My So-Called Rock Star Life

When Lee Stranahan and I were recording our course Question the Rules, Lee pulled out this concept of his “Celebrity Mansion Life.” And it was brilliant.

(NOTE: Because I’ve been carrying this concept around in my head for the past two weeks as the “Rock Star Life,” I’ll bastardize Lee’s phrasing and use that instead. I can do these things because this is my blog.)

Basically, the idea is to imagine what life would be like if you were a celebrity or a rock star. Leave out the drugs and illicit sex, and think of the day-to-day stuff. What do you imagine life under those circumstances to be like?

Some people will imagine racing Maseratis off of cliffs, but most of us will think of more basic things. Rock stars live in awesome houses in awesome locales. They can sleep in as long as they’d like. Then you see magazine articles about how they have all this time to work out, and they’ve got a private gym, so they do that for a long time. They eat some fancy food and do what they want with their time, and so forth.

Boil that down: Nice house. Nice locale. Nice home gym. Lots of time to work out. Eat well. Do what you want. All just for example, but you get the idea.

Once you remove the trappings that probably don’t matter to you anyway (original masters’ artwork on the walls, thirteen expensive hookers bathing in a slurry of cocaine and Cristal), you may just realize, as Lee describes he did, that you can have most of that now.

Let’s say you’re working from home, or working for yourself. Do you, when you wake up, immediately sit down and start working? Do you have a task list on your desk that you’re bound and determined to complete, as if it were a mandate from above? Do you beat yourself up if you don’t accomplish enough in a day, the way a boss might beat you up if you had one?

It’s an easy trap to fall into. Even if you’re independent and don’t go to a job every day, there’s still a tendency to follow a nine-to-five way of doing things.

Lee describes how, after realizing that he was living as if he had a job (and he doesn’t), he started thinking like a rock star.

Instead of working first thing, he started going down to his home gym. Really nice treadmill bought off of Craigslist for $100. Nice, big TV from Craigslist for $80. Nice sound system with BOSE speakers someone gave him for free. He could even follow this rock star morning workout by eating some of that butcher shop thick-cut bacon he talked about, and the fine cheese he paid $1 more per pound for.

Here’s the rub: If he had millions and millions of dollars, how different would this picture be?

The treadmill might be a little nicer. The TV might be flat. The optional breakfast might be served by a butler. But who cares? He gets up when he want, and goes to the gym first thing. It’s a damn nice setup with damn nice stuff in it. It was cheap. And he can do it RIGHT NOW.

The rock star life follows the 80/20 rule just like everything else does. Lee got 80% of the important elements of what he wanted. Chasing the remaining 20% would offer rapidly diminishing returns.

I was thinking about this because last week I went down to Charlotte, North Carolina with Robin to scope out our own rock star lives.

I’m tired of tolerating things that suck

Every winter, I get depressed because Ohio winters are miserable.

Never mind the sub-zero cold. Never mind the mountains of snow. The worst part is the skies. Around the middle of October, the skies in Ohio cloud up with a chronic gray haze that lingers until mid April. The days get shorter, and we as a nation to do what some assholes suggested years back, making the situation far worse by changing the time so that the days are effectively even shorter. Whereas we used to play in the sun until nine in the summer, we huddle inside in the winter to avoid the cold darkness outside that arrives at five.

You lose motivation. You hibernate. Whatever healthy habits you acquired in the summer, you either abandon or manage to maintain (and adapt to a shittier form of) using superhero-like will. You watch a lot of TV. You get irritable, and low-grade depressed. You get bored. You gain weight, because you can’t take the kids outside without 45 minutes of preparation. The chronically overcast skies rob you of sunlight, and you start to feel like the ceiling on the world is very low. If you’re me, taking in the short, cold, and sunless days, you can actually start to feel claustrophobic after a while.

Every winter, I get depressed because Ohio winters are miserable… and every fall, I get depressed because winter is coming.

