Several months ago, there was a big Twitter event in Los Angeles that was live streamed. Since there were several speakers scheduled that I was eager to hear, I planned to check in throughout the day.

On the morning of the event, I woke up with a touch of flu so changed my plans and spent the day in bed with the Twitter conference streaming nearby on my laptop. The audience was enthusiastic and most of the speakers were too.

One of the speakers was a famous motivational speaker. I won’t name names, but I always think of him as a Too-Cool-For-the-Room kind of guy. The venue seemed a bit small for his broad performance which has been fine tuned in auditoriums with audiences in the thousands.

I don’t remember what the title of his talk was, but all of a sudden he bellowed, “Eighty percent of all businesses fail within the first two years.” Just in case his audience (full of self-employed folks) weren’t horrified enough, he repeated that shocking statement.

I sat up in bed. I may have hollered something back at him. I might have even called him a liar. (I was sick, remember?)

Where did he find that statistic? This was even crazier than most of the failure numbers that seem to be pulled from thin air.

Based largely on conventional, highly capitalized business failures, the statistics aren’t based on an accurate count that includes less conventional enterprises. Adding to the inaccuracy is the fact that if a business changes hands, the original owner may be lumped into the failed business category—even if the business was profitably sold.

What struck me as even more ridiculous in the claim that eighty percent of all businesses tanked  was something even more obvious: despite the closing of many businesses during the current recession, we’re not even close to that percentage. If we were, every mall and business park would be filled with rental trucks and moving vans.

That’s a sobering thought, but it’s not what’s happening.

Of course, we can listen to the statistics without questioning them and scare ourselves away from our dreams.

Or we can listen to successful entrepreneurs and see what they have to say.

People like Sir Richard Branson has a different take on things. “The world is a massively more hospitable place today for entrepreneurs than it was twenty or thirty years ago,” he says.

We also need to recognize that business in 2010 is transforming into something new. Consider this experience shared by the wonderful and visionary Paul Hawken:

When I started the natural food business in Boston, my business knowledge was scant. I did the best I could and began reading everything I could lay my hands on.

I subscribed to The Wall Street Journal. It confused me. I read the major business magazines. Their Fortune 500 world seemed irrelevant.

I sneaked into classes at the Harvard Business School. Their case studies were lunar in their usefulness to my enterprise.

The more I searched, the more confused I became. The more exposure I gained to the “official” world of business, the more I began to doubt that I was in business at all. I seemed to be doing something entirely different.

I get that same feeling today when I read most of the standard business literature.I believe that most people in new businesses, and some in not-so-new businesses, have the same problem. They don’t feel connected to the conventional wisdom…as if a small business is just a flake chipped off the larger corporate world.

Hawken and I have discovered the same thing: the Quiet Revolution that’s been growing for the past couple of decades is thriving in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of places.

And we’re going to continue growing—whether anyone is adding us to their statistics or not.

After I read La Bella Lingua, I decided to make the Italian Renaissance one of my summer projects. I began by rereading (as I do every summer) Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

I promptly tracked down a number of books at my nearby library, including the amusing Uppity Women of the Renaissance by VIcki Leon, plus the DVD of the glorious PBS series The Medicis: Godfathers of the Renaissance.

Those aren’t the only library books living with me at the moment. I’m working on the next issue of Winning Ways newsletter which has a theme of Collecting for Fun and Profit. My exploration of the library catalog turned up a long list of resources. 

One of the most amusing is a heavy (and heavily illustrated)  book called In Flagrante Collecto (caught in the act of collecting) by Marilynn Gelman Karp. Then there’s Collectomania by Miriam Plans. Who knows where this is going to lead?

It’s no accident that I live less than five minutes away from a library. When I was moving to Las Vegas, I got a city map and plotted out the locations of things I wanted easy access to. Libraries were high on the list.

In a talk I gave at a library in Minneapolis, I told the audience, “Libraries are an entrepreneur’s best friend.” I wasn’t just flattering my hosts, however.

