When Marla decided she wanted to leave her high-paying corporate job and start a small business, she feared it would be difficult to convince her musician husband of the wisdom of her plan. She carefully outlined her vision to him and waited for his response.

He considered what she said about living on a tighter budget and rearranging responsibilities and then replied, “Oh, so you’re saying we’ll move ahead by going backwards first.”

His insight is one that many people, unfortunately, lack.

But almost every dream worth going after demands a willingness to step back. That step can take many forms.

It might mean living with less money for a while or taking time to acquire skills and experience. It may demand a less cluttered life. The step back might look like mini-failures on the way to greater success.

Psychologist Irene Kassorla learned this lesson during her days in graduate school. “When I was doing the research for my doctoral thesis,” she writes, “the walls of my office were covered with charts depicting the results of my experiments.

“The learning curve never climbed straight up from zero at the bottom to 100 percent learning at the top, as a steep incline might climb toward the sky. Rather, each graph looked like a series of mountains and valleys reflecting how irregular learning patterns really are.

“Learning is a slow process. People who become winners work at it over long periods of time, failing and trying again before mastery is attained.”

It’s also important to remember that stepping back is not the same thing as quitting. Neither is it failing. It’s more like shifting gears.

It could mean moving to a better position, a position that gives you a running start in building momentum as you move forward again.

So give up all thoughts of staying in a worn-out situation simply because you’ve spent years in that place. As Barbara Sher reminds us, “It’s only too late if you don’t start now.”

Even if it looks like a step backwards it may be the necessary first step to move ahead.



On July 15, 1993, I woke up feeling excited and apprehensive. The cause of this emotional turmoil had been years in the making. It was publication day for Making a Living Without a Job.

I had spent much of the previous year writing and rewriting and writing some more. But the story truly began decades earlier when I set out on my own rather lonely journey in self-employment.

My experience was very much like Paul Hawken’s who said, “When I started the natural food business in Boston, my business knowledge was scant. I did the best I could and began reading everything I could lay my hands on.

“I subscribed to The Wall Street Journal. It confused me. I read the major business magazines. Their Fortune 500 world seemed irrelevant.

“I sneaked into classes at the Harvard Business School. Their case studies were lunar in their usefulness to my enterprise.

“The more I searched, the more confused I became. The more exposure I gained to the official world of business, the more I began to doubt that I was in business at all. “I seemed to be doing something entirely different.

“I get that same feeling today when I read most of the standard business literature believe that most people in new businesses, and some in not-so-new businesses, have the same problem.

“They don’t feel connected to the conventional wisdom…as if a small business is just a flake chipped off the larger corporate world.”

Like Hawken, I figured it out for myself and created the kind of enterprise that felt like a perfect fit. After years of happily working on my own, something quite unexpected happened.

When I was a newcomer in Minneapolis, I kept meeting people who seemed both fascinated and envious of my Joyfully Jobless life. One day it dawned on me that I might be able to help them if I shared my experiences.

Fortunately, the local independent adult ed program, Open U, agreed to run my class which I thought was a temporary project, too radical to be popular.

I was wrong. Dead wrong. I had found my genuine right livelihood.

Making a Living Without a Job not only became a regular offering of Open U, it attracted curious learners from around the US and, eventually, Canada and Britain.

Almost from the start, people inquired if I’d written a book. I knew that eventually there would be one, but was not interested in writing it until I had evidence from the field (i.e. seminar attendees) that my ideas worked for others.

When it felt like the time had arrived to work on a book, I decided that it should happen in an unorthodox way. Instead of approaching publishers, I got the crazy idea that I wanted a publisher to find me.

To my delight and amazement, that’s exactly what happened when not one, but three, publishers contacted me. After sorting through the offers, I decided Bantam’s was the best fit for me.

So here I am twenty-one years later with an anniversary to celebrate. Making a Living Without a Job has been in print the entire time, with an updated version appearing in 2009.

No one is more surprised by that than me.

As I now point out to seminar participants, we aren’t always the wisest judge of what our best ideas might be. We’ve got to take them to the marketplace and see what happens.

