My mailbox has been getting some truly spooky messages lately. It’s not the first time, of course, but I’m still startled when I get one of these cries for help.

The scariest of these messages goes like this: ”I think I want to start my own business. What should I do?”

I also shiver when someone asks, “I want to write. What should I do?”

No, these aren’t zombies asking the question, but they send chills down my spine because they remind me that too many of us are lacking some basic tools—tools that could get us pointed in the right direction and keep us heading that way.

The next time someone asks, “What should I do?” I’m going to send them this list of answers.

° Start an investigation. Do your homework. Head out to the library. See if your community has resources that can be of help. As Jim Rohn said, “If you wish to find, you must search. Rarely does a good idea interrupt you.”

° Make space. If you’re going to start a new project, you need to make room for it. That frequently means you must first clear out some space. Frequently, that requires spending your time on things that don’t serve your true goals.

“What I discovered,” says architect Sarah Susanka, “is that when you make the time and space for what you long to do, everything else shifts to accomodate it. It never works the other way around. If you wait until there’s time to do what you want, you’ll be waiting until your eighty-fifth birthday.”

° Listen to informed sources. Seems so obvious to me, but I’m astonished at how often people take advice from people who don’t know. The more you investigate, the wiser you’ll become about who has the information that you can use.

° Learn to synthesize. Adopting and adapting in order to produce something new is a time-honored tool of the creative spirit.

If you’re growing a business, that means paying close attention to the things you like and don’t like as a consumer and asking yourself which policies and procedures you will integrate into your own enterprise—and which you’ll consciously avoid.

° Break your goals into 90-Day Projects. Give your projects a theme. Immerse, don’t dabble.

At the end of 90 days, evaluate and decide if you’ve accomplished your objectives. If not, decide if you are up for giving it another 90 days.

° Remember this: “Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection,” writer C.S. Lewis pointed out. “If you want to get warm  you must stand near the fire; if you want to get wet you must get into the water.If you want joy, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.

“They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you; if you are not, you will remain dry.”

Throughout our Joyfully Jobless Journeys we’ll need help. New goals require new information, new ideas, new connections.

Don’t hesitate to look for it, but also realize that the ultimate responsibility for making your dreams happen is in your hands.

Happy Halloween!

 

“April is the cruelest month,” mused T.S. Eliot. Obviously, he wasn’t around in October a few years back. While the weather had been magnificent, many people were not so inclined.

For background noise there was the nightly news with an unrelenting stream of stories about war, recession and political nastiness.

Closer at hand were the two women who left their manners at home when they came to my English tea class and the burglar who removed the battery from my car.

Staying positive in a negative world is challenging even in normal times, but this felt as if guerilla tactics were in order. Here are some of the most helpful I’ve found for getting past negative times and creating positive ones.

° Bombard yourself with positives. Overcompensate. Sondra Ray has a wonderful affirmation that goes, “Every negative thought immediately triggers three more powerful positive ones.”

If things are looking dim, consciously create the opposite thought. Keep your favorite books of inspiration close at hand and read at random during crisis moments.

° Take a proactive stance—and keep it. Nobody does a better job of explaining proactive vs. reactive behavior than Stephen Covey.

In his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he writes, “Proactive people focus their efforts on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying causing their circle of influence to increase. Reactive people, on the other hand, focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language and increased feelings of victimization.”

If you need more information about moving into a proactive position, revisit Covey’s book for practical suggestions.

° Indulge a passion. One year, I created two challenges for myself: to discover all the ways that chocolate and raspberries could be combined and to see all of the Monet paintings I could with my own two eyes.

Both of these quests added hours of pleasure when I was traveling—and when I was not. I highly recommend you give yourself a similar challenge.

° Catch someone doing something right and let them know. I noticed a woman at the airport in Chicago wearing a smart outfit. When she reappeared in Minneapolis, I walked up to her and told her I’d been admiring her clothes.

She thanked me and said, “You can probably tell by my accent that you’d have to go a long way to get one for yourself.”

“Where are you from?” I inquired. When she told me London was her hometown, I said, “Oh, but I’m going there next month!”

I came away with a warm feeling and a great shopping tip.

° Take yourself on a mini-retreat. Sometimes the only way to diffuse negative energy is to move yourself completely out of it. So plan a day or two doing something you normally wouldn’t do.

