Julia Cameron calls them Artist Dates. Sarah Ban Breathnach calls them Creative Excursions. Whatever you call them, they’re worth making a regular event in your life.

“The Artist Date need not be overtly artistic,” says Cameron, “think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.”

The purpose of such solo events is to take time away regularly to visit a new place, gather ideas, or just feed your soul. Although it’s easy to find new destinations, it’s equally easy to find excuses not to do so.

When people tell me they have no idea what they want to do with their life, I’m pretty certain that creative excursions have not been on their agenda.

With that in mind, here are a few idea starters to get you thinking about potential excursions of your own.

° Visit a Japanese garden or arboretum. You don’t have to be a gardner yourself in order to find pleasure in beautiful landscapes. For several years, I lived within walking distance of a Japanese garden and I visited it whenever I needed a lift.

° Spend time browsing at a flea market or community festival. Imagine yourself as a vendor. What kind of booth would you have? What catches your eye? What turns you off? How would you welcome visitors?

° Go to your public library and explore an area you don’t normally browse in. Read a couple of unfamiliar magazine while you’re there. See what resources are housed in the reference area.

° Explore the scrap booking aisles at a craft store. Consider starting a scrapbook of favorite cartoons so you’ll always know where to look when you need a laugh.

° Slip off to the movies on a midweek afternoon. It’s almost like having a private screening if you catch the first showing on Tuesday. You may also feel slightly decadent.

° Gather travel brochures and pictures of destinations still to be visited. Make a collage for your office.

° Make or buy a card of congratulations and send it to yourself. Then send another to someone in need of encouragement.

° Take a nature hike. Gather seashells if you’re near an ocean or wildflowers or weeds for a bouquet if there’s a woods nearby.

° Visit a hardware store and investigate gadgets you’ve never seen before. Imagine having a project to use one of these tools.

° If you haven’t visited a local museum or art gallery, it’s time you paid a call.

° A great junk store or antique mall is another perfect place to stroll. Talk to the folks working there and find out what kinds of treasures are popular.

° Pretend you’re an investigative reporter. Visit stores secretly making notes on their customer service—or lack thereof.

° Start a new collection and begin a treasure hunt. You could begin by finding all the treasures hidden in your own neighborhood. It’s not unusual for folks to overlook things in their own backyard that visitors come to see.

Author Bill Bryson talks about being on a train and thinking about fellow travel writer Paul Theroux who wrote about fascinating conversations he has with strangers. This perplexes Bryson because he finds it difficult to strike up conversations with traveling Brits.

That got me thinking about a conversation I had with an enthusiastic traveler who wondered how I managed to open a dialogue with someone I’d just met.

Since my Do Talk To Strangers Policy is a vital component of traveling—and being entrepreneurial—I started to consider how I actually go about it. I realized that some of it is purely intuitive.

For instance, when a stranger plunks down next to me on an airplane, I take a breath, take a look and see if I’m moved to start a conversation. Most of the time I get it right. Once in a while, I know from my opening question that my seat mate is inclined toward solitude and I stop there.

Whether you’re standing in line at the post office (a place where I’ve met some fascinating folks) or waiting for a train, here are a few ideas to help you uncovering the interesting people around you.

° Make it a game. Decide ahead of time that you want to find an interesting story or inspiring stranger. I’ve been on long flights that seemed to pass in a moment because I had landed next to a great storyteller.

I consider that a fine compensation for the annoyances that are now part of contemporary travel.

° Don’t wait. Instigate. Be willing to be the one who makes the first move. A friendly smile is a good way to test the water. If it’s not reciprocated, move on.

° Look for common ground. I often open a conversation with a compliment or observation about something the stranger is wearing or carrying or something that’s happening around us.

When I hopped into a London taxi that was covered in promotional material for the Rolling Stones, I suspected that I had a fascinating chat ahead of me. And I did. I learned that my driver was the only cab in the city promoting the Stones, that he earned an extra £750 a year by putting advertising on his cab.

He also told me he’d once advertised for the South African Tourist Board and got a free trip to that country as a bonus. He was hoping he might get tickets to a Stones concert this time around.

