Did Susan Boyle water your acorn?

OK, so I’m going to say it: I don’t think Susan Boyle is the world’s greatest singer. (Please don’t hate me.)

She’s good, but if you just heard her karaoke rendition of "I Have a Dream" on the radio, without the drama surrounding her triumph, you probably wouldn’t rush out and search for the album.

And yet Ms. Boyle has become an instant sensation. Her performance has been viewed about 100 million times on youtube. You can hardly find a Facebook page without a link to her performance. And the media and blogosphere are having a fabulous time deconstructing Susan and telling us what she means.

And now, so will I.

The Recession and the Rift

This recession has revealed a psychological rift in the world’s consciousness. A lot of people are scared and angry.  They’ve lost their jobs, their businesses, their insurance, and in some cases their self-worth. They feel victimized by events, by elites, and by entities. So they bob up and down, waiting to be rescued by a government or a hale wind or a friend. They hunker down into a form of abdication of self-responsibility because it feels better to be justified in misery than vulnerable in power.

And the interesting thing about this first group is how threatened they are by the second group.

This second group of people may be suffering just as much in real terms as the first group, but they refuse to see themselves as victims. Instead of giving up and waiting for rescue, they are scrapping and hustling and retooling. Starting businesses. Taking risks. Flexing muscles they may not have fully understood or claimed before. In crisis they are making opportunity, and in the process, taking responsibility for making themselves. Tending to the inner landscape, the "Spirit Lake" within.

This second group discovers something amazing about work: that it really isn’t about the money or the power or the status. In other words, not about the external rewards. Those are nice (actually, they’re awesome when received in the right way), but the real reward of work, or entrepreneurship, is the flowering of passion. When we take responsibility for our contributions to this universe, we discover that work truly is, in Khalil Gibran’s words, "love made manifest."

The Acorn Theory of the Soul

A wonderful book, The Soul’s Code, by James Hillman, presents the "acorn theory" of the soul. In Hillman’s understanding, our souls arrive on this planet knowing their destiny, and they do everything they can to give us the experiences – both seemingly good and bad – that prepare us for this destiny.

Yet our big brains often short-circuit the call of the soul, and we wallow in Thoreau’s "quiet desperation" punctuated by weekends and evenings of addiction and distraction.

I have to admit, I don’t know if the acorn theory of the soul is literally true, or just a useful construct. When I’m in such a quandary, I generally settle it by asking myself, "What are the implications – positive and negative – of believing this story?" In the case of the acorn theory, it’s all good. It puts a positive spin on all the pain and suffering and confusion I’ve experienced (it all sensitized me, taught me, and prepared me for this moment, whatever "this moment" turns out to hold and unfold). And it tells me that my life matters. A lot. And that respecting, unpacking, and honoring the quiet voice of my soul is the opposite of self-indulgent; it’s what I’m on this planet to do. It’s my responsibility.

Why Group One Hates Group Two

I was talking with a friend about the importance of having passion in one’s work, and why that seemingly obvious (to me) idea triggers so much rage and cynicism in so many people. "It’s because they don’t have passion," he explained. "So they refuse to believe it can exist in anyone else."

I think that’s partly true. Another part of the truth – of which I was reminded recently by my friend and marketing mentor Perry Marshall – is that they once believed passion and joy was possible, and they no longer do. So the message that life is more than punching a clock and earning our daily bread is a painful reminder of what they’ve lost (or perhaps abandoned and betrayed).

But there’s a third part of the truth: the acorn is still alive inside each of us, however shriveled and starved for nutrients. We may neglect it, ignore it, and tell ourselves it doesn’t exist, but deep down each of us knows we are an extraordinary being here to be, do and experience extraordinary things. And we may respond with rage and fear when someone (like me now ;) lectures about this, but the deepest longing of our being arcs upward and outward at the resonant field created by Susan Boyle. How else to explain the phenomenon of her popularity?

A lot of our acorns got watered by Susan Boyle in the past couple of weeks. Here’s a prayer that those acorns sprout and find purchase in nourishing souls and soils.