Or as the writer Anais Nin once advised, “Throw your dreams into space like a kite and you do not know what it will bring back. A new life, a new friend, a new love.”

You’ve probably had the experience of coming across a new word, looking it up in the dictionary, then noticing that the word appears all over the place.

Or you start thinking about taking a trip to Paris and the next thing you know Woody Allen has a movie coming out called Midnight in Paris. A few days later, you strike up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop and they mention they’ve just come back from Paris.

While we often think of such happenings as synchronicity, I believe there’s another factor at work here. I call it selective awareness. Something grabs our attention and we continue to tune in on further encounters with that thing.

It doesn’t have to be a totally random experience, however. We can consciously decide to pay attention to things that will add to our adventure or further our goals.

It comes as a surprise to me, then, that so many would-be entrepreneurs don’t seem to be gathering stories and support for their own successful self-employment. As Caroline Myss reminds us, “We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into.”

Here are just two  examples of things that have appeared on my personal radar screen


 A couple of years ago, I boarded a  Southwest flight and promptly took the in-flight magazine out of the seat pocket. I was thrilled to see the theme of that issue was entrepreneurship and settled in to explore.

The first thing I read was Jay Heinrichs’ editorial. I loved it so much that I now share it in some of my seminars. Here’s how it begins:

“There are two kinds of people in the world: entrepreneurs and naysayers. I belong to the second group. In my own experience, one characteristic distinguishes entrepreneurs from naysayers. Entrepreneurs never follow the advice of people like me. Not to brag, but I’ve naysayed some of the finest business ideas of the past three decades.”

This amusing piece was a fine reminder to beware of dreambashers. The rest of the issue was filled with stories of people who had done just that and built terrific businesses.

Of course, I took the issue with me when I deplaned.


My artistic granddaughter and I share a fondness for the work of Mary Engelbreit, one of the most commercially successful artists around.

One of my all-time favorite Engelbreit drawings is of a barefoot woman sitting at her desk wearing a straw hat and bib overalls. Through the window behind her, we see sunflowers and a red barn. There’s a cigar box on her desk overflowing with money.

The caption reads, “We don’t care how they do it in New York.”

In her book Artful Words, Engelbreit tells the story behind some of her best known drawings. Here’s what she says inspired the creative farm woman:

“I did this because in the early days, people (especially on the East and West Coasts) were always saying, ‘Oh, you can’t start a card company. You can’t do it this way. You can’t do it that way.’ Of course we did do it that way. The funny thing is this greeting card was a best-seller in New York.

“So many people in New York and California just don’t have any idea about the rest of the country. I’ve met people from the coasts who assume that because I’m from the Midwest, I live on a farm. So this was for all of them.”


My friend Chris and I loved an old cartoon in which Ziggy declared,  “My idea of prosperity is a checking account with commas.” We promptly adopted that as our prosperity symbol.

Feeling prosperous is a highly individual thing and each of us has a different notion of what constitutes prosperity.  For many people, alas, prosperity means having more than whatever they currently have.

It’s much healthier to find small reminders that we are creating abundance in our own lives. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

* You use up your deposit slips faster than you use your check blanks. (This may not count if you bank online.)

* You don’t have any bills because you pay them as soon as they arrive and don’t let them accumulate.

* You’re always looking for ways to maximize and utilize what you’ve already got rather than noticing what you don’t have.

* You notice and acknowledge your surplus. As Sondra Ray points out if you have even a few coins in your purse, you have a surplus, yet almost nobody gives themselves credit for that.

* You say thank you  a lot. Gratitude is not only a sign of prosperity—it’s the way to attract even more.

* You refine your taste by noticing the things you find beautiful and by uncluttering your life to get rid of things that are taking up space but don’t bring you joy. You’re not afraid to create a vacuum.

Do you have any personal ways you acknowledge your abundance that aren’t on this list?

Julia Cameron calls them Artist’s Dates. Sarah Ban Breathnach calls them creative excursions. Whatever you call them, they are worth making a regular event in your life.

“The Artist Date need not be overtly artistic,” says Cameron, “think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.”

