Everyday people post pithy quotes and sayings on their Facebook page. Last week one of them really jumped out at me. It said:

 I’m not telling you

it will be easy.

I’m telling you

it will be worth it.

For years, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that one of the rewards of self-employment is that it gives us an excuse to be a lifelong learner. As we all know, learning something new isn’t usually easy.

What can self-employment teach us? Well, for starters there are the nuts and bolts of running a business. As fascinating as that can be, that’s not the best part.

Here are some of the learning gifts that come when we set up shop: We learn:

° To think creatively. Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsh used to remind his writers that entrepreneurs are artists and business is their canvas. Building a business that we love keeps our imagination on high alert.

We discover that imagination isn’t idle daydreaming. It’s a power tool.

° To be an enthusiastic problem-solver. While others may see problems as a bother or, even, a punishment, the self-employed see opportunities in finding solutions to the problems that are theirs to solve.

Just today, Selina Barker reminded me of this in a wonderful piece she wrote on Playing the Money Game . Her story is a case study in how the self-employed tackle problems.

° It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Charles Kingsley, a writer in the Victorian era, said, “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements in life when all that we need to be really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”

The successfully self-employed are willing to be uncomfortable when it’s leading to greater good.

° The joy of expansion. The world is full of incredible shrinking people whose lives get tinier and tinier as the years go by. The self-employed, on the other hand, opt for living in a bigger world, extending their boundaries, reveling in new experiences.

° Right livelihood is fun. The Buddhists, who brought us this concept, pointed out that one characteristic of right livelihood is that the work becomes more, not less, interesting the longer we do it. The folks who have discovered their right livelihood and turned it into a business seem to be having the most fun of all.

Pay attention when you encounter someone who is truly, madly, deeply in love with what they are bringing to the world.

° Personal responsibility is heady stuff. Are there times when we wish there was someone else to blame? Probably.

When we make a commitment to creating a business that grows and prospers, we accept all the twists and turns in the journey.

° To ask better questions. The dreambashers among us may challenge any new ideas with, “How are you going to do that?”. The self-employed learn that the quality of the question does, indeed, determine the quality of the answer. Asking idea-generating questions is a worthwhile pursuit—and a fine art to master.

° That we can become more than we thought. Our business gives us the evidence, year in and year out. We notice that situations that once were a challenge now are faced with ease and, even, joy.

As we gain experience and our confidence grows, we uncover gifts and talents that have been lying dormant, waiting to be recognized and put to use.

Most importantly, we discover what M.C. Richards meant when she said, “All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.”



The other day I was hanging out with my grandchildren when Zachy, who’s not yet 4, decided to turn his younger brother’s cradle into a helicopter. He tipped it on end and struggled to cover it with blankets.

The contraption was wonky and kept slipping across the wooden floor. Zachy was undeterred.

I suggested he abandon the project, but he kept at it. “I’m making an awesome helicopter,” he explained.

I’ve known Zachy long enough to know that determination is one of his trademarks. Once he has a vision, he follows through. He is unimpressed by adult wisdom and advice. It’s obvious that he would rather struggle than settle.

Zachy reminded me that innovation can be messy and uncomfortable, but when we’re curious that doesn’t matter much.

I also realize that without curiosity it’s hard to make things happen or to make much of a difference.

Seth Godin’s book Tribes has much to say about the importance of recovering our curiosity. “I don’t think it’s a matter of saying a magic word; boom and then suddenly something happens and you’re curious,” he writes.

“It’s more about a five- or ten- or fifteen-year process where you start finding your voice, and finally you begin to realize that the safest thing you can do feels risky and the riskiest thing you can do is play it safe.

“Once recognized, the quiet yet persistent voice of curiosity doesn’t go away. Ever. And perhaps it’s such curiosity that will lead us to distinguish our own greatness from the mediocrity that stares us in the face.”

This weekend I’m headed to Denver to teach at Colorado Free University, one of the longest-running curiosity incubators in the country. I’ve been wondering if the people area realize how fortunate they are to have such a treasure in their midst.

While I’m looking forward to meeting the people who are curious about how to establish themselves as an expert or make a living without a job, I’m especially excited to see who shows up in my new program, Become a Great Idea Detective.

I could have called it, I’m Curious. Now What? because it’s loaded with tools for exploring and expanding ideas. Besides that, hanging out with curious people is at the top of my list of favorite activities.

“It’s taken me three decades to unlearn the impulse to be practical,” confessed writer Sarah Ban Breathnach. “Just imagine what you might have accomplished if only you’d been encouraged to honor your creative reveries as spiritual gifts.”

Happily, it’s never too late. If you’re curious.

“We think much more about the use of money, which is renewable, than we do about the use of time, which is irreplaceable,” Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber warned.

Anyone who is serious about building a business needs to be smart about investing their time.

