In Rosamund Pilcher’s long, luscious novels set in England and Scotland, all sorts of relationships are explored and celebrated. In Coming Home, set against the background of World War II, all of her characters show consistent thoughtfulness.

The smallest favors are greeted with, “Thank you. You are so very kind.”

As I read that, it struck me that adding that bit of applause to a simple “thank you” could start a positive avalanche of kindness.

Unfortunately, kindness nearly met its’ demise when Assertiveness became the buzz word. “Don’t let people take advantage of you. Assert yourself!” we were counseled by the assertiveness brigade.

While I would never advocate being a doormat, I think the concept of assertiveness has been twisted into a dangerous perspective.

Nowhere was that more apparent than one summer when I was returning from a trip to Toronto and had a short layover in Detroit. When I got to the gate for my connecting flight, there was a sign saying the flight had been delayed.

Moments later, the customer service representative announced that it had been canceled.

Immediately, an uproar began. Two biker guys were especially obnoxious, threatening the airline employees and shouting obscenities.

The people at the counter not only had the enormous task of finding new flights for over a hundred passengers, they were also the recipients of endless verbal abuse.

Since I’d recently spent hours in airports due to canceled and delayed flights, I found the news upsetting. I’d been gone for several days and was eager to get home.

When I told the couple waiting in line with me that I thought I was going to cry, the man said, “Oh, please don’t. I can’t handle tears.” We all laughed and began chatting like old buddies.

Another man next to me in the line said, “I’m going to see if they can put me on another airline.” I decided to do the same.

When we finally got to the counter, he and I put down our tickets and the frazzled young customer service woman looked up and said, “Are you together?”

“We’ve been in line so long,” I told her, “that we’ve gotten engaged.” She smiled her first smile of the afternoon before booking me on a flight which departed six hours later than my original one.

By this time, I was resigned to waiting and decided to appoint myself as the social director for all the bumped passengers. I struck up several conversations with strangers and took a 14-year-old girl under my wing.

If I was stranded, there was no point in spending the time being mad and miserable. There seemed to be no shortage of opportunities to cheer people up.

I actually began to enjoy myself.

After the long line of people from my flight had all been rebooked, I walked back to the counter and asked the woman who had helped me forty-five minutes earlier if I could be wait listed for an earlier flight

“I’ll see,” she said as she began typing on her keyboard. “That was Winter, wasn’t it?”

I was astonished. “How can you possibly remember my name?” I asked.“You’ve had so many people in this line.”

She shrugged and said, “I remembered you because you were nice to me.”

At the very same moment, the biker guys were cursing the customer service representative next to her. She probably remembered them, too.

Without realizing it, this woman taught me a lesson I don’t ever want to forget: in dealing with other people, would you rather be remembered for being kind or cruel?

The impression you leave is up to you, of course.

Oh, yes, and she also bumped me up to first class reminding me that kindness is, after all, positively contagious.

For several years I’ve been sharing an idea in my How To Support Your Wanderlust seminars, but suspect I’ve never convinced anyone to try it.

I’ve suggested that a photographer might set up shop near famous tourist spots and take pictures of visitors which they turn into postcards. Not only would this appeal to solo travelers (like me), but lots of tourists would enjoy sending unique postcards with themselves in the picture.

To my delight, someone has finally done something  similar. Michael Lato founded, a site where you can turn your vacation photos into postcards. Hazel will print and mail your postcard anywhere in the world for $1.50.

Got an idea for a business but think it’s already been done to death? Consider putting a new spin on an old idea. It’s another way to stand out from the crowd.

That’s precisely what Paul Hawken did when he returned from Findhorn in Scotland wanting to import the gardening tools he’d discovered in the UK. Despite warnings from the experts that Americans would never buy gardening tools from a mail order company, Hawken and his partner David Smith printed up their first little catalog, mailed it to their friends and Smith & Hawken was born.