I’ve realized the last few years that I spend at least three full months wishing that it wasn’t one of those three months. That’s stupid. That’s no way to live life. It’s like how people hate Mondays, think of Wednesdays as getting them “over the hump,” and start to get excited on Fridays because the weekend is coming. Why would you spend five-sevenths of your life wishing it were the other two-sevenths? And why the hell would I continue to spend a quarter of my life wishing it were the other three-quarters?

Good question.

If things go according to plan, we’ll move to Charlotte next spring or summer. It doesn’t get nearly as cold there (but there is a change of seasons, which I’d like), and even on the shortest, coldest days, there is sun. And the city’s downtown area is safe, unlike Cleveland’s rob-you rape-you eat-you inner city. And don’t get me started on the lack of culture and things to do around here, and how much cooler the Charlotte area is.

But get this, because it’s important:

Charlotte isn’t any more expensive than where I am now. The property values are about the same. Even the restaurants and gasoline cost about the same. I can work from literally anywhere there is an internet connection, and Robin’s job is unnecessary and totally replaceable. We have very few friends here, and those we have we see very infrequently. Robin’s parents are close, but they’ll be moving down when we do. Other than proximity to my mother, there is literally no reason to stay here.

So why did we stay where we are for so long? And if you don’t like where you live, why have you stayed there for so long?

Hell… if you have a lamp in your house that you hate, why is it still there? Why do you go to restaurants that are okay (but that you don’t love) if there are alternatives? If you’re in a shitty relationship or marriage, why do you stay? If you’re independent, why do you still end up working nine to five, or tell people “I can’t do X because I’m working”? You’re the boss, aren’t you?

The answer is: Inertia. And overcoming inertia doesn’t take money. It just takes effort.

Moving will be hard. We’ll have to sell our house, and my in-laws will have to do the same. We’ll have to find the perfect property near Charlotte — close enough to the city to get to things without a long drive, but far enough out to have horse acreage. We’ll have to do the actual move — which always, always, always is a shitty and annoying process.

Staying would be comparatively easy, because overcoming inertia is hard.

But it’s not too expensive to move.

It’s not unbelievably difficult.

It’s not true that I don’t know how to do it.

I just need to exert enough effort and initiative to overcome inertia and get this ball rolling — to get out of a comfortable rut — and I can be living in a warm, sunny place with a ton to do, great amenities, and already more local friends than I have right here.

That’s a rock star life. And it’s totally achievable, now, for about what life currently costs me.

We act like the people who live in nice places have rock star incomes. The people who do what they want with their time? They must be independently wealthy. People who travel? People who have beach houses? They’re loaded. This is a lifestyle that is totally inaccessible to us normal people.

Bull. Shit.

The illusion of the rock star life is a very, very fragile misperception. The smallest bit of thought will cause it to shatter, especially when you use the 80/20 rule to get 80% of what you really want using 20% of the time, money, and effort that the 100% version would take.

Can you have a six-story mansion? No, but you can have a house like the one you currently live in, in a really nice place. Can you lie around all day? Maybe not, but you can occasionally sleep in, and go to a movie in the middle of the day. (Note: You can do this even if you work for a boss. Just call in sick.)

It’s amazing how what holds us back sometimes is nothing. Nothing. Nothing but an illusion.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a run, and then I’d like to get some work done before I go to the theater to watch Inception again.


  1. Laura Click says:

    Absolutely awesome post. Thanks for the kick in the pants this morning. It is so easy to get in a rut – whether it’s a job we hate or living in a place we despise. I have friends that complain about their station in life and jealous of those that have more, do more, etc. Instead of wishing, it’s time to start doing. I wish more people heeded that advice. Thanks for sharing!

  2. karen gunton says:

    awful cold winters (in edmonton, canada) are why i said yes to moving to australia. and they are why we never went home again. do we miss people? absolutely. but we have people here too. and we have an awesome life that we have built for ourselves. change is scary, but so worth it!

    thanks for this post – you always say things in a way that really resonates for me. i am going to go see what sort of rock star life i can live today. =)

  3. Jen Smith says:

    Great stuff Johnny! I have had exactly the same thought about the rock star life style.. you can have millions and have a really nice TV, car, house etc but it’s still a TV, car ,house and I have pretty good versions of those already. It was a really nice thing to realise that I wouldn’t change much about my life if I won the lottery. I’ve got a job I really enjoy, a lot of time off and myself and my husband do what we want to do. It’s taken some effort, we are good with our money but if you want something, you have to make it happen. All the best for the move and thanks again for the inspiring post.

