In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown recalls his days as a first year law student in England.

On a trip to the U.S., an executive mentioned casually, “If you decide to stay in America, you should come and join us on a consulting committee.”

It wasn’t the offer that struck him so much as the idea of “choosing” to stay. This guy saw it as a real option, where McKeown hadn’t even considered his options. He was following the logical path of completing law school so he could then make choices.

Thinking about it in this new context, and in a new environment away from school, made him realize that he’d always known logically that he had the choice not to attend law school, but he’d never consider it emotionally.

How did he really feel about completing law school?

He quit two weeks later.

This got me thinking about how easy it is to feel like we don’t have choices in life. We look at our circumstances and see all the reasons that we couldn’t do something we wanted to do. Yet somehow we make time for the things other people decide we must do – or else!

Bosses, parents, spouses, children, neighbors, peers…

How many times have you found time and energy to meet someone else’s priority for your time, even though there were a hundred things you’d rather be doing instead?

We trick ourselves with labels. We tell ourselves, “I’m a nice guy and nice guys do stuff for other people.”

Sure, they do. But not at the sacrifice of their own priorities. Doing for others is a convenient feel good excuse for putting off choice.

McKeown writes about “learned helplessness” and how that leads to the default reasoning that we can “do it all.” That if we just work harder we will somehow get ahead.

It’s a trap.

This is another reason why finding the right mentors can be infinitely valuable. Not just for what they teach, but for how they operate.

The same way the phrase “If you decide to stay…” shook the author out of his false priority stupor and forced him to list out what HE wanted, only to find law school nowhere on the list…

A mentor’s reaction to situations you encounter can be a massive wake up call when you see them in action.

I remember the first time I worked on a project for some big name marketers and – according to their expectations – launch day was a bust. They called an emergency phone conference so we could decide what changes to make to the copy. Because the problem MUST be the copy, right?

Being green and eager to please I was prepared to accept the blame and do whatever it took to turn the ad around.

I’d stay up all night and rewrite the whole letter if I had to. Nothing else mattered.  Life goes on hold until this slapped together biz op product is selling like the clients fantasized it should. (Of course none of this protective cynicism existed then, I was in a mild panic imagining my reputation up in flames like a paper doll – even though no one even knew my name at the time).

Fortunately for me, I had back up.

My mentor at the time, Vin Montello, (who had only a little more experience in the biz at the time, but was far less of a pushover and was also consulting on the job) chimed in quickly on the call with “turnaround questions” to the chirping clients.

He asked where the traffic was coming from?… who’s already mailed?… what are the affiliates saying?… do we know WHY people aren’t buying? What did pre-launch testing reveal?

Like magic, the emphasis shifted from “how will you fix the copy” to “its early, let’s get more testing before we go changing stuff.”

Instead of accepting the client’s knee jerk choice to “fix” copy that likely was not broken…

… with the power of a few relevant questions Vin shifted the focus away from blame and onto gathering better intel before we waste energy in the wrong direction.

Sure, we were willing to retool some elements to test, but not without some solid information to base those changes on. Scrambling around in the dark would only cause more confusion, exhaustion and frustration. No process operates well under those conditions.

I took many lessons away from that call. It was the first instance of Carlton’s famous “Adult In The Room” philosophy I’d seen up close. A real wake up call.

However, to bring it back to Essentialism and the importance of CHOICE… one big lesson was that instead of reacting blindly to the client’s demand to change the copy, which was premature, I had another choice…

…to check emotions, pull back the lens and see above the immediate scenario.

This was a nurtured instinct for Vin, but maybe also a natural one. He grew up around tough Italians. They don’t take shit or accept blame blindly. Me? I’m a pleaser by nature. An instinct I would need to focus on harnessing more strategically if I was going to survive life in the “big leagues”.

These gut checks are never fun, but when you realize you have choices you learn to cherish them.

Now it’s your turn…

Can you recall a time when you felt you did not have choices and now realize that you did?


If you’re a freelance copywriter looking for guidance on how to get more clients and negotiate stronger deals, then there’s a whole section of Copy Chief just for you. Learn more about Copy Chief here and let’s get to know each other.

The Amazing 60-Second Sales Hook That Creates An Instant Bond With Your Best Prospects…

PLUS: get fill-in-the-blank templates and word-for-word video scripts that instantly establish Know, Like and Trust with visitors to your site!


We will only send you awesome stuff