Many people thought my Aunt Agnes was a professional malcontent. I thought she was an adventurer.

When I was growing up, I watched her reinvent herself every few years. She was trained as a teacher, but I don’t remember her working at that. Nevertheless, she always seemed to be instructing me and my siblings about right and wrong.

Besides being the  family morality enforcer, she spent several years running a college bookstore where she became friends with both students and professors. She also took advantage of the academic surroundings and studied Spanish and other subjects that caught her fancy.

After she left the bookstore, she worked in financial services for a few years, but she was restless. The only solution was to do something really exotic—and she did.

Ag surprised us all by going off to work in a mission hospital in Nigeria for the next four years. She was now in her mid-fifties.

Because she had never learned to drive a car, she decided it was time to add that skill and learned on the dirt roads of her adopted home. When she returned to the US, she promptly bought her first car and added frequent road trips to her adventures.

Since she’d always thought she wanted to write, she signed up for a correspondence course and began turning out essays. That led to her becoming a regular columnist for our local paper. She also gave slide show lectures about her stay in Africa to churches in the area.

She obviously thrived on new challenges and I’m forever grateful for having her as a role model.

Ag collected friends like other people collect porcelain. She was a voracious letter writer and kept in touch with people who had been her friends throughout her life, some since childhood.

When she wasn’t writing letters, her hands were busy crocheting or knitting. I was spellbound by the speed with which she worked her crochet hook and carried on a conversation at the same time.

She never stopped reinventing herself and got married for the first time at the age of 63. She threw herself into her new role as a wife, stepmother and grandmother with the same gusto we’d seen her display in all her projects.

Even now, I have no idea how much I absorbed from having this model of reinvention in my family. I do realize that living this way, of moving on when one life choice no longer thrills, takes imagination and courage.

When I think of Ag’s life, I remember the quote from James Dickey: “There are so many selves in everybody that to explore and exploit just one is wrong, dead wrong, for the creative process.”

What a lovely legacy she left.

In mid-December, my brother, three sisters and I spent a day exploring current exhibits at the Getty Center and Getty Villa in Los Angeles. This is a normal Winter Family Outing.

All of us love museums and after decades of living apart, we’re now in close enough proximity that art outings are easily organized. In fact, there’s another one coming up to LACMA and Norton Simon.

It some ways it’s an astonishment since we didn’t really grow up with much exposure to art. Somehow we each discovered the joy of creativity and came to appreciate those who shared their imaginations with us.

So, of course, I feel sad (and angry) when I hear about art programs being eliminated in schools.

For years, most business schools have ignored the role of art and inspiration, but some of the most successful entrepreneurs have also been passionate patrons of the arts.

One of the memorable stories in Stanley Marcus’ brilliant book, Minding the Store, talks about this very thing. Marcus, whose father, aunt and uncle founded Neiman-Marcus department store in Dallas, shares a piece from Fortune magazine called “Dallas in Wonderland.”

“As for Neiman-Marcus executives, they too live just one idea: The Store. It’s madcap, or inspired, beginning sprang from an enthusiasm—and almost religious enthusiasm— that has never ceased.

“They are exciting business people because in one sense they aren’t business people at all; and they live the store, not by lacking outside interests, but by transferring them all inside.

“Herbert Marcus quotes Plat0 or Flaubert at you, displays a Canaletto in his dining room and dreams of owning a Renoir.

“It isn’t a matter of being 100% on the job, but rather of being dedicated to some austere and lofty mission.”

As Marcus goes on to explain, that lofty mission was to bring beauty to the lives of everyone (not just the wealthy) living in that dusty cow town.

Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsh frequently reminded his writers that entrepreneurs are artists and business is their canvas. Exposing yourself to the art of others can be one of the best things you do for your business.

So go visit a musuem this month. Browse in a local art gallery. Or, if you’re feeling really frisky, pick up a paint brush yourself.

Your business will love it if you act like an artist.