  4. Andy Fogarty says:

    Damn man. This is a killer post and totally in line with how I’ve been thinking the last week. I just took a huge leap in my business last weekend and it’s completely changed my thinking around what I can and want do (in a good way).

    I’ve always been good at finding ways to get what I want, whether it be tools, courses, contacts, movie tickets, pie, whatever. I may not have the newest tools or the freshest pie, but they fill my needs. When we can learn to settle with being to fill the *need* of the goal and not the perfect desired version, it’s much easier to get what we want.

    That doesn’t mean you have to “settle” for second rate for the rest of your life. It’s a way to satisfy your need while building the momentum to achieving the perfect version of what you want. Besides, you might find out you don’t want it anyway.

    Hopefully all that rambling made sense.

    I’ll say it again. Damn man, nice post.

  5. Kirsty Hall says:

    Good luck with the relocation, Johnny, it sounds great. I know exactly what you mean about the rock star lifestyle – I already feel like I have it. Sure, more money would be nice but I basically get to do what I want all day every day, which rocks pretty damn hard.

  6. Bradley says:

    I live about 90 miles south of Charlotte. Weather is great here most of the time. A little hot this past summer, but usually good. It is funny that winters here still get a little cold for us southern folks. I am usually dreaming of Mexico or the Caribbean by January.

    I am still trying to figure out the income thing for quitting the job and living the dream. I am looking forward to setting my own schedule though.

    Good luck with the move.


  7. Here’s the ironic thing — tonight I’m going to be interviewing an actual rock star; Amanda Palmer, formerly of the punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls and now a solo artist…it’s an interview about thriving as an artist in today’s economy from someone who is using social media and the internet to forge her own way…

    This interview will be exclusively part of the Question The Rules Mastermind and the irony is that I haven’t even told Johnny about it yet.

    Rock star, indeed!

  8. Johnny,

    You hit the nail on the head. The key to the rock star lifestyle is LOCATION INDEPENDENCE. When you can maintain (or improve) your lifestyle from any location in the world, it only makes sense to live somewhere you love.

    I totally feel you about the winter. I live in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. People dream about living here their whole lives, and it’s every bit as awesome as they think. The winters pretty much suck, though. It’s gray and cold, and the past couple winters have come with anomalous amounts of snow that has stuck around for weeks at a time.

    But, unlike Ohio, springtime in Paris would make a winter in Siberia worth it. As soon as the weather warms up the slightest degree, or the sun chooses to make a five-minute appearance in the afternoon, Parisian women celebrate by shedding the layers of clothing and parading around in drop-dead sexy outfits for the next six months. It truly is a sight to behold.

    You’ll love living in Charlotte, and the South in general. It’s a laid-back, family environment with an emphasis on fun rather than work. My home state (Louisiana) just got voted LAZIEST out of all 50, and we take that as high praise.

    Keep rockin’, brotha.

  9. Wow did I need this today! I also hate Ohio winters! I live near Cincinnati so I totally feel your pain! : )
    This article really hit home because I do feel like I beat myself up because I don’t have a boss that’s going to beat me up! I did take a big step forward toward rock starness last week and decided I needed to get an outside the home babysitter. It may not seem like much to some people but it was a big step for me to getting a more Rock Star Life for myself! : )

  10. Johnny, great post. This is something I”ve been considering for a few weeks. I make a good living online and off, doing my thing, working 3 days a week. Could I make more money? Yes. Could I be crushing it more? Absolutely. But why? I’m home with my kid when he’s home, can read a book when I want to without worrying about “how it looks,” and still can afford a decent life. Diminishing returns, indeed. Now I just need to convince my husband that we need to move South, too. I think Boston and Ohio winters have lots in common….

