On Monday evening’s Daily Show, the Moment of Zen at the end was a clip of Phiilip Seymour Hoffman speaking at the Golden Globes. When you’re just starting out, he said, you must take every opportunity to act. Even auditions for parts you know you won’t get are important to mastering your craft.

It’s a message that frequently gets lost on mature adults. Sometimes our egos prevent us from embracing the beginner stage of a new project. Sometimes we forget how important it is to keep practicing even after we’ve already invested a great deal of time doing just that.

When I first moved to Minneapolis, I spent a year writing and editing. Although I wasn’t planning to do any speaking during that time, I realized that I certainly wanted to include it in my future repertoire. I also knew that taking a year away from speaking was an invitation for rust to set in.

To my delight, I learned that the Guthrie Theater, which I adored, had openings for backstage tour guides. I applied and soon was spending my Saturday mornings standing on that stage where I had watched Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy perform—as well as unknowns Morgan Freeman and Don Cheadle—sharing the theater’s story with visitors. I answered questions, showed off the rooms where costumes were made and sets built.

It was a perfect fit and when I launched my new seminars a year later, I had almost no stage fright.

Those early days of Making a Living Without a Job also brought invitations to speak to local groups. If I had the time available, I said yes to every request.

Sometimes it was a good fit. Sometimes it wasn’t. Almost always, no money came directly my way. I still said yes. As Hoffman reminded me, there’s value in putting yourself at the front of a room with other people watching.

I considered it valuable practice and, as it turned out, it was also marketing. People began showing up in my seminars after hearing me speak at a meeting or dinner.

We assume that serious actors sign on for a lifetime of auditions. We may not have noticed that successful entrepreneurs do the same.

Why bother?

As conductor Benjamin Zander points out in his marvelous book The Art of Possibility, “It is only when we make mistakes in performance that we can really begin to notice what needs attention. In fact, I actively train my students that when they make a mistake, they are to lift their arms in the air, smile, and say, ‘How fascinating!’ I recommend that everyone try this.”

On Saturday morning I was running some errands and despite the early hour was surprised by all the traffic I encountered. A friend came up from Los Angeles midday and reported that it had been a slow drive on the freeway. Later in the afternoon, a Facebook friend posted that he’d been to Costco and discovered a pre-Superbowl madhouse.

All three of us are self-employed, so being slowed down by crowds is something we do our best to avoid.

When I first moved into my condo in Valencia, I was surprised to discover that many of my neighbors were on their way to work long before sunrise. I suspect that the majority of my neighbors spend a couple of hours every day commuting to their jobs. I am enormously grateful that I’m not sitting in traffic with them.

In fact, I think lack of a daily commute is only one of the perks of self-employment—along with off-season travel. I purposely do many things out of sync with the rest of the world.

For instance, I never stand in line at the bank on Friday when wage earners are scrambling to deposit their paychecks. Stores are blissfully empty early in the morning so that’s when I do my shopping.

I can’t remember the last time I stood in line to see a blockbuster movie. I prefer Tuesday afternoon matinees which are almost like having a private screening.

Not only is avoiding crowds less stressful, it’s amazingly efficient. I can do errands in a fraction of the time that it takes most people because I’m not doing so at busy times.

You know it as well as I do. To be a dream builder in this world where conforming is a popular pastime is to be out of sync with the mainstream.

Sometimes that can feel lonely. We might even question our sanity, wondering why we can’t just settle for good enough. But deep down we all know that good enough never is.

I once decided that if I ever felt too lonely or became frustrated with my progress, I’d just get in my car at rush hour. I knew that would bring me to my senses immediately.

“In this age,” said John Stuart Mill, long ago, “the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service.”

That’s still true—and we’re just the ones to prove it.

Some experiences simply do not translate. You have to go to know.  ~ Kobi Yamada

Although there are an unlimited number of ways to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur or from current business to a new profit center, people stuck in either-or thinking overlook one of the best options.

What I’m talking about is a variation of what Barbara Sher calls “a temporary permanent commitment.” Instead of disposing of all current enterprises, you find a creative way to test your passion.

