“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…Read more...
“They’ve all gone to look for America…” (Simon & Garfunkel)
I’m republishing this post from last summer, because it’s just too damn good to allow it to languish in the archives. Enjoy:
I want to wish the country a happy birthday on this fine July 4th.
She’s looking not too shabby for 235 years old. I’ve been here for a lot of those b-days, too… and here are a couple of random thoughts (before I get drowned out by fireworks):
Random Thought #1: I’m not gonna discuss politics, and I hope you have the presence of mind not to start in on it yourself in the comments. However… as far apart as we seem today on the multitude of problems faced… I can tell you it has ever been thus.
At our very best, the country has always been like a dysfunctional family forced to co-exist at a perpetual holiday dinner. My own family shows signs of it occasionally — somebody gets hot about some subject, voices rise, someone gets called an idiot, feelings are hurt…
… and then, minutes later, all is well and we’re laughing about some story from the family archives. (I had uncles who couldn’t get through a game of gin rummy without throwing cards across the room and giving us kids an excellent lesson in swearing like a sailor before the aunts corralled them back into some semblance of civilized behavior again. I miss those old farts, and a whiff of beer and cigars can take me back instantly…)Read more…
“Use all your well-learned politics, or I’ll lay your soul to waste.” (Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil”)
Today, I’m gonna share with you one of the nastiest, yet most valuable lessons you’ll ever get in your career.
It’s all about the firestorm of conflicting personality types you’ll encounter in the Big Game O’ Biz. It took me ages to figure all this out (and get it into a simple concept that’s easily explained)… and many, many times it has saved my butt from disaster.
This is the mostly hidden part of being in business. The other fundamentals… honing your skills, dealing with technology, managing moolah… all seem to be fairly straightforward.
If only we didn’t have to deal with human beings to get through the day, everything would be just dandy.
However, sizzling underneath every interaction with another Shaved Ape lies a volcanic pit of emotional, physiological/biological, intellectual and metaphysical goo. Experienced professionals intuitively learn to negotiate this roiling obstacle, eventually… but usually can’t explain what they’re doing. They rely on a code of ethics, first, that eliminates or salvages biz relationships with the most common kinds of crooks and monsters out there.
However, waiting for the other guy to violate your code before jettisoning him from your life means you’re a punching bag while the truth about the human capacity for evil slowly dawns on you. (And most folks never really understand any of this. Which is why the neighbors of the freshly-caught serial killer always express disbelief — “He seemed like a nice guy. Always mowed his lawn. Sure, there were screams from the basement sometimes, but…”)
I studied this stuff — and figured it out — only because I was completely on my own in the early part of my career as a freelance copywriter (where I constantly dealt with new people, and needed all the insight to make quick-yet-correct decisions I could muster). I had a smidgeon of a hint, through an otherwise-worthless psychology degree I snagged in my youth…
… but the real breakthrough came because my quest to become an expert in salesmanship forced me to go deep with how people actually react to a sales pitch. This was my introduction to “street level psychology”… Read more…
“Out of 9 lives, I’ve lived 7…” (The Band, “The Shape I’m In”)
I almost called this post “Web 2.oh no!”
And I know I’m just gonna scratch the surface here…
… but a few rules need to be laid down by somebody concerning this “Brave New World of No Freakin’ Privacy Left At All”.
Now, I’ve never noticed much “common sense” actually being very common among my fellow humans…
… but Jeez Louise, the arrival of social media and smart phone cameras has turned us all into ethically-challenged TMZ-level paparazzi. No sense of right or wrong, no sense of crossing a line or going too far.
And people are gonna get hurt.
Do we need a collective and not-very-subtle whack upside the head here? Metaphorically speaking, that is.
Slap Some Sense Into You Rule #1: Just because you have a camera and recording capabilities on your smart phone, doesn’t mean you have a license to USE it.
Yes, the rest of the world is hurtling toward a Zuckerberg-envisioned future where “privacy” will be a quaint notion that strangely only irritates geezers… sort of like how we now view petticoats, doo wop and basic manners.
However, I would caution privacy-anarchists that this “nothing you do is a secret to us” mindset is how Stalinist Russia maintained control over citizens (see also “1984”, by George Orwell).
Now, what you do in your own sordid life is up to you, of course. Including allowing basic privacy rights to be dismantled and shed.
However, as a professional, you’ve got to recognize boundaries. Because there’s a lot at stake here.Read more…
“Oops, I did it again…” (Britney, God love her…)
I’m on a roll here, grabbing criminally-ignored posts from the blog archives…
… and re-posting them prominently, so you criminally ignore them no longer. With a few minor edits, of course, tailoring the prose to fit today’s quirky needs for advice. (Hey, you don’t fit into your old high school jeans anymore, either, you know.)
