Every few months, I get the alumni magazine from my college. I usually glance through the class notes to see if there’s anyone I remember who has gotten mentioned.

Most of the entries are a bit, well, dull, saying things like, “Now retired after 30 years teaching in the same school” or “Just retired from 40 years at the bank.”

Apparently, my fellow college students were big on staying put in one place.

This time, however, an entry caught my eye. It read, “Retired after thirty-five years as a social worker and probation officer. He now spends his time as a big-game hunter and traveler in Africa and is a full-time freelance outdoors writer.”

I never knew the man so described, but I wanted to. I wanted to know how he kept his adventurous soul alive for such a long time while toiling away in Cook County Illinois.

Leaving a familiar situation is a challenge that comes to all of us—sometimes several times throughout our life.

A few years ago, I received e-mail from a woman who had spent her life as a teacher. She had stuck with it long after the satisfaction had gone. Now she was ready, she said, to do something completely different.

However, she wasn’t at all certain what the new path should be. That happens, of course, when we become entrenched in a situation or relationship for so long that we forget that we have options.

I made several suggestions about how she could begin exploring.

I heard from her again after about ten days and she was making remarkable headway. She’d even listed all of her teaching books on eBay—burning her bridges she said.

Imagine my amazement when I opened another e-mail which was obviously written in a moment of great panic. “I only have another week to sign my teaching contract,” it read. “Should I sign it?”

I was flabbergasted and promptly replied that I didn’t have the answer to her question. I suggested, however, that it might be a temporary lapse on her part and then I said, “So how are you going to tell your grandchildren that you once had an opportunity to create a truly adventurous life and you chickened out?”

The moment I typed that question, I realized at a very deep level, how our acts of self-doubt don’t just impact our own lives, but have a profound ripple effect. Take the low road and you’ll have a procession behind you. What kind of legacy is that?

We might tell ourselves that staying in a stultifying relationship isn’t really so bad or having a job that robs us of any creative enthusiasm is fine for now, but every day that we hang on we are losing precious time that could be spent building something bold and beautiful.

On the other hand, our acts of courage beget courage in others as well. I’m guessing that my former college classmate will inspire all sorts of people to create their own version of a safari.

While letting go can seem terrifying, think of the times you’ve done so and found yourself in a better place. It’s no use tricking yourself into thinking that you’ll make things better while staying in the bad situation, however. Doesn’t work that way.

As long as you hang on, you can’t move on.


After an especially hectic year that included two moves, one cross-country and one across town, plus the birth of her third child, my daughter Jennie has been gearing up Sweet Beginnings, her birthing doula business.

She’s been connecting with the local doula community and recently attended a day long seminar on marketing for doulas. She was invited to assist another doula who has three clients with the same due date. Jennie’s got her doula bag ready to go since babies have a way of choosing their own arrival time.

Last night she sent me an e-mail that said, “Do you have a couple of tip sheets that I could look at? I want to write one on making the perfect birth plan to give out to clients when I interview with them. I think it would be a nice touch.”

I agreed and promptly directed her to the Tip Sheet section of my Website.  I also promised to get a copy of my Tip Sheet On Tip Sheets to her.

Of course, it’s a pleasure to watch my daughter put her creative energy into building a business that thrills her, but she’s also reminded me of a basic success principle that I learned many years ago.

What’s the first lesson of  Success 101?

It’s simply this: If you want to be successful, you’ve got to do what successful people do.

Although it seems so obvious to me, I’m always surprised that everyone doesn’t know and use it.

That one little sentence launched my lifelong learning project. I became obsessed with hearing what the people I admired had to say, what they thought, how they made decisions, what actions they took.

I wanted to know what they read, what influenced them. I discovered that many of my early role models were enthusiastic seminar attendees, so I began showing up at seminars.

I asked questions, interrogated them whenever possible. I wrote letters, invited them to lunch, put myself in their presence and watched. I listened and I learned. I began to think of myself as an apprentice.