You’re in a much better position, after all, to assess an idea once you have actively engaged in its pursuit. In many instances, you’ll have to create your own opportunities, but don’t overlook these resources that can allow you to audition an idea and decide if it belongs in your repertoire.

° Intern. Small businessowners have been eager users of intern talent during the summertime when ambitious college students are looking for some hands-on experience.

There’s a growing trend, however, toward internship programs for adults. Since many older career changers are not limited to summer availability as their younger counterparts are, this is an idea that’s catching on.

° Volunteer Vacations. In the past decade, volunteer vacations have grown in popularity with people wanting to donate time and energy to helping others. Global Volunteers has been one organization leading the way with programs located around the world.

It seems to me that there’s another reward of participating. Let’s say you’re contemplating a long term move abroad to a country that’s caught your fancy. If you’ve only visited as a tourist, you may have an incomplete picture of what it would be like to actually live there.

That’s where a volunteer vacation can give you another point of view. In most instances, you’ll be working alongside residents of the country, living in small towns and interacting in a way that tourists don’t normally manage to do.

° Apprentice. Another old idea that’s seen a revival involves an experienced person entering into a long term relationship with a novice to teach what they know. A woman in one of my workshops had set up such an arrangement with an artist she admired and worked happily alongside for several months.

If your desires are aimed at skilled trades, most states have information on apprenticeship programs that also involve classroom instruction.

° Design Your Own Curriculum. Remember those required classes you had to take (and pay for) in college even if you weren’t  slightly interested? Don’t let those boring experiences keep you out of the classroom now.

This time around, you get to decide what you want to learn. A bonus of being a regular student is that you can sort out your passions from your passing fancies and move along to things that really suit you.

° 90 Day Trial. A quarter of a year is a nifty time frame for auditioning an idea. You must do more than just carry it around. As Patricia T. O’Conner points out, “An idea in your head is merely an idle notion. But an idea written down, that’s the beginning of something.”

It’s pretty simple, actually. For 90 days you focus, experiment and reserve judgment. Once the time is up, then it’s time to take inventory, evaluate and decide if your idea deserves another 90 days or, even, a permanent  role in your life.

Not  sure if your idea passed the audition or not?  Use this guideline from David Whyte: “Anyone or anything that does not bring you alive, is too small for you.”

Albert Einstein once pointed out that everything should be made as simple as possible—but no simpler. This certainly can be applied to any business that wants to keep its equilibrium.

For most entrepreneurs, that requires constant vigilance since a business can become complicated and cumbersome in the blink of an eye. Here are some guidelines to keep that from happening.

° Make simplicity a goal. It’s not enough to say you want to simplify your business. Identify specific measurable results that will indicate that you have made your systems, marketing, accounting, etc. as simple as possible.

° Work on one profit center at a time. Give a single project your full attention by keeping papers or items related to other projects out of sight. When it’s time to move on to the next project, stash things related to the last project in a file or closet or drawer.

° Avoid confusion. “Clutter and messy work areas cause confusion and irritability,” observes Alexandra Stoddard. “Give your mind a spa and take some time out to rearrange your office. Block off a few hours on your calendar and use the time to putter. Edit out the unnecessary.”

° Identify spendthrift behavior and eliminate it. New gadgets and technologies can be seductive, but refuse to purchase anything for your business unless it makes a positive contribution.

° Keep projects separate. If you manage several profit centers, color code the work in each of them for ease in locating and filing.

° Keep a single calendar. A portable system is ideal. If you write appointments, deadlines, etc. in several locations, you’ll waste time transferring them from place to place.

° Hire a professional organizer to help you develop the best system for you. Make certain you understand how to maintain it as easily as possible.

° Clean out your computer and cabinet files at regular intervals. Make a note on your calendar every 60 or 90 days to tidy up so things don’t accumulate.

° Designate space. My grandmother’s favorite saying was, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” As I’ve discovered, uncluttering is as much about creating places as it is about throwing away.

°  Identify your nemesis and make a special effort to deal with that. Going after the biggest problem—and solving it—often makes solving lesser problems a snap.

When I tuned into my public radio station this morning, I broke into a smile when I discovered they were playing one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. I’m not alone in loving that music. Classical music stations report that listener surveys always list the Concertos as a top favorite.