The purpose of such solo events is to take time every week to make a visit to a new place to gather ideas or just feed your imagination. Although it’s easy to find new destinations, it’s equally easy to find excuses not to do so.

When people tell me they have no idea what they want to do with their life, I’m pretty certain that creative excursions have not been on their agenda.

With that in mind, here are a few idea starters to get you thinking about potential excursions of your own.

° Visit a Japanese garden or arboretum. You don’t have to be a gardner yourself in order to find pleasure in beautiful landscapes.

° Spend a couple of hours browsing at a flea market or community festival and imagine yourself as a vendor. What kind of booth would you have? How would you welcome visitors?

° Go to your public library and explore an area that you don’t normally browse in. Read a couple of unfamiliar magazines while you’re there. See what resources are housed in the reference section.

° Explore the scrap booking aisles at a craft store. Start a scrapbook of favorite cartoons so you’ll always know where to go when you need a laugh.

° Slip off to the movies on a midweek afternoon.

° Gather travel brochures and pictures of destinations still to be visited. Make a collage for your office.

° Make or buy a card of congratulations and send it to yourself. Send another to someone who could use a bit of encouragement.

° Take a nature hike. Gather seashells, if you are near an ocean or wildflowers or weeds for a bouquet if there’s a woods nearby.

° Visit a place like Home Depot and investigate gadgets you’ve never seen before.

° If you haven’t visited your local museum or art gallery, it’s time you paid a call.

° A great junk store or antique mall is a perfect place to stroll.

° Pretend you’re an investigative reporter and visit stores secretly making notes on their customer service…or lack thereof.

° Start a new collection and begin a treasure hunt.

Got a favorite creative excursion that’s not on this short list? Tell us where you like to take yourself.

If you quake at the thought of going out on your own and setting up shop, here are some fearbashers that can reroute you back to the road to success.

* Do temporary work.  March into a temporary help agency and get signed up for a short term project. When you get an assignment, don’t think of this primarily as a way to earn money. Use this project to do some homework.

No matter what business you are sent to work in, observe what goes on in a detached and analytical manner.

I’m willing to guess that you’ll quickly discover that all sorts of mistakes and mishaps (and even stupid decisions) will be part of every day. Now notice that despite this lack of perfection, the business manages to stay afloat.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll get an assignment on a ship of fools who are oblivious to their own goofiness. You don’t have to be arrogant about it; just notice that every business has huge margins for error and it doesn’t bring them crashing to their knees.

You can certainly do better than that, can’t you? So get out there and do it.

* Observe a successful immigrant entrepreneur.  A high percentage of people who come here from other parts of the world start their own businesses. Imagine how much harder that would be in a strange culture where you may not speak the language.

Yet, many of these newcomers have such a desire to build something of their own, a desire that they couldn’t fulfill in their homeland, that the obstacles melt in the face of that determination.

We  look like wimps next to the hardworking and committed businessowners who have been drawn to this land of opportunity.

Let them inspire you.

* Fail on purpose. Young children aren’t judgmental when it comes to trying new things. As we get older, many of us avoid any situation where we might not be brilliant.

As a result, our world shrinks down to a short list of acceptable activities. That is not the road to personal growth. If you are terrified at the thought of failing, make a list of all the things that you are an utter klutz at doing.

Then do something on your list as frequently as possible. At the very least, you may amuse your friends when you throw three gutter balls in a row.

At the other end of this temporary humiliation is all the power you’ll gain by surviving a minor failure.

* Develop a big roar. Next time you’re driving in your car, pretend you’re the Lion King.  It worked in the Wizard of Oz and it will work for you, too. No kidding.

* Make Nathan Lane your patron saint. A few years back, the wildly talented Lane starred in his own television series, which was downright awful. It was so terrible, in fact, that it only ran for a few painful episodes.

Had it been even mildly successful, Lane would have continued  taping the series instead of wowing audiences in The Producers, the biggest hit Broadway hadseen in years.

If you try something that turns out badly, think of it as your own failed series—and celebrate the end of your contract.

