Not long ago, I sent myself a card that caught my eye at Trader Joe’s. “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” it challenged.

While there are many ways to measure success, one of the best is adding up the number of Firsts in your life. When we’re children, everything is a first. As time goes on, many people simply cease doing anything that is not a repeat of a past performance.

It’s the path to early senility.

How can you experience a life filled with Firsts? How can you find yourself exclaiming, “I’ve never done that before” ?  It may be easier than you think.

Every day living offers an abundance of opportunities to do something you’ve never done before. Drive a new route. Eat a new food. Get to know a stranger. Pick up a book from a section of the library you don’t usually visit. Try a new marketing approach. Write a poem. Wear a color that’s  been absent from your wardrobe. Take a public speaking class.  Plan a business project with a new partner.

While ritual and tradition may be comforting, making a conscious decision to pile up Firsts can be addictive. Doing so can also lead to larger adventures since it’s a guaranteed confidence builder.

In order to bring more Firsts into your life, your imagination needs to be fully engaged. While we all have  random first-time experiences, they can be far between if we don’t instigate them ourselves. Learning to think in new ways, in turn, is vital to growth.

“It is one of the paradoxes of success,” Charles Handy discovered, “that the things and the ways which got you where you are, are seldom the things to keep you there.”

You’ve got to keep creating Firsts if you want to see progress.

The enemy of living this way is the undeservedly popular comfort zone.  While that zone is different for each of us, it’s the place where there are no surprises, nothing unexpected.  It doesn’t build brain cells, it doesn’t stir the imagination. It’s the place where we keep the remote control and emotional control.

Parents often encourage their adult children to live in a comfort zone, thinking it’s a place that prevents worry. There are very few Firsts for those determined to preserve  comfort—which is truly worrisome. The comfort zone is a holding tank; it doesn’t lead anywhere.

No matter where you are nor how old you are nor how long it’s been since you’ve had a First, come up with one right now and do it. Then find another and do it again. Expect that you’ll experience discomfort and welcome it as an ally in creating a richer life, not a sign that you should turn back.

“Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed,” said Richard Bird. That’s an invitation to a life filled with Firsts.

Almost anytime I mention my siblings to someone who’s never met them, they smile and say, “You have the most interesting family.”

Although I think that my siblings are all fascinating people, I sometimes forget what a uniquely adventurous group we are. Until three years ago, getting together was a rare event that insured we were all on our best behavior when we congregate, but I think it goes much deeper than that.

Our siblings are, after all, the longest relationships most of us have. That shared history, no matter how good or how bad, lays a foundation that can’t quite be met by any other relationships that follow.

My sisters and brother aren’t just my longest relationships, however. They are each intriguing people in their own right.

What I like best—and admire most—is that each of them has designed a life that reflects their personal passions and talents.

Just imagine a family gathering with this cast of characters.

Nancy is two years younger than I am and the one who always had the most clarity about her path in life, it seemed. When she was in junior high school, she decided to become an archaeologist.

That’s precisely what she did, becoming a leading authority on Etruscan architecture.

She lived in Athens, Greece, for most her adult life, then spent a decade in Rome before moving back to Santa Barbara at about the same time I moved to California.

We tend to think of her as the scholarly one—she is Dr. Winter—but that’s not the side we see.

Continuously curious, she is always up for new adventures and just paid her first visit to Universal Studios accompanied by my grandchildren.

My next sister, Becky, had the difficult situation of being born the middle child. Maybe that’s why she has a natural ability to organize things. Much of her working life has been spent in libraries, but her organizing skills show up in everything she does from trip planning to running her house.

Like the rest of us, she’s an enthusiastic traveler. The only one of us who is married, she is also the only one of us to have appeared in the Today Show window.

Jim is the lone male in our tribe, but he’s learned to manage it well. Besides being a genuinely nice person who often reduces me to hysteria, he also has seemed the most paradoxical.

A longtime employee of Southern California Edison, Jim is also a talented painter and enthusiastic surfer, continuing to surf as often as the waves cooperate. His gorgeous painting of Italian rooftops hangs above my fireplace, a lovely reminder of one of our family trips to one of our favorite places.

Margaret is the youngest and has a well-earned reputation as the Scrabble player to beat. Besides sharing a love of books, Margaret and I were also single parents of a single daughter each.

Like our father, Margaret is a walking encyclopedia of useful information. If i want to know how to fix something or cure a malady, I check with Margaret after doing preliminary research on Google.

Her home is a testament to her skills as a gardener, woodworker and decorator. She also makes stunning hair fascinators.

Although Becky, Jim and Margaret have spent most of their lives in California, our relationship has evolved even more now that Nancy and I are in the same neighborhood.