Just as we invest money in the expectation of a greater return in the future, we need to invest our time in the present in order to see a bigger reward in the future.

Sometimes that means devoting large chunks of time to creating a product that won’t generate revenue for months. At other times our investment may be a demonstration of faith in ourselves and our vision.

It’s a practice I discovered in the early days of my business when out of town trips often involved staying in less than elegant hotels and driving Ugly Duckling rental cars.

In my heart I believed I was a good investment and was willing to trade present comfort for a brighter future. I used the same philosophy in investing my time.

Here are some smart ways to invest your time whether you’re a new startup or simply want to keep your self and your enterprise invigorated.

° Take the boss for a walk. Any creative enterprise will profit from a frequent change of scenery.  Walking can both calm us down and stir up positive thoughts.

Even if your office or studio is the happiest place on Earth, moving around a botanic garden or browsing in a hardware store can rekindle your creative spirit.

° Hang out with some wise guys. Put yourself in regular contact with our best entrepreneurial thinkers who generously share their insights with anyone who cares to listen.

Seth Godin is at the top of my list, of course. Sign up for his mailings and take advantage of his unique and profound insights.

John Jantsch is another fellow who is both smart and practical. You can connect with him via DuctTapeMarketing.

Don’t try to listen to everybody who is offering advice. Find your favorites and pay close attention.

Don’t just read and delete. Consider how you can put their ideas to work in your enterprise. Remember, too, that your team of trusted advisors may change over time.

° Reach out and connect. I am growing quite weary of folks who declare that they can’t be bothered with social media or building relationships.

Yes, it takes time, but if you do it right, the rewards are huge.

° Schedule 90-Day Inventories. Regularly invest time in looking at what’s working, what needs help and what’s ready to be discarded.

It’s easy when our business is growing to get swept along in the tide, but in order to create something satisfying and profitable, a regular evaluation is a valuable tool.

This is also a time to consider the ROI you are—or are not—receiving.

° Don’t be tricked by convenience. I once had a friend who was dating a most unpleasant man. When I challenged her choice of mates, she acknowledged his lack of character, but defended spending time with him by saying, “But he’s convenient.”

I’ve seen entrepreneurs use the same justification for hanging onto uncongenial clients or projects that no longer thrill them.

While there are certainly times when convenience makes sense, don’t give it a high priority when making decisions.

° Be willing to practice. I’m not sure if Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that it takes 10,000 hours to master something is accurate or not, but it’s certainly true that those who become more than mildly adequate invest heavily in practice.

If you need encouragement to embrace this important activity, pay a visit to The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.

“Fortunately, life has a unique way of rewarding high investment with high return,” Jim Rohn pointed out.  The investment of time you make now may be the catalyst for major accomplishment.

“It is precisely this effort that will open the floodgates to the place where great ideas can work their magic.”

Like many children, my granddaughter Zoe has a bedtime ritual that includes a bath, stories, and lights out followed by a backrub. I had carried out the procedure perfectly and after ten minutes decided to quietly exit her room.

The moment I took my hand off her back, Zoe’s eyes flew open, her right arm shot out and she looked perplexed. “I can’t rub my own back,” she pointed out.

Zoe was right, of course, and neither can you nor I. No matter how high a value we place on self-reliance, all of us need the talents, skills and services of others.

In growing a business, interdependence needs to co-exist with independence. The most successful entrepreneurs have always known this, it appears.

Andrew Carnegie claimed that his greatest talent was surrounding himself with people who were smarter than he was. Doing so enhanced, not diminished, his success.

In the small Minnesota town where I grew up, a group of businessowners met for breakfast every morning. These were the same men who organized community events, spearheaded fundraisers and kept looking for ways to make it a better place to live.

It’s a scenario that repeats itself in cities and villages everywhere that progress is occurring. The folks who want to make things better connect and collaborate.

There’s also an appreciation for the special gifts that each of them has to contribute.

Adam Cohen’s The Perfect Store is the biography of the beginnings of the phenomenon known as eBay. He talks about how once the company began to succeed numerous copycats followed. The other early online auction sites did not enjoy the same success.

Cohen concludes that eBay’s secret weapon was the online community which was a vital part of their growth. Sellers could get questions answered, share tips and form virtual alliances with one another.

It’s a lesson that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar hasn’t forgotten. Today he and his wife Pam run the Omidyar Network. The purpose of this network is outlined on their Web site:

“Omidyar Network believes that all individuals have the innate potential to make life better for themselves and their communities. Certain conditions increase the likelihood for individuals to discover and act on that potential, and consequently improve the quality of their lives as they define it.”

Likewise, Jeff Skoll, eBay’s first employee, now runs the Skoll Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Both men are using their considerable fortunes to rub the backs of others.