And now a couple items of business…

Announcement: Zero-Cost Web Clinic on Getting Traffic to Your Site

How do you find profitable online markets? How do you start getting affordable and qualified traffic to your site? How do you jump online without risking everything? If you already have an online business, how do you find the people looking for what you’ve got? This stuff is really important, so I’m making it ultra-convenient for you. Two web clinics, you choose the one most convenient for you: Wednesday, May 6, at 1pm and 8pm EDT. Sign up for this zero-cost web clinic here: http://askhowie.com/traffic-surge-web-clinic/

Reminder: The Keyword Spying Web Clinic

It happens on Monday, April 27 at 8pm EDT. Spaces still available, and if you register you also get the recording later. Register here: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/577359970 Wishing you health, happiness and prosperity, Howie

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  1. #1 • Sam Guest said on April 23 2009:

    Like it a lot, you’ve just echoed exactly what i’ve been thinking for the last few months. Here’s to more people truly understanding what your saying by experiencing it themselves, and lets face it theirs no better time to grab the bull by the horns than when the chips are down and the crisis bites!

  2. #2 • Dave Guerin said on April 23 2009:

    I have been vacillating between buying your book on AdWords or that of another big-name guru, or not buying either, because of the self promotion in both books. Not because I think self promotion is bad, but because the hype of Internet Marketing is so repulsive to me, even though the techniques may be valid.

    But, this article convinced me to buy your book. I’m in complete agreement with Hillman’s understanding of our soul’s purpose in giving us the experiences in life that we encounter. Enthralled with the fascinating melodrama we can easily miss the lessons, especially when the experience is painful and the lesson so simple. I have recently done some soul searching and a lot of writing on a painful experience from over fifty years ago with my first girl friend, and finally realized there was a lesson in it that I hadn’t gotten. I’m working at making some changes in my behavior today as a result. Thanks, Mary. :)

    And thanks Howie, for this article, I’m heading for Amazon.

  3. #3 • jorke van eerten said on April 23 2009:

    Liked your post ! yes sure the brain often short-circuits the call of the soul..and it becomes an abstract notion and does not even exist anymore in the end.
    regards/ best wishes,
    Jorke van Eerten, netherlands

  4. #4 • Jessica said on April 23 2009:

    “. . . it feels better to be justified in misery than vulnerable in power.”

    -Beautifully put. Your article, which had me in tears, was like drinking cool water from a clear well.

    This was the first I’d heard about the “acorn theory”, and I will add James Hillman’s book to my reading list.

    I hope you will write more articles like this because they nurture my spirit.

  5. #5 • Larry Haines said on April 23 2009:

    Howie, Go ahead…tug at those deep roots that were planted so long ago that we forgot they existed. My experience is that very few people reach the height of what their true capabilities allow them to achieve.

    I’m not sure that the battle is between the two groups of people but between those two inner voices that rage against each other with reinforcement from the naysayers around us. Much like the crabs that grab at the one trying to escape, its easier to keep someone from getting out than to escape yourself.

    Keep up the good work Maestro…

  6. #6 • Vicki said on April 23 2009:

    I wasn’t expecting such a deeply thought essay from an “Internet Marketing Guy”! Excellent work.

    Without a doubt, the Susan Boyle phenomenon nourished our collective souls (and acorns). People are waking up to new truths about the ugly side of a system which promotes, empowers and endorses celebrity drama and entertainment instead of journalism, overpaid athletes on steroids, over priced and over drugged healthcare solutions, influence peddling to politicians (called bribery in other countries) corporations given loopholes to legally pollute the environment, a TV culture of mass consumption and hypnotic bling, etc. etc.

    Many are welcoming this worldwide implosion as a cultural wakeup call… and Susan Boyle is a symbol of integrity and honesty – no makeovers and no hype. I truly enjoyed reading your interpretation.

  7. #7 • Gabriella Donivan said on April 23 2009:

    I loved reading this article you wrote – it has provoked an honest – soul response ‘opportunity’ for me – that I am going to take advantage of.

    I was reading it, jaw agape… saying to myself: “A-Woo-Woo” at your opinion of Susan Boyle’s singing. In case you don’t know: ‘A-woo-woo’ is a southern childhood expression for: “You are not suppose to do/say that… cuz you are gonna’ get in a LOT of trouble with Mom!”

