Although I seldom purchase lottery tickets, today I was thinking of the marketing slogan used by state lotteries from time to time. You’ve probably heard it, too: You can’t win if you don’t play.

That’s true about much more than just the lottery, of course. In fact, the odds are more in your favor in other pursuits that don’t involve games of chance.

This weekend I’m heading to Colorado Free University to do a series of three seminars. As I was putting my trip together, I got thinking about some of the people I’ve met over the years at CFU.

There’s Renae Hansen who came to Making a Living Without a Job shortly before she returned to Michigan where she currently lives. Renae recently passed her real estate exam and celebrated by selling her first house.

Real estate is not a new passion for her, however, since she’d been investing in property herself for several years. Her experience as a buyer is going to serve her well as a seller, I suspect.

On many trips to Denver, I have a chance to catch up with Pat Blocker, another former student. Pat is a longtime dog lover left her less-than-thrilling job and now operates Peaceful Paws Dog Training. She regularly e-mails me to report on the continuing growth of her business.

In addition, she share tips with dog owners through classes and advice columns. When I mentioned on Facebook my return visit to Denver, Pat chimed in with these kind words:” Don’t miss this! Barbara is awesome! She’s taught me so much over the years.”

Then there’s Maureen Thomson whom I first met when she attended my seminars several years ago. At the time, she was working as a technical writer and building a portfolio of rental properties.

Then a new opportunity came knocking at her door—literally. As she was working on a remodel on her latest acquisition, people kept showing up inquiring about wedding services. It seems the house Maureen was fixing up had once been a wedding chapel.

At first, that amused her, but after several such encounters, it occurred to her that there were many people in search of alternative wedding services. That led Maureen to open Lyssabeth’s Wedding Officiants, a business that has grown by leaps year after year and now has branches in California and Oregon.

Things got even more exciting when she discovered that she could run her business remotely thanks to the pool of wedding officiants she had gathered to perform ceremonies.

As it happens, Maureen also has more than a bit of wanderlust. Earlier this year, she and her husband Jeremy decided to start another business offering their services as a caretaker couple.

Not only are they joyfully jobless, Maureen and Jeremy are now also happily homeless. After several projects in the US, they currently are caretaking a property in Australia.

Maureen blogs about their adventures at Vaco Vitae.

These three enterprising women are, of course, a tiny sampling of the folks I’ve met during my visits to Colorado Free University. As I get ready to return, I am wondering who will show up this time and start writing the next true story about entrepreneurial adventure.

And I wonder about all the folks who don’t bother to take advantage of programs like these to acquire ideas and information that can open new doors.

In his book Creating Wealth, Robert G. Allen discusses what it takes to be one of life’s winners. His answer might surprise you.

He says, “The will to prepare to win is more important than the will to win. Preparing usually means doing those kinds of things that failures don’t like to do. It means studying and learning. It means reading books, going to seminars. It means not being afraid to corner experts and ask foolish questions.”

If you’re in the Denver area (or Sacramento or Las Vegas in October), I would love to have you join me and discover what thousands of joyfully jobless folks are already putting to work.

It may be more important now than ever before.

As Eric Hoffer reminds us, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

That could be more powerful than a winning lottery ticket, but you still gotta play to win.


Hardly a day passes when I don’t encounter someone who is unwilling to give up even a speck of comfort in order to go after their dreams. How sad.

Although I don’t know the source, these words have been on my mind as I’ve been listening to the litanies of excuses: To dream costs nothing; to not follow costs everything.

The truth is, dreams can make us uncomfortable. After all, they challenge us to be more, do more and have more—and that can make us squirm.

Finding answers, finding direction, finding passion all begin with asking questions that stimulate fresh ideas and insights.

If you’re feeling brave (or even if you aren’t) give some serious thought to these uncomfortable questions:

Who wins if I abandon my dreams?

Who wins if I commit to my dreams?

What evidence do I have that I truly support my dreams?

What can I learn now that will help me accomplish my dreams?

What excuses do I need to banish to a distant shore?

What am I willing to trade in order to have my dreams?

Here’s one more thing. In fact, you may have already seen it. Even so, take 31 seconds and watch it again. It’s full of more uncomfortable questions worth answering for yourself.

It’s simply called Learn.





As I was busily rearranging the hotel ballroom where my seminar was to be held, a man arrived, marched to the front seat, sat down, folded his arms over his chest and said in a demanding voice, “This better be good!”

I was quite certain that he was about to be disappointed.