Then I experimented in the laboratory of my own life. I found my own voice.

Eventually, I created my own definition of success that included much more than financial achievement.  Personal qualities, such as caring for others, generosity, sense of humor and attitude got high marks from me. I discovered that teachers and role models were everywhere—but I had to take the initiative and seek them out.

Barbara Sher reminds us that, “Isolation is the dreamkiller.” So is hanging out with people who do not have dreams.

Author Jess Lair once commented, “When it comes to my own life, I want the best teachers I can find.” Whatever it is that matters most to you, deserves the support of the best teachers you can find, too.

Yes, it can take courage to put yourself in the presence of those who are farther along, who have achieved what you’ve only imagined. Take a deep breath and do it anyway.

Whatever you long to do next, start your apprenticeship now. Your teachers are waiting for you to show up.






Despite numerous stories extolling the profound rewards of taking time away, it’s an idea that is not being as heartily embraced as it might be. In fact, many people find the whole notion downright terrifying.

Because the notion of regular sabbaticals throughout our lifetime has been so ignored in recent times, there’s some confusion over what constitutes a true sabbatical.

My definition of sabbatical is time away with a purpose. The purpose of such a time is not to abandon your life, but to enrich it.

In the original concept, first defined in the Old Testament book of Hebrews, a sabbatical was to be taken by everyone, every seven years. During this year off, fields were to lie fallow, debts were to be forgiven, relationships were to be repaired and introspection was encouraged.

Over time, of course, the notion disappeared and today many people don’t even observe a weekly Sabbath, much less consider an entire year of restoration.

What about a mini-sabbatical? A change of scenery that’s more than a vacation can be a powerful catalyst for new ideas, new directions.

Think you’re a candidate? Whether you’re in a year divisible by seven or not, here are several signs that it is the perfect time to consider a sabbatical of your own:

° You can’t remember the last time you had a new idea you were excited about.

° You’ve reached all of your goals.

° You’ve reached none of your goals.

° Your kids think you’re a nerd and you suspect they’re right.

° You have a nagging suspicion that you’d be really good at something if you only    had time to learn how to do it.

° You get wistful every time a plane flies overhead.

° Nobody ever asks you what’s new.

° A long-term relationship or career has come to an end.

° You’re ready to find a new hometown.

° You’re tired of being an armchair traveler and want to see distant lands for    yourself.

° You feel drawn to donate your time and talents to a humanitarian cause.

° You need time to do research or start a long-term project.

° Your soul is weary.

And if you aren’t ready to change the scenery, why not give yourself a break by discovering the world around you? One very busy entrpreneur, Arianna Huffington, shares her summer vacation that didn’t include boarding a plane.



Two weeks ago, Alice Barry did a delightful teleclass to celebrate the anniversary of her Joyfully Jobless life. The title of her program was 7 Lessons I’ve Learned in 7 Years in Business.

She told us that she learned her first lesson at a seminar Nick Williams and I did in Las Vegas called Creating an Inspired Business. What was that lesson that launched her?

Start where you are. To hear Alice tell it, those words served as a mantra and she began moving forward putting her ideas into action.

Today, her business, Entertaining the Idea, helps others put their ideas into action, too.

Alice isn’t the only person I know who’s building a dream, of course.

Liz deNesnera flew from her home in New Jersey to Los Angeles yesterday. She’s spending the week in California taking her Voice Over business to the next level. Happily, she also took time to spend several hours with me.

Like Alice, I first met Liz in person in a Creating an Inspired Business event in Las Vegas.

Liz had been a longtime subscriber to Winning Ways newsletter and had attended a Making a Living Without a Job seminar in New York, but this was the first time we’d officially met. “You’re not just a name on a mailing label anymore,” I joked after we’d become acquainted.

Since then, I’ve received excited calls from Liz when she wants to report on the growth of her business;  it was a real treat being able to get the latest update in person.

As usual, she was bubbling with excitement over the continuing growth of Hire Liz which puts her talents to work in both English and French.