The possibilities for adding a twist to an old idea are endless. For instance, touring famous destinations has been around for centuries. A popular variation on that business is offering tours after dark.

You can take a helicopter ride over the Las Vegas Strip or tour Jerusalem’s Old City after the sun goes down. In London, a popular night time walking tour follows the trail of Jack the Ripper. It just wouldn’t be the same in daylight.

Jim Denevan, an artist, surfer, chef and founder of the Slow Food Movement, has turned the ordinary picnic into a foodie’s delight. His company, Outstanding in the Field, hosts picnics at beaches, vineyards and other outdoor venues.

You won’t find fried chicken and potato salad on his menu, however. Denevan flies in top chefs from major cities to prepare the special cuisine. His company is currently undergoing a global expansion with events planned in Italy, Spain, France and Australia.

Or take your business to the customer as massage therapists, dog groomers and car detailers have done. It’s an idea that’s served Tupperware and Avon nicely and seems especially appealing in our busy times.

Have you uncovered—or started—a business that’s put a new twist on an old idea? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

Two of the things I loved most about living in Minneapolis were having constant access to the wonderful programming of Minnesota Public Radio and to the medical services of Dr. Loie Lenarz.

Dr. Lenarz was the first woman doctor I’d ever had and I actually looked forward to my appointments with her. One day I walked in and she was grinning. “I heard your interview on Public Radio,” she said. “I really enjoyed it.”

Several days earlier I had been interviewed about an self-employment on my favorite radio station. The interview had gone very well and at the end the producer told me I’d received more calls than any guest in the history of that show.

I had never really given Dr. Lenarz any details about my work, but she was curious. Throughout my exam we talked about making a living without a job.

When I went back six months later, Dr. Lenarz was in the midst of my checkup when she dropped a bomb. “I’m going to be leaving the clinic,” she said, “and filling in at other clinics around the area.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “You’re the best doctor I’ve ever had. How can you leave me?”

“Well,” she calmly replied,  “someone whose opinion I value highly, pointed out the advantages of creating a more flexible schedule.”

How could I argue with that?

I happened to remember this story about Dr.Lenarz today because I had my yearly physical with my new delightful doctor. I even told the story to Dr. Goff, pointing out that I meant it as a warning that she must not give up her practice.

Then I came home from that appointment and read the new post from Christine Kane and thought I was seeing a connection.

In her article, How to Become an Extreme Encourager and Change the World, she tells this story:

Long ago, when I first shared my dream of becoming a professional musician with one of my friends, she knitted her brows and said, “Huh?”

The dire warnings she fired off didn’t surprise me. Hey, most of us have had a lifetime filled with this kind of “practical advice.”  And I was used to giving up in the face of it.

During this fumbling stumbling time, I met a man who became an unlikely best friend and mentor.  He was a brilliant jazz musician as well as a self-employed computer programmer.

One night, I told him my dream.  Without even blinking, he said, “Honey (he always called me Honey), you’d be fabulous. That’s perfect!”  And he meant it.

After reading her story, I realized that we can encourage others to live their best life directly, as Christine’s mentor did. Or we can encourage others by relentlessly living our own best life.

Either way, you never know who’s listening.

When I was growing up in tiny Janesville, Minnesota, I developed an enormous fondness for the mail. To me, it seemed the most compelling evidence of life outside my village came through our family mailbox at the post office.

I did everything I could think of to increase the amount of mail that arrived bearing my name. I sent away for things advertised in comic books by taping dimes and quarters on little bits of cardboard. I acquired penpals. The quality of the mail I received was far less important than the quantity.

When I began my self-employment journey it was natural to include some sort of mail order component. As a result, daily trips to the post office have been the only regular activity of my business life.

Because the post office has been my partner in business, I’ve always cultivated relationships with the postal workers that I see on a regular basis. I know their names,I know about their families and they know about me.

Even before I moved to Las Vegas, I acquired a post office box with the help of my friend Cheri who was living there. The gang behind the counter is an eclectic bunch and, with one stunning exception, all friendly and fun.