A great library system is a basic requirement for me. In a normal week, I make several visits to the library and consider having a personal relationship with the librarians to be fundamental.

Some people go shopping when they need a lift; I go to the library. If I’m stumped, don’t know what to do next, I can count on a visit to get me moving again.

The library exists to connect us with information and ideas all stored in one space for our convenience. While the Internet is a fabulous tool, one I would hate to give up, I can go deeper into a subject at the library—and I trust the accuracy of the information more.

When I see parents bringing their small children to get their first library card, I am delighted. This is an important rite of passage and the sooner the library becomes a familiar friend, the more apt it is to remain a lifetime relationship.

I also love the sense of not knowing for sure what I’ll find when I go there. Richard Wiseman tells a story about going to the library to do research for a paper he was writing when he was a schoolboy and being directed to the wrong shelf where the books on magic happened to be housed. That started him on his way to becoming a boy magician.

A fellow library lover told me about the morning she arrived at the library as it opened. She planned to spend some time doing genealogical research. “The next thing I knew,” she recalls, “they were announcing that the library was closing. I hadn’t eaten or gone to the bathroom all day.”

Can you imagine what a thrill it was for a lifelong library lover when a woman came to my seminar in Washington DC saying she was there because she worked at the Library of Congress and had come across Making a Living Without a Job  on their shelves?

“There is an unspeakable pleasure attending the life of a voluntary student,” said Oliver Goldsmith. That’s also true for the curious entrepreneur.

Whether you’re a regular library patron or not, plan a creative excursion to your library soon and browse until you discover a treasure. Or visit the reference department and see what ideas you get looking through directories of grants or Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations. 

Then do it again and again. And anytime you find yourself thinking, “But I don’t know how to do that,” take yourself to the library and start digging.


Every so often, I open my mailbox at the post office and have the surprise of a check I hadn’t known was coming. I always think of Bill Bryson’s observation, “Is there anything, apart from a really good chocolate cream pie and receiving a large unexpected check in the mail, to beat finding yourself at large in a foreign city on a fine spring evening?”

Happily, I also have had the pleasure of a fine chocolate cream pie and springtime evenings in foreign cities. Except for the chocolate cream pie, the unexpected checks and evenings in Venice were not part of my life before I became joyfully jobless.

In fact, the pre-entrepreneurial life I led bears little resemblance to the post-entrepreneurial life I’ve created. And I’m not the only one who is aware of the differences.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes, “The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child. With one stroke, everything changes. I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after.”

Seth Godin echoes that in Small is the New Big. He says, “For the last six years, I’ve had exactly one employee. Me. This has changed my life in ways I hadn’t predicted. The biggest changes are:

“1. The kind of project that’s interesting is now very different. It doesn’t have to be strategic or scalable or profitable enough to feed an entire division. It just has to be interesting or fun or good for my audience.

“2. The idea of risk is different as well. I can write an e-book and launch it in some crazy way and just see what happens. Because my costs are nothing compared to those of a large organization, there are no boundaries in the way I approach something.”

Like Pressfield and Godin, I’ve been thinking about my own before and after story. For instance, in the before part of my life I didn’t know anyone who loved their work. Now I hardly know anyone who isn’t passionate about what they do.

In my previous life, I only dreamed about traveling. Today, I’ve filled up several passports.

Before I was self-employed, I had never been to New York, Seattle, Toronto, Victoria, the Lake District, Boston—or dozens of other wonderful places. Best of all, I not only have gotten to see the world, I’ve gotten paid to do so.

So, of course,  I identify completely with Peter Mayle’s observation: “I would rather live precariously in my own office than comfortably in someone else’s.” 

The After version of me knows something the Before version didn’t even suspect: Mayle just defined perfectly what security really means. I can’t imagine ever wanting to trade this life for the one that came before. 

This isn’t just change…it’s transformation.

I believe this calls for a celebration. How about a jamboree?