° Be politely curious. Our reluctance to talk to strangers may be caused by thinking it’s about us. Wrong. It’s about them. Yes, you might be subjected to a tedious story now and then, but it’s worth the risk.

One of my most memorable conversations was with a young man who was a linguistic professor who spoke seven languages. when I learned that, I asked him the best way to learn a language. “Be a kid,” he said. I laughed and asked, “What’s the second best?”

The answer to that question—and many more—kept us chatting from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. I learned a lot and enjoyed his willingness to share his linguistic passion.

° Anticipate the best. Remember that it’s true that everyone knows something that you don’t. Discovering what that unknown fact or idea or passion may be can enrich your life. Sometimes a stranger leads you to a missing piece of your own puzzle.
Knowing that keeps me talking to strangers who unknowingly enrich my life.

And like everything else, it gets easier with practice.

Dreams are extremely fragile—especially in their early days. Dreams, like babies and seedlings, need to be nurtured and surrounded by support.

Here are a handful of ways to get your dreams off to a great start.

° Passion must be present. While a dream may be born in passion, it’s up to you to keep it alive. If you’re halfhearted and lukewarm about them, your dreams will never come true.

One way to keep passion high is to spend a few minutes every day visualizing the successful completion of your dream. How does it look, smell, taste, sound, feel? Allow that vision to keep pulling you forward.

° Take good care of the boss. It doesn’t matter how great a dream is if the dream keeper is too tired or too uninspired to bring it to life.

Sometimes the easiest things to do are also the easiest to overlook—like drinking plenty of water and avoiding toxic people. Dreamkeepers have an obligation to create the healthiest and most balanced life possible.

° Make your workspace a place that inspires you. Whether you work on a beach with your laptop or in an extra bedroom in your home, make it inspiring as well as efficient.

If you’re in your home burn incense, play classical music, have a tabletop fountain. Cover your wall with art or an inspiration board that features pictures of your dream. And if you’re sitting on a beach, pick one with a great view.

° Take responsibility for staying inspired. There are three ways to run a business: Inspired, Uninspired or With Occasional Flashes of Inspiration.

Identify the things that inspire you and expose yourself to them frequently. Whether it’s music, words from a favorite author or other entrepreneur, or some spot in nature, know where your Inspiration Well is located and go there often.

° Create your own Hall of Fame. Ask a successful actor or musician who inspired them and they’ll probably answer quickly. Ask a would-be entrepreneur the same question and you’re apt to be greeted by a shrug of the shoulders.

If you’re going to succeed, you need to be inspired by real people. Read biographies or interviews of successful people and pay attention to the philosophies that guide them.

° Be open to being inspired at all times. You never know where a great idea or solutions to a problem will come from.

Like Sir Richard Branson, carry a notebook with you at all times so you can jot down ideas as they occur.

If you spend a lot of time driving, you may want to carry a voice-activated recorder to capture your thought. Do not, however, text them to yourself while driving.

° Notice what catches your attention. What makes you happy? What causes an emotional response? These are clues. Apathy is not a success tool.

Take time to pay attention to advertising and marketing that you like—and that you loath. Consider how you can bring the qualities you respond to into your business.

° Collect entrepreneurial friends. There’s almost nothing more rewarding than spending time in the presence of kindred spirits who can add their own creative ideas and encouragement to what you’re doing.

Cultivating such friendships will be one of the best investments you can make. Seminars and coffee shops are great places to scout for new friends.

° Change the scenery. There’s nothing that dulls the creative spirit more quickly than daily routine.

You can counteract the dulling effect of that by taking a field trip or creative excursion at least once a week. Take your laptop to a park, visit a museum or walk in a Japanese garden.

Challenge yourself to come up with new backdrops that feed your soul.

Those of us who write with the intention of motivating others, constantly deal with an enigma. What, for goodness sake, does the word “motivation” really mean?

My thesaurus lists all sorts of possibilities including “tempt, seduce and bribe.” That’s hardly what I had in mind here at Buon Viaggio.

After years of thinking about this word, I’m still not certain that I have a clear definition myself. I do, however, know what it means personally.