    Without external discussion, (until now) I played Susan Boyle’s video like 5 times in a row… looking for what I missed, because… while her singing was surprisingly and pleasantly good, I did not ‘hear’ Great. I kept thinking the audience’s applause was drowning out my ability to find the Great Part (plus a lack of musical knowledge on my part). Since I never did ‘Hear/Find’ it… I settled on thinking it was simply VERY GREAT in terms of the CONTRAST of what ‘they’ were expecting to hear. So, Thanks for sharing your corroborating view and the ‘A-Woo-Woo’ I never admitted aloud until now.

    Makes me want to share something about my concrete experience with my own acorn’s ‘manifestation’, as well as it’s 10 year burial from ‘quiet desperation of weekend addictions and distractions’.

    I am quite exceptional at what I do, actually the best in my industry… which happens to be one of the scummiest industries in existence… and until about 4 years ago, I never had clients that did not have board meetings to figure out how to successfully rip me off. I finally, thoroughly – somewhere along the line – took it very, very personally, becoming the victim, and losing ALL my passion for my own talent and ability to help others in my field.

    Recently, I was really thinking about my career, skills, talents… and looking to see if any passion therein was left… asking myself: “What would TRULY THRILL me to be doing for work?”… Essentially – “Where is my Soul’s passion for work?” and I remembered when I was a very innocent 29 year old, and one of the first 10 Infomercial media buyers in the industry… man oh man what passion I had… I took 3 companies from zero to 20 million in their first year… based solely on a tidal wave of passion – for my vision – for my clients, as well as the consumers!

    My personal inner acorn has an indescribable inherent thrill for Win/Win anything… never preparing me in the least bit to experience the deepest bowels of Greed/Greed… as I forged my early career passion forward… with little concern or discernment for disappointment. My unaware blindness and disappointment there of, caused me to abandon my connection to my own passion and joy in my work – solely based on disillusionment.

    As a result: For too many years, I barely cared if I earned the rent money… “Who cares?” Became my all encompassing attitude.

    Thanks for writing, and welcoming us to write back… I want to share, that last week, after 10 years of being in the victim group… I decided/resolved… to ONLY… EVER AGAIN… see myself as that incredibly passionate 29 year old, that had NEVER been ripped off, or disappointed… but only instead… was thrilled to grow that acorn that was specifically planted in my own unique soul. That it is NEVER too late to re-connect with our passion and joy… it is just a matter of where our ‘focus’ is, heh? What thoughts are we thinking? Where is our attention? What are we focusing on? Outside, Inside, Past, Present, Future? I like it, as it is working!

    I think it is very Cool of You to courageously bring this topic up… and I join you here… as I have experienced the success and failure of living my passion vs burying it… cuz I bought into the outside influences that were not even a part of the acorn… just contrasts to help me nurture my own seeds of growth… taking quite some time to understand the process of it all. Amazing how powerful a single perspective is! Heh? ;)

  8. #8 • Dale M Nelson said on April 23 2009:

    Hey Howie, I’m starting to hear the Real Howie voice. And it’s beautiful. Unfortunately (for the angry folk among us) it often takes trying times such these to bring out our best effort. You’ve hit on some home truths here, profoundly. Keep being yourself (a spiritual marketer) because that’s what many of us are becoming. You are modeling the best way to approach this business. Thanks, Peace, Prosperity.

  9. #9 • Howie Jacobson said on April 23 2009:

    Wow, I’m honored and humbled at the depth and passion in these comments!

    Dave, how amazing that you were able to bring Mary back into courageous consciousness and feel the lessons that have been lying dormant for all these years. What passes for empathy in the world of marketing is too often pseudo-empathic manipulation. For me, true empathy is love without judgment. And from my own experience, whenever I feel the need to judge another, it’s because they’ve done something to trigger some unhealed part of myself.

    So the more I face myself and allow myself to feel the true pain of my past (as opposed to the anesthetized armor that I’ve built to keep it at bay), the more my judgments dissolve and the more I can truly empathize with the deep longings of others.

    And thanks for the amazon vote of confidence ;)

    Jessica, thanks for your deeply kind words. Knowing your writing skills first-hand, I’m quite touched by your reaction.

    Sam, right on. The crisis is the opportunity.