Here, we have another dangerously-tasty post from not too long ago… which, I believe, requires no explanation other than to say it’s some serious insight into the writer’s brain.
You do NOT want to venture into this quagmire without a guide. Which is what I’ve written here — a short “guide to the writer’s mind”.
Not exactly a hot Disneyland ride, but if you’re in business it’s some wicked-valuable info.
So, indulge, and enjoy (if you dare):
I’m gonna need your feedback on this.
See, I’ve always been a wave or two out of the mainstream… and that’s actually helped me be a better business dude, because this outsider status forces me to pay extra attention to what’s going on (so I can understand who I’m writing my ads to).
This extra focus means I’ve never taken anything for granted — especially not those weird emotional/rational triggers firing off in a prospect’s head while I’m wooing him on a sale.
And trust me on this: Most folks out there truly have some WEIRD shit going on in their heads, Read more…
Tampa Bay, FL
“What kind of music do you play here, Bob?” “Oh, we got both kinds. Country and western.” (Bob, the bar owner, and Jake Blues in “The Blues Brothers”)
Each year around July 4th, I like to post something on the blog about the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The part about free speech remains a protection that Americans enjoy (most of the time)… while much of the rest of the world refuses to even consider the concept.
Even otherwise enlightened joints like Europe have an itchy relationship with free speech.
Hell, we couldn’t get such a protection passed here in the States now. If it hadn’t been wedged into the Constitution by Jefferson in the Bill of Rights 240 years ago, it would still be an unrealized pipe dream of writers and deep thinkers everywhere.
Make no mistake: Your freedom to write blogs without government interference… as well as your right to use words like “fuck” to your heart’s content while making your point… is protected (mostly).
And this freedom is what fueled America’s dominance in stand up comedy.
Hey, don’t scoff. Satire, ridicule, and funny stuff very much qualifies as deep thinking.
In fact, it’s how public opinion gets changed the fastest.
And this freedom has been denied to almost every human who has walked the planet in our history.
So don’t take it lightly. Your ancestors would have killed for such a seemingly obvious privilege (and both did kill to get it, and die defending it).
The Man don’t like free speech.
Bugs him. Irritates his sense of authority and moral dominance.
Well, fuck The Man.
For every writer who was or will be jailed for writing the truth (as he or she sees it)…Read more…
“Dude, you’re harshing my mellow…”
Let me know what you think about this, will ya?
It seems, at first, to be a light-weight subject…
… yet, really, it’s one of the foundations of living a good life.
I’m talking about the people you surround yourself with.
But not the way you’re thinking.
This may even jar you a little bit. Here goes:
Early in my career, I realized that grown-up life isn’t all that much different…
… than what goes on during recess in the third grade.
There are outsiders, insiders, cliques, teams, gangs, winners and losers galore.
No matter WHAT grisly experience you had in grade school…
… you’ve got company.
It’s brutal out there.
And then you become an adult…
… and it’s the SAME SHIT all over again. Hierarchies, power-grabbing, humiliation plays, one-up-manship, and clubs you can’t belong to.
The ranks of entrepreneurs I know are filled with “recess survivors” who finally gave the finger to “The System”, and went off on their own.
As amazing as it seems, you really can get on with life without the “gotcha” games and pettiness of “Life With Bullies, Prom Queens, and BMOC’s”.
… that’s not the realization I want to share with you today.
Instead, the second part of that epiphany (that life is just a replay of third grade recess) is this:
Regardless of whether you “won” or “lost” in the social-climbing bullshit you’ve suffered through in your time…
… it can all still be a blast…
… if you have the right people around you.
In other words… it’s not whether you win, or lose.
It’s how much fun and insight to life you get during the adventure.
Let’s use me as an example.
Cuz I don’t mind telling embarrassing stories about myself:
I had a very mixed record of social “success” coming up the ranks… both in school, and in early adult life.
I was okay at sports. Just good enough to make the team and suffer the anxieties and physical/emotional debt of vicious organized games. And just under-powered enough to get cut from every attempt to make varsity. So I got to play… and I got to experience the arrid loneliness of the bench and the exit door.
But I sucked, utterly and without redemption, at most social interaction. Girls scared the bejesus out of me as a kid… flummoxed me as a teen… and toyed with me after that.
I was so unprepared, so confused, and so clueless about dealing with standard issues of dating and being a cool guy and feeling like I belonged… that, if I were a character in a novel, you’d roll your eyes and say “No way could anybody be that much of a loser!”
That was me.
But get this:
I still had a BLAST.
Even when Life dialed up the most humiliating, emotionally-scarring horror possible to a shy, skittish introvert like me…
… I was able to shake it off, and show up the very next day smiling and ready for more.