  11. This is one of the best things you’ve ever written IMO! Thank you.

  12. Joel says:

    I loved this post Johnny

    Thanks =)

  13. Thanks, Johnny. I needed this one. I’ve been focussing so much on “getting work done” that I kinda sorta forgot that I can do that in whatever manner I like. Because I am a rock star.

  14. Absolutely amazing! Thank you for demystifying the route to living a rock start life. I’ve been asked throughout my life how I did this or that accomplishment as if it was magic, when in fact it was a matter having the vision and carrying it out.

    I especially love that you pointed out that making a change you want is about getting off the stick, shattered that illusion and taking action.

    Congrats on your move. I know you’ll enjoy your new digs.

  15. Erica Warren says:

    Great Post! Most people never really think about what they truly want when they say (or think) that they want to be famous. When you asked us to imagine the day-to-day celebrity lifestyle, I of course thought of all the stuff you mentioned. But I also thought of what a pain it would really be to try to go through your daily life (run errands, go out to eat, etc.) as a really famous person that people are constantly gawking at and approaching for autographs or pictures. Even if you’re a social person, people constantly interrupting your life would have to get somewhat old!

    Thanks for all the food for thought in this article. It’s definitely a good reminder to think about what you really want out of life and get started moving towards it!

  16. This is good thinking, and just what I’d expect from Mr Question The Rules.

    So tomorrow, instead of spending 10 hours at my desk, there will be exercise and meditation and other good things. And productivity.

  17. Hey Johnny, I totally get where you’re coming from with this. I talked about finding an expat gig and working overseas for years. After talking shit and doing nothing for several years, I finally got off my ass, added some qualifications to my skillset, paid a resume writer to sex up my resume and started applying for jobs.

    Fast forward four months, I now have a job in the Philippines for 10% more than I’m making today in the US. I’m selling damn near everything I own and loading the family on a plane in two weeks.

    The crazy thing is that even though this is something I wanted, when it came time to actually pull the trigger I was scared shitless. After I accepted and said I was quitting my current job I second guessed myself for a week. My family was pissed at me – they said “Hey, this was your idea, don’t question it now!” So I quit doubting and started getting ready to move. I still have no clue how it will actually all work out, but we’re going for it.

    You know, you’ve come a long way from being buried by bad real estate deals. I know you’re going to totally rock your move to Charlotte. I’m looking forward to hearing how it all comes out.

  18. Nico says:

    Yes. This is why I quit my job, sleep in late, run in the mornings, and write the rest of the day: recognition that I get one shot at life, so it had better be the one without regrets for what might have been.

    Love life, live life.

  19. Sylvia says:

    Inception Rocks!

  20. Julia Timakhovich says:

    It’s funny how when you travel, you find out people live in other places in the world and to them, that particular climate/city is reality and no big deal. But for you, it’s tourism.

    I can’t agree with you more on the winter thing. It sucks–the worst of it being short days, which we make even worse with “fall back” before “spring ahead” savings time. And heavy overcast skies. I’m a northern kid. I grew up in the Northeastern climate. And I’ve been living in Boston for the past 15 years or so–and even though the change of seasons is nice, and occasional fluffy snow is fun to play with (before it turns into dirty city slush), and the beauty of fall in New England almost makes it worth living here–the rest of it sucks! And to know that we pay SO MUCH to live in this city because of high property values…for what? I could pay as much and live in San Francisco, for example.

    Have you been to LA recently? Or Miami? Not that these cities would be ideal for your situation, but when you feel the sunshine and walk among palm trees and ocean and see good-looking people enjoying their workouts in the park and realize most condos have a pool, I mean, damn! it gives you an interesting perspective on the quality of life. Why pay to live in a climate that makes you depressed and miserable when you can pay about the same or slightly more and gain an immeasurable improvement in the quality of life? Just because the sun shines more. If you had a mansion in Cleveland, the weather would still suck just the same. 🙂

    Good luck with moving.

  21. Yes yes yes! This is exactly what prompted us to move back to Australia. Every winter we’d complain about how grey and cold and expensive the UK was, and how we could have a bigger house with a bigger garden in more sun for way less dosh if we left. So one day, I booked the tickets and we were gone in three months. Bosh. Felt bloody fantastic.

