as this rickety thing exists. (We’re officially at the decade mark, by the way. Ten years of posting monthly… except for January of 2012, where I inadvertently didn’t publish an intended article in time, so the archives have that single hole in them. That’s pretty freakin’ awesome.)
Anyway, no need for context here. If you’d enjoy seeing the comment threads on any of these posts, just hop over to my FB page (where you should already be following me, anyway, what are you thinking?). It’s www.facebook.com/john.carlton.
And, as always, I love to hear what you’re thinking in the comments here (where I often hang out and interact).
By the way… that photo up top is from the big damn AWAI seminar I was a featured speaker at, back in October. Everything about the photo (and yes, that’s Dan Kennedy sitting with us) is explained in the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast I link to below (in one of the posts) (and yes, this is a tease to get you to read this entire thing).
Enjoy the year-end Facebook roundup:
Take This To The Bank, Part 11: Most people’s daily actions (eating, buying, loving, hating, grooming, working, all of it) are based on beliefs… which they regard as “true”.
You better grok this, if you want to communicate with, sell to, or persuade folks in any way.
As irrational and unfounded in reality as these belief systems can be, they become unshakeable foundations for all behavior, thought and decisions.
Rookie copywriters like to bowl readers over with facts and data and science. Yawn. These are humans you’re writing to. Reality is very subjective, and by the time perception gets past the internal obstacle course of flawed senses, emotional distress, and knee-jerk denial… your facts will get ambushed and slaughtered as efficiently as a 30’s-era mob hit.
Real persuasion occurs in the murky soup of people’s ancient, mostly-unconscious belief systems. Timid efforts ain’t gonna cut it.
Bold, and even spectacularly whacky beliefs trump crunchy facts every time.
Just something to keep in mind as you explore persuasion expertise…
A life well-lived will be roiling with stories. Seems pretty obvious.
But it’s the same with a business well-run. And a career with lofty goals. Even a project you’ve thrown yourself into. Or a single day of enthusiastic productivity.
The world spins in the greased grooves of stories. All around you, and deeply intertwined with your very existence, are stories of romance, harrowing adventure, small and large heroic episodes, and the fascinating history of your impact on everything you touch. Yes, you.
Your stories swirl and crash into the stories of your friends, colleagues, lovers, clients, family, enemies and random encounters.
Recognizing these stories, and molding them into snarling tales with a set-up, a point, and a punchline or lesson, can kick you into a higher level of conscious living. The slumbering masses ignore, deny and deflate their stories… and yet, the hunger in all of us for well-told tales is never sated.
There’s no big secret to success. It’s not the moolah or power you accumulate… it’s the wealth of experience, feelings, brain stimulation, and your impact on others generated by living large.
It’s hard to become, and stay conscious. Your stories help you catalog the good stuff, and keep you enmeshed with all the other actors in your life’s movie.
The best marketing is alive with stories, because it’s all just an extension of life well-lived.
Go chew up some scenery. The only real crime in the universe is squandering this unique, scary and wonderful existence you woke up with today…
“Get away from me, kid, ya bother me…” (Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”)
So, let’s take on the entire advertising model of western civilization, what d’ya say?
Here’s a good place to start: It’s the end of baseball season, playoff fever in the air. I’ve been watching the SF Giants stumble-bum their way through a summer swoon (barely making the last NL wild-card spot)…
… and generally enjoying the age-old process of heartbreak and joy. I followed sports religiously as a kid, but paid less and less attention to it as the real-life adventures of adulthood took up all my time… and now, having a wee bit more time to indulge, I’ve returned to the fold.
But I record the games, and watch them after-the-fact.
Because of the mind-numbing commercial breaks.
I’m not alone, of course. Across the country, grown men and women run screaming from rooms when someone inadvertently turns on the evening news, for fear of hearing the score in a game they’re recording for later.
And being forced to endure the entire broadcast — including the endless, mind-melting commercial breaks — in, say, a bar or a friend’s house is pure torture.
The SAME commercials will play over and over, sometimes twice in the same break. Some of the national ones are mildly clever (at best), but hardly classic films that deserve repeated views. And the local stuff is just awful. (The locals can be excused, of course — tiny budgets, no insight to how persuasion actually works, and they’re at the mercy of clueless ad agencies or a brother-in-law with a camcorder. There’s even some charm in the awkwardness of homemade spots… sometimes, anyway. Mostly not, but you might get the flavor of the area at times.)
But the national spots have no real excuse. Yes, there is value in repetitive views — the average buyer sees a late-night cable infomercial something like 7 times, in pieces lasting a few minutes, before pulling out a credit card. There’s a process to the art of long-form, chew-up-the-wee-hours commercials.
However, the model of jamming a single pre-recorded commercial into every break in a sporting contest just begs to be ignored. Any thinking creature knows to check out mentally during the break, and go do something else. If you’re welded to the couch (say, in the midst of watching a blowout, weighed down by one too many beers), you still do not “watch” any commercial for the 20th time…Read more…
Tuesday, 2:08 a.m.
“Is there gas in the car? Yeah, there’s gas in the car…” (Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne”)
Those of you in the loop know we’ve re-launched the coaching program of the Simple Writing System again.