One morning my granddaughter Zoe was getting ready for kindergarten when her mother walked into her room. “Does this go together?” Zoe asked.

“You’re an artist,” Jennie reminded her. “You can wear whatever you want.”

The next morning, Zoe confidently put on her fanciest dress and her flowered rain boots. When she walked into the kitchen, her father took one look and said, “Lose the boots.”

Zoe looked him straight in the eye and said, “Dad, I’m an artist. I can wear whatever I want.”

It delights me, of course, that Zoe is encouraged to think creatively and to think of herself as an artist. There’s evidence that she’s taking it quite seriously.

A few months ago I was planning a visit to Zoe and her family when I got a Skype call from her. We talked about some of the things we were going to do when I got there.

“Saturday is Jacob’s birthday,” she said in her most matter-of-fact voice. (Jacob is the doll I gave Zoe for her second birthday. Jacob is a girl.)

“Oh, dear,” I said. “I don’t have time to get her a present.” 

”Improvise,” Zoe suggested. “Just use what you have.”

Great advice, don’t you think, for solving a problem? But being an artist of the ordinary has even greater rewards.

Some of the happiest people around are those who have been raised to make their life an on-going art project. And, happily, I’m not alone in thinking that.

I recently finished reading Peter Buffett’s Life is What You Make It. Of course, I was curious to know what it was like to grow up with one of the world’s wealthiest men as a father. 

My favorite story in the book answered that question nicely. Peter writes about coming home to tell his family that he’s decided to follow his passion and become a musician. Here’s what happened next.

“As was his custom,” Buffett writes, “my father listened carefully, without judging, without offering explicit advice. Then one day, almost in passing as he headed out the door, he said to me, ‘You know, Pete, you and I really do the same thing. Music is your canvas. Berkshire’s my canvas and I get to paint a little every day.’

“That was all he said—and it was plenty.”

I don’t know if the Buffett men ever heard what M.C. Richards said, but they certainly personify it.  “All the arts we practice are apprenticeship,” says Richards. “The big art is our life.”

Seems to me that Zoe’s already figured that out. What’s your canvas?

Most of the people who take time to send me messages are kind and have wonderful stories to share so I was startled to receive an e-mail last week that was downright mean-spirited.  Here’s what happened.

In the midst of an otherwise very nice day, I received a snarky message from a woman I know only via Facebook. She had sent me a previous message, I had responded, and she didn’t like my reply.

Not only that, she didn’t like some other things I’d said and done and she wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to let me know. (You may have had this sort of argument with a sibling or partner who suddenly recalls offenses from years past.)

The gist of this rant was, “I admired you, but I’m disappointed to see that you’re a mere mortal.” It would be accurate to say that I was blindsided by her nastiness (not my own flawed humanity) .

I responded immediately, apologized, told her that any offense I’d given was totally unintended, etc. etc. I sincerely meant what I said.

Long after the return message was sent,  I noticed I was growing increasingly upset. I wanted to defend myself, prove I was a good person. You know the drill.

Shortly thereafter, she wrote back saying she felt much better after my explanation. My reaction? “I’m glad you feel better. I feel like crap.” The damage had been done.

Normally, I refuse to let the negativity of others impact my own peace of mind so I was even more surprised that I reacted so strongly. I decided to take a vow of silence for the rest of the day and contemplate what had happened. 

Now I’m not suggesting that we should keep our opinions or displeasures to ourselves, but something was amiss in this situation. Apparently, what I’d said to begin with wasn’t at all what she heard. 

Obviously, I had flunked Communication 101. I wondered if I should reconsider my policy about not using emoticons.

Once I calmed down, I took a look at what I’d learned. Here’s what I found:

1. Being mean does not equal being persuasive. 

2. E-mail may not be the most reliable method for important communication. Things get lost or the recipient may be overwhelmed at the moment an e-mail arrives. Even more common is that intention doesn’t always travel well. 