Spend Wednesday doing the Sunday crossword. Watch the seasons change at a cabin at the lake. Have a massage at bedtime.

While you are so engaged, concentrate fully on what’s going on in front of you—not the situation that upset you in the first place.

° Discover the hidden gift in the problem. When my car was burglarized, I was mighty upset. Then one of the handsomest men I have ever met arrived at my door (wearing his police uniform) and things began to look a bit brighter.

We even managed to laugh about the situation when he asked me to check the car for further theft. I looked around and told him all of my music CDs were in place. “I don’t suppose that people who steal batteries would steal Mozart, would they?” I asked.

Negative times can be profoundly diminished if you have tools for dealing with them.

Abraham Maslow once described the self-actualized person’s response to chaos by saying they behaved “like a clock ticking in a thunderstorm.”

It’s a picture I’ve tried to remember in crazy times and attempted to duplicate.

None of us is immune to life’s negative events, but it’s possible to minimize their impact. In the end, it’s really a matter of learning to starve our upsets and feed our opportunities.

 

My friend Maureen Thomson sent me a terrific blog post called Stop Crying That There Are No Jobs. Create One. The title is a little misleading, however.

The real gist of the piece by Paula Pant is that there’s a difference between employee and entrepreneurial mindsets. She illustrated that disparity beautifully.

When we start a business, most of us bring along some invisible baggage—a well-conditioned employee mindset. Until we start thinking and acting like an entrepreneur, success will keep a safe distance.

In the interest of speeding up the process of operating from an entrepreneurial perspective, here are some of my favorite jumpstarts for your entrepreneurial spirit. (You’ll notice that none of these are passive activities.)

° Go to the library. Whenever I’m in a slump, a trip to the library never fails to get me unstuck. Every shelf is loaded with possibility.

° Stop what you’re doing and track down the Fall 2011 issue of Yes! magazine. The theme is New Livlihoods and the stories are fabulously inspiring.

° Interview self-bossers. Choose the Joyfully Jobless, not just the self-employed. Let their passion rub off on you.

° Pay attention. Listen to the compliments that come your way. They may hold the key to a profit center. Listen to what people say is missing in the world for more clues.

° Play every day. Even if you aren’t yet running a business full-time, do something—no matter how small—to move yourself ahead each and every day.

° Break your goals into 90-Day Projects. Not only does this help you become clearer about where you are now and what needs to be done next, you’ll eliminate the overwhelm that often accompanies a big goal or a longterm project.

° Give your projects a theme. I’m a nag about this one because it makes such a huge difference. A theme helps you focus your mind and sparks creative thoughts.

° Pick an entrepreneurial hero or heroine and become an expert on their life.

° Carry a notebook. You never know when a great idea will strike or when you’ll see something worth remembering. Richard Branson carries one at all times. So should you

° Read a novel. Not just any old story, however. Read novels that feature entrepreneurs as main characters. Mysteries, especially, feature them. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn.

° Have regular tune-ups. One seminar does not finish the learning process. Go back to the well as often as possible.

° Immerse, don’t dabble. Even if you have multiple passions and diverse business activities, know your priorities and pursue them with wild abandon.

° Acquire good tools. Use the best tools you can afford to do the best work you are capable of.

° Create an inspiring working environment. Your office or studio should be a place that welcomes you.

° Subscribe to Winning Ways. Read what successful entrepreneurs read. It’s an on-going reminder that you mean business and are always on the lookout for ideas and resources that can move you ahead.

° Put the odds in your favor. Memorize these five steps on How To Build Your Own Luck

1. Get a hobby. Find the thing that fascinates you most. You’ll recognize it instantly. It’s the thing you feel you have to do every day or the day is wasted.

2. Obsess. Get to know it so well nothing about it is unpredictable, including its ability to surprise you. This part of the process wile take approximately one lifetime.

3. Charge for it. If you’re so crazy about it and so good at it, go pro!

4. Flourish. If you’ve followed steps one, two and three, this is the easy part.

5. Succeed. Do it so wildly that everyone tells you how lucky you are.

 

When I go to check my e-mail, a flashing banner screams, “Earn $10,000 / month working from home.”

My junk folder is full of moneymaking offers every day.

Driving around town, I see posters stapled to utility poles with similar come-hither messages.

