After my Joyfully Jobless News went out this week, I promptly received a number of messages. Instead of replying to the question I’d asked in the mailing (What is the most fun you ever had earning money?), these folks had a question of their own.

The gist of all those messages was, “What should I do?” A couple of them said, “I really don’t have any passions.”

Too many people, it seems to me, get trapped in their own version of Life Limbo. They know something’s missing, but continue to drag themselves through their days doing the same things at the same times with the same people.

That is not a recipe for personal growth. It’s only when we begin to question the less than satisfying choices we’ve made (as the writers of those e-mails did) that we can begin to move out of that limbo.

I wrote back to everyone and gave them a few suggestions for finding their own answers. Then I realized that they probably aren’t the only ones with those questions so I’ve added some things to the list and decided to pass it along here.

Start where you are. Often our greatest opportunities are hiding in plain sight because we have gifts that come so naturally to us that we fail to realize they could be valuable to others.

An honest and ruthless inventory of your likes, dislikes, talents and forgotten pleasures is a necessary starting point. As Agatha Christie reminds us, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Read this book. Barbara Sher is the master at helping people reconnect with their dreams. Her book, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was is a terrific tool to get things moving.

Go for essence. Sadly, we’ve been conditioned to focus on form and that gets us in big trouble.

Learning the difference between essence and form was one of the most liberating things to ever happen to my own goal setting efforts. Here’s a brief explanation from the book Creating Money:

The essence of something is the function you want this item to perform, the purposes you will use it for, or what you think it will give you. Many things other than what you picture might give you the essence of what you want, so be open to letting it come in whatever way, size, shape or form is most appropriate.

In other words, if you focus on the essence of what would bring you joy, you may find it arriving in a surprise package.

Ask this question. A couple of years ago I tried a little experiment that has now become a regular part of my life. It begins with the simple question, “How can I make it better?”

This isn’t about changing the world; it’s about taking action on the things right in front of you that you can do something about. Robert Pirzig explains it this way: “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own head and heart and hands and then work outward from there.”

Once you get in the habit of looking for opportunities to make things better, you’ll dazzle yourself with all the ways you can make life sweeter.

Create a Passion Quest project. Give yourself 90 days (or more) to simply explore with an open mind and heart. Take notes. Notice when you are so engaged you have no sense of time passing.

Try new things that catch your fancy. Revisit neglected pleasures. Cross things off the list that no longer fit.

Invest in yourself and your dreams. A wonderful starting place for that is to add the Making Dreams Happen Audio Program. This program was recorded during the four days that Barbara Sher, Valerie Young and I spent in Boulder, CO sharing what we know about bringing dreams to life.

You can have the benefit of this terrific event for less than $100. I relisten to it regularly and never fail to find new insights and ideas.

Say thank you. When you ask for—and receive—help, it’s perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that with some sincere gratitude. Apparently,  not everyone knows that.

Several years ago I decided to start a list of things I loved doing so much I could do them every day without getting bored. I wanted the list as a reminder to integrate beloved activities and things on a daily basis.

I thought of that this morning as I was driving home from yet another visit to the DMV and heard one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, one of the things that made my Everyday Love List.

It’s not just the music I love, however. I also love the story. Those lovely pieces were written for a competition held by the city of Brandenburg-Schwedt, Germany. It was a competition won by somebody else.

Nobody seems to remember winner’s name, nor his musical entry, but Bach’s concertos frequently top the list of public radio listener’s favorites 290 years after they first were played.

Today I was also reminded that even onerous tasks can be more pleasant if we include things we love. It doesn’t do much good, after all, if we know what we love, but don’t have regular contact with them.

A while back, Alice Barry and I had a conference call with participants who had attended our Follow Through Camp retreat. I asked everyone to complete an exercise before the call.

This fun idea comes from Keri Smith’s delightful book, Living Out Loud . It’s called Lifestyle for Sale and it goes like this:

In recent years, lifestyle stores have become the rage, selling products related to all aspects of living: eating, decorating, reading, bathing, sleeping and dressing. If you were to open your own lifestyle store, what would you sell?

Make a list of what it would contain. What items best represent you and your many layers? Are they eclectic? Chaotic? Minimal? Calming?

Come up with a name for your store—maybe it’s a character from your favorite book, or something that reflects the store’s contents.