We rarely offer this hand-holding, personalized, one-on-one mentoring (by coaches who are also successful copywriters). The last session was a couple of years ago.
No idea when another session will come around… if it even does.
We take this one program at a time. It’s notorious among marketing insiders, because of how effectively we’re able to transform almost anyone into a sales-message-producing machine… quickly and efficiently. It’s life-changing, and business-changing mojo…
… and that’s why the top marketers in the game have demanded that the folks in their organization responsible for marketing TAKE this course.
The personalized coaching in the SWS is extremely interactive. Perfect for anyone who knows that hands-on mentoring is the best way to learn the simplest possible system (crammed with short-cuts) for creating all the sales messages needed for a profitable business…
… including all your ads, websites, video scripts, emails, AdWords, blogs and other social media broadsides…
… everything that pumps eager prospects into your Sales Funnel.
So you can close the heck out them. And get filthy rich and happy, and become the most successful entrepreneur or biz owner possible… because without killer, persuasive copy, you’re not going to find, nor close very many prospects.
Most marketers wander through the wasteland of Bad Business Practices their entire career…
… and never figure out how to SELL anything.
So, no matter how totally hot and good and righteous your product or service might be…Read more…
“Are you going on this crazy voyage?” (Sailor in “King Kong”, 1933 version)
It’s high time for a little “public service” message here, for any marketer wanting to hire a freelance copywriter.
Cuz it’s a jungle out there.
There’s a veritable mob of available writers, of all levels of expertise (from world-class down to “should be hung”), charging all kinds of fees and making all kinds of promises.
It can get confusing, abruptly, and you can end up mismatched (or getting roughed up financially) if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So, here’s a Quick Start overview of what you – the dude or dudette doing the hiring – should get straight on before heading into the Big Scary Jungle Of Freelance Copywriters to find your perfect scribe. (This works for hiring ANY consultant, actually, so pay attention.)
Step One: Deconstruct and list what you want done.
Do you need a single ad written, or do you need your entire website created or overhauled? Do you need someone to write the necessary emails, Video Sales Letters and sales pages for a launch? Do you need a sales funnel created, starting with Adwords and traveling through landing pages, auto-responders, landing pages, and sales support?
Step Two: Admit it if you aren’t sure what you want (or need). Double admit it to yourself if you’re absolutely clueless.
This is a critical step.
You’re about to shell out a lot of money, and put a lot of your hopes and dreams on the back of the writer you hire…Read more…
“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.
“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.
Still, though… 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 6 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 junk. 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 behind 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 latest 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“.
“He wants to dream like a young man, with the wisdom of an old man. He wants his home and security. He wants to live like a sailor at sea.” (Bob Seger, “Beautiful Loser”)
We’re in for a treat today.
One of the best storytellers in copywriting — my longtime cohort Jimbo Curley — has sent us a riveting tale sure to send shivers up the spine of every entrepreneur alive…
… while simultaneously delivering one of the most primo lessons in getting after your own success. I laughed out loud several times — Jimmy has a real talent for doing that to readers.
Enjoy… and reap the profits of learning the lesson. Here’s Jimbo:
Thanks for the intro John.
Something crossed my mind the other day — just after I ran over my neighbor’s dog.
Here’s what I was thinking: As an entrepreneur, a business manager, or just a plain working stiff, you may not be taking enough risks.
Or perhaps not the right kind of risks.
I’ll tell you about poor Rex in a second. For now, fasten your seatbelt. You’re in for a wild ride.
“Risk” is the base ingredient for success. It’s the secret sauce to landing a spouse who’s outta your league. The mechanism for pole vaulting over your competitors. It’s how you’ll win big, and make your nay-saying friends and family look like idiots for ever having doubted you.
I’m serious. Today I own and operate a couple companies that earn in the millions each year…
… but twenty-something years ago it wasn’t like that. Back in the early 90s I was managing a near half-million dollar marketing budget for a hardware and contracting operation – at $28K a year. I figured I had a secure job, a good title, and would safely “ride my way up” the escalator of success while others risked their necks climbing up the rickety ladder.
I opened my eyes. The media reps who landed me as a client were wearing silk ties and gold watches. The guy running the crumby print shop I frequented was driving a new Beemer. The owners who employed me were living in obscene homes and enjoying three or four lavish vacations a year.
And yet there I sat for 8 to 12 hours a day at a particle-board desk. I ate a bag lunch and drove a 10-year old beater.
I wanted new stuff. I wanted lavish. I wanted obscene.
It began to sink in.
Achieving such noble and lofty goals in total safety was a delusion.
Simple math and ruthless honesty made it clear — I could NEVER get there “working my way up” from $28K a year.
In the “death zone” of Mount Everest climbers must use ropes and ladders to traverse a sheer 40-foot rock-face before they can reach the peak. It’s called the Hillary Step. (It has nothing to do with Clinton, but Sir Edmund Hillary, the first nut-job ever to summit Everest and come back alive.)
One screw-up on the Hillary Step… one minor bobble… and you’re dead meat.
Yes, you CAN refuse that terrifying climb up the Hillary Step, but it meansRead more…