During the break at the same class, another man rushed up to me, eyes glowing, and said, “I can’t believe what is happening. I wasn’t even supposed to be here tonight. I came to take notes for a friend who couldn’t make it. Already, I have thought of several businesses I could start!”

Every class I teach has a variation of this theme. While the information is the same, some people leave with nothing and others leave with more than they expected to get.

How can you be the one to get more out of the classes and seminars you attend?

Having spent a great deal of time on both sides of the desk, here are a few tips I’ve garnered:

° Be responsible for what happens in the class. Do you realize, for example, that you can help the leader do a better job? By nodding, smiling, responding, you can encourage—or discourage—the person leading the class.

Nonverbal communication is strong in a classroom. If you frown or appear indifferent, you may have a negative impact on the person teaching the course.

By supporting the teacher, you’ll get a better class. No kidding.

° Come ready to learn. Leave your problems and worries outside the room and let your sense of adventure take over. For a few hours, suspend your resistance and be open to the ideas and information you’re receiving.

° Pick the best seat in the house. Arrive a bit early and select the best vantage point you can get. Make sure you can see and hear what’s going on. The farther to the front that you place yourself, the fewer the distractions.

° Take two sets of notes. Make one set factual (i.e. important points given in the lecture) and another of ideas that you get during the course of the lecture. In other words, begin applying ideas to your life immediately.

° Be a regular student. Of course, expanding your knowledge can be fun and interesting, but there are larger benefits. Seminars and classes can strengthen your self-confidence, motivate you, awaken ideas and thoughts that have been dormant.

You may even transform your life.

Only Cinderella changed hers with a magic want. Modern versions of the story such as My Fair Lady and Educating Rita rely on education to perform such miracles.

Take your self-education seriously. And while not all classes and seminars will be equally powerful, you’ll still receive the rewards that come from keeping your curiosity alive.



Last night a headline on the LA Times site caught my eye. It said,“ founder helped by the perfect name.”

Since my upcoming issue of Winning Ways has a piece called What Shall We Name This Business? I was especially interested in the story.

It turned out to be an intriguing piece about what has become the largest privately owned conference calling service in the country. Despite it’s continuing growth, the owner says that the majority of new customers arrive at his site because of the name he gave his enterprise.

It was also a nice profile in the entrepreneurial thinking that helped build the company. According to the piece, for the first two years founder David Erickson was the only employee: He was the accountant, the customer service agent and the Web master. “I knew what [customers] wanted to see in my service, the problems they were having, their visions for what it could be,” he said.

I promptly shared it with folks on Facebook. Now, hours later, only one person has given this piece a  “Like.” I’m certain it would have garnered more Likes had more people taken the time to read the story.

What too many people fail to notice (or care about) is that we live in a gigantic schoolhouse where we can learn all manner of useful and fascinating things simply by paying attention.There is nothing taught here that’s more visible than the class I’ll call Business Success 101.

Entrepreneurs and their stories are everywhere.We can hardly get through the day without encountering them. I have file folders bulging with newspaper clippings of inspiriing stories with titles like Lessons from America’s New Entrepreneurs.

It’s not just the media that offers up lessons. Every time we step into a store or check out a business Website, we have the opportunity to sharpen our own entrepreneurial skills.

What attracts? Repels? What might we integrate into our own way of doing things? What do we want to avoid bringing into our business?

Answers and clues abound, but they’re only useful to those who are seeking to learn.

In 1974, author Timothy Gallwey wrote a surprise bestseller called The Inner Game of Tennis. That book spawned an entire series of Inner Game books and made Gallwey a sought after speaker and trainer.

While Gallwey made a strong case for the positive benefits of being a practicing meditator, one of his other findings made a big impact on me. Gallwey said that when an ordinary tennis player spent time watching masterful players, the ordinary person’s game improved.

However, it wasn’t conscious analysis that made the difference. Simply paying close attention to seeing the game played well made a subconscious impact on the viewer. Their own game improved after putting themselves in the presence of excellence.

The same is true for getting better at business or parenting or any other pursuit that matters to us.

If you’re willing to take advantage of the Big Schoolhouse, here’s a terrific lesson for today. It’s a short (but brilliant) piece from writer and all-around creative guy Julien Smith and is called I Was Born Very Stupid and Will Die Very Smart.

Give it a look and then figure out the best way to put Smith’s ideas to work. You’re bound to get smarter if you do.




It’s saddened me to watch the demise of independent adult education programs around the country. Not only were these places my favorite spots to teach, they were frequently owned and operated by enthusiastic lifelong learners.

Unfortunately, declining attendance didn’t just make it impossible to continue these programs; when learning isn’t heartily valued, it takes a bigger toll on the community.