Motivation to me is when an inner force is moving me in the direction of an outer result. I also know that it needs to be nurtured and encouraged.

Several years ago, I was thinking about a new opportunity that I was considering. As I was musing about it, the idea for a poem popped into my head.

I happened to come across that poem again this afternoon. My granddaughter Zoe was hanging out with me and I read it to her. She urged me to share it with you.

So here it is:

If this is not a grand adventure,

what’s the point?

There is no necessity in my life

for just another way

to spend some time.

Not now, not when I long

to hang by my fingernails

eyes as big as saucers

with the wonder of what’s next.

So will you promise me

that I will find

my heart pounding

breath coming in loud spurts

between the laughter

that will signal

“We did it” We did it

with sass, with style,

with spirit and spunk”?

To go beyond where I have been before

Ah, that would qualify as an adventure

One worthy of the love and passion

It will take

To pull this one off!

So here’s how my week has started. Got up to an email that involved a change of plans for a fall seminar.

My daughter and her family left for a two-week road trip. The road they were planning to take is closed due to a bridge collapse. They rerouted themselves, but forgot to leave a housekey for the sitter.

Fortunately, I have a key to their house and live close by so delivering it was not a big deal.

However, this has me thinking, yet again, about how flexibility is a valuable stress management tool.

This is not something that comes easily for many of us who have had a lifetime of conditioning to follow a predictable path. It’s something we need to challenge and eliminate if we’re going to be self-employed.

Quite simply, it is impossible to create anything of significance if we aren’t willing to embrace unpredictability.

Building a business is one way of acquiring those skills. Another way is through travel.

Several years ago, Nick Williams and I met in Switzerland to do some brainstorming. The trip was wonderfully productive and included a glorious day in Chamonix, France.

We were on the train heading back to Zurich where Nick had a flight to catch back to London. I was staying for another day. “Do you know where you’re staying tonight?” he asked.

I shook my head, laughed and said, “No, but I’ve never had to spend a night on a park bench so I’m trusting that I won’t have to do so tonight.” Of course, I located a perfect place to spend the night.

I know there are many people who would be in a dither without every detail of their travels in place. Seasoned travelers, on the other hand, opt for a bit of unpredictability since that’s where the adventure resides.

Same thing in our business. And the more flexible we’re willing to be, the more evidence we gather that a change of plans can often open the door to bigger and better things.

Remember, too, that a perfectly acceptable answer to the question, “How are you going to do that?” is “I don’t know.”

We take the adventure, accept the challenge, head off in new directions to find out how to do that. If we know in advance, what’s the point?

Test it for yourself—as often as possible.

We hear a lot about the short attention span of both kids and adults. We see the marketplace flooded with items that are here today, gone tomorrow.

Pet rocks are the poster child of that phenomenon. So are most of the books that achieve best seller status.

The media adores stories about overnight success. They pay no attention once the flash in the pan is done flashing.

It’s always seemed to me that have a few minutes in the spotlight could be the entrance to a lifetime of emotional distress. I’ve avoided going after such temporary attention.

I’m thinking about such matters today because it’s also a milestone day for me. On July 15, 1993, a little book called Making a Living Without a Job quietly appeared on bookstore shelves.

Although I did a number of newspaper and radio interviews, the arrival of my baby was a fairly quiet one. My local Barnes & Noble did invite me to do a signing, but it wasn’t well promoted or well attended.

While my crystal ball did not inform me that this unheralded book would still be in print two decades later, I did know something that suggested it might stick around for a while.

What I’ve always known, partly from personal experience, is that we evolve to the notion of self-employment. Few of us grew up with any encouragement to forge our own path.

Many of us have never had friends or family who found work that made their heart sing. Lacking role models, being unaware of entrepreneurial thinking, it simply hasn’t been on our radar.

However, something else has been quietly happening for the past several decades, something that contributed to the long life of my little book.

What was the motivation? Much of it came from a very different direction. The human potential movement, the growing exploration of spirituality has had a direct impact.