Then there’s Judy. She seldom smiles and frequently scowls when her co-workers are sharing a joke with a customer. I did my best to avoid going to her window, but it’s not always possible to circumvent her.

One day, I made a purchase from Judy and when she handed me my receipt she slipped something else in my hand. I didn’t look at it until I got to my car and discovered she had given me a religious tract. Apparently, she had  decided I needed to  be saved.

I promptly sent a complaint to the postal service via e-mail. The next day, Judy’s manager called me and expressed his horror that she had done such a thing. He promised to discuss the matter with her.

I assume that Judy knew that I was the source of her reprimand (although she may have spread her proselytizing around for all I know) and any time I landed at her window, transactions were conducted in silence. Sometimes I’d let the folks behind me in line go ahead just to avoid an encounter with her.

On the Saturday morning when I went to the post office carrying dozens of copies of Making a Living Without a Job to be mailed, I was slightly dismayed to see that only Judy and one other employee were minding the store.

When my turn came, I was paired with Judy. Several of the books were going to other countries so needed special attention. When she realized what was in the packages, she asked me what kind of books I wrote.

I mumbled something about self-employment and Judy surprised me again by saying, “I want to be self-employed.” I said nothing. She kept processing orders and asked, “How much is your book?”

I told her the price and then (to my further astonishment) said, “I’d like to give you a copy. Maybe it will help.”

“Would you autograph it?” she asked. She was smiling for the first time ever. I assured her I would do that.

I walked out of the post office shaking my head at the unexpected shift in my relationship with her.

Later that day, I returned with more packages to mail and a copy of my book concealed in a gift bag. “You may not want to read this in the employee lunchroom,” I suggested.

Based on my experience with Judy, I would not think she’d make an especially good entrepreneur since she doesn’t seem to like people very much. I could be totally wrong about that, of course.

Perhaps her misery in her current job is simply too great for her to keep it to herself.

Judy reminds me why it’s so important that we make the commitment to discover the work we love and then do it with all our heart.

When we don’t, we inflict our unhappiness on others. We never become masterful. It’s like going through life with a low grade fever that’s not bad enough to keep us in bed, but we don’t feel good enough to operate from our best self.

George Bernard Shaw, who showed us he knew a thing or two about personal transformation in his play Pygmalion, observed,“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

For most of us, that purpose is expressed through our work and if we fail to connect with the work that ignites our imagination and makes us wildly eager to share, we spread a virus of a different kind, one that infects everyone who comes in contact with us.

Yes, it’s that important and the Judys of this world that keep reminding me of that. I only wish that there were fewer of them.

Although it didn’t arrive until the end of October, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was the top selling book of 2011. It’s continued to grace bestseller lists this year, too.

This is notable for several reasons, but caught my attention because biographies of entrepreneurs don’t usually attract such huge readership. What a shame.

Many such true stories are every bit as intriguing as fictional tales. More importantly, they can provide inspiration and trigger ideas for others wishing to succeed in the Joyfully Jobless world.

As Caroline Myss reminds us, “We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into.” Knowing the stories of others who have carved their own path can be enormously helpful to our own evolution.

Some of my favorite business biographies aren’t even close to being bestsellers, but they’re certainly worth investigating. While many of the subjects/authors are now well-known, there was a time when they were known only to their families.

If you’ve missed any of these true stories, track them down and see what you can learn.

Losing My Virginity is Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography of his early years in business. He’s written several other books sharing his philosophy and recent enterprises, but this charmer offers us a glimpse of the early days of the self-described adventure capitalist.

Ben and Jerry’s Double-Dip by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield shows us what it means to create a values-led business. Read this while enjoying a bowl of Cherry Garcia or Creme Brulee.

Hershey by Michael D’Antonio is the surprisingly inspiring tale of Milton S. Hershey who not only became synonymous with chocolate bars, but was one of the country’s first social entrepreneurs. This visionary was decades ahead of his time.