    Jorke, my brain has done such a good job of drowning out heart and soul for so long, I had almost forgotten those other sense organs. It’s a beautiful thing when the brain remembers its place…

    Larry, you’re absolutely right. The two factions are definitely skirmishing for supremacy in my own head. Partly, I write to feed the life-affirming voice, and to keep the cynical, sniveling victim at bay.

    Vicki, I hear and agree with your litany of the corruptness of modern civilization, and strangely, I no longer get bent about it. I’m studying the Inka medicine wheel (that may be a bit too much self-revelation in a business blog, but what the hell;), and the first practice is to self-reference to break the spell of consensual reality. As Tom Stoppard hilariously observed in Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, “England is a conspiracy of cartographers.”

    So much of what’s “out there” is a conspiracy of unexamined agreement. The deeper I go inwardly on my journey, the less I concern myself with those energy currents, and the less I need to feed off them.

    And Gabriella, wow, what a story! I’d be fascinated to hear all the war stories and love stories from the early days of the infomercial business. It reminds me of the current wild west of the internet – as is evidenced from the surprise people express when they discover that I’m not a total scumbag sleezeball, even though I’m an internet marketer :)

    Infomercials have always fascinated me – see http://howieconnect.com/infomercial_bondage.htm for an early article on the persuasion principles at work. Partly they’re cool just as case studies in manipulation. But partly they’re amazing as tent revival meetings, stoking the fires of our better natures and promising us salvation, a world where hope lives, where second changes are common, where magic is three easy payments away.

    The line between glory and perdition is a razor’s edge, indeed. Do you love the customers, or sneer at them?

    Thanks for sharing your own story so steadfastly and courageously.


  10. #10 • Boston Fan said on April 23 2009:

    Yes, Susan Boyle’s an inspiration for all of us!

    Have you heard of a guy who ended up as a lead singer of his favorite band? That’s even more amazing! Click on my link for the story.

  11. #11 • Howie Jacobson said on April 23 2009:

    Dale, thanks for the encouragement. I feel like I have a lot to say, and not all of it is about click through rate :)

    I love AdWords, but sometimes I think there’s more to life than impressions and conversions. (Actually, those are two pretty spiritually loaded terms, now that I think about it.)

    And Boston Fan, what a great story. If anybody from the music industry is reading this, I would be happy to appear on stage with any of the following musicians and groups:

    Bruce Springsteen, David Broza, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Tracy Grammer, The Dixie Chicks, Doc Watson, Paul McCartney, Styx, Leonard Cohen, Bearfoot Bluegrass, Kansas, the Broadway cast of Into the Woods, Greg Brown, Deva Premal, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Joe Cocker, Supertramp, and the Roosevelt String Band.

    Oh wait, I am performing with the Roosevelt String Band! May 1 and 2, Roosevelt Boro Hall, Roosevelt NJ. Come out and support the finest string band in the entire town :)


  12. #12 • Chris Horner said on April 23 2009:

    All very good points Howie. These are unprecedented times. And there are 2 ways to look at it – are they terrible or do they present new opportunities? No matter what stage of life you’re in or what you may have been through, it’s always up to you to make the best of the situation.

    On a personal note, me and my family have gone through many of the things that everyone hears about in the news, yet we still stand with our head held high using this as a way to ‘start over’. We’re finding the opportunities instead of wallowing in self pity or blaming others. Besides, everyday I wake up and realize if I’m not out there making it happen, it only brings the whole family down. It’s really made us realize what is truly important in life, and we’re moving forward stronger than ever.

    Anyway, enough of that. Thanks for the article and the seminars that you’ve been putting out lately too. As I’m exploring these ‘new opportunities’, I’ve found the information extremely useful and helpful.

  13. #13 • Gabriella Donivan said on April 23 2009:

    Response to Your Response: Being a Pioneer in the Infomercial Industry was an incredibly exhilarating opportunity. The potential of reaching that many viewers at the same time was unlimited and unheard of since 1955 or 1954. (Commercials were deregulated from 5 to 30 min. in 1984).