3. Writing in the heat of the moment or during an upset may provide emotional release, but not necessarily accomplish the desired result.

4. Losing a friend, ally or connection does not enrich our lives.

5. When in doubt, ask for clarification. 

As children, we learned that sticks and stones could break our bones, but words can never harm us. That may be good self-defense on the playground, but it’s also false.

Words have enormous power to heal, hurt, encourage, discourage, elate or deflate. There’s a marvelous book that came out a few years ago called The Right Words At the Right Time that illustrates this beautifully.

It’s a collection of essays from mostly famous people who talk about a moment in their lives when they were feeling doubt or frustration and someone stepped in and turned things around. With their words. 

So I’ll leave you with some new favorite words of mine which come from Dr. Frank Crane: “The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatever unless you realize it is your move.”

There was a small hotel I stayed at on several visits to London. It was within walking distance of Victoria Station and in a nieghborhood filled with bed and breakfast places and all sorts of little shops.

After a day of sightseeing, I’d often stop at the corner convenience store to buy a magazine or some Cadbury’s. The same man stood in the same spot behind the same counter (probably wearing the same clothes), with the same stony expression on his face—year after year.

Frequently, I’d  leave the store pondering such a life. I can barely imagine going to the same place at the same time and having the same experiences day after day after day. That’s a death sentence for the creative spirit and breeding ground for all sorts of negativity.

I also know that it’s an unquestioned way of life for many people. I was reminded of that the other day when a friend told me about a woman she’d met who said that the best thing about her job was that she didn’t have to learn anything. That’s not my idea of a job benefit. 

There are, of course, many ways to keep from evolving forward. For instance, there’s a man I know who seems to have formed all his opinons about life at the age of eleven and has spent the last thirty years looking for evidence to support those beliefs.

Consequently, his philosophy of life includes such things as people can’t be trusted, if something can go wrong it will, and so on and so forth. He’s quite certain about the correctness of his beliefs and determined to keep proving them. Needless to say, he’s a grumpy old man in a middle-aged man’s body. He doesn’t laugh very often, either, I’ve noticed.

Although I don’t hear it so much anymore, when I lived in the Midwest, I often heard people defend their limiting notions by saying, “I wasn’t raised that way.”  My (unspoken) reaction to that was, “You wouldn’t wear your mother’s clothes, would you?  Why are you wearing her outdated beliefs?”

We don’t need to trap ourselves behind the counter of a convenience store in order to be trapped in a world without discovery and adventure. Yes, I understand that limiting beliefs are often fueled by fear and self-doubt, but if we don’t challenge our assumptions, look at other perspectives, we stay stuck in certainties that may not bear any resemblance to the truth.

Opening our hearts and minds to a bigger world, a world where ideas flourish, where people are spreading joy, is absolutely essential if we’re ever to discover who we are and what we can become.

It’s no coincidence that the motto of the wildly successful Cirque du Soleil is, “We must evolve.” If we don’t take that challenge, we stay stuck in the Twentieth Century while the adventurers are blazing new trails.

Quite simply, we can’t make it better by keeping everything the same.


Every Friday morning, I wake up to a mailing from the folks at Prairie Home Companion. My favorite part is always The Old Scout’s essay and this week’s is worth passing along. Garrison Keillor is hanging out with the college crowd. You may want to eavesdrop.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been talking about (when I’m not working on) my big summer project which I call Transforming World Headquarters. I’m not just tidying up, however. This project requires going through files, piles and boxes.

Every book, every file, every note to myself is being examined to see if it belongs—or needs to relocate to a more congenial environment.

One of the more tedious—but eye-opening—parts of the project has been going through stacks and stack of magazines. In many instances, I can’t begin to fathom why a publication was saved in the first place.

My biggest collections are back issues of Ode and Fast Company. I began to notice that  much of the content of Fast Company seemed weirdly dated, even though the issues are less than six years old.