Then there’s the female (I can only assume) Work at Home promoter who plastered the toilet stalls at the Mall of America with Work at Home cards promising $1500/month PT, $5000/month FT. I was alarmed to see others who had stopped to use the restroom walking out carrying one of theses smarmy promotions.

After weeks of avoiding this avalanche of opportunity I decided to check out some of the home business offers. Posing as an eager opportunity seeker, I began responding to every ad that crossed my path.

What I discovered was a pattern or system to all of these offers. Maybe there’s a Scam School where they teach this stuff, I mused.

I call them the Work at Home Opportunistas and they are on the prowl.  Answer an ad and here’s what you’ll find:

° Big money, no product. The emphasis is on big money that you’ll earn. Very often the actual business is just alluded to. Breathing seems to be the only required skill. The focus is on opportunity with a capital O.

(Photos that include palms trees and a Ferrari are also red flags.)

° Free info that’s not so free. Request the free information offered and you’ll probably get a brochure offering to sell you the real scoop.

° The Internet is all you need. Especially popular are offers that you can pass along on the Internet. From the comfort of your own home, you can reach millions around the world and rake it in.

° Stranger than fiction. The offer that most amused me was the one offering to train me to track down deadbeat parents and collect unpaid child support. Ridiculous claims are also made for envelope stuffing and various solicitations.

° Predicted monthly income. Jobs have predictable incomes. Businesses fluctuate.

Besides the fact that few people ever profit from such plans, these schemes do little more than give working at home a shady reputation.

Of course, there are legitimate companies that offer opportunities for independent sales reps. Doing your homework can help you sort them out from the scam artists.

Sadly if you hook up with one of these Work at Home Opportunistas and you’ll spend both cash and confidence—with nothing but a sad, hard lesson in return.

 

My first meeting with Barbara Sher took place in the restroom of a Toronto hotel. She and I were both teaching seminars that day for the Learning Annex and I boldly introduced myself to her.

I had admired her work since I first encountered it in her book Wishcraft so I was more than a little starstruck when I made her acquaintance.

Several years later, I had the pleasure of spending several days with her when she, Valerie Young and I ran the Making Dreams Happen event in Boulder, Colorado. This time, Barbara and I shared a duplex cottage.

Since she preferred a heartier breakfast than the one served to the group, Barbara invited me to share her home cooked morning meal. It was a lovely bonus to spend time with her, of course, but it was even more dazzling to watch her in action during the seminar.

Besides sharing a passion for helping people create the lives of their dreams, she and I also became members of the Grandmother Club at about the same time. She went so far as to suggest we betroth her Leo and my Zoe to one another.

(I suspect that neither of our grandchildren would take kindly to our plan for an arranged marriage.)

Since our time together in Boulder, I’ve continued to be a fan of her work from afar. I am especially enchanted by the work she’s doing with the folks she calls Scanners which is both fresh and insightful.

If you’re a follower, too, you know that Barbara Sher keeps coming up with new tools, new books, new workshops year after year. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn of a delightful addition to her repertoire which she just announced.

If you’re looking for help in bringing your goals to life, see what’s happening at Barbara’s Club. Then follow the directions.

As she so eloquently reminds us, “You don’t know who you are until you do what you want to do. Then look at it. Your only job is listening to your genes, obeying the call of talent, respecting the desire and being true to it. You’ll create your fingerprint, your name, the footprints of your path. Get to work.”

 


 

This week I’ve been getting ready for my upcoming trip to Sacramento where I’ll be teaching three classes at the Learning Exchange. As the enrollments kept climbing, I kept getting more excited.

Sometimes I hop on a plane and get to share ideas and information with people in farflung places. Sometimes I spend an hour on the phone sharing via a teleclass. Sometimes I’m on the other side of the desk taking a seminar or teleclass. Sometimes I am designing a new special event.

There’s only one thing that I’m doing all the time—gathering things for Winning Ways newsletter.

When I started my very first business, The Successful Woman, I knew I wanted to create personal growth seminars, but also realized that a seminar was just a starting point for learning something new, something important.

In my own journey, there’d been a lot of backsliding and I wanted my participants to avoid some of the long setbacks I’d endured while trying to figure things out on my own.

To this day, I have no idea how I came up with the notion of publishing a newsletter, but once I hit upon it, I realized that it was the  perfect vehicle for reinforcing new mindsets and adding resources as I came upon them.