Want to spread some entrepreneurial spirit in Texas? Then join me for my upcoming Joyfully Jobless Weekends. I’ll be in Dallas on January 18 & 19, then Houston in February 15 & 16. Y’all come.

Take a look. Apparently Gaping Void and I are on the same wave length today. More Art = More Inspiration

Several years ago I decided to start a list of things I loved doing so much I could do them every day without getting bored. I wanted the list as a reminder to integrate beloved activities and things on a daily basis.

I thought of that this morning as I was driving home from yet another visit to the DMV and heard one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, one of the things that made my Everyday Love List.

It’s not just the music I love, however. I also love the story. Those lovely pieces were written for a competition held by the city of Brandenburg-Schwedt, Germany. It was a competition won by somebody else.

Nobody seems to remember winner’s name, nor his musical entry, but Bach’s concertos frequently top the list of public radio listener’s favorites 290 years after they first were played.

Today I was also reminded that even onerous tasks can be more pleasant if we include things we love. It doesn’t do much good, after all, if we know what we love, but don’t have regular contact with them.

A while back, Alice Barry and I had a conference call with participants who had attended our Follow Through Camp retreat. I asked everyone to complete an exercise before the call.

This fun idea comes from Keri Smith’s delightful book, Living Out Loud . It’s called Lifestyle for Sale and it goes like this:

In recent years, lifestyle stores have become the rage, selling products related to all aspects of living: eating, decorating, reading, bathing, sleeping and dressing. If you were to open your own lifestyle store, what would you sell?

Make a list of what it would contain. What items best represent you and your many layers? Are they eclectic? Chaotic? Minimal? Calming?

Come up with a name for your store—maybe it’s a character from your favorite book, or something that reflects the store’s contents.

Before the call, I  also created my own imaginary lifestyle store. Like many of the other callers, I envisioned my store in a funky old house reached by walking through a garden.

My store wasn’t just about stuff, but also about stuff happening. There was a conservatory on the back called the Idea Factory for collaborative brainstorming. Another spot was called the Follow Through Room where people who felt stuck could find inspiration and support to get moving again.

The bookshop section had four distinct sections, each housed in a separate corner. One was devoted to personal growth, another to biographies of kindred spirits, another on business building and another on supporting wanderlust.

Every room was furnished with big, comfy chairs and vintage travel posters adorned the walls. Happily, the place where I live resembles my imaginary store.

Although none of the folks who did this with Alice and me were interested in opening a shop, creating this vision got them dreaming about spending time in the kind of place they’d imagined.

It’s a great exercise and I urge you to try it yourself. More importantly, surround yourself with people, things, and ideas you love as much as you possibly can.

As the John Ruskin poster in my office never lets me forget, “We are not sent into this world to do anything which is not in our hearts.”

Of course, first we need to know what that is.

One morning my granddaughter Zoe was getting ready for kindergarten when her mother walked into her room. “Does this go together?” Zoe asked.

“You’re an artist,” Jennie reminded her. “You can wear whatever you want.”

The next morning, Zoe confidently put on her fanciest dress and her flowered rain boots. When she walked into the kitchen, her father took one look and said, “Lose the boots.”

Zoe looked him straight in the eye and said, “Dad, I’m an artist. I can wear whatever I want.”

It delights me, of course, that Zoe is encouraged to think creatively and to think of herself as an artist. There’s evidence that she’s taking it quite seriously.

A few months ago I was planning a visit to Zoe and her family when I got a Skype call from her. We talked about some of the things we were going to do when I got there.

“Saturday is Jacob’s birthday,” she said in her most matter-of-fact voice. (Jacob is the doll I gave Zoe for her second birthday. Jacob is a girl.)

“Oh, dear,” I said. “I don’t have time to get her a present.” 

”Improvise,” Zoe suggested. “Just use what you have.”

Great advice, don’t you think, for solving a problem? But being an artist of the ordinary has even greater rewards.

Some of the happiest people around are those who have been raised to make their life an on-going art project. And, happily, I’m not alone in thinking that.

