The small tree in my front yard looked pathetic. I suspected it might be dying.

So imagine my surprise on a spring morning, when I looked out the window and saw it had burst into bloom overnight. Tiny pink blossoms covered the recently barren branches.

I wonder what else I’ve condemned to a premature death, I mused.

Ever since I read Paul Hawken’s marvelous Growing a Business, I have looked for metaphors in the plant world to help me solve problems and find better ways of growing my business.

Even though I never lived on a farm, I grew up surrounded by small family farms and went to school with kids who lived on those farms. I didn’t realize they were teaching me many things that would serve me well as a non-farming entrepreneur.

In most places in the Midwest, spring is for planting, summer is for growing and autumn is for harvesting. I remember noticing that even though side-by-side farms endured the same weather conditions and shared the same soil, they didn’t necessarily produce the same results. The human factor had a great deal to do with a farm’s success or failure.

So what does a farmer do when the crops are in the ground, but not ready to come out? A smart farmer works on growing the business.

Your business may resemble a garden more than a farm, but if you want to see visible progress come harvest time do one simple thing: consistently do something–anything–every day to grow your business.

Here are some lessons gleaned from good farmers that will also work in a small garden.

° Make business a daily practice. Eastern disciplines such as yoga and meditation talk about the power of daily practice.

Paul Hawken says, “Business is no different from learning to play the piano or to ride a surfboard. With most activities there is no presumption of excellence in the beginning, but many newcomers suppose that they should sit down at the desk on the first day and become Superbusinessperson, in full command of the situation.”

Even if you have not made the transition from employee to entrepreneur, having a regular time every day to move closer will bring big results over time.

And if you are years into running a business, be diligent about cultivating new ideas. Complacency is the beginning of the end of even the best business ideas.

° Get rid of the weeds. After a seminar I taught on thinking like an entrepreneur, I received an e-mail from one of the participants, telling me that her first project after the seminar was to get her home office in order. That involved removing nine large bags of trash.

Even if the clutter’s gone, spend time every day pulling a weed or two. Get rid of a self-limiting thought. Refuse to spend time with negative people. Keep your tools in tiptop shape. You get the idea.

° Build a Seed Bank. Like a regular bank, a Seed Bank is a physical place where you store ideas. The best way I know to build such a collection is to constantly be on the lookout for ideas and write them down when they come.

Cocktail napkins should only be temporary; your Seed Bank deserves its own special place. Challenge yourself to see possibilities.

If you faithfully did this for the next 90 days, you’d have more ideas than you could use in a year.

° Don’t be afraid to get dirty. The Joyfully Jobless life is participatory, not a spectator sport. Try things. Be willing to do things badly. Reconfigure. Learn to find creative solutions.

° Keep watering and nurturing. Too many people forget that staying inspired and creating an excellent business requires on-going attention. Know what inspires you and refresh yourself often.

Connect with people who fan your own creative spirit. Once you’ve spent time with a group of creative thinkers, it’s a pleasure you’ll want to repeat.

As Goethe said, “To know someone, here or there, with whom you can feel there is understanding in spite of distances or thoughts unexpressed—that can make this earth a garden.”

Note: I drove to Ventura again today and got thinking about this story of the Pumpkin Farmer from two years ago. Decided it was worth a revisit.

Yesterday I drove to Ventura where my sister Margaret lives. I’d been assigned the task of finding a vacation rental apartment in Paris for our sibling outing next spring and didn’t know where to begin. Margaret agreed to coach me since she’d already tracked down our Amsterdam accommodations.

In the springtime, this drive reminds me of Ireland because the craggy hills are so lush and green. Right now they’re festooned in shades of beige and brown, but it’s still a pleasant drive.

The road goes through an agricultural area with two small towns on the way. There are orange and lemon groves alongside a little red schoolhouse, a honey tasting place and small stands selling produce.

Something had been added since I made the drive a couple of weeks ago. The produce places now had big displays of pumpkins for sale. I passed a field where big fat pumpkins laid waiting for buyers to come and pick them.