Did you know that this glorious series began life as a huge disappointment?

They were written as an audition for a commission Bach hoped to get with the city of Brandenburg. Bach lost the competition, but no one seems to remember who the winner was nor what music was voted superior.

Bach, of course, is not the only creative soul whose work met with failure before success came along.

According to my calculation, Dame Judi Dench has appeared in more than 75 films. In her autobiography, And Furthermore, she says she thought her acting career would be exclusively on stage.

“I had come to the firm conclusion that I had no real future in the world of film,” she writes. “When I went for my first screen test, I walked in and they were perfectly nice to me.

“Then this man, having looked at me for a long time, said, ‘Well Miss Dench, I have to tell you that you have every single thing wrong with your face.’

“So I just very quietly got up and left. I thought there is no point in going on with this.”

While history is full of stories of early defeat that turned into astonishing success later on, there is no record of all the good ideas that got put away in a drawer after encountering a first rejection.

What project have you tucked away because it didn’t get off to a great beginning? There are all sorts of reasons why success doesn’t happen the first time out.

Maybe you were ahead of your time. Or, perhaps, you needed to get some experience that would help you find a bigger and better way of doing things.

Or you may have met with failure because you hadn’t yet connected with the proper person. Why not take another look?

While I’ve never learned to love rejection, I have a calmer perspective since encountering some brilliant advice from Barbara Kingsolver. Although it’s aimed at writers, it’s equally appropriate to anyone going after a dream.

Kingsolver says, “Don’t consider your returned manuscript rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it, ‘To the editor who can appreciate my work,’ and it simply came back stamped, ‘Not at the address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

You might want to memorize that.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to put numbers to work for you. Assigning a number to a project can help you focus and, also, give you a finish line.

Open-ended goals have a way of never reaching completion, but attach a numerical addition and getting started is much easier. Here are a few ideas to borrow.

° Pick a number under ten and use it as a goal setting guide. For me, it’s the number five. You might prefer three or six. Then instead of thinking, “I need to get more clients,” set a short term goal to get three (or whatever your favorite number is) new clients.

Of course, you can repeat this exercise as often as you like, but your chances for success increase enormously when you work with a smaller number.

Years ago, when I was floundering around trying to get my speaking  business launched,  I met a successful, but unhurried, seminar leader who told me her business plan was, “Do one, book one.”

As soon as she finished a program, she’d spend time marketing her services until she’d booked just one more. It’s been a policy I have used ever since with great success.

° Stumped about your next steps? Challenge yourself (and your subconscious mind) by asking a idea-generating question such as, “What are three ways I can grow my business right now?” Or “Who are four people I could collaborate with?”

° Write a tip sheet.  Don’t forget how useful numbers are in writing tip sheets which can be turned into articles. Six Ways to Get More Exercise is an easier article to write than one called How to Get More Exercise.

Using numbers also is a reminder that when you write a tip sheet the intention isn’t to tell everything you know.

° Numbers work equally well for subtracting things from your life that you no longer want. Instead of trying to unclutter your life all at once, for example, get rid of nine things a day until the job is done. It’s far less overwhelming if you break it down into bite sized chunks.

Go through the junk drawer and throw away nine things or toss out nine magazines or find nine things in your closet you never wear and put them in a bag for the thrift store.

Assigning a number to necessary, but not necessarily pleasant, tasks can break through procrastination and get positive momentum going.

° Pick a number, any number, and then pick one of the projects listed below.

*  Ways to get into the conversation

*  Books to add to my library

*  New profit centers to design

*  Things to study

*  New adventures to schedule

*  Self-bossers to invite to  breakfast

*  Fresh marketing tools to create

*  Media interviews to book

*  Nonessentials to eliminate

*  Ways to support other entrepreneurs

*  Articles to publish

Or add your own projects to the list—and then get busy making them happen.

Although my sister Nancy moved to Greece in the early seventies, it wasn’t until twenty years later that I made my first visit. Not only were the ruins of Athens, Delphi and Corinth new to me, the trip was filled with many other firsts.

I ate food I’d never encountered before, made my way around a country with a different alphabet than ours, and haggled with shopkeepers. All of these new experiences made the trip unforgettable—and taught me things I’d never have learned otherwise.