I recently finished reading Peter Buffett’s Life is What You Make It. Of course, I was curious to know what it was like to grow up with one of the world’s wealthiest men as a father. 

My favorite story in the book answered that question nicely. Peter writes about coming home to tell his family that he’s decided to follow his passion and become a musician. Here’s what happened next.

“As was his custom,” Buffett writes, “my father listened carefully, without judging, without offering explicit advice. Then one day, almost in passing as he headed out the door, he said to me, ‘You know, Pete, you and I really do the same thing. Music is your canvas. Berkshire’s my canvas and I get to paint a little every day.’

“That was all he said—and it was plenty.”

I don’t know if the Buffett men ever heard what M.C. Richards said, but they certainly personify it.  “All the arts we practice are apprenticeship,” says Richards. “The big art is our life.”

Seems to me that Zoe’s already figured that out. What’s your canvas?


Marnie loves the symphony, but with a business in its infancy season tickets are a bit out of reach. That didn’t stop her from enjoying the full spectrum of concerts last year, however. She became an usher at Symphony Hall and heard every note. In addition, she was paid a tiny amount of money for her services so she was following a favorite rule of the entrepreneur’s unwritten code: find ways to get paid to do what you want to do. 


Thinking this way is new to Marnie. She says, “Before I had my own business, I just assumed  I could only do things that I had the money for. Now I look for ways to make things happen in the most creative possible way. Sometimes that involves no money at all.”


There’s a silly scene in Wayne’s World which finds Wayne and Garth lying on the hood of their car at the end of an airport runway reveling in the wake caused by planes taking off. Mike Myers says this scene was inspired by a favorite pastime in his family called No Money Fun. The idea was to come up with entertaining activities that didn’t cost a cent. When I heard Myers tell the story, I thought, “No wonder he’s so creative.” No Money Fun is a terrific way to activate the imagination and it comes with the built-in reward of all that free fun.


There are two ways to bring more No Money Fun into your life. You can take advantage of all the free things around you such as strolling through a beautiful public garden or museum. The other option is to use alternative currencies. No, I’m not suggesting you take up counterfeiting. I am, however, challenging you to become as creative as possible about finding alternative routes to have and do more of what you want.


There are a few cautions in doing this. I’m not talking about becoming a certified cheapskate. In fact, you’ll notice that the wealthy are masterful at using alternative currencies in place of cash. Cheapskates, on the other hand, pride themselves on deprivation. The other caution is that you only use alternative currencies to acquire things you actually want or need.


So how can you cultivate alternative currencies? Begin by refusing to ever, ever use lack of money as an excuse. You can only master this if you understand that this is a practical exercise in creative thinking and living. Start looking for options—and open yourself to offbeat ideas.


Let’s say you want to live in a gorgeous home. Most people think that their options include buying or renting. Don’t tell that to Joe. When he was in his early twenties, he found himself drawn to the ocean and wanted to live as close to it as possible. He got the idea to offer his services as a yacht sitter and almost immediately found himself living in luxury. 


Or perhaps more travel is on your Dream List. Jan is a bookworm who published a newsletter for cozy mystery lovers. Next to books, her other great passion is England. For several years, she organized and led Cozy Crimes, Cream Teas and Books, Books, Books tours to the UK creating a free trip for herself and a delightful experience for other mystery lovers.


When considering creating innovative ways to get more of what you want, it’s essential that you design mutually beneficial arrangements. For instance, Joe didn’t just get a great place to live, he provided security for the yacht owner. 


There’s an even bigger benefit in all of this, one with long-term rewards. Mastering No Money Fun is first and foremost an exercise in learning that there’s never just one way of accomplishing things. It can banish uninspired thinking and open up a new world of creative possibility. Best of all, you’ll be living your life from a position of abundance and imagination. What business wouldn’t be better with that kind of thinking running it?      


There are hundreds of perfectly smart reasons to be joyfully jobless, not the least of which is that people who are doing work that they love tend to be, well, more loving and joyful. Want to bring more fun and joy to your business? Here are a few well-tested ideas.