Another thing that caught my eye in both magazines were the full page ads for upcoming conferences and events. There were ads for huge events, with celebrity speakers, for social entrepreneurs, green businesses, alongside spiritual retreats guaranteed to be life-changing.

Grand, lofty undertakings.

That’s where I began to grow uneasy. After all,  I’ve spent that past several months discussing, planning, eating and sleeping the upcoming Joyfully Jobless Jamboree. I don’t know when I’ve been so excited about an idea.

But now I began wondering, “Is it lofty enough?” This event is about celebration and connection. We’re talking about fun and play and creativity. Are we being frivolous?

Doubts were swirling and I began to feel a bit shaky. 

Then I turned a page in Fast Company and saw a little interview with one of my entrepreneurial heroes, Rick Steves. He was talking about his business and why he does what he does:

When I’m in Europe, I’m breathing straight oxygen. I’m 10 years younger, I’m bolting out of bed in the morning, making new friends, learning new things, putting the puzzle together, coming home, and making a lot of money. It’s pretty cool. 

Breathing straight oxygen. Defying gravity. Being joyfully jobless. 

Thanks to Rick Steves few sentences, I was reminded, yet again, that I want to live in a world of people who are doing just that. With nobody left out. 

Most of all, I needed to remember that celebrating how far we’ve come is necessary if we intend to go farther.




“There’s an unspeakable pleasure,” observed Oliver Goldsmith, “attending the life of a voluntary student.” It’s no coincidence that the most successful entrepreneurs are enthusiastic voluntary students.

Author Jess Lair once said that when it came to living his life, he wanted the best teachers he could find. That made perfect sense to me and I’ve continued to build my own portfolio of teachers.

Some of them stick around for a long time; others come along and share an idea or show me how to do something in a better way and then I move on. 

In the past few days, I’ve encountered three insightful fellows who all added to my learning. 

One of them is Dave Courvoisier who is best known here in Las Vegas as a television anchorman. He also is building a voiceover business and actively shares tips and information with others who are doing the same.

His article on making better videos caught my eye and I promptly filed it for future reference. If you’re an aspiring vlogger or YouTube star, check out these on camera tips from a pro to improve the look of your videos.

As I told my Facebook friends, I don’t always agree with Ben Stein, but yesterday he and I were soulmates when I heard his piece “Follow Your Heart: Risk Be Damned” on CBS Sunday Morning. Don’t miss it.

Finally, there’s Jason Mraz. I’ve been a big fan of his music and became even more intrigued when I learned he’s also an avocado farmer. After seeing this piece on MSNBC Business, I realize he’s also a kindred spirit.

Decades before anyone talked about random acts of kindness, a man named David Dunn found a new hobby. He wrote about it in a wonderful book called Try Giving Yourself Away which first appeared in 1947.

The story actually began some twenty years earlier when Dunn had an idea while riding on the Twentieth Century Limited from Chicago to New York. He began to wonder where the eastbound and westbound trains passed.

 “Where the Centuries Pass” would make an interesting advertisement he mused. The next day he wrote a letter sharing his idea with the railroad company. They liked the idea and used it on their company calendar for the following year.

“The following summer I traveled extensively, “ Dunn writes. “In almost every railroad station and hotel lobby I entered, both at home and in Europe, hung my Century calendar. It never failed to give me a glow of pleasure.

“It was then I made the important discovery that anything that makes one glow with pleasure is beyond money calculation, in this world where there is too much grubbing and too little glowing.”

Dunn discovered that there was a knack to this newly discovered hobby of his. “Opportunities for reaping dividends of happiness are fleeting. You have to act quickly or they elude you. But that only adds to the zest.”

His book is loaded with suggestions for doing just that. For example, he says, “If I particularly enjoy a book, a magazine article or a play, I write a note to the author, telling him or her of my enjoyment. Sometimes I receive an acknowledgment; more often I do not. It doesn’t matter in the least: I am not collecting autographs. I am just keeping my giving-away machinery in good working order.”