“That all you got, Fate? That’s your best shot, you miserable s.o.b.? Ha!”
You know how I did it? How I survived, and even thrived while being buried in sticks and stones and the arrows of misfortune?
I’ll tell you:
I had buddies to share it all with.
Not just fellow losers, either.
And this is the essential point here: I had a close-knit group of guys (and a few gals) around me…
… who delighted in being alive.
There’s probably some social-math equation I could come up: Your ability to survive and thrive… is directly proportional to the time that elapses between a horrible event…
… and your ability to laugh about it.
With my friends and me, that time was often instantaneous.
We had a lot of practice.
(And I’m not talking about just dating disasters, or heartbreak, or social blunders. I’m including death, financial misery, and the near-total upheaval of normality. The kind of blows that can rock you to your knees.)
I’m still not yet revealing the essence here.
The take-away of this tale is not “friends are good.”
Because I will attest that there was a very definable, and very rare aspect of these friends that is absolutely essential…
… and even beside the point of being able to laugh about tragedy.
You wanna guess what that aspect is?
This realization came rushing back to me yesterday while I chatted with my best friend from high school. Haven’t seen the dude in two years, but we stay in close touch.
And, mid-way through the call…
… I realized I ached from laughing.
Even though some of the subjects we discussed were illnesses in our families, job woes, relocation horror stories, and other tragedies.
And I was able to put a “quality” on that laughter.
It was bristling with raw energy. The “good” kind of energy.
There really are two kinds of people in the world: Those who bring energy with them to everything they do…
… and the great masses, who suck energy from you like psychic vampires. (That’s a Halbert term, by the way. Privately, we had other names for these types of buzz-killing grim reapers.)
I’ve known a lot of folks in my time. And I’ve unconsciously been putting each and every one through a little test upon meeting them.
The test is simple: Do they provide energy? Or are they leeching it from the air around us?
A party crammed with energy-gobbling vampires is a drag, through and through. Even Vegas can’t salvage a good time.
And yet, just hanging out with a single “mini-solar system” type of person in a drab coffee shop… can be pure bliss.
In business… in life… in games and in every social and quasi-social gathering…
… there is no fun, and little chance for adventure or good stories when the energy level is flat-lined.
And yet… when you are in the company of someone bursting with life-force…
… well, it’s pretty freaking magical.
The most mundane tasks become a joy. (My pal Art and I used to just drive around Cucamonga, with no goal or destination… not cruising, but rather just hanging out, laughing, basking in raw energy and verve and marvelling at the cruel and wonderful adventures Life handed out.)
Life isn’t gonna treat you better when you surround yourself with heat-source types. You’re still gonna take it on the chin, still gonna encounter monsters around every corner.
My mother — after ten months of gruesome chemo — still managed to tell a joke and make me smile… just hours before she passed away.
Believe me — there was nothing funny going on that afternoon.
But I cherish that last “don’t let the bastards get you down” shared moment with her.
If you understand what I’m talking about, you don’t need to know anything else about her to know exactly what kind of special woman she was.
That was over 15 years ago. And the lesson I learned is never far from my thoughts… especially when I’m feeling like Life has it out for me again.
The ride’s too short.
If you’ve got that flame in your soul, don’t let anyone or anything douse it.
We need you in the mix.
We already got enough of the damned vampires hovering…
Anyway, something to consider.
What do you think?
Black Rock Desert, Nevada
“And when the morning of the warning came, the gassed and flaccid kids were strung across the stars…” Along Comes Mary (The Association)
Tonight, I have a strange question to ask you.
I’ve just experienced a fairly fabulous week, from all angles. I’m juiced with positive energy, feeling good, and bubbling with hope.
… I am also oddly compelled to ask: “What are you afraid of?”
Your thoughts are welcome. And needed.
Here’s my side of the story: I attended two events this week that couldn’t be more different…
… and yet shared so much of the same voodoo that fuels livnig a good life.
First, I drove out to one of Napa’s oldest and most exclusive golf resorts (The Silverado, deep in the lushest part of California’s wine country) to meet with a star-studded group of speakers and authors for a big damn 3-day brainstorm session.
This event is the brainchild of my old pals Stephen Pierce and Chet Holmes and Larry Benet.
In attendance were marketing lumaries Ron LeGrand, Alex Mandosian, Russell Brunson, Brad Smart, Scott Hallman, Joel Comm, JT Snow, and too many others to count.
Plus a few dudes who’d hit the billion-dollar mark in earnings.
It was a super-exclusive group. By invitation only.
The meeting place was about as hoity-toity as you can imagine, with hordes of staff scurrying about and an air of old-world colonial spendor hovering over everything. Though tastefully so.
Parking lot crammed with Lexus’s and Caddies and Porshes.
Cocktails are twelve bucks in the bar.