* Imagine your success. I am convinced that most people fail to go after their dreams or leave their comfort zones because they haven’t  taken the time to really think about what rewards their ultimate success would bring them.

When you are focused on the rewards that will inevitably come, setbacks and disappointments are easier to handle. Often, in truth, what looks like a setback is just a resetting of the course and may, in the long run, make the journey sweeter.

That’s why it’s so important to be willing to defer short-lived gratification in order to have something grander in the future. But first you must envision it and sell yourself on that new and better life you foresee.

After all, courage is not the absence of fear, but, rather the determination to act because the rewards are worth it.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but lately I’ve been fretting about trust fund babies. I mean who is less equipped to deal with economic upheaval? While  their wealthy parents were showering them with things, they took away the really valuable stuff such as personal initiative and innovative thinking.

That’s not true for everyone who inherits enormous wealth—particularly if you’re the offspring of Warren Buffett—but there are plenty of examples of squandered lives.

During the height of the Human Potential Movement, a program was started in San Francisco to deal with the issues of guilt experienced by trust fund recipients.

Nobody really talks about much about the downside of inherited wealth, of course, but one heiress who ultimately became a wildly successful entrepreneur did.

Gloria Vanderbilt, heir to an enormous fortune, said the only money that meant anything to her was the money she had earned  by her own creative efforts.

This week, a story’s been making the rounds about Vanderbilt’s famous son, Anderson Cooper, who will not be inheriting any of her wealth. Cooper’s just fine with that. He understands that unearned wealth can be crazymaking, as numerous lottery winners have sadly demonstrated.

So what’s a healthier approach?

Former Cirque du Soleil acrobat-turned-yoga-teacher Alvin Tan wrote, “There’s a lot of doom and gloom going on here in the States. The economy feels like it is teetering on a fragile balance and good news is a distant wish. That’s the story that we hear anyway. I disagree.

“I am reminded of a comment by a dear friend that this could be the best of times for this country, this people. He believes that we are finally getting back to basics. What fantastic insight!

“In moments of fear, people cut back and return to essentials. It’s an opportunity to discard all the useless junk we’ve accumulated  and keep only what’s truly important.

“Can you train your mind to let go of the things you think you need? Acrobatic mindset training begins with using only what you need and nothing else.”

I keep thinking about those last words: use only what you need and nothing else. Perhaps a new definition of wisdom is having the certainty to know what is needed.

That fits so well with the concept of Less is More that has fascinated me for the past 30+ years.

One of my handbooks for that was a book called Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy which applies the concept of Less is More to our closets. They write, “We’ve become spoiled in America. Surrounded by mass manufacturing and mass marketing, we stuff our closets with masses of mistakes….The most basic element of Cheap Chic is the body you hang your clothes on. Building a healthy, lively body is far cheaper than buying a lot of clothes to distract from it.”

Back to Basics.

What I find stunning about revisiting this 39-year-old book is that the photographs seem timeless. Nothing looks dated at all. “Find the clothes that suit you best,” advise the authors, “and then hang onto them like old friends.”

Cheap Chic echoes Diana Vreeland’s observation that being well-dressed is a matter of good taste and a severely limited budget. That also describes many good businesses.

Although  I’ve quoted it countless times before, it’s worth repeating again because Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens nailed it when he said, “In the absence of capital, creativity flourishes.” Stephens didn’t get that from a business school textbook; he discovered it building his own little business.

The trick for entrepreneurs, it seems to me, is to keep the creative flame burning once there’s an abundance of capital. It can be done, of course, and Zappos (and a few others) are demonstrating that. In fact, one of the 10 basic values of the growing Zappos enterprise is Do More With Less.

When I look at the businesses that I find inspiring and fun to watch, I notice that creative thinking is a constant. Perhaps that’s simply inevitable when your starting point is to use what you have and only what you need to move ahead gracefully.



This post comes from Judy Heminsley, founder of Work From Home Wisdom.