Of course, we don’t need to travel to distant lands to find new adventures.

From time to time, I do a little inventory to see how many new experiences I’m giving myself. I often think of Gelett Burgess’ observation: “If in the last few years you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.”

I have no desire to end every year with the same opinions and experiences with which I started it. One of the best ways to insure that doesn’t happen is to embrace as many firsts as I can squeeze in.

Firsts are important not only for the pleasure that they bring. They’re also a concrete way to measure growth and progress.

If we aren’t constantly putting ourselves into new situations, trying new things, challenging a fear, opening ourselves to new ideas, meeting different people, how can be possibly become all that we’re meant to be?

“The person who never alters their opinion,” sputtered William Blake, “is like standing water and breeds reptiles of the mind.”

Without a steady stream of new experiences, we are in danger of becoming stagnate. I’ve met too many people who are living proof that this is so.

Some experiences really do only come around once in a lifetime. We don’t get a second chance at some of life’s firsts.

Our first kiss, our baby’s first steps, opening our first business, can only happen once.

There are other firsts we’re happy to have as a singular experience, like eating squid or spending the night in an airport after a flight is canceled.

Sometimes once is enough, but we can’t really know for sure unless we give it a try.

If you really want to build daily excitement and energy, challenge yourself regularly to do things for the first time. Remember that perfection and mastery are not your goals.

Learning more about yourself and expanding your pleasure options are what you’re after here.

Who knows? You might be one of those folks who tries bungee jumping to celebrate your ninetieth birthday. Even if you aren’t, you will never grow dull if you keep looking for ways to experience as many firsts as you can possibly imagine.

So when was the last time you did something for the first time?

Psychologist Eda LeShan said that middle-age occurs when you realize that  you won’t live long enough to read all the books you want to read. According to LeShan’s definition, some of us were born middle-aged.

Finding the time to read isn’t just a problem of our busy, modern world. Back in the 14th Century, Italian poet Francesco Petrarca faced the same dilemma and solved his conflict this way: “Whether I am being shaved, or having my hair cut, whether I am riding on horseback or taking my meals, I either read myself or get someone to read to me.”

Doubling up on activities is, of course, one way of squeezing in more reading time. Here are several other tips gleaned from voracious readers.

° Carry a book with you at all times. Paperbacks are wonderfully portable and make it easy to tuck a favorite into your purse or briefcase and use those unexpected free moments while your waiting to read a chapter or two. iPads and Kindle are other popular mobile companions.

Some readers finish a number of books every year in those odd moments waiting for the dentist or lunch companion.

° Eliminate something else that takes your time. What habitual time-users fill your days? Mind-numbing reality shows? Adjusting your schedule ever so slightly could open up reading space. Take a look.

° Listen to audiobooks. Authors and actors narrate both fiction and nonfiction titles—and the list of titles keeps growing. I’ve finished several books just running errands around town.

I find them indispensable for longer road trips. Audiobooks are also great when housework is being done.

° Travel by public transportation. If it’s possible to take a bus or train, rather than drive yourself, you can get lots of reading done in transit. The London Tube is full of readers, as are other subways, buses and trains.

° Wear your iPod. Just don’t turn it on. If your reading time takes place in a noisy lunchroom or airplane, don a headset or earbuds. It will block outside noises and deter others from chatting with you when you’d rather be reading.

° Don’t finish books that you don’t enjoy. Sounds obvious to me, but many folks think there’s something wrong with stopping midway through a book. Nonsense. Get on to another that brings more pleasure.

° Learn to skim. Time expert Alan Lakein suggests, “When you pick up a book, start by reading the headlines in the book jacket. Then glance through the book quickly, looking for something of interest to you…Your job in reading a book is to find the key ideas and understand their application to your situation.”

That only works for nonfiction, of course.

° Have a regular reading time daily. Even reading for 15 minutes every day will yield big results over time. Tune into your own special body clock and discover the times when you feel less energetic, less creative. Take advantage of these lower energy times to schedule your reading. For many people, bedtime is still their favorite time to enjoy a good book.