It was a great place to hang out with the cream of Web marketing for a few days. Safe, nurturing, comfortable.
… I rushed home, unpacked the collared shirts and nice shoes, re-packed with dingy hiking gear…
… and headed out to Burning Man.
I’m not even going to attempt to explain Burning Man in detail. Words fail the effort. Go to www.burningman.com for some history.
… a bunch of artists, neo-hippies and funsters from the coasts hold an in credible outdoor party and art-fest every year on the Playa in the middle of The Black Rock desert in Nevada.
It’s an actual functioning city of 40,000 people from all over the world. Tents, RVs, hammocks, you name it, you’ll see it. (And the port-a-potties are actually clean… not counting the thin coating of Playa dirt) (which you will never get completely out of your clothes.)
For 51 weeks of the year, the Playa is a flat, nearly lifeless plain of dirt. (Looks kinda like the Salt Flats in Utah, where all the land speed records are broken.)
Then, for one amazing week every August, it’s a beehive of action, art and partying.
When the party breaks up, everyone decamps, leaving ZERO trace of human activity. Every scrap of paper, every drop of gray water, every day-glo pasty is hauled out…
… leaving the Playa once again lifeless and naturally gorgeous.
No trace. That’s the rule.
It’s a pretty stunning event. They’re on year 22, I believe.
It’s exclusive, in that you gotta buy into the ideology to survive (and afford the $300 tickets).
Once you become a citizen, no money can buy you anything within the well-laid out streets of Black Rock City — you must trade art, water or something else of immediate value to conduct any business.
The art is often massive, built with industrial savvy (so it moves), and sometimes hydraulic power. (A mechanical hand the size of a Volkswagon moved eerily like a real human hand… and yet could actually crush stuff like a Volkswagon. Which they actually crushed again and again during shows. Impressive. And arty.)
Much of the art burns, or entails fire.
At night, 40,000 people are grooving to ear-shattering techno-pop and dance music, while huge installations burst into flame.
Lots of Mad Max-style costumes, mixed with total nudity. Think “Thunderdome meets Satyricon”.
Okay, I tried to explain it a little bit. Sorry.
But I want you to have these two distinct images in mind: The clean wealth and influence of Napa’s Silverado resort… coupled with the filthy fun of Burning Man’s impromptu Black Rock City.
Got that image?
Here’s my point: Underneath the shallow first glance…
… they are almost identical events.
Here’s how: They both thrive on…
… Freedom From Fear.
See, all the energy of our civilization comes from the edges. I’m not dissing the center… but the great mass of sonambulent middle class folks aren’t really a driving force for action.
No, the heat comes from the extremes. The top business owners and especially the entrepreneurs who take risks and push envelopes keep the financial side humming.
And — just as important, if you truly care about the quality of life — the top artists and especially the semi-deranged free thinkers who take risks and push envelopes keep the fun side humming.
Both sets do their thang by crawling outside the “box” of repression society tries to foist on us all… and creating something new from, essentially, thin air.
And before anyone gets all huffy about responsibility and values and all that hokum…
… you should reflect on the fact that Burning Man attracts lots and lots of Republicans (elected officials, no less) from all over the country… and the Silverado will not deny entry to anyone based on ideology. (Heck, I got in.)
Both sets have dress codes, once you step back and look at things dispassionately.
Both have strict behavior requirements. (Burning Man has an “alternative” list of acceptable behavior, but it’s very unforgiving if you violate it.)
Both, basically, are refuges for people who just need to get the fuck away from the straight-jacket of “normal” life.
And freak out in a way that appeals to you.
(Yes, on the Meta level… playing lots and lots of golf while guzzling top shelf booze is just as much an orgy… as dancing naked around a Playa bonfire buzzed on pharmeceuticals is…)
It’s all about finding a safety zone, where there is a palpable absence of fear.
Both Black Rock City and the Silverado are situated out in the middle of nowhere. Far from easy to get to.
Both have long approach driveways — several blocks for the Silverado, on a private road… and 8 freakin’ miles of arid desert for BR City.
Both are staffed with an army of folks dedicated to making your stay happy.
You can relax. Be yourself.
And let go of the bullshit that cranks up your blood pressure in the world outside.
You’re among, if not exactly friends, at least like-minded people who share your idea of a good time.
It’s pretty amazing that to get this kind of freedom, you have to go to such extremes.
Because what everyone is afraid of…
… is opportunistic crime…
… The Man.
Anyone who gets deeply involved with life has a libertarian streak, or should. Or quickly develops one.
You just want to be left alone. You don’t want sociopaths preying on you, and you don’t want cops sniffing around just because they can.
At the Silverado, you’re on private grounds… so you’re not gonna get a DUI or get rousted for public drunkeness.