One of the greatest joys of becoming self-employed and working from home is your ability to work when and where you want. I’m sure anyone who’s spent any time in the traditional workplace has been through the agonies of trying to look busy in office hours, not because you’re work-shy, but one of the greatest joys of becoming self-employed and working from home is your ability to work when and where you want. I’m sure anyone who’s spent any time in the traditional workplace has been through the agonies of trying to look busy in office hours, not because you’re work-shy, but because the muse just wasn’t with you. It would have been much more sensible to admit defeat and leave for the day, but how many employers and managers are that tolerant?

But now you no longer have to conform to someone else’s expectations of when you ought to be productive. You can go with the flow, using your own natural rhythms to work when the time is right, and dedicate the rest of the time to other commitments, shopping, exercise and so on.

If you haven’t had the freedom to work outside conventional office hours you may not know when your best times are, but don’t worry, there are plenty of clues once you start to think about it. Remember a time when you found a project easy to get into, when you got lost in it and it all just flowed, when you were surprised to find how much time had passed when you finished.

What time of day was it? Some people like to get up early to take advantage of the quiet morning hours before they’re disturbed by phone calls and emails. Others take longer to get going and don’t hit their stride till later. Some like to burn the midnight oil and work into the early hours.

I was an early bird when I ran my cleaning business, because I had to go and check offices had been cleaned properly before my clients started arriving for work. So I was surprised when I started this very different business that I couldn’t seem to get going until later. Now I find mornings are good for routine work and research, and my creative juices flow best in the afternoon and evening.

What has been happening in the background at the times when you were most productive? Was there silence, some music playing quietly, or was the radio tuned to a talk show? Some people need peace and quiet so they can focus, others find it distracting. On home worker I spoke to said she plays the radio at a volume low enough so she can’t catch what is being said, but sufficiently high that the house doesn’t feel empty.

And where were you working when you produced your best work? At your desk, on the sofa, in a cafe? Lots of home workers sit at their desk for routine admin, and for creative work move elsewhere such as their favourite armchair, or outside if weather permits.

My partner Andy and I lived on the coast of SW England for seven years and noticed we had our most productive business meetings on the beach. Recently I discovered a new word that explains why – a ‘liminal’ space is somewhere that’s neither here nor there, a threshold. The beach is at the edge of both land and sea, and away from business and domestic worries.

Similarly my mind always ranges free on a train journey. I might start out by doing something quite routine like drafting replies to emails, but somehow my brain turns easily to generating ideas and I end up jotting down notes for future projects and articles.

Coffee shops are good for allowing your mind to wander too. I like to leave my laptop at home and take a notebook and pen so I can jot down thoughts as they come to me, but not feel as though I’m working.

Have fun experimenting with working at different times and in different places, where it’s quiet and where there is bustle. The variety adds richness to your life and you may well find it also improves the quality and quantity of your output. Where have you been most creative, or most engrossed? Did it surprise you? Have you been able to repeat the experience?

Judy Heminsley is the founder of Work from Home Wisdom, the blog that provides advice and inspiration for home workers. On her galleries you can see many of the places home workers have chosen to set up workspaces.


According to Wikipedia, singer Josh Groban has sold nearly 20 million albums in his short career. One evening he told his Twitter followers that he’d just finished a two hour voice lesson and “think it’s time to turn pro.”

So why would a rich and famous performer keep taking lessons? More to the point, why would a would-be entrepreneur or freelancer or traveler not be investing in their dreams?

It’s that second question that keeps me awake nights.

Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk had a particularly interesting piece about that called Frugality is a Career Tool.

She wrote “I have earned a lot of money in my life. But I have never had an extravagant life. I don’t own a house. I’ve never bought a new car. I’ve never bought a new piece of living room furniture, and I do not own a single piece of real jewelry. What I have spent money on was always intended to help me with my career. That was so I know that I can always earn money doing something I love.”

If you want good things to happen, you’ve got to take the first step, ask for the date, risk being turned down. Otherwise you’re just practicing wishful thinking, which is neither active nor useful. How do you notify your dreams that you mean business? Here are a few of my favorite ways.