Living in the information explosion that is our modern world, it’s easy to forget that there’s a big difference between acquiring information and genuine learning.

There’s also a dynamic that occurs in a roomful of others who share our curiosity that can’t be duplicated on our own.

Several years ago, Kevin Byrne, an adult learning coordinator, shared some scientific evidence for continuing education. “There is evidence that learning something—anything—new will cause our brains to make structural changes. These changes allow us to solve more complex problems and to make connections that seem inspired. We are literally smarter when we take up a learning activity.”

Byrne goes on to share a story about Dr. Marion Diamond’s research on rat brains. A professor of anatomy at the University of California Berkeley, Dr. Diamond spent two decades studying the effects of learning environments on rats.

When they were taken out of typical laboratory cages and placed in enriched environments—lots of rat toys and rat puzzles—the very structure of the rats’ brains changed in as little as four days.

These enriched rats solved mazes and puzzles faster than they could before landing in the toy-rich cages. By every measure, they got smarter.

There’s an equally interesting downside: when the enriched rats were placed again in ordinary cages, their brains changed again. They got dumber.

Age didn’t matter. But the type of activity mattered a lot. Diamond’s rats had to be actively involved with their enriching toys and puzzles to gain the higher I.Q. Just watching other rats playing did nothing at all for the brains of the spectator vermin.

Byrne says, “Of course, rat/human analogies are always somewhat suspect, but if Dr. Diamond is correct taking German Language or even French Braiding can actually make you smarter than watching 100 hours of NOVA.”

If brain fitness comes from the process of learning, rather than what is actually learned, it just makes sense to learn something new as often as possible. This is a participatory, not a spectator, undertaking.

Not only will you be a more interesting person, you’ll be a more successful entrepreneur, parent, citizen. And, of course, your brain will love you for it.


Most of us who have heard the Eastern proverb that goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” think that it refers to an individual who comes to guide us.

I’d like to suggest that the proverb applies to business as well. Your business can and will teach you to uncover hidden talents, to think bigger, to discipline yourself.

Of course, you might be able to learn those things in other ways, but it might not be nearly as much fun as it is in the classroom you create for yourself.

It would be impossible to identify all the things my business has taught me. Here are a few I do recognize.

* Building from the ground up is fun. My mentor used to say that we all have an architect within us, a force that wants to design and build things that have never existed before.

The joy of seeing an idea come into being is one of life’s great blessings—one that entrepreneurs have over and over again as they create new things.

* I can’t outperform my self-image. My business is always a reflection of what I think of myself and who I am in the world.  Once I learned this, working on maintaining a positive self-image and challenging self-doubts became a top priority that led me to a new area of study.

(For most of us, this is an on-going process, by the way.)

* Goal-setting works. Learning how to set goals and stay focused on results is indispensable to building a business. It’s also the way to inspire ourselves to stretch and go farther.

It still astonishes me that I never learned about goal-setting as a student in school. Once I discovered what it means, I became a practicing goalsetter and continue to amaze myself with how powerful it is to write things down and start building.

* It all balances out. Taking a long view is the secret weapon of every successful entrepreneur. Life is about ebb and flow; so is business, of course. If cash flow is down this month, it may be unusually large next month.

It takes a few years of being in business before you can really see how this works, but it’s still helpful to make this a basic assumption.

(Knowing this is also a fine stress reducing tool.)

* We live in a world of opportunity. I certainly didn’t know this in the days when I worked for others. Now, I am constantly in awe of how huge the possibilities are for anyone willing to take responsibility for discovering and acting on those opportunities.

(Of course, opportunities usually come disguised as a problem in need of solving.)

* The more I invest in my business, the more it returns the investment. When I spend my time and money in ways that stretch me, my business gets better. Books, seminars and other entrepreneurs are not  simply indulgences; they’re power tools for success.

Taylor Caldwell said, “The true purpose of education is to enlarge the soul, to widen the mind, to stimulate wonder, to give a new vision and understanding of the world, to excite the intellect, to awaken dormant faculties for the exaltation of the possessor.”

The true purpose of business is exactly the same, but in this course you get paid to learn.

What a great way to spend a life.


It’s no coincidence, it seems to me, that successful entrepreneurs are also enthusiastic lifelong learners. Yet many new businessowners are delighted to discover that running a business is an on-going learning adventure—and they get to design their own curriculum.

Entrepreneurial learning bears little resemblance to more conventional educational experiences. Instead of spending long hours sitting at a desk, entrepreneurial education looks more like working in a laboratory where the process goes something like this: explore, test, share.