I found it very interesting that Burning Man is held in the middle of the desert, in the hottest week of the hottest month of the year, far, far away from any semblance of a “normal” town…
… and yet every law enforcement branch that CAN hover and cruise the party…
There are BLM rangers, Pershing County sheriffs, FBI and Nevada Highway Patrol officers all over the joint.
It’s like they’re just TERRIFIED that somewhere, someone might be having a good time.
Authorities — meaning uptight politicians looking toward re-election — have tried to close down Burning Man throughout the two-decade history of the event.
Despite the money that floods into Nevada from the international crowd. Despite the way the desert is not harmed. Despite the very obvious fact that 40,000 people (again, including every strata of society — old to young, socialist to capitalist, pagan to papist, straight to not-so-straight) very much WANT to be left alone to their single week of controlled debuachery and artsy engorgement.
I saw more people at the Silverado too drunk to stand up, than I did at Burning Man the day I spent there.
And I’ll bet the actual amount of drugs were about equal, per capita. If, that is, you count prescription pharmaceuticals with Mother Nature’s alternatives.
(Just to cut any rumors off at the knees here… I was at Burning Man as an observer only, not as a participant. I was there as a guest of the City of Reno arts and culture manager, to check out some of the artsy installations the city might want to purchase.)
Not that there’s anything wrong with choosing your own poison for Miller Time.
But that’s where the two worlds collide nicely.
What the HELL is The Man afraid of?
So WHAT if people wanna get naked and burn shit up during a week of weirdness in the desert?
Fear drives us in so many ways.
Fascist-leaning societies want lots of fear cooking in people’s system. Makes control a lot easier.
And certain kinds of power corrupts, by making someone with a badge “more equal” than you… simply because he has the badge. The symbol of nasty, humorless power that WILL be obeyed.
The Man has come to an uneasy truce with the Burning Man participants. Nudity is overlooked. Displays of weirdness are ignored.
And yet, I heard cops were busting Burners for “driving” while under the influence… even though they were driving golf carts reconfigured (with some creative welding) into giant lizards or Mickey Mouse heads. And, of course, not hurting anyone.
The irony is inescapable.
And I ask again: What are you afraid of?
The entrepreneurs and artists I know — and I know vast mobs of each — all share a similar love of freedom…
… and an overriding lack of fear.
Heck — we even taunt Fate with our outrageous plans and way-out ideas.
Most of society asks “Why do you need to challenge the system?”
And we answer “Because it fucking NEEDS challenging.”
Maybe now, more than ever.
Long live Burning Man.
Love to hear what you think in the comments section below.
P.S. Sometimes — in fits of hopeful dreams — I try to imagine a world where The Man just lets go of being so uptight all the time.
Look — I’m all for a level of authority. I’m a home owner. I’m a business owner. I pay taxes, I vote, I get involved with the community.
And I think there is a place for regulation and laws restricting actions that harsh my mellow. (This is why no existing US political party will have me — not even the Libertarians.)
But the greatest assets of our country — whether people realize it or not (clueless zombies) — are freedom of speech and the right to be left alone.
Not bullshit freedom of speech. The real thing. We’re losing it.
And we’ve already lost so much privacy to prying government eyes, it may take a generation or two to re-establish it.
Yes, it’s a dangerous world.
It’s also a beautiful world… and beauty shrivels under the boot of a self-righteous majority.
Something to consider, if you’re ever tired of walking around zombified.
P.P.S. And, on a purely capitalist finishing note…
… I want to congratulate all the folks who grabbed a spot for the upcoming Simple Writing System at-home mentoring course.
If you missed out — cuz the door slammed shut on Wednesday, when all the slots were gobbled up — you should know there’s a waiting list.
Just hop over to www.simplewritingsystem.com, and scroll down to the P.S. on the first page.
You’ll see how to get on the waiting list.
This is gonna be a blast…
“Quivers down my kneebone… I got the shakes in my thighbone…” Guess Who (“Shakin’ All Over”)
Have you ever been so freakin’ nervous you almost lost control of bodily functions?
Two things made me suddenly think about this unseemly subject.
First Thing: We have an Afghan hound in the house with a bark that rattles windows four blocks away… and he has come thisclose to eating the mailman, the Fed Ex guy, three neighbors, and a flock of Jehovah’s Witnesses who dared knock on the door.
And that’s just over the past month or so.
But here’s the kicker: He will break down into a sobbing lump of useless self-pity if Michele or I so much as look at him cross-eyed.
His bark is a mask for the social vulnerability he suffers.
He doesn’t really want to rip out your throat.
Deep inside, he’s just a confused, awkward puppy, trapped in an adult dog’s body. Scared shitless of the world. (Literally shitless, whenever fireworks or lightning are nearby.) (Yeah, it’s a mess.)