Another former seminar participant has also been on my radar lately. I first met Dyan deNapoli when she attended Valerie Young’s Work at What You Love seminar in Northampton, MA.  Dyan was wearing her passion for penguins on her sleeve—and on her cute VW Beetle.

Her passion has brought her wonderful opportunities including lecturing on an Antarctic cruise and authoring The Great Penguin Rescue. Dyan is also the first person I’ve known to be featured as a speaker at TED Talks.

Then there’s Valerie Young. I’ve known her longer than the other three and still remember our first conversation when she called me after attending Making a Living Without a Job to discuss an idea she had to help corporate employees change course.

Over the years, she’s helped thousands of people do just that through her coaching and seminars. But that was only part of her entrepreneurial endeavors.

Valerie became a popular speaker on the Impostor Syndrome. One day a publisher came calling, and in mid-October her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, will be published. It’s a stunner.

I was honored to see the manuscript after she invited me to write a testimonial for the book. From the first chapter, I knew this was more than an ordinary business or personal growth book.

Yesterday, another big accolade came in for the still unavailable book when she learned that Publisher’s Weekly is giving it a starred review. Valerie wasn’t the only one who found that exciting!

I’ve been thinking a lot about all four of these inspiring women and what they have in common. Obviously, they’re all lifelong learners. They’ve also all patiently followed their dreams and created their own unique enterprises.

But the thing that just hit me about them all is that I’ve known all of them before any of these achievements occurred.

If there’s anything more inspiring than knowing real life dreamers who are also doers, I don’t know what it is. Their achievements add to the joy in our lives—and urge us to stretch farther.

It’s also easy to forget that when we see personal achievement, there was a time when it didn’t exist, but all successful people have a Before and After story.

That’s probably why writer Nikki Giovanni warns us, “Do not surround yourself with people who do not have dreams.” The After story is even sweeter when we were present Before it happened.


Working on some wild dreams of your own? Join me on the Idea Safari and collect some dreambuilding tools.

While it could be argued that every business is influenced and informed by our personal experiences, a great deal of opportunity goes unused when we fail to see the potential of putting that experience to work.

Personal experience lends itself to all sorts of enterprises. Here are some things to keep in mind to discover those hidden opportunities.

° Value your own experience. Very often the things that are easy and effortless for us are overlooked if we assume thata what we can do everyone can do.

That’s almost never true. Your special set of talents, skills and life experiences are a one-of-a-kind package.

Writer Carolyn See says, “I hope I’m wrong, but I imagine about 90 percent of the human race is snoozing along, just going through the motions.” Staying awake for the journey is important if we are to find gold in our lives.

° Find a better way. Doris Drucker, the wife of management guru Peter Drucker, found a new opportunity herself this way. She writes, “For years my role as the wife of a professional speaker was to sit in the last row of an auditorium and shout, ‘Louder!’ whenever my husband’s voice dropped. I decided that there had to be a better feedback device and if there wasn’t I was going to invent one. Then I decided, at the age of 80, that I would start a business and sell it.”

Solving a common problem or simply finding a more effective way of doing something has been the start of many a successful business.

° Tell your story. Benjamin Franklin said we should write something worth reading of live something worth writing. Personal experiences can be the basis for both autobiography and how-to books.

Workshops, seminars and consulting are other ways of making your story pay. You need to live it first, of course.

° Pay it forward. Several years ago, Kevin Spacey was in a movie with that title. Apparently the message of passing along our good to others took root.

Spacey started a Web site called Triggerstreet to create opportunities for the next generation of screenwriters. Spacey said he realized that his considerable success was the result of others believing in him before he believed in himself. Now he wants to pass that gift along.

Your experience could be utilized through teaching or mentoring those coming along behind you.

When it’s time to plan a new profit center, take a fresh look at your own life. What do you have to share that could make other people’s lives richer, happier, healthier or smoother in some way?