Keep having Firsts. Challenge yourself to do things you’ve never done before. It can be as simple as trying a new food or taking a yoga class. This is harder to do than you may think since we humans tend to build habits and then operate in familiar territory. Having Firsts requires conscious, creative effort.

Exercise your entrepreneurial thinking to keep it in shape. You build entrepreneurial muscle by studying other enterprises, by acquiring new skills, by taking risks. Just like physical fitness, it needs to be a daily activity if you want maximum results.

Don’t be afraid to be whimsical. Small businesses shouldn’t look like miniature corporations. Lighten up. Create a costume and wear it when you work. Have toys or a guitar in your office for play breaks. And if whimsy’s not your style, purposely do something out of character once in a while.

Celebrate all victories and milestones. One of my favorite celebrations comes from Karyn Ruth White. When she had been in business for 6 months, she sent herself 6 roses with a congratulatory card. At the one-year anniversary, she increased that to a dozen. She’s continued the tradition although she topped off the size of the bouquet at a dozen and a half. Find your own way to celebrate your progress.

Turn ordinary chores into satisfying rituals. Got bills to pay? Instead of gritting your teeth, light a candle, put on some lovely music, pour a cup of tea and make it an event. Slow down and express gratitude for your current abundance. Look for ways to make the most mundane chores fun…or at least pleasant.

Plan Joyfully Jobless gatherings. Find five other self-bossers that like each other and let each one plan a monthly gathering just to have fun. You could find yourself salsa dancing one month and picnicking in a park the next. Hanging out with other entrepreneurs can be a lovely tonic, but don’t wait for somebody else to get things rolling.

Support that which supports you. This has been my personal and business policy for a long time and it hasn’t failed me yet. It’s partly a way of putting values to work and partly a way to acknowledge people who are helpful or enthusiastic customers and clients. This also has application when it comes to personal behavior.

Be kind. Stephen Covey writes that when we commit an act of kindness our endorphin level goes up. Likewise, when we receive a kindness it raises our levels. However, it’s also been found that if we merely witness an act of kindness, it raises endorphin levels, too. So go ahead and spread kindness around.

There is no question that a playfully light attitude is characteristic of creative individuals. ~ Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi

Three of my four siblings are coming to visit early next week so that was the impetus for me to go through a stack of magazines and move some to the recycling bin. My decluttering project slowed down, however, when I came across some articles I hadn’t yet read. Three of them were worth passing along to you. Happily, you can find them all online.

The October 13 issue of Newsweek had a special feature on women leaders. My favorite article was movie director Kimberly Peirce’s piece To Make It Big in Hollywood, You Start With a Good Story. What caught my attention is what she says about fear being part of the creative process. Pierce says, “Fear is part of creativity, whatever your job is. It’s part of believing in something and wanting it to happen. So I let it in and I say to myself, ‘OK, you’re scared.’ And then when something works out, I say, ‘Wow! You were scared!'” I’m going to remember that.

The big article goldmine I uncovered is in the September issue of Ode magazine, which always has thought-provoking articles. This issue is especially rich. For starters, there’s retired teach John Taylor Gatto’s piece called Childhood’s End which eloquently discusses why our schools are failing us. I think it’s important for anyone who has come through the school system in the last fifty years or so to understand the philosophy that has driven education. 

Gatto ends the article by issuing a call to arms to parents. He says, “School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers…Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so they’ll never be bored.” 

I also love Gatto’s observation that “genius is as common as dirt.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the piece since I read it and am going to track down his book Weapons of Mass Instruction.

I urge you to read–immediately–Ode’s cover story, In Praise of Failure. It includes wonderful quotes from J.K. Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard. While we’ve all heard stories about people who ultimately succeeded after years of failure, this article points out, in the clearest possible way, why success is impossible if we resist failure. In fact, it reminds us that if our energy is devoted to NOT FAILING, we end up in mediocrity. 

Every entrepreneur should have this article at their fingertips to read again and again.

Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. ~ J.K. Rowling