Get equipped. In Making a Living Without a Job, I tell the story about how things changed for me when I splurged (or so it seemed at the time) on a passport. After years of failing to find a way to bring my travel dreams to life, I got serious and started getting ready for a trip. I bought guidebooks, I thought about my itinerary and wardrobe.

In less than a year, I was headed for the UK. Ever since, my passport has been called into service at least twice a year.

Get dressed. When my granddaughter showed up at breakfast wearing a fancy dress and rainboots before heading out to kindergarten, her father took one look and said “Lose the boots.”

Zoe was having none of it. “Dad,” she explained, “I’m an artist. I can wear what I want.”

Costumes are essential to theater and they’re equally essential to building a dream. At the very least, dressing for your dream helps you maintain focus.

Make space. In Eric Maisel’s The Creativity Book, he advises, “By designating a room as your writing study or rearranging your garage so your band can practice in it, you are setting up a sacred space and honoring your commitment to realize your creative potential.”

A successful writer observed, “I don’t know where inspiration comes from, but I know that it shows up at my desk every morning when I sit down to write.”

Get connected. Transplant yourself into a dreambuilding environment as often as possible. Gather with others who are motivated and proactive. Make idea gathering your favorite hobby. Listen to inspiring speakers and read eloquent authors who have taken a higher path.

The upcoming Mastermind Magic: Overcoming Obstacles and Maintaining Momentum is a perfect place to connect and get some sharper tools. This time, Terri Belford and I are holding this powerful event in gorgeous Sedona, AZ.

Refuse to believe that you aren’t a good investment because, quite simply, if you want your dreams to show up, you’ve got to show up first. And when you arrive, show ’em you mean business.

It appears that I have fallen in love with the mandolin. This was no overnight love affair, however. It kind of sneaked up on me.

As a longtime fan of the music of Antonio Vivaldi, I had heard my share of mandolins and associated the instrument with music from the past.

That all began to change when I attended a performance of Prairie Home Companion and heard the amazing Peter Ostroushko play. Nevertheless, I wasn’t ready  to commit.

Then it happened. A  few years later on the weekly broadcast of PHC, Ostroushko performed the most glorious piece, something he’d written to celebrate a friend’s wedding. I didn’t remember the name of it, but when I saw he had a new CD, I decided to take a chance.

Sure enough, The A and A Waltz was included. It’s been the soundtrack in my car ever since.

I’ve been thinking about this slow love affair quite a bit. I suspect that when many of us hear about passion, we have a vision of being gob-smacked by something that grabs us by the shoulders and won’t put us down. Love at first sight, perhaps.

I don’t think it works that way. In fact, other than the births of my daughter and my grandchildren, I can’t recall any other times when passion was present from the first moment.

More often, it creeps up, like the mandolin, but it doesn’t come at all unless we expose ourselves to new experiences and possibilities.

Passion isn’t passive; we have to get involved.

One way of doing that, of course, is to pay attention to the passions of others. People we love dearly and admire genuinely may very well have passions that leave us cold.

On the other hand, passionate people may get our attention simply because of their contagious enthusiasm.

Opening ourselves to things that delight others may deliver lovely surprises we hadn’t anticipated. At the very least, we’ll benefit from the power of enthusiasm that raises our own positive attitude simply by being present.

At the same time, we need to notice when a passion has passed its sell-by date. It’s extremely easy to spend time doing things out of habit because we failed to notice that passion has fled.

Sometimes when you partake in a longtime activity and find it no longer amuses or informs or entertains, you’ll begin to feel a bit of disappointment, as if you’d been jilted.

Remember that some passions simply have a longer run than others. Just as closets need to be weeded from time to time, so do the activities that are worth our time and attention.

Whether that passion is for music, art, cars, food, gardens, social justice or any one of a thousand other things, ultimately passion invites us to become more, to do more, to be more. Eventually those enthusiasms infiltrate other areas of our lives.

“You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings,” Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us. Passion is a pointer to where those blessing can be found.

When the mandolin plays or the antique doll at the flea market catches your eye, pay closer attention and see where it leads. Give it time and see if it grows into something spectacular.

And if that doesn’t happen, keep looking. Just don’t insist on love at first sight.