Whether we’re gathering for our monthly Second Sunday dinners or planning a museum outing, I always come away thinking, “I really like these people.” Then I notice that my creative spirit feels well-fed.

As Jane Howard reminds us, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”



My involvement with the Summer Olympics was confined to watching the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. I thought they both were dazzling, but there was something else that impressed me even more.

While the athletic achievement was getting all the attention (and rightly so), I began wondering about how many people were involved in making this event happen. The athletes weren’t the only ones turning in a stunning performance.

In the midst of watching the closing event, I shared this thought on Facebook: “From the Opening Ceremonies to the Closing, I keep thinking how this event has had thousands of people rising to the challenge and playing their best game.

“How many musicians, designers, engineers, lighting designers, dancers, coaches, organizers, architects, builders, etc., etc., etc., were involved in bringing this amazement to life?”

After I went to bed, I was still thinking about the impact this colossal event had on so many people who had risen to the challenge. I began imagining the tiny sparks of ideas had led to some of these triumphs.

Here are a few of the conversations I pictured.

What if we got all the construction people to form a cheering corridor to welcome the Olympic torch into the stadium?

What if we sent someone around to schools to audition their choirs to sing at the ceremonies?

What if we found a company that could produce millions of pieces of confetti?

What if we got the Spice Girls to reunite?

What if we had them zooming around the stadium standing on the roof of decorated London cabs while they were singing?

What if we did something amazing with lighting on all the seats?

What if we celebrated imagination and had John Lennon remind us?

Then I remembered  Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation, “Our chief want is to have somebody inspire us to be what we know we can be.”

Obviously, a legion of people had inspired the thousands of others it required to bring this spectacular vision to life. So why do so many of us ignore or dismiss the power of inspiration?

Which leads me to another question: What if we challenged ourselves to amaze ourselves on a regular basis?


Thanks to an ominous noise coming from my front left wheel of my trusty Saturn, I spent my holiday weekend close to home. Although I had no idea what was causing the noise, I kept thinking of a recent caller to Car Talk who had a problem with a front axle. I believe she was warned not to push her luck.

My daughter had recommended Big John’s, a family-owned local shop, so I called them ten minutes after they opened at 7:30 AM. They suggested I come in as soon as possible for a diagnosis, which was exactly what I hoped they’d say.

The men behind the counter at Big John’s were all enormous and enormously tattooed. Most of them sported scraggly beards and jolly smiles.

In the customer seating area there was a sixty-inch tv sporting a duck hunting reality show. I was sorry I’d left in such a hurry that I forgot to grab a book, but noticed a stack of magazines on the coffee table in front of the leather sofa. I was not optimistic that I’d be able to amuse myself.

About ninety percent of the magazines were back issues of Men’s Health or Sports Illustrated. Then I spied Departures, an American Express publication featuring luxury travel.

I decided it was more promising than the other choices, so I began halfheartedly browsing through it. In amongst the ads for expensive watches and hotels, I came across a fascinating story by a writer who had paid a visit to Rumi’s adopted hometown in the south of Turkey.

Yes, that Rumi. The beloved poet, I learned, had been born in what is now Afghanistan, but for most of his adult life lived and wrote in Konya. By the time I finished the piece, I wanted to join the 5,000 pilgrims who visit his tomb every day.

By this time, my car problem was diagnosed and it was, indeed, an axle and bearing causing the racket. I was told it would take about 2 1/2 hours to repair. The jolly man at the counter said, “We’ll let you have the remote for the tv.”

I was feeling pretty jolly myself when he told me my repair was going to come in under $500, about $1000 less than I’d anticipated. I laughed and said I’d call my daughter to come and rescue me.

While I waited for my ride, I decided to browse through another magazine, a thick marketing piece for an MLM company disguised as an issue of Success magazine. It was mostly filled with stories extolling tales of financial freedom distributors of the company had found through their businesses.

I kept turning pages and there at the end was a non-marketing article about the late speaker Jim Rohn. Much of the story was familiar, but at the end of the piece was a glorious tip sheet called something like Jim Rohn’s Seven Steps for Living a Great Life.

One of the tips that got my attention was a call to action.

Rohn said, “Don’t miss the game. Don’t miss the performance, don’t miss the movie, don’t miss the show, don’t miss the dance. Go to everything you possibly can. Buy a ticket to everything you possibly can.”

After my solitary weekend, that was music to my ears (or, literally, eyes). I smiled thinking how inspiration really is every where when you’re open to it, but Rohn wasn’t done with me yet.

“Live a vital life,” Rohn advised. “If you live well, it will show in your face. There will be something unique and magical about you if you live well.”

So I’m happy to report that my car is once again running quietly. And I promised Big John’s I would write a rave review about them on the Car Talk Website so I need to see if I can do so without gushing.