You may be sitting on a gold mind, you know. As Jack Lessinger reminds us, “Build something, help something, save something. The possibilities are endless.



There seems to be a trend going on in my e-mail these days. I keep getting messages from folks saying they know they want to be self-employed but are totally stumped about what to do.

I understand the frustration. There was a big gap between the moment I realized I wanted to be self-employed and the time I actually knew what I wanted to start.

It wouldn’t have taken me so long to figure things out if I had realized that getting good ideas is nothing more than an exercise in creativity.

One of the best starting points is to ask this simple question: Who has a problem I know how to solve?

You might come up with an initial answer such as, “Lots of people don’t have enough time to do everything they want or need to do.”

Start a list of possible solutions based on what you can offer. It might go something like this:

° I love to run errands and know my way around the city.

° I know how to download music on an iPod.

° I know how to save money on car repairs and groceries.

° I can organize a messy office in no time flat.

° I love putting together itineraries for special interest trips.

° I love helping seniors who aren’t able to do things for themselves.

Once you’ve got a list started, decide which idea sounds like the most fun for you. (Yes, fun comes first.)  Then start thinking about the potential clients for such a service.

Let’s say you choose downloading iPods.

Who could use such a service?  (The answer is “lots of people”!)

The next questions are:

° How can I connect with the folks who need this service?

° How do I price my service?

° Could I get some free publicity for this?

° Would it hold my interest long enough to make it a viable profit center?

° Would it be fun to do even as a short term profit center?

Asking and answering better questions is the way to develop tiny seeds of an idea. Alas, many people handle ideas with excuses and dead end statements such as, “If that was really such a good idea I’m sure someone else would have thought of it.”

Greet your ideas with enthusiastic questions and you’ll find yourself with a promising enterprise waiting to be born. As Hope Wallis pointed out, “Opportunities are like pole beans. You have to keep picking them so more can grow.”



“The cure for boredom is curiosity,” mused Dorothy Parker. “There is no cure for curiosity.” If you’d like to catch this virus, here are a few resources and idea starters (which only have value when investigated further).

° Get lost on purpose. I bet you know the shortest, fastest route to the places you go on a regular basis. Right?  That may be expedient, but it doesn’t generate much curiosity.

Give yourself an hour or two and head in a direction you’ve not gone before. Explore a new neighborhood in your hometown. Ride a city bus to the end of the line.

° Locate kindred spirits. If you’re exploring a new subject, chances are good that you’re not alone in your interest.

Visit the reference section of your library and check out Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations to see what organizations exist that share your interest.

Look for conferences and seminars that bring together others who can expand  your curiosity. Encounters with real humans can enhance your learning experience in ways that research alone can’t.

° Immerse, don’t dabble. Pick one or two projects that you’re willing to explore as fully as possible instead of dozens of little toe dippers. You could set an exploration up as a 90-Day Project, or make it an on-going, regular study.

° Revisit a lost love. Many of us have abandoned an activity that once brought us great joy.

If you used to be a voracious Scrabble player, for instance, get a game going and see if it’s still a fit for you. Sometimes we outgrow a passion, but sometimes we realize we’ve just neglected it.

° Be a klutz. Many of us learned early on that it wasn’t okay to make mistakes. That, of course, is the biggest mistake of all.

So pick an activity that you know you’ll do clumsily and do it anyway. Even better, do it in public, with witnesses. Don’t scold yourself afterwards.

° Uncover a new curiosity. Pay a visit to eHow and sample some of their videos on subjects from the sublime to the amusing.

You could learn how to Change Water in a Fish Tank, Travel the World Cheap, Make Custom iPhone Ringtones—or 150,000 other subjects.

You’re bound to find something you didn’t even know you wanted to know.

° Build a list of Firsts. On purpose, do something at least once a week that you’ve never done before.

Try a new food, get active in social media, visit a neighbor you’ve never met, rent a classic movie that was made before you were born.

Keep a list and amaze yourself with all the new activities and new people you encounter before the year is over.