That got me thinking about the folks who grow these autumn favorites. If you’ve taken my Making a Living Without a Job seminar, you may even recall my talking about pumpkin growing as an example of a seasonal business.

If you’re a pumpkin grower, I point out, you don’t have much cash flow for most of the year. Then around the first of October, millions of us are suddenly eager to go out and buy a pumpkin or two.

A cash flow avalanche for the pumpkin farmers ensues.

Then it stops until the next pumpkin season rolls around.

Of course, it’s not just pumpkin farmers who deal with long income gaps. Anyone who grows crops learns valuable lessons in patience while dealing with uncertainty of every sort.

When I passed another pumpkin patch on my drive, I began thinking that all of us who are self-employed could learn important lessons that we could apply to our own undertakings. There’s no picking if we aren’t planting, I thought.

As I was musing on such things, I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a large black pickup truck advancing rapidly in my direction. Since I have a policy to avoid tailgaters, I slipped back into the right lane and he soared past.

Even though he was speeding and driving aggressively, I couldn’t help but notice that his rear window was painted with a large ad for his plumbing services. “Hey, Dude,” I wanted to yell, “you’re driving a billboard.”

I made a mental note never to use his services.

The Impatient Plumber. The Patient Pumpkin Grower.

Isn’t it amazing how much you can learn about running a business just by noticing how others are doing it?

 

 

Every few months, I get the alumni magazine from my college. I usually glance through the class notes to see if there’s anyone I remember who has gotten mentioned.

Most of the entries are a bit, well, dull, saying things like, “Now retired after 30 years teaching in the same school” or “Just retired from 40 years at the bank.”

Apparently, my fellow college students were big on staying put in one place.

One time, however, an entry caught my eye. It read, “Retired after thirty-five years as a social worker and probation officer. He now spends his time as a traveler in Africa and is a full-time freelance outdoors writer.”

I never knew the man so described, but I wanted to.I wanted to know how he kept his adventurous soul alive for such a long time while toiling away in Cook County Illinois.

Leaving a familiar situation is a challenge that comes to all of us—sometimes several times throughout our life.

I once received email from a woman who had spent her life as a teacher. She had stuck with it long after the satisfaction had gone. Now she was ready, she said, to do something completely different.

However, she wasn’t at all certain what the new path should be. That happens, of course, when we become entrenched in a situation or relationship for so long that we forget that we have options.

I made several suggestions about how she could begin exploring. I heard from her again after about ten days and she was making remarkable headway. She’d even listed all of her teaching books on eBay—burning her bridges she said.

Imagine my amazement when I opened her subsequent email which was obviously written in a moment of great panic. “I only have another week to sign my teaching contract,” it read. “Should I sign it?”

I was flabbergasted and promptly replied that I didn’t have the answer to her question. I suggested, however, that it might be a temporary lapse on her part.

Then I said, “So how are you going to tell your grandchildren that you once had an opportunity to create a truly adventurous life and you chickened out?”

The moment I typed that question, I realized at a very deep level, how our acts of self-doubt don’t just impact our own lives, but have a profound ripple effect. Take the low road and you’ll have a procession behind you.

What kind of legacy is that?

We might tell ourselves that staying in a stultifying relationship isn’t really so bad or having a job that robs us of any creative enthusiasm is fine for now, but every day that we hang on we are losing precious time that could be spent building something bold and beautiful.

On the other hand, our acts of courage beget courage in others as well. I’m guessing that my former college classmate will inspire all sorts of people to create their own version of a safari.

While letting go can seem terrifying, think of the times you’ve done so and found yourself in a better place. It’s no use tricking yourself into thinking that you’ll make things better while staying in the bad situation, however. Doesn’t work that way.

As long as you hang on, you can’t move on.

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.

I think 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 understand the difference between an expense and an investment. You are not afraid to invest in yourself.

* 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 suprlus, 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 have a personal definiton of  “enough.” As Charles Handy points out, most people have never taken the time or given thought to what that means for them.

* 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.