The reason is quite simple. People who embark on a personal quest to find answers, better ways of living, often begin their search in bookstores and seminars, but the study phase can only last so long.

There comes a time when we need to create a laboratory, a place to test these ideas that began as self-discovery. For many pilgrims, a little business of their own is ideal.

Right from the start, I knew that there would always be a new group of people who had reached the point where Making a Living Without a Job was the next guidebook they’d need for the journey.

So while I celebrate this milestone, I also celebrate everyone who has stepped out of their comfort zone and joined me on this amazing exploration and journey in creating the life of dreams coming true.

As Soren Kierkegaard so eloquently reminds us, “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.”

Due to my respiratory problems, I keep my purse as lightweight as possible. Although I have an iPhone, I usually leave it at home when I’m running errands around town.

That policy was recently changed, however.

On Saturday, my sisters and I spent a lovely morning at the Ojai Lavender Festival. Somewhere along the way, Margaret showed me a feature on my phone I was unaware of. My phone has a step counter? I had no idea.

When I got home late that afternoon, I promptly checked to see how much walking I had done. Seemed like a good idea to challenge myself to walk just a bit farther every day.

That means that I now carry my phone with me when I leave the house. I’ve even been considering how I could carry it when I’m home to get credit for all the steps I take during the course of a normal day.

I’m beginning to understand why so many people are crazy about their Fitbits. After all, they keep us accountable—whether anybody else knows about it or not.

This morning, I had a Skype chat with Joan Jontilano who is currently in the Philippines. We had talked a month ago about her next project. Actually, she didn’t have a project, but we threw around some ideas.

A few days ago, she messaged me asking if we could talk again. “I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to talk about,” she said.

She wasn’t kidding. We had a lively conversation. Not only does she have a great idea, her enthusiasm was quite contagious.

What made the difference in just one month?

Joan told me she’d participated in a one week program that clarified her thoughts. “We had questions we had to write answers for plus a Facebook group that was really helpful,” she said. By her own account, she went from freaked out to focused.

Accountability. It can take many forms. Deadlines. Working with a coach. Group check-ins. Doing what you say you’re going to do.

No matter what form it takes, it always involves action. Or a few more steps everyday.

Much of the conventional wisdom about self-employment actually qualifies as Urban Myths (and we know how those can circulate).

Sadly, many people who think about becoming Joyfully Jobless are stopped from doing so because of these commonly held, but unfounded, beliefs. Let’s take a look at five biggies.

Only extroverts can be entrepreneurs. A recent study found that almost all kindergartners exhibited entrepreneurial traits. By the fourth grade, however, innovative thinking was on the decline.

Being and introvert or extrovert isn’t nearly as important as wanting to solve problems. Best of all, the opportunities for creating a business that is a perfect fit for the owner means that anyone so inclined can do so.

You need the security of a job. What a Twentieth Century concept!

Even as jobs are disappearing all over the place, people still cling to that outmoded notion about security. Successful self-bossers know that you can only have as much security as you produce for yourself.

Or as Helen Keller pointed out, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do children as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.”

Starting a business is risky. So is driving, eating and sex. It’s a matter of how you do it.

In fact, self-bossers who have done their homework, visualized their business and are committed to laying a strong foundation don’t consider what they’re doing to be risky. Preparation makes a huge difference, of course, as does a willingness to ask for help, to experiment and to be flexible.

You need a lot of money to start a business. Another outmoded belief.

While it’s true that some businesses require heavy capitalization, that’s not the only option. More and more modern entrepreneurs are mastering the art of the shoestring start-up, learning to generate cashflow and build slow and strong.

Most businesses fail in the first five years. Even the Small Business Administration likes to tout failure rates, but these statistics are skewed and based on heavily capitalized, conventional undertakings.

The success rate for lean enterprises, which are often overlooked in the success/failure studies, is actually high. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, be committed to taking advice from informed sources. In starting a business, that means learning from those who have successfully done so…not the fearmongers, dreambashers and those who’ve never even tried.

I love this advice from musician and avocado farmer Jason Mraz:

Go be that starving artist you’re afraid to be. Open up that journal and get poetic, finally. Volunteer. Suck it up and travel.