After all, public gratitude for great service is another aspect of living a vital life.

Of course, Rumi knew that, too. “The rule that covers everything is: How you are with others, expect that back.”

I’m guessing the guys at Big John’s demonstrate that everyday. What could be more inspiring than that?

This month we’ve been exploring habitats and the importance of putting yourself in your natural habitat as often as possible. Not all habitats are physical, however.

In fact, my personal definition of inspiration is “a place to come from.” When we decide to live our lives from an inspired place, we tend to get busy looking for ways to do just that.

For me, of course, self-employment is my starting point, my place of origin.

Last week, Steve Nobel from Alternatives St. James’s London and I had a lively chat about Self-employment as Your Next Career. Hope you’ll spend a few minutes listening to what we talked about.

Here’s the link on the joys of self-employment:

When I first moved to Minnesota, I joked  that there was a church on every corner. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it seems that most major thoroughfares are dotted with them.

For several years, there was a church that I passed almost every day. Like most churches, it had a message board out in front; unlike most churches, this message board actually contained messages. Even more unusual, the messages were changed a couple of times every week so there was always a new one to check out.

Some of the messages were attention-getters like the one that said, “Satan loves a dusty Bible.”

Others were funny. My favorite one said, “Trouble sleeping? Try a sermon.”

Mostly they were lovely philosophical reminders to be kind and to make a contribution to making the world a better place.

One day I called the church and said, “In case no one has told you this, I want you to know how much your message board is appreciated by those of us driving by.”

The secretary said they’d gotten many positive comments on it, then added that the senior pastor went out at 5:30 in the morning to change the board. “Please thank him for me,” I said.

Several months later, I passed by the church again and saw a gathering in the yard. A fancy new message board had just been installed.

It had a burgundy and charcoal frame and was lighted from within. It was pretty spiffy, but I noticed that the message simply listed the times of their services.

What’s the point of posting the times of their services, I wondered. Those hours never change and surely their members already know when services are held.

If the point of posting them was for the convenience of non-members who might want to join them, I’m not sure there’s any obvious reason to pick this church over any other.

That’s the way it’s stayed. I hardly even noticed it after that.

I’ve tried to imagine what happened here. Maybe the senior pastor retired and nobody else wanted to do it. Maybe not enough people let them know that they liked the effort.

Or perhaps, and I hope I’m wrong here, the church forgot that it’s really in the inspiration business. Most likely, somebody decided it was too much bother to keep the messages up and in making that decision lost an enormous opportunity to contribute some random good.

This church isn’t the only example of losing sight of an opportunity to inspire. I once read an article entitled, “That Angry Flier Just Might Be Your Flight Attendant.”

The article pointed out that all the difficulties experienced by the airline industry are taking a toll on their employees. The sentence that really grabbed me  said, “Even before all the industry’s woes, attendants complained that their pay was too low for ‘friendly’ service.”

I was so astonished by that I must have read it over three times.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once told an interviewer, “It’s not our customer’s job to lie awake nights figuring out how we can serve them better. We have to take responsibility for improving.” Maybe he should talk to the airlines.

If you want to make this coming year the best one you’ve ever had, take the challenge now to find ways to use your business as a tool to inspire.

Whether you’re repairing small engines, teaching yoga or designing websites, you’ll find there’s no shortage of opportunities to encourage other people—if you are so inclined. Inspire them by your joy, inspire them by your commitment, inspire them by caring about their success.

As Alfred A. Montapert said, “There is something better than putting money into your pocket and that is putting beauty and love and service into your life.”

Those are options that inspire.


Shortly before I began teaching high school English, the International Paper Company began an advertising campaign with the theme Send Me a Man Who Reads.(Yes, it was back in more sexist times.)

Those ads became regulars on the bulletin boards in my classroom. The gist of the campaign, which ran for several years, was that readers made better employees.

Of course, readers make better entrepreneurs as well. That’s no big surprise to those of us who wandered into entrepreneurship thanks to our devotion to lifelong learning.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of struggling businessowners who don’t seem to realize that books are their friends—and business mentors. Equally shocking is the fact that many small business bloggers and book authors do not acknowledge the writing of others.

I once knew a frustrated entrepreneur who dismissed reading as a frivolous waste of time. Evenings on the road were more apt to be spent in the hotel bar than curled up with a book that could have inspired or informed him.

Instead he labored to figure everything out himself. He was making his journey far more difficult than it needed to be.

As Mark Twain once pointed out, “The person who can read and doesn’t has no advantage over the person who can’t read.”

Why does regular reading matter so much to building a business? Here are some of the gifts.