Even though my early seminars morphed from personal growth into entrepreneurial subjects, a newsletter is still a perfect tool for keeping the learning going. Unlike books which are read and returned to the shelf, a newsletter keeps coming.

It’s kind of like getting a chapter at a time with an interval in between installments for testing and trying out things for yourself before moving on to the next thing.

Since I’m the kind of person who can’t keep good things to myself, sending out the best of what I’ve uncovered six times a year is efficient and strangely fun for me to produce.

Nevertheless, I remain astonished that Winning Ways is still a source of such creative satisfaction that I’m now celebrating its twenty-fifth year.

Equally startling to me is how pertinent the information remains over time. When I go digging in my archives I’m always surprised to discover an article or resource I’d completely forgotten, but can put to use again in 2011.

While I’m not so naive as to think all of my subscribers store every issue themselves, I do know that if Winning Ways was done electronically instead of as old-fashioned hard copy, it wouldn’t enjoy such a long shelf life.

One of the most frequent comments I’ve gotten from my readers is that Winning Ways always arrives just when it’s needed most. I used to think that was magically auspicious, but then I realized it wasn’t nearly so mysterious.

What day isn’t a good day to be encouraged on your Joyfully Jobless Journey? What day isn’t a good day to find a reminder in your mailbox that you mean business? What day don’t you need to feel connected to others on a similar path?

The only mystery, it seems to me, is how something so ordinary looking could pack such a punch.

If you’d like to add Winning Ways to your power tools, I’m extending my special offer for new subscribers until October 15th. Order now and I’ll include a copy of Seminar in a Sentence, my collection of quotes on creativity, success and entrepreneurship.

I’d love to have you along. Here’s what some of my readers have to say about the newsletter.

I am reading your newest issue right now.  I absolutely must renew every year as I LOVE reading them.  I save every issue in a file after I have read it. Great stuff! ~ Micheal, Ohio

I get a lot of publications, but Winning Ways is the only one I read cover to cover as soon as it arrives.–Jack, Georgia

Your last Winning Ways was topnotch! The Smart Investing article is a gentle reminder for me to put my money where it matters. For years that felt selfish. Now it feels smart! ~ Maureen, Colorado

Thanks for filling my mailbox with such inspiration. ~ Jen, New York

Thank you for your wise and inspiring words. Please keep sharing your passion for living life to the fullest. ~ Paul, Canada

I subscribe to many newletters which pertain to self employment, self publishing, mail order, marketing and so forth and have been doing so since the early 1970’s.  I rarely renew past five years because of the drop off in quality and rehashed material.

I have renewed Winning Ways for a number of years now because your newsletter, much like your book Making a Living Without a Job, is excellent material which I constantly refer to.  Both are excellent “idea generators” for me and have helped me immensely over the years. You are to be commended for your excellent, thought provoking writing.~ Tom, CT

 

 

 

We humans are born question askers. Listen to any toddler and you’ll hear a stream of questions about any subject that catches their attention. “Why?” is the most frequently used word in their vocabularies.

During the days when I taught high school English, I used to say that my idea of hell was being in a roomful of teenagers all screaming, “Do we have to?” It was a question that often erupted after I gave a challenging assignment.

Questions are such a common part of everyday communication that most people don’t give much thought to them.  I’d like to suggest that you to pay more attention.

I started to do so when I noticed that a popular television talk show host seemed to turn the most fascinating guests into complete bores. As I watched more closely, I discovered that his questions often led to dead ends, giving his guests no place to go or no story to tell.

People who have charisma, who draw others to themselves, usually have a reputation for being good listeners. Part of their secret, it seems to me, is that they ask great questions to begin with and then give their full attention to the answer, prodding and encouraging when necessary.

They make people feel valued because they listen to the answers.

Asking good questions isn’t just a way to win friends and influence people, however. It’s an overlooked key to success.

Not all questions are illuminating. Many, in fact, stop us dead in our tracks. “How are you going to do that?” or “Why haven’t I gotten farther?” are the kinds of questions that lead us down the path of doubt, not dreams.

Learning to ask better questions of ourselves can get us headed in the right direction and keep us moving forward.

Mark Victor Hansen and Robert Allen, the authors of The One Minute Millionaire, point out that when we ask the wrong questions we condemn ourselves to living below our potential. They write, “If you ask yourself, ‘How do I earn or create a million dollars?’ your mind goes to work to discover the answer. Your mind is compelled to work ceaselessly until a satisfactory answer is found.