    To go into everyone’s living room with a 30 minute or one hour PITCH… the rates were dirt cheap, a tiny fraction of today’s Media costs… so the profits were through the roof. Client’s made an easy 10k profit off one airing – an entirely different story today. [Rates are so high, can’t make it without a strong back-end.] I wrote a book last year… How to Negotiate in an Email World… sharing my negotiation techniques to help lower rates… they are so crazy high… Really a problem… but I digress…

    There are a few things I would like to share with you about that industry in response to your response. Howie… it is THE MOST AMAZING MARKETING PRINCIPLES!!! I KID YOU NOT!!! TRULY BRILLIANT! And the true stock market of advertising – the daily reporting is so impeccable!

    A successful infomercial actually answers the consumer’s REBUTTAL in a MONOLOGUE!!! That truly turns me on… that you can answer every consumer’s question in a monologue as IF it were a dialogue. Answering their rebuttal at just the same moment the questions come up in their mind!!! Brilliant – when done right!

    The best part of being in the industry, is that for 25 years, I have analyzed consumer response. We are not talking about a few clicks… we are talking about millions of dollars per ‘show version’ and I got to analyze/see what the consumer is saying. How they respond to the show, the telemarketing script, the fulfillment, the telemarketing (800 number service) etc…… is sooooooooooooo fascinating. For me, it has always been a TOTAL AND COMPLETE NOVEL. Can’t put it down! Volumes of viewer communication is in those reports!!!

    At points of my career, I have done 15 year history analysis of product category of shows – in sequence… what worked what did not… in every case, the breakthrough show was something that was inherently AUTHENTIC… was represented authentically, and had it’s own acorn that needed to be expressed, and it’s time was right … then of course… after that… the ‘owner’ just adds a handle to it, so you can drag it around the living room, put it under the bed… and it is suppose to be a new product! ;0 [tee hee].

    Early in my career, when everyone took every new show, and every new product quite seriously… and as media buyers we called every TV station in the country, pitching the product… Well… one day I was talking to a TV station and like everyone, they asked me… (very seriously) “And What Does the Product Do?” My answer really mattered, as shows were not so easily ‘approved’ back then. This one day, I said, “Well, it does what every product does… it raises your grandmother from the dead!” Me and the TV guy laughed so hard. After that… I simply could not take it so seriously again. :) Way too true!

    But my absolute favorite part of the Infomercial Industry is our tracking… really… just so brilliant and fascinating! It transcends the client and even the product itself… as well as all the service providers connected to running a campaign… I have ALWAYS told my clients… I work for the consumer, and all of my goals on your behalf are solely in their interest.

    I mean that too. For me… it is ALL about the consumer, and to answer your question… how do I feel about the consumer? I love them!!! I respect them! And I do not want me or my clients to deceive them in any way!!! I really do work for the client, because…. through the reporting, I get to hear what they have to say… what they like and dislike… quite thoroughly and clearly… it really is … very very cool! ;) And for any client that listens, they will understand, their marketing efforts, are ONLY about the consumer, and the consumer soooooooooo needs to be respected with good products, and respectful messages in their advertising. Respectful means honest, and not manipulative. It also means… Jeeza Louisa Mr. Advertiser… do some homework… are you really offering the NEXT advancement to an old product category, or because you did not do your homework on the trends of your product category… did you just offer an old product with a new price? Wondering why your product offer did not work? I really feel the biggest mistake infomercial advertisers make… is UNDERESTIMATING the Direct Response Consumer! They KNOW their product categories!!!

    I think the Direct Response Audience is very misunderstood and unreported statistically, as the DR product owners own their results and they are, of course, confidential. There truly is a segment of the market place that watches and buys infomercials… and it is … in and of itself.. it’s own demographic.

    If you have a product that is good… target your niche, and let the rest of the demographic go… why try to manipulate a larger audience (with lies and bullmahogy copy cats), when your product does not really extend to that demographic? Let your product be what it is… and really, it will sell to the people who it really is for – if it is a worthwhile product!!! Isn’t that enough??? If you want to sell to more people, then come up with an authentic product for MORE people, heh?

    And yes…. there are infinite great war stories and success stories… but for me personally; mostly I regret I did not understand my influence as a pioneer, and did not start and own the association for the industry so that I could have influenced it to be authentic and honest and not so greed based.

