In the six years that Zoe has been in our lives, she’s added plenty of fun, enthusiasm and amusement. Always up for a new adventure, last year she and her cousin Jade were treated to their first fishing outing with their grandfather.

When I asked her about it, she said, “We didn’t catch anything, but it still was exciting.”  What  Zoe had uncovered  is the secret of serendipity, even if she doesn’t know that big word.

While the common definition of serendipity is unexpected good fortune or a surprise, I learned several years ago that it goes much farther than that. We go back to an old Persian fairy tale about The Princes of Serendip to see what they discovered to find the true meaning of the word.

These three young noblemen traveled the world, but rarely found the treasures they were looking for. Instead they ran into other treasures equally great or even greater than the ones they were looking for. 

In looking for one thing, they found something else and it dawned on them that this was one of life’s sly and wonderful tricks. When they realized this they got an entirely new slant on life and every day resulted in new and thrilling experiences.

Even though their goals repeatedly eluded them, they were more than rewarded by their wayside discoveries.

Therein lies the key to serendipity. It does not occur when we are passively waiting for something to happen. We must be actively engaged in the pursuit of some goal and, yet, be willing for it to turn out differently than we imagined.

Clinging to what we have is a surefire way to prevent serendipity from entering our lives. I was reminded of this when I got a call one day from a woman who crowed, “I had the best time today being joyfully jobless.”

A year and a half earlier, this same woman was feeling hurt when she was dismissed from her job at a large corporation. Would this enthusiastic conversation have happened if she were still punching a time clock?

But there’s even more to this serendipity business. While it means finding joy and meaning in discoveries on the way to a stated goal, the secret is to look upon incidental goals as substantial and upon accidental happenings as purposeful.

At the same time, it’s necessary to seek the good when the unexpected knocks us off our feet. Uncovering the hidden treasure in adverse situations requires that we be wide awake and looking.

Art Linkletter summed it up nicely when he said, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”  Quite possibly what we call failure is actually serendipity trying to happen.

So go after your goals with gusto, but celebrate all the unexpected rewards along the way. Even if you don’t catch any fish, it can be exciting.

Some people become giddy when working with numbers. I am not one of them. However, that doesn’t mean I ignore them.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to put numbers to work for you. Assigning a number to a project can help you focus and, also, give you a finish line. Open-ended goals have a way of never reaching completion. Here are a few ways to make numbers part of your tool kit.

 Pick a number under ten and use it as a goal setting guide. For me, it’s the number five. You might prefer three or six. Then instead of thinking, “I need to get more clients,” set a short term goal to get three (or whatever your favorite number is) new clients. Of course, you can repeat this exercise as often as you like, but your chances for success increase enormously when you work with a smaller number.

 Bird by bird. Small is manageable. I learned this years ago when I was floundering around trying to get my speaking business launched without much success. Then I met a successful, but unhurried, seminar leader who told me that her business plan was, “Do one, book one.” As soon as she finished a program, she’d spend time marketing her services until she’d booked just one more. It kept her business flowing without overwhelming her. It’s been a policy I have used ever since with great success.

 Challenge your imagination. Stumped about your next steps? Challenge yourself (and your subconscious mind) by asking an idea-generating question such as, “What are three ways I can grow my business right now?” Or “Who are four people I could collaborate with?”

Numbers work equally well for subtracting things from your life you no longer want. Instead of trying to unclutter your life all at once, for example, get rid of nine things a day until the job is done.

 Pick a number, any number, and then pick one of the projects listed below. 

 * Ways to get into the conversation

* Books to add to your library

* New profit centers to design

* Things to study

* New adventures to schedule

* Self-bossers to invite to breakfast

* Fresh marketing tools to create

* Media interviews to book

* Non-essentials to eliminate

* Ways to support other entrepreneurs

* Articles to publish

 Add your own projects to the list—and  then get busy making them happen.


When thirteen-year-old Summer Riley lost the iPod she’d received as a birthday gift in May, she was devastated. After she stopped scolding herself, she decided to earn the money to replace it and set up shop selling lemonade. In July, in Las Vegas, with temperatures topping 110. Selling for 75¢/cup, Summer brought in $10-$12 a day. Her entrepreneurial spirit caught the attention of a local reporter, which is how I learned her story.


Summer’s enterprising approach to getting something she wanted struck me because I read her story shortly after receiving yet another e-mail saying, “Someday I’d like to attend one of your seminars.” I hear that all the time. I also know that the folks who are wistfully thinking about participating in such an event will probably never show up. 


Sadly, they’re missing a critical portion of an entrepreneur’s mindset. It’s so basic that I spend a fair amount of time talking about it in Making a Living Without a Job seminars. It’s not difficult, but it requires some conscious practice. Simply put, people who accomplish their goals, who lead rich, fascinating lives focus on What they want to achieve and then explore options for How they’re going to do so.


This seems to be a totally foreign concept to those who have been conditioned to operate with a fixed income mentality. On the other hand, the entrepreneur decides on the destination and then creates the project that will get them there. It’s just another exercise in creative problem-solving. 


The good news is that it can also be learned. Use this simple three-step process:


√ Decide on what you want to accomplish.

√ Brainstorm possibilities.

√ Get busy.