Second Thing: I was recently advising someone about “getting his ass out in the marketplace as an expert”… and the guy actually started shaking.
Just the thought of stepping onto the metaphorical stage of life, and performing… sent this poor guy into a stuttering implosion.
He not only had no “bark”… he had no cojones, either.
This got me thinking about my own journey from stuttering fear-meister to swaggering bluster-bomb.
It’s relevant… because, in business, my line is: If you truly have a great product that your prospect should own… then shame on you if you don’t step forward confidently and BE that guy he needs you to be… so he can feel good about buying.
You can’t sell from your heels, people.
(I love to trot out the old quote by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones: “It’s not that I’m all that great of a guitar player, you know. It’s just that I can step out in front of ten thousand people and DO it.”)
(Talent comes in WAY behind cojones when it comes to carving out your niche.)
Anyway, back to me…
I am not an extrovert by any stretch.
In fact, I chart pretty heavily toward “total thumb-sucking, light-avoiding, cave-dwelling introvert” in basic personality tests.
You can tell an introvert from an extrovert pretty easily: When the extro is around people, like at a party, he gets energized. The introvert finds it a chore, and leaves the event drained.
It’s all about energy transference.
Now, I was lucky to grow up with a sizeable contingent of good friends — who I went all the way from kindergarten through high school with — which saved me from having to “make” new friends until I hustled off to college.
And, in college, for whatever reason, I was immediately taken in by a group of goofballs who somehow saw my potential for furthering their goofball yearnings.
However, it took me a long time to get to “know” most of these people.
Seriously. It was decades before I finally felt comfortable around most of them.
Nearly all of the people I’m close to, I’ve been close to for half my life. (I’ve known my business partner, Stan, for 25 years, and our contract writer, Mark, since we were nineteen.)
I tell you this to illustrate how ill-equiped I was to become a guru.
I stuttered as a kid… and frequently found myself getting stuck on words as an adult whenever I encountered uncomfortable situations.
Meaning, any new situation where people I didn’t know were looking at me.
In grade school — back when I was convinced that everybody else knew things they weren’t sharing with me (and that’s why life seemed like such a mystery) — I even burst into tears in class math competitions. (One little girl — Peggy The Bitch, I call her — repeatedly tripped me up with the question “What’s 5 times 0?” I nearly always said “5!” before realizing my blunder and being told to sit down while the rest of the class continued the competition.)
(Ah, childhood humiliation. What a concept.)
As a teen, a good (longtime) friend convinced me to learn guitar so we could start playing in bands. He wanted the excitement and recognition of being on stage. I just got a thrill from playing music.
So he fronted the many bands we formed, happily, from center-stage… and I happily lurked near the far edge, out of the limelight, content to concentrate on the tunes.
I was kinda like Garth, from Wayne’s World. Thrust into the action on the coattails of a raging extrovert.
Freelancing was a natural for me. It required long, lonely hours inside your head… and you were excused from looking like the regular “suits” in the agencies because, as a writer, the more outrageous you appeared, the more they believed you must possess the “goods”.
Halbert, of course, was THE uber-extrovert. He publicly listed his main hobby as “finding new methods of self-aggrandizement”.
I stayed behind the scenes as much as possible. My main job, in fact, during seminars was to handle everything but the actual delivery of the action onstage.
It was Halbert’s show, and I liked it that way.
I had defined myself as an introvert, and never considered it could be any other way.
I even had a “defining moment” — back in college, when I was introduced to my first “real” girlfriend’s beloved sister, I started laughing uncontrollably. Not because anything was funny… but because my body betrayed me, and just went off in an inappropriate spasm.
I was humiliated, because after lamely stuttering about why I had burst out with guffaws (I could come with nothing good to explain myself), the awkwardness just got deeper and deeper. My girlfriend forgave me (and even sorta found it endearing — I was her “bad boy” artistic-type boyfriend, so weirdness was expected).
But her sister forever thought I was an A-Number One Doofus Jerk-Off.
Rightly so, I might add.
Around uncomfortable situations, I was that guy.
After, oh, around thirty gazillion private consultations and Hot Seats and meetings with clients once I became a sought-after pro… all of whom initially tried to “alpha male” me into submission, because they wanted the writer (me) to be their slave…
… I started to think that maybe I had unwisely “defined” myself.
As anyone who has gotten freelance advice from me knows, I quickly learned to walk into a new client’s life and OWN the bastard. I knew that I held all the cards — he needed copy, couldn’t produce it himself to save his life, and thus was in zero position to be dictating terms to me.
I ain’t shy, professionally.
Now, my technique may or may not help others. (I developed a “stage personality” for these consultations I called Dr. Smooth… and let this “alternative John” take over.)