° Listen to a deep thinker. Although they’ve been around since 1984, the wonderful TED Talks are just gaining popular attention.

In case you aren’t familiar with this wonderful program, pay them a visit and listen to Sir Ken Robinson or Benjamin Zucker or Elizabeth Gilbert or any one of the dozens of innovative speakers they’ve recorded and generously share with us.


Public libraries have been with me every step of the way in my entrepreneurial journey.

I remember visiting the tiny Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, library when I was first dreaming about starting a business. Compared with today, the offerings for would-be entrepreneurs were pretty skinny, but reading biographies of several pioneering women entrepreneurs inspired me enormously.

In every place I’ve lived, I’ve gotten my library card before I got my driver’s license. So it always comes as a surprise to me when I talk to a would-be or struggling entrepreneur and discover that they don’t tap into the treasure trove that’s waiting for them.

If you haven’t visited a library for a while or you always head to the same section, check out all the ways a library can help you build your business.

° Nonfiction titles exist on every aspect of starting and running a business. Besides personal accounts and biographies, how-to books abound.

Want to know what all the fuss about branding is? Thinking about selling articles to magazines? Want to tap into new trends? There’s a good chance that somebody has done you the favor of writing about it.

° Get inspired with a novel. Mysteries, especially, often feature entrepreneurial characters in leading roles. Often these entrepreneurs are amateur detectives as well.

You can learn a lot—almost accidentally—about antiquarian book selling from John Dunning or catering from Diane Mott Davidson while solving a murder or two.

° Make friends with a reference librarian. I am certain that if they didn’t love books so much, many of the folks running the library reference desk would be private detectives. They love tracking things down—the harder the better.

Got an idea for a research project? Ask the reference librarian to show you the  grant directories. Want to be a public speaker? Inquire about Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations to get ideas. Need statistics for a presentation? The reference desk is a great place to start your search.

° Make drive time more valuable. My library has an entire room devoted to audio books. Many wonderful fiction and nonfiction titles are available on CD and make fine companions for road trips or while running errands.

As Minnesota Public Radio used to remind me, “Get out of your car smarter than you got in.”

° Visit a new universe. Browse in a section you don’t normally explore. Check out some magazines that you’ve never read before.

This is what Seth Godin calls “zooming” which he defines as “stretching your limits without threatening your foundation.”

° Attend a talk. If you have access to a fairly large library, chances are they offer free programs as part of their community service. My library often features authors talking about their writing careers as well as programs on everything from finding your ancestors to travel talks.

° Create an in-depth research project. Build a passion into expertise by learning everything you can about a subject. Don’t just dabble; immerse.

Start with your library’s collection and see how far it can take you, but don’t stop there. Enlist the reference librarian to help you uncover addition information that you haven’t found on your own.

Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borge once mused, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until you get there to experience the pleasure a library can bring.


It’s a new month which means it’s time for a new theme, but I decided to do something a little different this month. The official theme is Potpourri and I’ll be sharing whatever catches my fancy.

Here’s a piece I wrote a while back after someone asked me how I go about opening a conversation with strangers.

Author Bill Bryson talks about being on a train and thinking about fellow travel writer Paul Theroux writing about the fascinating conversations he has with strangers. This seemed to perplex Bryson because he found it difficult to strike up conversations with traveling Brits. That got me thinking about a short conversation with an enthusiastic traveler who confessed that he found it difficult to talk to strangers and wondered how I did it.

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 seatmate is inclined toward solitude and I stop there.

Whether you’re standing in line at the post office or waiting for a train, here are a few ideas to help you uncover the fascinating folks around you.

° Make it a game. Decide ahead of time that you want to find an interesting story or inspiring stranger. I have 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 of contemporary travel.

° Don’t wait. Instigate. Be willing to be the one who takes the first step. 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 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, and that 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 and his reply was, “Be a kid.” 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.

Those are the moments that keep me talking to strangers who unknowingly enrich my life.  And like everything else, it gets easier with practice.