You were not born here to work and pay taxes. You were put her to be part of a vast organism to explore and create.

Stop putting it off. The world has much more to offer than what’s on fifteen televisions at TGIFridays.

Take pictures. Scare people. Shake up the scene. 

Be the change you want to see in the world.

You’ll thank yourself for it.

Note: This was a post from last August. I’m repeating it because we all need to be reminded of this simple fact.
Like millions of people, I tuned in for the Beatles Tribute on CBS. It was a lovely evening, but it wasn’t anything like my evening attending a Paul McCartney concert several years ago. That experience was magical from beginning to end.

You probably have memories like that, too, when you found yourself in the same room with someone you’d admired from afar. That is not an experience that can be duplicated by technology.

As much as I appreciate the gifts of technology, I often wonder if we’re forgetting how powerful it is to have real contact.

Back in the nineties, the independent adult ed movement began to take off all around the country. The timing was perfect for me as I was beginning to teach my seminars on creative self-employment.

These programs filled a real gap, making it possible for busy adults to spend a few hours—rather than committing every Tuesday night for six weeks—gaining some useful information and ideas.I loved the programs because most of them were small businesses run by a tiny staff that usually included the owner. I also loved the people these programs attracted—curious lifelong learners who were equally excited to have this option to explore new ideas.

Sadly, these programs began to disappear. Sometimes the overhead was too high for the income being generated. A few owners tried to cut their costs by moving their catalogs online, instead of spending thousands on the print catalogs.

That didn’t work very well, either, and I think I know why. Catalogs are for browsing and often deliver unexpected prizes. Hmmm…making a living without a job? Wonder what that’s about. Think I’ll sign up and check it out.

With online catalogs, you pretty much need to know what you’re looking for in advance.

But that’s not the only reason I feel sad that these programs didn’t survive. We lost something really valuable, something that happens when we make the effort to put ourselves in a room with others exploring the same subject.

There’s another dimension added to our learning when it’s gotten person-to-person. We might even make a new friend, have an insight, get a question answered that only happens through personal connection.

Or as C.S. Lewis so eloquently pointed out, “Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection. 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.”

About the time I moved from Las Vegas, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh announced the ambitious Downtown Project which he is spearheading. His bold vision is to turn the languishing area into “Disneyland for entrepreneurs.”

New start-ups are moving to Las Vegas, co-working spaces with names like Work in Progress are buzzing and renovated apartments and condos are attracting entrepreneurial owners.

There’s another aspect to this project that is unique. Hsieh is determined to create a place filled with opportunities for serendipity which he calls meaningful collisions. I share his fascination with the phenomenon.

While the common understanding of serendipity is unexpected good fortune, I learned that it goes much further than that. The origin of the word comes from an old Persian fairy tale called The Princes of Serendip.

The story involves three young noblemen who traveled the world. They rarely found the treasures they were looking for, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater which they were not seeking.

In looking for one thing they found something else. Even though their goals eluded them, they were more than rewarded with their wayside discoveries. When they realized what was happening, they got an entirely new slant on life.

As Hsieh explains, “I think you can create your own luck. The key is to meet as many people as you can and really get to know them. I think for most people, college was the last time it was normal to just randomly run into people all the time. As you get older, you drive to work, see the same people every day, then go home. But the best things happen when people are running into each other and sharing ideas.”

Want to have more serendipitous adventures? It does not occur when we are passively waiting for something to happen. We must be actively engaged in the pursuit of some goal and, yet, be willing for it to turn out differently than first imagined.

Although you may not be part of the Las Vegas Downtown Project, you can create serendipitous opportunities wherever you happen to be. Keep asking yourself, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”

Engage in social media (don’t just open a Facebook account). Join or start a MeetUp group. Attend seminars where ideas will be filling the air. Investigate co-working spaces in your community. Or start one. Find a mastermind group or accountability partner. Create a quest to explore a new subject. Refuse to settle for predictability.

Specialize in meaningful collisions and celebrate them as they happen. Or, as Tony Hsieh advises, keep creating your own luck.