    It really is about remembering *who the hell is in charge.* It’s practically the most important advice ever.

  22. Anne Galivan says:

    I have to say this: If you have kids you stay in the “shitty” marriage because of them. I’m not talking about a marriage where there is abuse or infidelity, but frankly most marriages (if not all) get shitty at times, sometimes for a long time. You make a promise, you have kids, you don’t have the right to piss that all away just because you’re unhappy.

    On another note, as a full-time home-schooling mom I have chosen a totally different journey than most. I don’t even fit in with most other home-schoolers, in the sense that my life and my schedule are not in anyway in sync with the rest of the world, but I do what works for me and my family. Frankly, I keep my schedule to myself because most people would be horrified that I stay up half the night and sleep all morning. I still managed to graduate two of my kids from home-schooling AND college (one with a B.S. degree at the age of 20 with a 4.0 GPA).

    Overall, a great message. One that most people will never act on because it’s much easier to go with the flow and fit in.

  23. Here, here to your description of Ohio winters. They completely, utterly suck.

    Charlotte sounds divine. Here’s to overcoming inertia!

  24. Laura Roeder says:

    I’m livin it baby! This is why I moved to LA, why I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I hope people read this post and change their lives.

  25. Good luck with the move, Johnny. It’ll totally change your life. And probably in some fabulous ways you don’t even know about yet! I made the move from London to a little village in the English countryside last year. I did feel like I was in a washing machine for a few months, but I’d moved because I’d had the vision of making my life better and that drove me on.

    That aside, your post has been a great leveller for me today. When you boil it down, I already have everything I could want. How awesome is that?!!

    So, off to the gym now to keep in rock star shape!

  26. Simon Bunker says:

    Awesome post Johnny, the subject of which is so close to home and really struck a chord with me. I am currently in the process of making some changes to my life or at least convincing my partner that some changes would do us both good. I even read her the post just to prove that change does not have to be beyond any of us. You may have even helped me with the convincing!
    Now all I need to do is figure out how to move to the US!!! Any advice? I am sick of the UK weather!!!

    Thanks for this post Johnny – one of your very best

  27. Keith says:

    Looking forward to that interview Lee. I’m betting today’s rock stars don’t have the same swanky luxury living excesses that the rock stars of the 70s and 80s did. I bet they work their asses off.

    Top post Johnny, thanks.


  28. Johnny, this is far and away the best thing you’ve ever written, ever.

  29. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Hey, Johnny,

    Great post and you are a rock-star.

    Glad you are going to make your dream happen and not have regrets and just talk about it. The 80-20 rule is awesome.

  30. Jon Strocel says:

    This past weekend I headed down with my family to the family cabin in Birch Bay, WA. Getting two kids and a car piled with enough stuff to ride out the Rapture is a pain. Going through the border these days is always a headache (but we love you US Customs, really!). But then there is that moment, when I’m sitting down on the deck with my cheap American Snapple and a book. The kids are inside enjoying the bad TV they don’t get at home. I’m staring at the ocean as the tide comes in. It is absolutely fan-freaking-tastic. If I had all the money in the world, I would be doing the exact same thing.

    Now to figure out how to do that more often…80/20 eh?

  31. Greg Payette says:

    Hey Johnny, as I’m reading your post I’m thinking “damn fool…I used to be like him until we moved to Charlotte.” Then, I read on.

    We made the move for all the same reasons. It’s our second time here (we bailed and headed back north just before the RE crash, then realized it really IS better down here and came back).

    Knowing the area from before, we landed in the right area. Tons of families, lots of kids…we just registered our two kids yesterday in one of the top school districts in Charlotte.

    Let me know if I can help when you’re ready to rock and roll.


  32. Is Inception as good as it looks? Yes, I always pick out the important points first.

    It’s all a matter of perspective isn’t it? I actually do have a lamp that I dislike (not hate) and it’s now not working because you can’t get the bulbs for it. And I’m nodding my head as I’m reading, thinking ‘Why do I still have it?’ and then I’m off touring the house for other things that I could change.