° Make reading a high priority. Books should feed your imagination as well as provide information. Be eclectic in your reading and clear about why it matters to you. Even in this high tech world, booklovers continue to delight at the smell and feel of a book in their hands telling a story that transports.

Devoted readers smile in agreement at Anna Quindlen’s observation: “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people whose idea of decorating is to add more bookshelves.”



Several years ago, two friends and I decided to take a trip to Las Vegas in July. (Insider tip: there are big bargains during the hot summer months.) Since both of them had been working on big writing projects, their cash flow wasn’t great.

Within a week, however, they had both secured the necessary funds. How did they do it?

No, neither of them held up a 7-11. Being self-employed, they had Option Banks, a collection of ways to generate cash flow when needed.

In the olden days when I worked for a fixed salary, I operated very differently than I do now in regard to goals. In fact, I was more experienced at wishful thinking than I was at achieving goals.

Should a new idea cross my mind, I would see if it fit into my budget. It hardly ever did, of course, unless it was very tiny. In those days, money—or the lack thereof—controlled my dreambuilding.

Needless to say, my dreams shrunk to almost nothing.

Self-employment changed all that. Now I decide what I really want. Then I figure out how to make it happen.

This is considerably more fun than my old system.

Here’s how it works.

A couple of months ago, my sister Nancy proposed that we celebrate her birthday next year with a trip to Provence. The moment her message arrived, I replied, “I’m in.” My other three siblings did the same.

I began putting this project together by checking my travel fund. Years ago, I had read a suggestion to create separate accounts for different projects. It was an idea I heartily embraced.

However, with no clear goal, my travel fund had been neglected. I could have accessed funds for the trip from elsewhere, but I decided it would be more fun to focus on fattening my designated account.

My first step was to offer a short sale on my teleclass audios. Within a few days, I had doubled my travel money.

Since I am highly motivated by visible progress, I came up with several other small projects that added funds.

Then the projects began coming to me. I got an invitation to do a seminar in London and scheduled it for the end of my trip to France.

My doctor recommended me for a medical study. The timing was perfect, the schedule was flexible, the project could help others. Being a human guinea pig would also bring in a third of my trip funds.

If you’ve never done so (or haven’t done so for awhile), I urge you to create your own project and find a new way to fund it. Pick something that really excites you, something you truly desire.

Start with something small, but meaningful.

Then get busy putting it together. The real reward in this is NOT the goal itself. The big prize is the confidence and creativity boost that comes with making things happen.

As Alan Cohen reminds us, “Money should be the servant of your visions, not their master.”


My 5-year-old grandson Zachy started Kung Fu lessons this fall. It has not been an easy experience.

So when I got a call from his mother last week, I was delighted to hear her say, “Zachy earned his yellow belt today. Can you come over and watch Noah while I take Zachy out for ice cream?” I was on it.

Celebrating small victories is more important than our busy selves sometimes realize. It’s reinforcement of the most basic sort that we’re on the right track.

It’s also fun to celebrate, of course.

We build a track record or a body of work by placing a high value on small doings. This seems to be a well-kept secret.

Appreciating small steps does not, as some seem to think, imply that we’re only capable of small achievements. I see evidence of that all the time.

In August, my sister Nancy sent an email to me and our three other siblings proposing we plan a trip to Provence next spring to celebrate her birthday. Before the day was over, we’d all signed on.

As plans began to take shape, I decided this project would be even more fun if I created some special activities to fund my travels.

Although I always have a travel account, it wasn’t currently large enough to support two weeks abroad. I had the funds available in other places, but liked the challenge of making a special project of it.

What can I do right now to get things rolling? I asked myself. I decided to run a sale on audios of my teleclasses. Within a few days, my travel account had doubled.

Before I could plan what the next project would be, an unexpected opportunity came to me when I got a call (thanks to my doctor) inviting me to participate in a medical study for which I am well-qualified.

I was immediately interested because I thought it would be of help to other people. As the initial phone interview was taking place, I learned that the timing worked well with my schedule.

After we worked out some of the logistics, the interviewer told me I would be paid for my participation. More money for my travel account, I thought.

When I did some quick calculations, I discovered that this project would double the money I already had accumulated.

More small doings. More visible progress.

I’m thinking it may be time to go out for ice cream.