“Note that most individuals ask themselves questions like these: ‘How do I get a job, salary or work?’ or ‘Can I earn $50,000 doing this?’ The wrong question will generate the wrong result or a less than outstanding outcome.

“Questions predetermine the answer. The size of your question determines the size of your answer. Few people ever ask million-dollar earning, inventing, innovating, generating and creating questions.”

If you keep a journal or idea notebook, start making a list of provocative questions you’d like answered in your own life. Ask them in the most compelling way you can think of.

For example, “How can I deliver the most fabulous service possible?” is a lot more intriguing than, “How can I give better service?”

Consider questions about spirituality, relationships, personal growth and improving the overall quality of life, as well as questions about creating the most brilliant business possible.

Keep adding to the list and leave room after each question for the answers to come. Be willing, also,  to be patient in receiving your answers.

As writer Zora Neale Hurston reminds us, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” The important thing is to ask the best questions to begin with—the ones that are worthy of your dreams.

As anyone who’s started a business knows, doing so invites an avalanche of unsolicited advice. Obviously, we need advice from those who have experience and information that can help us, but we also need to ignore the detractors.

How can you sort the wheat from the chaff?

Rule #1: Consider the Source

The most important thing about receiving advice is to know your source and trust them. It’s surprisingly easy to be influenced by bad or even false advice.

Sometimes it happens because the advice-giver sounds authoritative and so we look no further. At other times, maybe out of laziness, we accept negative or discouraging words as an excuse for not giving something a try.

And sometimes we just don’t know if the advice is accurate. (This is a particularly new and thorny problem caused by the Internet where advice is posted but not edited or verified.)

The Persian poet Rumi advised,  “When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from someone who has never left home.”

When setting out to build a business, do not seek advice from those who haven’t done so successfully.

Rule #2 : Get a Second Opinion

While too many opinions or too much advice can serve to confuse, if you’re exploring unknown territory,  serious research is in order before setting out.

Get advice from people who know what they’re talking about—and then get a back-up opinion or two.

Rule #3: Make the Most of It

When you ask advice of another person, your initial role is to be a quiet listener or to ask clarifying questions. (“Yes, but” does not belong in the conversation.) Whether or not you act upon the advice is a matter for a later time.

When you’re trying to make a decision or need information so you can proceed with a decision you’ve already made, seeking outside input is just part of the information-gathering process. Sifting comes after you’ve got all the information collected.

The world is full of teachers, experts and amateur advisors—all with varying qualifications. Finding the right ones to help you learn what you need to know so you can move forward in your own life is not to be taken lightly.

The experience of others can save us time, add deeper insights, prevent us from making costly mistakes. Pay attention to those who can help, not hinder, your success.

As C.S. Lewis so eloquently said, “Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm, you must stand by the fire; if you want to get wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, peace, eternal life, you must get close to them. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you. If not, you will remain dry.”

 

Back in the olden days, job seekers haunted the Help Wanted listings in their newspaper. Today they’re apt to visit Craigslist or, even, walk the streets looking for Now Hiring signs in shop windows.

When you leave your job seeking days behind, it doesn’t mean help is no longer wanted. As Elizabeth Warren passionately told an audience last week, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.”

It seemed like one of those obvious statements that we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Nevertheless, sometimes entrepreneurs are oblivious to the fact that they need help. Or they may suspect they need it, but don’t know where to look. Our egos can also convince us that admitting we need help is a sign of weakness.

Help, of course, is one of those simple English words that we learned early in life. According to one dictionary, it has several meanings which include:

1. To give assistance to; aid: I helped her find the book. He helped me into my coat.

2. To contribute to the furtherance of; promote.

3. To give relief to: help the needy.

4. To ease; relieve: medication to help your cold.

5. To change for the better; improve: A fresh coat of paint will help a scarred old table.

6. To refrain from; avoid or resist. Used with can or cannot: couldn’t help laughing.

7. To wait on, as in a store or restaurant.

Help also can be a cry when we’re in trouble.

So this month I’m going to explore handy helpful resources for fueling your Joyfully Jobless Journey. We’ll look at how to ask for help, how to track down helpful resources and how to be exceptionally helpful to others without being a doormat.

As Nelson DeMille reminds us, “We are all pilgrims on the same journey, but some pilgrims have better road maps.”