(And damn, but that Doctor was good at taking control and bullying clients.)
It’s a standard tactic, adapted from acting. No big deal, nothing revelatory about it.
What it did for me was immediately obliterate that old “defining moment” that I had regarded as my “fate”.
I wasn’t really a socially-retarded loser.
I just played one in life.
Cuz I thought I’d been… assigned… the role.
If you’ve ever seen me speak at seminars, you know I’m no wallflower these days. I’m totally comfy in front of any size crowd, because the “mystery” of what’s going on has been solved in my mind.
It’s not about me.
It’s about the content of what I share.
(Plus, of course, I know so much about the people in the audience nowadays… from all those decades of delving into the psychology of salesmanship… that I don’t even need to imagine anyone naked to be calm.)
(It’s just us folks in the room. Good people looking for good info, plus maybe a little entertainment along the way. And a speaker line-up of “just-plain-dudes” having fun in the limelight.)
My point: You can do what you need to do.
If your market is crying out for someone to stand up and be the go-to-guy… you really can do it.
Like Keith Richards, you can get your chops honed to a degree that gives you enough confidence to be “onstage” (however you define the stage — it can be your website, an actual stage, or infomercials or any other media)… where you will deliver what the folks paid to see.
There are vast armies of “experts” out there (especially online) with no more real skill or insight or knowledge than you have.
Often, they have less.
What they DO have, that so many others refuse to cultivate, are the cojones to step up and BE that guy the audience needs you to be.
I can tell you this with absolute certainty (because I personally know it’s true): Most of the top guru’s in the entrepreneurial world — especially online — are former dweebs, stutterers, social outcasts and semi-dangerous nutcases.
They are, essentially, gawky and lonely and scared little kids trapped inside an adult’s body.
What they have done, however…
… is to re-define WHO they are when it counts.
Everyone, at some time or another, feels the urge to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over their head. Life is tough, business tougher. Hamlet’s slings and arrows constantly rain on everyone’s parade, and NO ONE gets a pass.
… the winners define themselves.
I’m still an introvert. I still have my awkward social moments. I still occasionally stutter.
But those things do not define me.
Long ago, I threw away the role “assigned” to me… and just created my own new one. Which allows me to do whatever needs doing to further my goals… including climbing up on stage alone and engaging a thousand people as a ringleader.
Life sucks when you’re crawling around under the weight of unnecessary self-loathing, self-pity and self-expectations you can never meet.
Life rocks when you re-cut the jigsaw of your personality, and make something new according to who YOU want to be.
Just food for thought.
Love to hear your experiences with self-defining moments.
It’s heartening to hear so many commenters in past blogs finally come to grips with internal battles they’ve sometimes struggled with for years.
Hey — it’s fun when this stuff starts working.
P.S. We are very close to finishing up a new venture here that — if you crave rollicking adventure in your business life — will absolutely light up many people’s worlds.
It’s a limited opportunity… but the folks who truly know, in your heart, that one of the spots was meant for you… will instantly understand what has to happen to get involved.
Just a few more days…
“Code Blue! Gimme the paddles…” Dr. House (alot)
You got a favorite TV show?
I was a charter member of the first TV-addicted generation, and I may yet live to see the end of network television as we’ve all known and loved it all these seasons.
The Web’s already killed it for the youngest generations.
Once the last of the Boomers wander off, we’ll take our fond memories of Howdy Doody and The Twilight Zone with us… and no one will much care, being too busy with fourteen incoming Twittering IMs on their ear/eye implants and a fresh scene loading up from the new Grand Theft Auto XXVII they just injected straight into their pituitary gland.
Sometimes I think about that.
Television, easily the most culture-shaping technology advance in the history of mankind… eclipsed before it reached seventy years old… murdered by hotter, more intensely interactive tech. (Okay — I know that television was actually viable in the 1920s, but get real. It wasn’t a cultural phenomenon until the fifties.)
But that’s not what I want to write about tonight.
Instead, something else triggered my interest.
I thought back to the season-ending episode of “House”, which had everyone in the room reaching for tear-soaked tissues (including the cat, who was barely watching).
And, if you’ll give me a minute here, I’m gonna tie that show in with you making money with your ads.
VERY major lesson coming up, so pay attention.
First, though, you gotta put up with some ranting:
/Begin rant: Television, overall, has followed the same arc that — in micro — the show Saturday Night Live has followed: Great for a couple of years… suck for several years… recover, and be great again… then quickly descend into Suckdom once more… and over and over, in a cycle that (someday) historians will probably be able to track down to the second. (“As we can clearly see, class, the show left the rails thirteen minutes into the first episode after Lorne Michaels left in season five… you can almost — chuckle — see it jumping the shark as Louise-Dreyfus sputters in yet another vapid, unfunny scene…”)
Speaking of rants, you’ll get some of my very best when you sign up for 11Really Stupid Blunders You’re Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now. You get it for free, right here.