Before the call, I  also created my own imaginary lifestyle store. Like many of the other callers, I envisioned my store in a funky old house reached by walking through a garden.

My store wasn’t just about stuff, but also about stuff happening. There was a conservatory on the back called the Idea Factory for collaborative brainstorming. Another spot was called the Follow Through Room where people who felt stuck could find inspiration and support to get moving again.

The bookshop section had four distinct sections, each housed in a separate corner. One was devoted to personal growth, another to biographies of kindred spirits, another on business building and another on supporting wanderlust.

Every room was furnished with big, comfy chairs and vintage travel posters adorned the walls. Happily, the place where I live resembles my imaginary store.

Although none of the folks who did this with Alice and me were interested in opening a shop, creating this vision got them dreaming about spending time in the kind of place they’d imagined.

It’s a great exercise and I urge you to try it yourself. More importantly, surround yourself with people, things, and ideas you love as much as you possibly can.

As the John Ruskin poster in my office never lets me forget, “We are not sent into this world to do anything which is not in our hearts.”

Of course, first we need to know what that is.

While all eyes are on Egypt today, many are hoping that new leadership ushers in a happier era than the one that’s finally ended.

It’s also a reminder that there seems to be a shortage of creative, daring leaders. Leaders like the legendary Antanas Mockus.

In 1993,  Mockus had just resigned from the top job of Colombian National University. A mathematician and philosopher, Mockus looked around for another big challenge and found it: to be in charge of, as he describes it, “a 6.5 million person classroom.”

Mockus, who had no political experience, ran for mayor of Bogotá, Columbia. With an educator’s inventiveness, Mockus turned Bogotá into a social experiment just as the city was choked with violence, lawless traffic, corruption, and gangs of street children who mugged and stole.

It was a city perceived by some to be on the verge of chaos. People were desperate for a change, for a moral leader of some sort.

The eccentric Mockus, who communicates through symbols, humor, and metaphors, filled the role.

When many hated the disordered and disorderly city of Bogotá, he wore a Superman costume and acted as a superhero called Supercitizen. People laughed at Mockus’ antics, but the laughter began to break the ice and get people involved in fixing things.

The fact that he was seen as an unusual leader gave the new mayor the opportunity to try extraordinary things, such as hiring 420 mimes to control traffic in Bogotá’s chaotic and dangerous streets.

He launched a Night for Women and asked the city’s men to stay home in the evening and care for the children; 700,000 women went out on the first of three nights that Mockus dedicated to them.

Another Mockus inspiration was to ask people to call his office if they found a kind and honest taxi driver; 150 people called and the mayor organized a meeting with all those good taxi drivers, who advised him about how to improve the behavior of mean taxi drivers. The good taxi drivers were named Knights of the Zebra, a club supported by the mayor’s office.

“Knowledge,’” said Mockus, “empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change.”

After two unsuccessful runs for president, Mockus is currently the President of Corporvisionarios, an organization that consults to cities about addressing their problems through the same policy methodology that was so successful during his terms as Mayor of Bogotá.

While I was waiting (and waiting) for UPS to show up with Winning Ways newsletters, I decided to tackle the grungy grout in my tiled entrance. I’m a bit of a fanatic about dirty grout after spending five years in a house with tiled floors in dusty Las Vegas.

(Bonus tip: To clean grout, make a paste of baking soda and peroxide and apply with a battery operated toothbrush. Let stand for a few minutes and mop up.)

As I was polishing, I got thinking about how important it is for me to have a home that welcomes me and others. In fact, one of the first purchases I made for my new condo was a welcome mat that’s covered with bright red and purple flowers.

Everytime I return home and see it, it makes me smile and silently affirm, “I welcome my good.”

It’s a stunning contrast to the doormat outside my downstairs neighbor’s home which declares, “Go Away.” I haven’t met the owner of that place, but I’ve tried to imagine why they choose to make that statement to passersby.

Perhaps it was a housewarming gift that was intended as a joke, I mused. Or maybe they are weary of chasing away paparazzi. Of course, there’s also the possibility that they’re truly anti-social and proud of it.

What kind of welcome mat are you putting out? The way you answer the phone, the ease of navigating your Web site, the speed with which you answer e-mail, the extra effort to right an error, all communicate Welcome or Go Away.

This morning my local public radio station had a lively conversation about annoying background music in stores. Caller after caller talked about being driven out of retail establishments by loud music.