* You can appreciate the prosperity of others without being envious.

What would you add to this list?

 

Back in 2002, I was having a milestone birthday and thought a celebration was in order. I invited my friends and family to join me in Las Vegas, a place I had avoided for many years.

When I called my travel agent to make arrangements, she laughed and said, “Oh, Barbara, I can’t see you in Las Vegas.”

“That’s the point,” I told her.

As you probably know, that was the beginning of a surprising love affair that led me to moving to that unlikely place. That wasn’t all that happened as a result of that party.

My younger siblings decided to mark their milestone birthdays with gatherings. One year we met in Lucca, Italy. The next year it was the lovely Cotswolds in Britain. That was followed by trips to Venice and Catalina Island.

When another milestone rolled around for me last year, a big trip didn’t feel right so we spent a day at California Adventure and called it a celebration.

About six weeks ago, my sister Nancy sent us an email saying she’d like to mark her upcoming birthday in 2014 in Provence. Would we be interested in joining her?

We gave her a unanimous and enthusiastic thumbs up and the planning began. We decided to add on Amsterdam at the beginning and Paris at the end.

The time and budget kept growing as the hundreds of emails kept flying.

I checked my Wings (travel) fund. It was going to need some financial help. Although I had the money elsewhere that I needed for the trip, I thought it would be more fun to create a special project to fund it. (Note: this is how the self-employed create stuff.)

After giving it some thought, I decided to schedule some teleclasses and designate the income to Nancy’s birthday celebration.

Checking my calendar, I saw that the timing wasn’t auspicious for me to add a new Idea Safari to my current schedule. Then I got the idea to run a sale on my existing teleclass audios.

It took almost no time to figure that out and I promptly alerted my Web Wizard, Lisa Tarrant, to set it up on my website. The announcement went out on September 5 and the sale was set to run for three days.

I’m happy to report that I’ve tripled the funds in my Wings account and I’ll be designating new projects to reach my goal.

First the What. Then the How. Creating a project to fund a dream.

It’s just another reason why self-employment is my definition of security.

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.

Although I have shared this before, I am doing so again in the optimistic hope that someone reads it and actually gives it a try.

 °°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

 What if I told you that there’s a technique that if faithfully applied would absolutely guarantee your success in starting and building your business? Well, such a technique exists although it sometimes seems like a well-kept secret.

I’ve shared it in my seminars and in my writing, but getting people to actually try it for themselves has been another matter.

Whenever I receive a call or e-mail from someone telling me that they’re stuck, I can be certain that they haven’t given this idea a fair shake.

On the other hand, those I’ve managed to convince to use it every day report that things really start happening— and quickly.

Any successful goal setter will tell you that reaching goals big or small is dependent on breaking the big picture into tiny doable steps. That’s the essence of my favorite idea, the $100 Hour.

It works with such infallible certainty that once you make it a regular part of your plans, it’s like a rocket propelling you to your goals. You can begin implementing the $100 Hour even if you have other commitments that clamor for your attention.

Begin by making a pact with yourself that you will set aside time daily, if possible, or at scheduled intervals, for the purpose of finding an idea that will bring you $100.

You needn’t complete the plan in the hour, but if time permits use your surplus to get your idea rolling. Do research, make calls, write letters or e-mails— anything that moves you closer.

If you’re focusing your energies on a single profit center, then come up with an idea for expanding it in a way that will earn another $100. If your business plan is more eclectic, then this time can be spent designing a variety of projects.

A word of warning is in order here. While this idea works wonders, your ego may tell you that $100 is too insignificant to bother with.

Ignore it.

After all, great fortunes and grand achievements have been accomplished by steadfast devotion to creating tiny successes—which ultimately add up to enormous successes.

The discipline that comes with using this technique is perhaps its greatest bonus.

However, once you start seeing results, don’t stop using it. With continued practice, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to come up with a $100 idea. At that point, you can raise the monetary stakes, if you like.

At any rate, you’ll discover that the quality of your ideas gets better and better with practice.