And I believe we’re currently in one of the recurring “up” bumps. Always good when you realize there are actually a couple of shows on that DESERVE to be watched. Not brain-dead watching, but active interest watching.
What do you Tivo?
We religiously record House, 30 Rock, The Office (though I suspect the shark is in mid-air on that one), and Manchester United games on Fox Sports. (Okay, Michele won’t watch soccer with me, and I can’t stomach Brothers And Sisters with her. Trade off.)
I love the medium, but I don’t “need” it.
I grew up watching all the sixties sit-com, sci-fi, drama and kitsch I could cram into an evening (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Addams Family, Outer Limits, The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., American Bandstand, She-Bang, Soupy Sales, Phil Silvers, Ed Sullivan, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, The Monkees… God, I’m embarrassed to admit all that…).
But I watched, primarialy, because it was there. Mom had the kitchen radio on all day (it’s how I discovered rock and roll), and the boob tube was cranked on when Pop came home, and wasn’t turned off until beddy-bye. (Laugh-In, Red Skelton, Where The Action Is, Your Show of Shows, The Match Game…)
Once I was old enough to beg Pop for the car keys, my evening rituals changed dramatically. I didn’t even own a TV through the seventies. (Never saw a single episode of Mork & Mindy, Mary Tyler Moore, or Three’s Company, thank you very much.) (One of TV’s “down” cycles, I would say.) (Showed up, often drunk, at friends’ houses with toobs for SNL, of course.)
MTV and cable brought me back to the fold, fitfully.
Now, I’m in a groove once again.
Gotta have my “House”, and the occasional Law & Order SVU. (BTW: Why is Rooney not playing for Man U lately? Did he get hurt? Traded? What’s up? He wasn’t in the Moscow grueler…)
Okay, back to the point of all this:
The last episodes (it was a twin-hour ending show) of House were pretty riveting television. I’m ALWAYS impressed with good writing (Boston Legal, CSI: NY, the commentors on the World Series of Poker, Californication)… and I’ve learned to watch both passively (to enjoy the moment)…
… and to go back over what just hooked me, and watch critically.
I like to break down exactly what the writers did to tweak my emotions, my interest, and ESPECIALLY my resistance to being sucked into the story.
That’s right. With every show, I challenge the writing to do its job.
We have an unwritten rule in the house: Any time either of us can start predicting the dialog before the actors speak it… that show is toast.
The shark has done jumped, when the script is so weak you can burble along with the actors in real time.
So here’s the thing…
… this House final episode (WARNING: Spoiler alert!) polished off one of the major characters. That’s not unique in television… but the way the writers did it defied what any viewer would have predicted.
It was as if… the script burned down the house.
Just created all kinds of emotional havoc and brain-tickling mayhem.
It was that riveting, and satisfying.
I can’t wait for next season. Seriously.
I’m pissed I gotta wait.
Consider what the writers did, as you consider how to write compelling, riveting copy yourself.
Sometimes, you gotta burn down the house just to get your prospect’s attention.
Not literally, of course (“you idiot”, House would add).
Most ad copy is like an episode of Three’s Company.
At best, vaguely suggestive, but nothing you’d remember the next day (or even the next hour).
Great copy, on the other hand, is like South Park.
You simply cannot snooze through it.
You gotta be prepared for the reaction, too, if you ever get ballsy with your writing. Not everyone will cheer you on. “He can’t say that, can he?” will be a common response.
“Somebody’s got to do something about that repulsive material.”
“Can’t we shoot them, or deport them, or something?”
I’ve never gone for straight outrage, but neither were my first golf ads greeted with encouragement at the big golf magazines.
They swallowed hard during the first round, took the money, and pretended not to notice how much those 3-page copy-dense beasts fouled up the pretty “look” of their publications.
When my client went back for multiple insertions, it was almost too much to bear.
Fortunately, the publishers were shameless money-grubbing whores, and the ads ran despite the cries of alarm from readers. (But only from readers outside our target market. The guys we were after LOVED those ads.) (Still do.)
We, essentially, burned down the nice golf house, like vandals in a riot.
Something to think about, the next time you absolutely have to get attention for your copy. Don’t you think?
What TV shows do you remember fondly? (I’d watch MTV for hours in the first years, when it was all video, all the time… and I still consider The Larry Sanders Show to be one of the best ever written. Entourage ain’t bad, though it’s occasionally infuriatingly stupid. The Simpsons, yeah. Seinfeld, I guess. What else am I missing here?)
P.S. Do you really want to know how to write ads that “burn down the house?” People are still ripping off my ads from decades ago, and you can find out more about my secrets right here.