You may have had the same experience.

One woman said she’d accompanied a friend to an emergency animal hospital on the night her friend’s cat had to be put to sleep. They arrived at the hospital and found the waiting room television running a raucous comedy program. “It seemed insensitive,” she said.

It’s easy when we’re busy or distracted to ignore small courtesies, but it’s worth the time and energy to consider how to be as welcoming as possible.

Think of it as regularly scrubbing the grout. Then top it off with the most cheerful welcome mat you can find because, whether we realize it or not, we’re all in the hospitality business.

There are hundreds of perfectly smart reasons to be Joyfully Jobless, not the least of which is that people who are doing work that they love tend to be, well, more loving and joyful.

One time after I’d visited my aunt Marge, she sent me a letter that said, “The Bible says a merry heart doeth good like a medicine. That’s how I feel when you come to see me.”

Besides that fact that it was one of the nicest letters I ever got, it’s remained a powerful reminder of why it’s important to stay merry. Here are some of my favorite ways to bring more fun and joy into a business.

° Specialize in Firsts. Challenge yourself to do things you’ve never done before. It can be as simple as trying a new food or taking a yoga class.

This is harder to do than you may think since we humans tend to build habits and then operate in familiar territory. Having Firsts requires conscious, creative effort.

° Exercise your entrepreneurial thinking to keep it in shape. You build entrepreneurial muscle by studying other enterprises, by acquiring new skills, by taking risks.

Just like physical exercise, it needs to be a daily activity if you want maximum results.

° Don’t be afraid to be whimsical. Small businesses should not look like miniature corporations.

Lighten up. Create a costume and wear it when you work or exhibit at a trade show. Have toys or a guitar in your office for play breaks.

And if whimsy’s not your style, from time to time purposely do something out of character. You’re bound to startle your friends and you might delight yourself.

° Celebrate all victories. Jim Rohn told a story about his early days in business and how he’d take his family out for dinner and say, “Tonight we’re ordering from the left side of the the menu. Pay no attention to prices.” He said it helped him stay on track.

Find your own way to celebrate milestones and progress. Send yourself flowers or invite a friend on an outing. Don’t let victories—large or small—go unnoticed.

° Plan Joyfully Jobless get togethers. Find 5 other self-bossers that like each other and let each one plan a monthly gathering, just to have fun.

You could find yourself salsa dancing one month and picnicking in a park the next. Hanging out with other entrepreneurs can be a lovely tonic, but don’t wait for somebody else to get things rolling.

° Turn ordinary chores into satisfying rituals. Got bills to pay? Instead of gritting your teeth, light a candle, put on some lovely music, pour a cup of tea and make it an event. Slow down and express gratitude for your current abundance.

Invent rituals to turn ordinary tasks into something special.

° Stay focused on rewards. On snowy days in Minnesota, my Joyfully Jobless friends and I would call each other to rejoice that we didn’t have to drive on bad roads.

Keep a running list of all the rewards that you enjoy because you’re self-employed. Post it in your workspace and remind yourself often of the benefits and pleasures of this lifestyle.

° Support that which supports you. This has been my personal and business policy for a long time and it hasn’t failed me yet.

For example, I give top priority to supporting the self-bossers who support me. My newsletter, Winning Ways, is designed to pass along ideas and resources that have helped me on my journey.

You get the idea.

° Expect the unexpected. Businesses often surprise us with new opportunities and directions. While this may be upsetting to control freaks, true entrepreneurs delight in it.

° Change the scenery. The creative spirit flourishes when exposed to new people and places.

Whether that means taking your laptop to the park for a morning writing session or attending a weekend seminar, give yourself the benefit of working in different ways. Rigid routine is the enemy of creativity.

° Be kind. When we commit an act of kindness our endorphin level goes up. Likewise, when we receive a kindness it raises our levels.

However, studies have also found that if we merely witness an act of kindness, it raises endorphin levels too.

Go ahead and spread some kindness around.

Twenty-two years before the movie Groundhog Day subtly illustrated the boredom of a repetitious life, I set my first goal.

My goal? To never have two years of my life be exactly the same.

Not yet thirty, I had already reached a point where my life was frighteningly predictable. I realized that if I didn’t do something about it, I was going to keep having the same year over and over again until my life came to an end.