We’re on birth alert around here right now. No, I am not expecting another grandchild. The arriving baby belongs to my doula daughter’s client.

I had never heard of birthing doulas until a few years ago when a student in one of my Sacramento seminars told me that she was one.

According to Wikipedia, this is an ancient profession that originated in Greece. A doula is a nonmedical person who assists before, during and after childbirth. The continuous support during labor is associated with improved maternal and fetal health.

How Jennie became a doula still intrigues me.

One morning about seven years ago, she fetched me from the Burbank Airport. She could hardly wait to tell me her news.

For some time, Jennie had wanted to have a second child, but was not getting much enthusiasm from her partner.

Then the revelation came.

“I woke up this morning,” she told me, “and thought maybe I don’t need to have another baby. Maybe what I really want is to have babies in my life. My next thought was that I could become a midwife.”

Although it was early in the day, she had already called her local college, found out the requirements for becoming a midwife and was planning to enroll.

She spend the next year taking math and science classes which had not been part of her previous undergraduate program. After doing her catch-up work, she was scheduled for two years of nursing training followed by midwifery school.

It was a big commitment. Along the way, Jennie did have a second child and decided that doula training was a better fit for her. She also added Reiki training and hypnobirthing to her toolbox.

Although I’ve never seen her in action, I can imagine that her calm and confident demeanor is a huge asset to her clients. I have heard  that she’s glowing when she returns home from a birth.

Ray Bradbury advised, “In the moment of knowing a love, intensify it.”  New ideas are as fragile as babies. They also require incessant nurturing if they are going to grow into something magnificent.

That’s precisely what Jennie did.

It also happens to be the way we get our marching orders for the Joyfully Jobless life.

Every truly wise person knows that learning is a lifelong endeavor. It appears that we are, in fact, created to keep learning. It’s an obvious condition that is grossly overlooked by employers who do nothing to encourage their workers to learn.

The entrepreneur, on the other hand, can be in a constant state of learning. That’s what attracted me to my own business in the first place.

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

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

It would be impossible to identify all the things my business has taught me, things I might never have learned any other way. Here are a few I do recognize.

° Building from the ground up is fun. My mentor used to say 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 to life 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 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.Consequently, my library is filled with books on personal growth subjects by numerous elegant teachers.

° 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 to see how this really works, but it’s still helpful to make this basic assumption.

° 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 bringing them into being.

° 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 time spent with 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 exultation 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.

For me, meeting interesting people, however briefly, is one of the great rewards of travel.  On my last evening in Los Angeles several years ago, my daughter suggested that  we have dinner at The Milky Way.

This tiny restaurant is lovingly run by Leah Adler, a little pixie who just happens to have given birth to Steven Spielberg.  Her utter joy in making her customers happy is obvious as she flits from table to table chatting with everyone.

She seemed to be having such a good time that I thought being a restauranteur must be a new occupation for her. When she came to inquire about our dinner, I asked her if she was at the restaurant every day.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I leave home at 8:30 every morning and I’m here until closing. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years and there’s no place I’d rather be. I get to plan dishes with the cooks, flirt with old men and drink wine. What could be better than that?”

She also confided that she would be 82 on her next birthday and had no plans to retire.

(She is now 93 and still delighting diners at The Milky Way.)

Leah Adler is living proof of the longevity-enhancing rewards of right livelihood. What a contrast she is to all those folks who think life will begin once they retire.

A few weeks earlier, I’d gone to my post office and was waited on by a clerk that’s been there most of the time that I’ve had my mailbox. Since I knew that his retirement was coming soon, I asked, “How much longer, Jeff?”

“A hundred and forty-seven days,” was his instant reply. Imagine spending your time in a such a way that you’re counting the days until it’s over.

More and more studies now show that every day we spend doing work that we hate is very expensive.  It robs us of our creative spirit, impacts our attitude and physical well-being in a negative way, and causes us to miss out on the adventure that our personal life journey was intended to be.

Apparently Stephen King was onto something when he said, “If you can do it with joy, you can do it forever.”