    But it is what it is… and things evolved as they did…

    Not to pitch myself… please… no desire here… but if you are interested… I offer the first two chapters of my book for a free preview, which is actually the history of the infomercial industry… from the media buyer’s end… of course I think it is fascinating, and think you may also… http://www.greatmediabuyer.com – it is the story of greed from the TV stations end, and how, as an industry, we also abused the TV stations… causing them to ultimately disrespect us back… with the same unfair business practices we engaged them with…

    Whew! Sorry if this is too long… I think I just got something off my chest… thanks for the blog opportunity! ;)

  14. #14 • Judith Ludovino @ TelePA said on April 24 2009:


    Thank you for your thought provoking communication, the winds of change are gathering momentum here in the UK, so many of us have become weary of chasing our tails at an ever increasing speed with outcomes being measured in money rather than fulfillment …. keep up the good work and THANK YOU for the giving.


  15. #15 • Jessica said on April 24 2009:

    Howie, I came back to read more of the incredible response to your soulful, authentic communication. I agree with Dale that your “real Howie voice” is beautiful. To that I would add thought provoking, healing and inspiring. Can’t say I’m surprised because I clearly heard it whispering throughout Adwords for Dummies.

    To appreciate the passion I feel for your work, you’d have to know that I “met you” while working in an extremely high-pressure corporate paid search environment. As threats about the workload came down from on high, people stopped eating and sleeping, and under extreme pressure they began hitting the wall.

    When it was my turn to hit the wall I spent nearly a week in bed. Even the effort to take a shower exhausted me. I started taking B vitamins, juicing, and through prayer was led to books about cognitive behavioral therapy by a psychiatrist/author named David M. Burns. As you may know, the idea behind CBT is that by changing the way you think you can change the way you feel.

    From David Burns I learned how to write down my thoughts one by one and use logical thinking to essentially put myself out of my misery. The CBT exercises are pretty basic, and I was skeptical at first, but I found out by doing that they work.

    By doing the CBT written exercises I became aware that my mind was a bullying monster. And here’s the thing: I had no idea. I thought I knew what I thought. I thought I knew what I believed. For years I’d tried everything I could think of to escape the pain I was in.

    And here’s the other thing. Because I finally had a tool for changing the way I felt, at the office I began to see things differently. People around me were still suffering, and management hadn’t changed their tune. But I began to feel somewhat removed from it.

    It was around that time that I did a search for a For Dummies guide and found you. You had an authentic, uplifting voice that I could clearly hear. At work, I would block out everything and sit peacefully at my desk reading Adwords for Dummies and giggling. Later, when the company closed its doors, I made a beeline for you and joined your Ring of Fire coaching club.

    Howie, as a child, I wasn’t taught how to think. If I were a teacher, the first thing I’d teach my students is how to think, or put another way, how to monitor/improve their thoughts (oh my gosh, that’s Adwords!).

    Thank you for opening up the conversation Howie. You do have a lot to say, and I look forward to the book, the movie, the press conference, and the world tour.

  16. #16 • Gabriella Donivan said on April 24 2009:

    Jessica, I too came back to the blog to see if there were additional posts I could continue to drink from, myself. I liked reading your story…. so much of what I am consciously doing now… but … I post to thank you for the end of the Week LOL… about the movie, press conference and world tour. Very humorous and charming! ;) –

    It has been so wonderful Howie that you would create a blog that allowed us to speak from our Soul’s essence! I actually spent the day contemplating on a deep level …. just from this blog and the invitation to look within that it has provided… and to see how readily everyone was to go deeper than Adwords…. ;) Much needed…. it is indeed a pioneering effort in itself, is it not? I don’t think we all realized how thirsty we were…. until we saw the clear fresh water of opportunity! RESULTS: Very Refreshing! Mucho Thanks! Looking forward to more!

  17. #17 • Steve Miller said on April 27 2009:

    I think people like to see an “Underdog”. The human spirit truly likes to see average people like themselves succeed and break the mold.

  18. #18 • Beehive said on October 10 2012:

    Susan Boyle was an inspiration to many, I just hope that there will be more Susan Boyles to come and touch people’s lives. Another well put article Howie!

  19. #19 • Howie Jacobson said on October 10 2012:

    Thanks, Beehive! (Mysterious aliased commenter! :)