Despite growing up in an environment  that frequently warned not to expect  too much in order to avoid disappointment (a classic example of twisted logic), from the moment I heard about goal setting, I became an enthusiastic practitioner.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t terribly successful at accomplishing those early goals. Over time, however, I discovered there was much more to the process than simply wishing for things that I didn’t have.

Here are a few things that have made a positive difference for me.

* The real reward isn’t at the finish line. While visualizing the things you want to accomplish is certainly a fun part of the process, the big prize is what you become by making a commitment to be, do or have something that’s missing from your life.

When we set goals, we’re issuing a challenge to ourselves to stretch, grow and overcome. Keep moving in the direction of your dreams and you’ll grow in ways you can’t imagine at the outset.

* Ink matters. As Patricia T. O’Conner reminds us, “An idea in your head is merely an idle notion. But an idea written down, that’s the beginning of something.”

Every goal setting system I’ve ever studied begins with the admonition to write them down. You don’t have to publish them online (unless you want to) or show them to anyone else, but writing them down is still step one.

* Size matters. Many people fail at their goal setting attempts because they timidly set goals that don’t ignite their imagination. Other times it requires a bit of reframing to get us excited about doing the work.

I just rediscovered that myself.

Because of respiratory problems, I have avoided stairs for several years. When I decided to buy my second floor walkup condo, the stair climbing was an issue, but I thought I could manage.

For the first few weeks, I dragged myself up the stairs, often telling myself that this exercise was good for me. I still arrived at my doorway breathless and cranky.

One day, I realized that the steps weren’t going away and unless I wanted to become a recluse and live on pizza delivery, I needed a different approach.

Now when I arrive at the foot of the stairway, I remind myself, “I’m training for my next trip to Venice” (where stairs are unavoidable). Climbing those stairs is more enticing now that I’ve connected the activity to a more exciting project than just getting the groceries upstairs.

* Beware of deadlines and timelines. Countless projects have been abandoned  because they haven’t come to fruition in the time we anticipated. When that happens, we may be tempted to call our efforts a failure and give up.

But too often what we call failure is simply running out of patience.

While self-imposed deadlines can keep us focused, they need to be treated with caution. After all, how can you predict how long it will take to accomplish something you’ve never done before?

If you’ve ever remodeled a house, you know how ineffective timelines can be. Effective goal setters are more apt to embark on a new endeavor with the attitude of sticking with it for however long it takes.

* Make space for the new. Metaphysical teacher Catherine Ponder introduced me to the idea of creating a vacuum. In Open Your Mind to Prosperity, she writes, “You must get rid of what you don’t want in order to make way for what you do want. Substance does not flow easily into a cluttered, crowded situation. Substance does not flow easily into a cluttered, crowded mind.”

Ironically, letting go of what we don’t want often requires courage. Whether it’s conflicting goals, lack of confidence or a crowded calendar, elimination is an important part of the process.

* Take inventory every  90 days. What’s working? What isn’t? Have your priorities changed? Do you need to make room for a new project or spend more time on an old one? Are you working on things that no longer matter?

Goal setting, after all, calls us to evolve and reinvent. Checking in regularly prevents hanging on to goals that no longer serve the person we’re becoming—and alerts us if we’re settling for the same day over and over and over.

* More tips. There are many good books on goal setting. My favorite is Write It Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser. Whether you’re an experienced goal setter or just a beginner, this belongs in your library.

When I was heading back from a quick trip last week, I found myself behind a fertilizer truck with a sign on the back that always makes me do a doubletake. “Safety is our goal” it proclaimed.

What’s wrong with this claim?

Since a goal is something we haven’t accomplished yet, the message literally declares that the business is working on safety, but they haven’t reached it yet. That doesn’t seem like something a business should be bragging about.

In fact, I’m not sure that personal and business goals are something that should be publicly shared at all—which is not to say we should abandon setting goals in the first place.

What’s the difference between those who consistently achieve their goals and those who don’t? It’s not the concept that’s at fault; it’s the approach that has a positive or negative impact on results.

When my granddaughter Zoe was four, she and her mother flew to Las Vegas for a visit. As we were leaving the airport, a billboard caught Zoe’s eye. “What is that red bird?” she wanted to know.

I explained that it was an ad for Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. I told her it was a favorite show of mine and thought that was the end of it.

Zoe had a different idea. “Can I see it?” she asked. I told her that when she was a little bit older, I’d be delighted to share it with her.

