“This is shit. Write it again.”
It was John’s very first day working under Gary.
He’d accepted Gary’s invitation to give up his current clients and spend a year living in L.A. to become his apprentice.
John had quickly established himself as a hot hand on the copy scene and had no problem landing projects with major publishers.
Yet, he was restless.
A nagging sense of Imposter Syndrome ate at his confidence. Maybe he’d been lucky? What if the luck runs out?
He knew he didn’t truly understand the “secret” to writing sales copy that almost couldn’t fail.
The chance to soak up Gary’s wisdom by witnessing, first hand, how he went about planning and executing his brilliant ideas into sizzling, impossible-to-resist copy was the opportunity of a lifetime.
So, John packed up his life and headed to Los Angeles.
There were no big hugs or formalities when John arrived, weary from the drive, at Gary’s small office on Sunset Blvd.
Gary handed John the details of an offer he’d been hired to write the sales letter for, pointed to an empty room with blank walls and a burnt coffee machine across the hall, and said, “Bring it to me when it’s done.”
John whipped up a draft he felt pretty good about and brought it to Gary.
“Shit” was the only feedback Gary offered before instructing him to start over.
John was miffed, but determined.
Each new draft was met with a similarly terse reaction from Gary…
“Nobody cares about this part, cut it.”
And so on.
Over the course of sixteen drafts, all rejected outright, John’s nervousness turned to embarrassment, then anger, and finally, indignation, until on the seventeenth try, Gary said, “There you go. Let’s eat.”
Over the next several years, John and Gary would revolutionize the copywriting industry.
John Carlton was the perfect “Sundance Kid” to Gary Halbert’s “Butch Cassidy” and together they put on modern-day business versions of stripped-down cabaret shows, shocking the attendees with raw humor, no-holds “hot seat” sessions (a term they invented), and charging outrageous fees for the experience.
A model still used (but typically neutered with politeness) today.
People often ask, “How do I find a good mentor?”
You don’t find a mentor, they appear.
You’ll know they’re the one when you will stop at nothing, and give up much, to learn from them.
The better question is, “How do I become a good mentee?”
True mentorship is a lot of work for the mentor, and ten times as much for the mentee.
You must be willing to abandon ego, sacrifice status, and internalize frustration for the relationship to work.
And there’s no guarantee it will work. So, you’ll need to trust yourself as much as you do your mentor.
Tricky stuff. But, worth every bit.
I chose John as my mentor long before he’d ever heard my name.
Obsessing over any shred of his teaching I could get my hands on and devouring his lessons until they were part of my DNA.
So, when we finally met, I felt like I’d known him for years.
I like to think he recognized in me something similar to the things Gary had seen in him.
Raw talent, sure. But, above all, an eagerness to learn, and willingness to show up wherever he asked me to be, regardless of personal sacrifice.
John’s wisdom, gleaned as much (maybe more) by observing him, as his sage advice and instruction, has been one of the greatest gifts in my life.
So, if you’re looking for a good mentor, remember, you don’t ask, you appear.
A mentor is the guide.
It’s you who has to show up and drive.
If you’d like to hear some of the best lessons I’ve learned from John, check out the limited podcast series we recorded together called Psych Insights for Modern Marketers. It’s a little-known gem.