Is Hef really having a better time at the Playboy Mansion than you are at home?

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Wed, 2007-09-12 10:28.

As a kid growing up among the vineyards and foothills of Cucamonga, I was haunted by the notion that everyone else knew things I would never be privy to.

Then I came across my first Playboy magazine... and I was suddenly offered proof there was a party going on that I wasn’t invited to.

This is a recurring topic when I talk with Gary Halbert. We both were mesmerized by Hugh Hefner’s lifestyle -- hanging out all day and night in your pajamas, surrounded by gorgeous young things who couldn’t seem to keep their own peejays on.

How the hell, we wondered obsessively, do you go about getting invited to that party?

In a very significant way, this frustration formed the paths our careers took. For Gary, that path went through Hollywood and New York city and Miami Beach, buzzing around the ocean in tricked-out boats and staring down the maitre’d at Toot Shor’s, always with a pretty girl nearby.

For me, the path wound through the be-bop hinderlands of America’s counter culture. Dancin’ in the moonlight, the sexual revolution, the occasional incoherent chat with God. Heck, I think I once played poker with the Devil. Bastard cheats.

Anyway... there came a time when getting that invite to the Playboy mansion was within reach. I sat in a cushy office on Sunset Blvd., in a building where every elevator ride was shared with a different celebrity, and I was hanging with a guy who was so well-connected in Hollywood that he could get us a table at Spago’s with an hour’s notice. While crowds of people who’d had reso’s for six months languished in the waiting room.

And you know what? I didn’t want to go. Well, okay, a part of me was still interested, if only for the bragging rights.

But a bigger part of me just didn’t give a damn anymore. The “party” at Hef’s place suddenly seemed more like a silly adult version of Disneyland than something vital and enticing.

So I never went.

After ten years in the wasteland of Los Angeles, I’d reached an important realization:

The rich and the famous were most definitely NOT having a better time than I was.

In my entire life, there aren’t more than a handful of days I wouldn’t happily relive. I wasn’t aware of it most of the time... but I was waking up every single morning to another chapter of a grand adventure. It was a BIG DEAL to finally realize this. And stop obsessing on the party I felt I was missing out on.

One of the biggest appeals in advertising is the promise of a different, better life. A sudden, jolting change, where money worries vanish, sex is plentiful, and the world cowers at your feet. Or some version of that.

And this appeal forever remains untainted by the dire warnings of those who will tell you that fame has its costs, money can’t solve emotional problems, and even wild orgies can grow tiresome very quickly. All of which is true.

However... it’s important for marketers to understand that most people lead lives of quiet desperation. They don’t get to meet interesting people, or do interesting things, or go to interesting places.

They are bored shitless. And convinced that life could be a bed of roses if only... if only... if only they could find a way to get invited to The Party.

I am not an evangelist on this matter. I’m not going to bang my head against the wall trying to get you to see the truth. But I will share my observations, in the vain hope that at least a few people will catch the hint.

Here’s what I’m talking about: I don’t know what brought you to your business. But I’m pretty sure you weren’t “invited”.

I was not invited into the ranks of copywriters. The corporate world kept spitting me out, because I was such a bad fit in the tie-wearing, don’tcolor-outside-the-lines, 9-to-5 culture. I stumbled into the entrepreneurial field entirely as a result of not finding anywhere else to land.

I’m glad it worked out this way, of course... but it was a bumpy ride.

And one day, after decades of bouncing around the American dream, I suddenly realized how lucky I was. I’d somehow managed to chew through a wide swath of crucially-important adventures few people ever experienced. And this is what I learned:

First... the reason I believed, as a kid, that everyone else (both adult and fellow child) knew vital secrets I didn’t... was because I had assumed their smug confidence and bravado had to be based on something real.

Now, I know the truth: They weren’t thinking thoughts that I wasn’t privy to. Nope. They weren’t thinking at all. Most of the time, there wasn’t a single thought in their heads. They were coasting on vapor.

Second... the only reason the party I wasn’t invited to seemed so much better than the party I was at... was simply a twisted version of the grass being greener on the other side. As Halbert says, “I know exactly what I don’t want in life... and it’s always what I already have.”

I’ll spare you the gory details... but the average weekend party we threw in college, for almost no money at all... easily rivaled the best million-dollar fiesta Hef has ever hosted for fun and wildness. (I’ve even met shrinks who insist the poor guy is actually depressed. Possibly because there’s no challenge left in his life.)

I’ve hung with celebrities. They are the most boring people on the planet. (As Marlon Brando once noted, a movie star is someone who, if you ain’t talking about them, they ain’t listening.)

I’ve hung with rich folks, and with nearpenniless desperados. More often than not, money will make you fat and lazy and uninteresting. It’s no fun starving to death, either, but for many the risk of losing your essence increases with every buck you pack away.

And, I’ve hung with corporate CEOs, big-time wheeler-dealers, and women so stunningly beautiful they take your breath away. Scratch the surface of any of them, and you may back away in horror at what you find underneath. Many of them see you as food, at best. Many of the rest are nothing more than angry, frightened children in grown-up clothes and masks of make-up.

Lastly: Abe Lincoln was right -- most people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.

I am blessed with a deep list of good friends and colleagues. People who can lift my spirits in a two-minute chat. People I rely on, and who rely on me and make my life full and robust.

And the one big realization I am so thankful of having... is that these people have provided me with a life-long “party” more exciting and more satisfying than anything else going on, anywhere.

Because the key to a great party is a roomful of vital, interesting friends. Not celebrity, not showy banquets, not tits and ass. Life is already a grand adventure... however, most people choose to pretend it isn’t.

And the punch-line is... all you have to do is wake up to get back in the groove. As a marketer, understanding the depth and urgency of raw need in your target population is critical. This is where world-class sales pitches begin to foment. It’s the basic ingredient.

But more important... if you truly desire success, you cannot run off thinking it’s built on fame, money and power. Because it isn’t. Some of the richest people I’ve met are also the most miserable. No matter where they are, they’re convinced the “real” party is across town. And they weren’t invited.

When you’re truly successful, you’re the party. If your life isn’t vibrant and stimulating right now, then changing that condition is a big part of your current job.

Remember -- most people don’t get to do this. They’re stuck in normal jobs, numbed by television and caged by their own refusal to risk. Or to read and learn and put a little effort into taking control.

And here you are, smack in the middle of the most exciting and urgent part of the business world. Entrepreneurs rock. You’re part of the life-blood of the planet. Other people wish they had your cojones.

When you’ve got your biz cooking on all cylinders, you’re the party everyone wants to get invited to.

So. Are you having fun yet?

John Carlton,

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