Every time we were together for the next two years, she’d inquire about “the red bird show.” I sent her a magazine ad for the show which she promptly displayed on the wall of her room.

In July, the time had finally arrived for Zoe’s first encounter with a Cirque show. I was almost as nervous as she was. Would she like it? Had I oversold it?

On our drive to the theater, we listened to the music from Mystere to get in the mood. She seemed a little bored with the unfamiliar tunes. I wondered if I was about to witness a big disappointment.

We took our seats. The lights went down, the music came up and Zoe was spellbound for the next ninety minutes.

On our way out of the theater she asked, “Can we come back tomorrow night?” I laughed and told her that a return visit would have to wait. Nevertheless, the magic of that night lingered on.

A few days later, I was driving Zoe back to her new home in California and put on the Mystere soundtrack again. This time she not only listened, but accurately recalled what was happening during each piece of music.

Then early in August, my daughter called to say that Zoe had decided on her Halloween costume. Did I want to guess what it was? “The red bird?” I ventured.

Of course, I was correct. Little did I realize that Zoe had also decided that I would be the costume designer for this elaborate get-up.

Besides the fact that I’m a pushover for Zoe’s requests, what characteristics of  successful goal setting were operating here? More significantly, what can you do to make your goal setting more effective?

Here are four simple things:

1. Set authentic goals that make your heart sing. An authentic goal is not one that is accompanied by thoughts of “this is what I should be doing” or “this is what my parents/teachers/spouse expects me to do.” An authentic goal is aligned with your purpose and passion.

2. Use visual reminders. It’s a noisy, distracting world we live in. Having visual reminders (i.e. Zoe’s Mystere poster) keep our important goals front and center. Create a vision board, carry a talisman, practice creative visualization.

3. Seek help from people who can help. Zoe didn’t waste time asking her parents, other grandparents or friends to take her to the show. I was her Las Vegas connection and she didn’t let me forget it.

4. Celebrate. After weeks of searching for a new home, I finally found my next World Headquarters. When I told my daughter and sister (who had shared the ups and downs of this quest), they both reacted the same way: “How do you want to celebrate?”

The best way to regularly accomplish your goals is to give yourself credit for the things you have already done successfully. Success really does breed success—but only if you notice.

It happens every time I announce a new special event. Almost immediately, I begin getting messages that say, “Someday I’d love to attend your Storytelling seminar.” Or “When will you be doing your Storytelling event in Alaska?” These questions suggest that many people haven’t learned one of the basics of successful self-bossing.

Several years ago when Valerie Young announced our upcoming Making Dreams Happen event, she was deluged with e-mails from people saying they’d like to attend but couldn’t afford the enrollment fee. She called me to see if I had any  ideas about how to handle this onslaught. I pointed out that since this event was about bringing dreams into reality, getting there was the first exercise. The ever-creative Valerie issued a challenge to her readers asking them to share what they were doing to fund the conference. We got wonderful stories about the creative ways that participants found to be involved. 

A year earlier, two friends and I decided we wanted to take a little vacation. My cash flow was good so I had the funds; they’d both spent the previous months working on writing projects that had yet to pay off so their cash flow was squeaky. Once we set the goal for the trip, however, they both swung into action. They  had each built a nice little portfolio of cash flow options that included things like selling on eBay, doing market research, spending a Sunday as a flea marketing vendor. In less than two weeks, they both had the money  they  needed for the trip.

Last year, another entrepreneurial friend was experiencing a cash flow slowdown and decided to get creative. She wanted something that wouldn’t distract too much from other projects she was working on, so she put an ad on her local Craigslist offering her services as a pet sitter in her home. Not long after, I  was talking to her and she proudly announced, “I just passed the $1000 mark with petsitting.” 

So the order of making things happen is this: goal first, funding second. What successful goalsetters know is that the process goes something like this: focus on a goal, brainstorm obvious and crazy ways to make it happen, start taking action. Keep going until the goal is met. Set another goal and repeat.

You can do anything you want to do. I mean it. Blunder ahead. ~ Robert Henri



I heard a terrific story on public radio’s Weekend Edition today about a school in the Chicago area called Ag High which teaches agricultural and entrepreneurial subjects along with academics. The school’s director had some insightful things to say about the value of this broad curriculum. I urge you to check it out for yourself.