Consider TOMS shoe company found Blake Mycoskie. In his new book, Start Something That Matters, this successful young entrepreneur gives us a glimpse into his feelings about a favorite tool of the perpetual learner.

He writes, “When I moved onto a 200-square foot sailboat, I had no room for belongings. So I divested myself, selling and giving away almost everything, keeping only sporting and the books I loved.

“One day, when I own a house, I’ll keep a full library of books. Books are different from other possessions—they’re more like friends.”

A Chinese proverb reminds us that, “Learning is weightless, a treasure you can always carry easily.” If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need to be convinced.

Nevertheless, I wanted to pass along some other thoughts about the importance of learning. You might want to hang on to some of these wise words. They could come in handy on a day when resistance is trying to talk you out of attending a seminar or you’re feeling uncomfortable about acquiring a new skill.

The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who cannot learn. ~ Alvin Toffler

Beauty can happen in an instance to the well-stocked mind. ~ Reynolds Pearce

There is an unspeakable pleasure attending the life of the voluntary student. ~ Oliver Goldsmith

If money is your only hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability. ~ Henry Ford

Vacant lots and vacant minds attract the most rubbish. ~ Arnold Glasgow

One learns by doing a thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try. ~ Sophocles

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~ Eric Hoffer

If you’re a true student of what you’re doing and a lover of your business activity, then study what you’ve done to understand what you could have done better. ~ Steve Wynn

The minute you’re not learning, I believe you’re dead. ~ Jack Nicholson

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. ~ Bertrand Russell


If you’d like to know more about Start Something That Matters, check out this rave review from the Wall Street Journal. Doing Good By Shoeing Well


The headline for the marketing seminar caught my eye. The photograph with the story startled me. There was Curtis Beckman, news director at a prominent radio station.

He was doing a session on Working With the Media. Obviously, he was a man after my own heart.

“Jennifer,” I told my daughter, “this is the man I was mad for in college.”

“Did you go out with him?” she asked, looking at his still handsome face.

“Oh, no,” I said. And I thought to myself, “In those days I was too insecure to ever believe I could have what I really wanted.”

Changing those self-doubts into confident feelings was a slow process for me. I went to bed that night thinking about those changes and how different I had been in my college days.

Then an intriguing idea struck me.

“What,” I wondered, “would have happened if there had been a class in winning? What if instead of studying laboratory rats the psychology department had taught us about the healthiest people around and how to become emotionally healthier?”

The thought was so exciting that I couldn’t get to sleep. Instead, I designed the course outline for Winning 101. Here are some of the things we would cover.

° How to Have Strong Self-esteem. As Nathaniel Branden pointed out, “Productive achievement is a consequence and an expression of healthy self-esteem, not the other way around.” This class would put first things first.

° How to Build a Winning Self-image. Thinking highly of ourselves was not encouraged when I was growing up.

Psychologist David Burns, author of Feeling Good, advises, “Instead of saying, ‘I will love and respect myself when I’m a big success,’ try saying, ‘I will love and respect myself when I’m hurting and need the support. ‘”

Fortunately, we can acquire a positive self-image by changing our focus and self-talk. And, no, a healthy self-image is not the same thing as a narcissistic one.

° How to Set Goals. I didn’t learn about goal-setting until years after I graduated. No wonder I floundered for so long.

As I eventually learned, goal-setting is neither mysterious nor difficult. It is, however, necessary if you want to find your focus and spend your time building something that matters to you.

° How to Think Like a Winner. Here we’d explore the personal philosophies of outstanding people. One of the discoveries made by Abraham Maslow in his study of self-actualized people was that they had role models.

Since we can learn a lot by seeing winning behavior in action, Winning 101 would invite guest speakers—a rock star, an entrepreneur, an Olympic contender.

° How to Get Results. In this segment, we’d learn a powerful two-step process for producing results.

The formula consists of 1) focus on the ultimate outcome, 2) take action. There would be lots of homework, practice sessions and group reports. We’d also learn how to effectively solicit help and support.

° How to Get Along With Others. Not a popularity course, but some basic human relations training would round it out.

I even found a motto for the class. “The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said that.

Although I’m not going back to college and I doubt that this course has been added to the curriculum, I discovered that these valuable lessons are all taught to us as we build our businesses (if we’re paying attention).

Think of it: you can acquire these life-enriching skills while your business pays you to learn.

This September, why not go back to school as your own curriculum director? Learn as much as you can about being a winner in your own life. It could be the best class you ever took.