As Try Giving Yourself Away demonstrates so beautifully, gratitude and appreciation are lovely gifts that anyone can deliver and instantly make the world better. Best of all, anyone can build a collection of such experiences that enrich both the giver and receiver.

I thought about David Dunn when I saw this Tweet from Deepak Chopra: “When I give to others, to my community, and to my society, I participate in the creation of abundance in the world.”

Immediately I recalled an experience I had on a drive to California. I had stopped at a Starbucks and found myself in a long line of young people on their way to a church camp. 

When I finally got to the counter, the barista handed me my coffee along with a gift card.

I  was delightfully flabbergasted. “Who is my benefactor?” I asked. She pointed at a young woman who was flaunting several tatoos and piercings. 

I walked over to thank her and ended up having a lovely conversation. I also realized we probably would never have spoken to each other had it not been for her surprising act of generosity.

There’s an even bigger reward in all of this. As Dunn discovered, “As giving-away became a habit rather than a hobby, I felt a new sense of warmth in all my relations with people.” 

Unfortunately, Dunn’s book is no longer in print, although there are used copies still floating around. If you can locate one, it will make a fine addition to your library.

Imagine what could happen if millions of people made giving-away a habit. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

Five years ago, Marilyn decided to leave her soul-squashing job and start a business that would share her love of animals. Today she’s still dragging herself to that same job and her entrepreneurial enthusiasm is weak from neglect. 

When questioned about her business plans, she replies, “Oh, I decided in this economy it was better to hang on to what I had. Besides I hate to give up my benefits and I really need the money from my job so I can remodel my family room.”

What Marilyn—and so many others— demonstrate is that whenever we ignore our dreams we rationalize it by creating a villain. It’s never our fault, for goodness sake. Someone or something outside us is standing in our way. 

That thinking leads us to look for the villain which we disguise as an excuse.

Since finding an excuse is not a creative exercise, most excuses aren’t too original. Knowing that, syndicated columnist Dale Dauten put together the Excuse-O-Matic which can be a handy tool. Just find your age and under it you’ll find the corresponding excuse not to take a risk.

 Under 30—too young

Need to get established/planning marriage/ kids/house

No experience/no credit/no capital   

30 to 40—too busy

Have spouse/children/mortgage

Too much credit/need to save for college tuition    

40 to 55—too stretched

Kids in college

Need to pay down debt/save for retirement

Over 55—too tired

Not up on latest technologies

Too late to risk capital

Concerned about losing retirement benefits

Deceased—too dead

The final and best excuse

Now I’m not a mathematician, but I can see that if you add up these excuses all you’re left with are excuses. 

If you want to amaze and dazzle yourself,  make a pact with yourself to give up, once and for all, anything that sounds like an excuse. Giving up all excuses is not enough, however. 

In the part of your brain where you’ve stored reasons and excuses, start building an Option Bank.

An Option Bank, just like the place where you store money, is a repository of good ideas, dreams and goals. Like an ordinary bank, the more you put in, the more you can draw out. 

The best way to get started at this is to convince yourself that there is never just a single option available. Never. If you begin with that premise, your creative spirit will be free to go to work. 

A word of warning: this is not the same as the frequently used expression, “I’m keeping my options open,” which usually means, “I have no idea what I want and am waiting for something to happen to tell me.” 

What I’m talking about is a proactive listing of any and every possibility that occurs to you. Here’s how to build your own Option Bank.

On a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the center. At the top of the page, write a goal that you have in the form of an affirmation. Over the left hand column write Excuses and over the right hand column write Options. 

Think of your excuses as debits and your options as deposits. Now write your lists. If you can’t simply ignore your excuses, what direct alternative can you take to eliminate or change them? 

When you repeat this exercise regularly, you’ll discover that your Option List will grow while your Excuses List will shrivel.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,” Anais Nin wisely observed. 

 Keep building your own Option Bank and you’ll discover that life not only shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage, but also in proportion to one’s options.