While many wealthy people have made financial contributions to a variety of causes, the new form of philanthropy goes way beyond merely writing a check. The same creative thinking and problem-solving skills that were used to build a business are now being applied to solving the challenges facing humanity.

It’s a reminder that real philanthropy  begins with getting in the habit of being kind to our fellow humans—no matter what our resources are.

Feeling shaky about your dreams? Nothing diminishes the fear and trepidation generated by self-absorption more quickly than reaching out to someone else.

Remind yourself of all the people who can’t rub their own backs—and how your business can do it for them. Connect and collaborate. Be a small time philanthropist.

Oh, and don’t forget to thank everyone who is rubbing your back at the same time.

And if you need some inspiration, check out this story about Glassybaby.

The other evening, Paula Lucas shared a dream on Facebook. Paula is longing to travel the country pulling one of those adorable teardrop trailers.

Since I got to know Paula at the recent Obstacle Buster Mastermind program, I knew that she has been building a lively business selling at outdoor markets. I heard opportunity knocking.

I jumped into the conversation and suggested she could travel and build her business at the same time. She had, of course, considered that possibility.

“Do you realize,” I asked, “that if you and your teardrop trailer are not just traveling, but also setting up shop at flea markets, it would make your travels a tax deductible business expense?”

I was pretty sure Paula would find that appealing. As do I. Tax deductible travel is one of my favorite self-employment perks.

We’ve all been somewhat conditioned to think that benefits are something that come as the result of having a job. Consequently, logic suggests that not having a job means not having benefits.

Nonsense. Self-employed people have all sorts of benefits—both the conventional sort plus many others that no employer ever offered.

In fact, an important part of planning a successful business is deciding just what benefits matter to you and making sure that you include them. As your business grows and prospers, you’ll want to review your personal set of benefits and make appropriate changes and additions.

It’s also emotionally healthy to remind yourself often of the benefits that are accruing because you’ve chosen to put yourself in charge.

Here are some favorites of other self-bossers:

° Napping. According to a reports on the national news, a few companies are instituting nap time and providing places for employees to snooze during the day. They defend this radical notion by citing increased productivity.

The Joyfully Jobless have known about this perk for years.

° Automobile savings. Unless you drive extensively for your business, you’ll probably enjoy much lower car expenses—including lower insurance premiums—than if you were spending hours in traffic everyday.

And, of course, cutting out a long commute also has stress reduction benefits.

° Improved health. While a growing number of studies now verify the health hazards of a stressful job, less publicity has been given to studies showing the link between satisfying self-employment and healthy longevity.

One long-term university study found that the single consistent longevity factor in those they studied was a lifetime of rewarding work.

And as anyone knows who has to rely on restaurant and fast food for nourishment, it’s much easier to eat wisely when you’re the cook.

° You don’t have to ask for permission—ever. You can schedule your work around your own particular rhythms and burn the midnight oil if that’s your style.

Or spend six months working intently followed by six months devoted to leisure.

° Tax deductions. There are numerous deductions available only to the self-employed—including ordinary expenses you’d be making anyway, but not subtracting from your tax bill if you held a job.

“The self-owned and operated business is the freest life in the world,” says Paul Hawken. It’s also loaded with wonderful benefits unknown to those who inhabit the world of 9-5.

What are your favorite perks?

 ° Be a model in the world. Proudly share the joys of self-employment. We’re still a small minority and often a curiosity to friends and strangers alike.

When someone says, “Oh, but isn’t that risky?” be prepared to respond with all the rewards and benefits you’ve discovered since going out on your own.

And, of course, take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in others.

° Patronize small business. It’s not always an easy option, but make the effort to support the community that you’re a part of. Organized efforts to patronize local food growers are taking place all over the country. It’s a start.

Find ways to patronize local entrepreneurs whenever you can and urge your friends to do the same.

° Adopt a protege. Even if you think you are still a novice, you’re bound to have already learned things that would help a beginner. Don’t be surprised if you’re the one who learns the most.

° Be a micro-lender. My favorite organization is Kiva  because you get to choose the entrepreneur who receives your loan. It’s a real joy to help a business grow in a far corner of the world and it only takes $25 to get started.

Another popular option comes from Heifer which has helped all sorts of folks become independent by giving them livestock to raise.

° Start a local Meet Up group. Homebased businesses can be invisible to their neighbors. Why not insitgate a small gathering and see who shows up? This is a great way to connect with other entrepreneurs in your own backyard.

° Help a kid. Volunteer to talk about entrepreneurship at Career Day at your child’s school. Or become a Junior Achievement volunteer. There’s nothing like a living  role model to show that there’s an alternative to getting a job.

° Attend Tribal Meetings. Retreats, seminars and workshops designed to help you make your business better are happening all over the place. The connections you make may be as valuable as the information you receive.