Start with a small goal and find a new way to make it happen. Then do it again and again. It’s how we grow a business, it’s how we invent an interesting life. The only equipment that’s needed is imagination and a willingness to put it to work. As Summer’s father told the newspaper, “If she wants something, she finds a way to afford it.” Smart dad, smart daughter.


Speaking of smart parents, bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard wrote a wonderful essay on Why Passion Matters. It’s one of my favorite discoveries of the week.



By the way, we still have two spots left in our upcoming Follow Through Camp. If you want to move a project ahead, revive a neglected idea or improve your goal-setting skills, find a way to join us on September 11 & 12 in Chaska, MN. It’s going to rock.

There’s a character in Nick Hornby’s delightful novel High Fidelity who constantly challenges his friends to create on-the-spot Top Five Lists. “Name your top five Dustin Hoffman movies,” he demands. The story is peppered with Top Five Lists covering all sorts of pop culture topics. It’s not a bad exercise. 

When I began experimenting with ideas about setting goals, I started breaking down my year-long aims into 90-Day Projects. Again, the number five seemed to be operating. For instance, one of my writing goals was to sell five magazine articles every 90 days. It was an easy number to work with and I repeatedly used it in setting goals.

You, of course, may have a different favorite number that repeats itself in your life. Use whatever number you like to help you focus. Start by incorporating it into your lifetime goal list. Here are some idea-starters:

* Travel to five continents

* Create five strong and dependable profit centers

* Have five books published

* Meet five people I deeply admire

* Have five great outfits in my closet at all times

* Have five causes I support financially

* Eat five fruits and vegetables every day

* Become fluent in five languages

* Have five people with whom I collaborate every year

* Discover five pastimes that I’m passionate about

* Have five entrepreneurial friends with whom I meet on a regular basis

* Coach five proteges

You’ll notice that this list includes the whimsical as well as the serious. Start your own list and then pick one or two items to start working on. Your life will be richer if you do.

Life is full and overflowing with the new. But it is necessary to empty out the old to make room for the new to enter. ~ Eileen Caddy

It happens every time I announce a new special event. Almost immediately, I begin getting messages that say, “Someday I’d love to attend your Storytelling seminar.” Or “When will you be doing your Storytelling event in Alaska?” These questions suggest that many people haven’t learned one of the basics of successful self-bossing.

Several years ago when Valerie Young announced our upcoming Making Dreams Happen event, she was deluged with e-mails from people saying they’d like to attend but couldn’t afford the enrollment fee. She called me to see if I had any  ideas about how to handle this onslaught. I pointed out that since this event was about bringing dreams into reality, getting there was the first exercise. The ever-creative Valerie issued a challenge to her readers asking them to share what they were doing to fund the conference. We got wonderful stories about the creative ways that participants found to be involved. 

A year earlier, two friends and I decided we wanted to take a little vacation. My cash flow was good so I had the funds; they’d both spent the previous months working on writing projects that had yet to pay off so their cash flow was squeaky. Once we set the goal for the trip, however, they both swung into action. They  had each built a nice little portfolio of cash flow options that included things like selling on eBay, doing market research, spending a Sunday as a flea marketing vendor. In less than two weeks, they both had the money  they  needed for the trip.

Last year, another entrepreneurial friend was experiencing a cash flow slowdown and decided to get creative. She wanted something that wouldn’t distract too much from other projects she was working on, so she put an ad on her local Craigslist offering her services as a pet sitter in her home. Not long after, I  was talking to her and she proudly announced, “I just passed the $1000 mark with petsitting.” 

So the order of making things happen is this: goal first, funding second. What successful goalsetters know is that the process goes something like this: focus on a goal, brainstorm obvious and crazy ways to make it happen, start taking action. Keep going until the goal is met. Set another goal and repeat.

You can do anything you want to do. I mean it. Blunder ahead. ~ Robert Henri



I heard a terrific story on public radio’s Weekend Edition today about a school in the Chicago area called Ag High which teaches agricultural and entrepreneurial subjects along with academics. The school’s director had some insightful things to say about the value of this broad curriculum. I urge you to check it out for yourself.

One of the leading characteristics of entrepreneurial thinkers shows up in their approach to goal-setting. I was reminded of that this morning when I was talking to Lisa Tarrant, who spent the weekend holding her first tag sale. She said it had been a success and she was getting ready to list a couple of unsold items on Craigslist. “We’re using the money from the sale to redecorate our living room,” she added.

“Oh, how entrepreneurial!” I replied. She agreed and told me about their decorating plans.

Did you catch what’s happening here? I’ll give you another hint. Every time I announce a 3-day seminar, I start hearing from people who say, “Someday I’d like to attend one of your Las Vegas events.” The implication is, of course, “if I ever have the money.”

That’s fixed income mentality at work. The entrepreneurial approach is quite different. Successful goal-setters decide first WHAT they want to do and then get busy figuring out HOW to make it happen. In fact, this proactive approach may not even include the word “how” since that little word can be a sabotaging dreambasher. Instead, the entrepreneurial thinker begins contemplating questions like, “What’s the best way to make this happen? Is there something hiding in plain sight that can help me get there?” 

Figuring out how is where the creative process kicks in. Alas, too many people mistake it for a red light.

Keep on starting and the finishing will take care of itself. — Neil Fiore