    I want to start small :o)

  33. Adam Porter says:

    That was my favorite part of QTR, too. Suddenly realizing you CAN have what you want is awesome…you just need to take off a layer of the rockstar polish. Go for something used, as it’s rarely better than if you wait to save up and pay for it brand new.

    I’m about to trade my Cadillac in for a used compact of some sort… after all, I’m nowhere near needing it for anything than just a daily driver. I’m also looking to escape good ol’ Indiana, for the same reasons. I’m all for seasonal changes, but not in the way the Midwest experiences them.

    Kudos on a great post and for re-igniting a fire under my anti-inertial momentum generator…if there is such a thing.

  34. Hi Johnny!

    I love this. The title first caught my attention because I just got back from a concert where I had VIP backstage passes. And I felt compelled to write a blog post about the experience when I returned…because it mirrored what I yearned for – feeling like a VIP in my own life; and “allowing” myself to take in all of the best that life has to offer.

    What I wrote about had nothing to do with money or ‘things,’ but everything do to with believing you deserve that which you want and opening yourself up to receiving. Many of us are good ‘givers,’ but we must excel at receiving in order to give to others.

    So, kudos to you for making the decision to move to Charlotte! You’re right…you ARE the boss! And those in your circle will get an even better “you” because you’ll be living more aligned with who you are!

    Nice to “meet” you. This is my first time here, and I look forward to keepin’ up with ya!

  35. Matt Cheney says:

    Hey Johnny,

    Great post. Living like a “rock star” is easier than most think.

    And having lived in Charlotte for the past five years (and having lived in Boston for 25), the weather is so much more tolerable. Even during the sweltering heat of the summer, everyone has central air.

    The tech/start-up/entrepreneurial scene has been rapidly maturing over the past few years here, and it’s nice to see well known online entrepreneurs like you choosing to make Charlotte their home.

    Best of luck with the moving process!

  36. Moving, dude, has been good for us. Very similar rationale. The time I spent winter in Portland, I walked the ocean. Ohio has oppressive august and september and 4 good months (March-June). Damn right to move.

  37. Kara says:

    Hah, definitely not a way I’d looked at it before. Being somewhat buried by a mortgage and rapidly increasing food costs, I certainly haven’t felt like we’re living any kind of rockstar life, but I guess a lot of it is perspective.

    I live in Auckland, New Zealand and haven’t even seen snow in the last 10 years (since I last travelled to the mountains to ski). I live 5 minutes from half a dozen gorgeous beaches which I walk along or above on the clifftops for my exercise every day, winter or summer, because it never gets too cold to do so.

    In summer, I can say to the kids “Hey, grab your togs (swimsuits), lets go to the beach” and be in the ocean 10 minutes later.

    Maybe we *do* have some parts of a rockstar life, even without the giant house or yacht.

    Thanks for the wakeup. 🙂

  38. Mary Mazzoni says:

    Strange how we build our own prisons. Glad to hear you and your family are bustin’ out!

  39. Great reminder.

    I’m from Ohio, and it was only after living in Colorado for a couple of years that I realized what I’d come from. On a trip back to OH I was shocked at the gray skies. Bummer! Compared to CO, it’s pretty bleak. So I understand your need to feel better in winter and I’m delighted you found a new place to live.

    I have the rock star life, managing my time and projects as I see fit. And, if I were a rock star celebrity, I imagine I’d have more self-care treatments like massages, rolfing, acupuncture, etc, to help keep myself and my energy glowing. I do that all now, just not as much as I’d like.

    I’d also have some shit-hot clothes maybe some more fun jewelry.

    But now I have Rome and Paris and amazing clients and tons of freedom and creative exuberance, so the clothing isn’t so important, is it?

    Thanks again for the reminder, and congratulations on your move!


  40. KeyDropper says:

    We just passed through Charlotte for the first time a few weeks ago and I said to hubby – “I could live here”. Nice move. I completely “get this” which is why we picked up and moved to The Bahamas. I’m not doing too well on the “working 9-5 (usually beyond) just like I still had a boss” thing though – excellent reminder.