The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo brings us the philosophy of another visionary whose humble beginnings bore no resemblance to the influential woman she became. Chanel was opinionated and not shy about speaking her mind on living life on your own terms.

In Pursuit of the Common Good by Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner is one of the funniest stories on the list. It’s a marvel that Newman’s Own ever managed to succeed.

Body and Soul by Anita Roddick is subtitled Profits With Principles. This book recounts the early days of The Body Shop. Equally worth tracking down is her later book, Business as Unusual. You may need to do some detective work to find either title. It’s worth it.

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes, urges us to use our businesses to make a positive difference in the world.

Make the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland is a book I reread every year. It’s the incredible story of the author’s journey to create Manchester Bidwell, a jobs training center and community arts program near Pittsburgh. Every city should be so blessed.

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus shares the story of the birth of micro-lending, which helped poor women in Bangladesh become successful businessowners.

While you may be able to locate some of these books through your public library, I believe they deserve a permanent home in your library. Every one of these stories is worth revisiting from time to time.

You’ll find several of these titles on Barbara’s Book List, along with several others that I haven’t included here. Out of print titles may be available through my new favorite used book source, Thriftbooks.


John Schroeder was one of the first people I met when I moved to Minneapolis. At the time , he was working as the editor of an in-house magazine for a large company.

He surprised everyone when he decided to go out on his own as a freelance writer. His business has covered a wide range of writing projects including books, study guides, catalog copy, newsletters and articles.

He’s also a voracious fan of garage sales and spends every weekend in the summer going to sales, flea markets and antique shows.

John’s biggest obstacle has been his reluctance to market himself. In true John style, he’s named this approach his No Marketing Marketing Plan which means that he delights in work that comes to him, but seldom instigates projects.

A few years ago, he asked if he could get together with me and our friend Georgia to discuss his goals for the coming year. A meeting was set up and John arrived with his goals neatly typed.

One item caught both Georgia and my attention. Several years earlier, John had written a booklet which he was thinking about expanding into a book called Garage Sale Fever.

We were wildly supportive of this idea and pointed out that he needed to get at it immediately if he wanted to take advantage of the spring selling season.

We met again about six weeks later and asked about his progress. “I’ve kind of put that on the back burner until the end of the year,” he said languidly. “I don’t think I can get it out by the end of April.”

Georgia and I leaped into action and argued against his procrastination.

The next day, John got a call from his publishing friend Shane who said, “I miscalculated. If you get the manuscript done by mid-March, we’ll have no trouble reaching your deadline.”

What happened next was nothing short of astonishing. With Shane setting deadlines, John finished the manuscript ahead of time.

A couple of mornings later, I got a call from John—about two hours earlier than I’ve ever heard from him. I also had never heard such excitement in his voice.

“I’ve been working on my marketing plan for Garage Sale Fever,” he announced, “and I’ve come up with eighteen ideas.”

I congratulated him and said, “Here at Winning Ways, we’re planning to give you a big plug, too.”

“Oh,” he exclaimed, “that’s nineteen!”

Even more amazing were some of the ideas on his list which involved contacting the media, talking to shopkeepers and doing workshops. My introverted friend had turned into a marketing madman.

The next thing we knew, John was appearing on local radio and television shows, being interviewed in newspapers and quoted in Newsweek magazine. He also agreed to teach classes in a community education program to show people how to have a successful garage sale.

John’s story is a great example of the power of passion. His enthusiasm for garage sales, has had him on a perpetual treasure hunt for years. Being able to share that passion pushed him past all sorts of doubts and fears.

John’s story also illustrates how valuable it is to have entrepreneurial friends who can encourage and keep us accountable.

Got a neglected project that’s gathering dust? Try giving it an infusion of passion and invite a couple of cheerleaders to keep you going.

And keep in mind this bit of encouragement from Irving Allen: No matter what your present condition, there’s  something a little better right within your reach.