Catch the spirit “Stuff yourself full of stories,” advises Ray Bradbury. “I’ve never had a dry spell in my life because I feed myself well.”

He was talking to writers, of course, but the same thing holds true for entrepreneurs. Many inspiring stories have been written by and about those who have gone from employee to entrepreneur.

Such stories not only inspire for telling the tale of overcoming challenges; they also are vivid records of entrepreneurial thinking in action.

By the way, fictional entrepreneurs can also help readers build an entrepreneurial mindset.

Keep curiosity alive “What I already know is enough,” is not the mantra of the successful. Passion begets passion, of course, but keeping passion alive is closely tied to staying curious.

Whether it’s human behavior or building an online presence that catches your fancy, books can keep you stretching.

Acquire wisdom Nobody has to tell you that we are living in changing times. Those who ignore the changes, operate at a huge disadvantage. It may be more serious, however, than just being handicapped.

As Jim Trelease points out, “People who have stopped reading base their future decisions on what they used to know. If you don’t read much, you really don’t know much. You’re dangerous.”

By all means, don’t confine your reading to quick Internet searches.

Leisurely reading, thoughtful reading, challenging reading can connect you with innovative thinkers and eloquent storytellers. For a few dollars, they can move into your World Headquarters and help you build a better business—providing you spend time with them and put their good ideas to work.

As Jim Rohn so aptly reminded us, “The only thing worse than not reading a book in the last ninety days is not reading a book in the last ninety days and thinking it doesn’t matter.”


Dreams are extremely fragile—especially in their early days. Dreams need to be nurtured and surrounded by support. Unfortunately, there aren’t many parenting manuals for dreambuilding.

Here are a handful of easy  ways to get your dreams off to a great start.

1. Passion must be present. While a dream may be born in passion, it’s up to you to keep it alive. If you’re half-hearted and lukewarm about them, your dreams will never come true.

One way to keep passion high is to spend a few minutes every day visualizing the successful completion of your dream. How does it look, smell, taste, sound, feel? Allow your vision to keep pulling you forward.

2.Take good care of the boss. It doesn’t matter how great a dream is if the dreamkeeper is too tired or uninspired to bring it to life.

Sometimes the easiest things to do are also the easiest to overlook—like drinking plenty of water and avoiding toxic people. Dreamkeepers have an obligation to create the healthiest and most balanced life possible.

3. Make your workspace a place that inspires you. Whether you work on a beach with your laptop or in an extra bedroom in your home, make it inspiring as well as efficient.

Burn incense, play classical music, have a tabletop fountain, and/or cover your walls with art or an inspiration board that pictures your dreams.

And if you’re sitting on a beach, pick one with a great view.

4. Take responsibility for staying inspired. There are three ways to run a business: Inspired, Uninspired or With Occasional Flashes of Inspiration. You can identify those things that inspire you and expose yourself to them frequently.

Whether it’s music or the words of a particular author or the company of another entrepreneur, know where your Inspiration Well is and go to the Well often.

5. Create your own Hall of Fame. Ask a successful actor or musician who inspired them and they’ll probably answer quickly. Ask a would-be entrepreneur the same question and you’re apt to be greeted by a shrug of  the shoulders.

If you’re going to succeed, you need to be inspired by real people. Read biographies or interviews of successful people and pay attention to the philosophies they share.

6. Be open to being inspired at all times. You never know where a great idea or solution to a problem will come from. Carry a notebook with you so you can jot down ideas as they occur.

If you spend a lot of time driving, you may want to carry a voice-activated recorder to capture your thoughts.

7. Notice what catches your attention, what makes you happy, what causes an emotional response. These are all clues. Don’t miss them.

For example, when you receive great—or horrible—customer service, think about what made the situation stand out and how you can adopt or avoid those things when you’re the one doing the delivering.

8. Collect entrepreneurial friends. There’s almost nothing more rewarding than spending time in the presence of kindred spirits who can add their own creative ideas and encouragement to what you’re doing.

Cultivating such friendships will be one of the best investments you can make.

9. Change the scenery. There’s nothing that dulls the creative spirit more quickly than daily routine. You can counteract the dulling effect of that by taking a field trip or creative excursion at least once a week.

Take your laptop to a coffee shop, visit a museum or walk in a Japanese garden. Challenge yourself to come up with new backdrops that feed your soul.


Join us at the Joyfully Jobless Jamboree on October 15 & 16 in Austin TX and you’ll be able to gather all sorts of ideas, inspiration and information that you can take back to your Hothouse.

Register now and save $100…or $150 if you hurry.

Last week, my six-year-old granddaughter Zoe came for five days. It was my great pleasure to take her to see Mystere, her first Cirque du Soleil show. For the next three days, the music from the show played whenever we were in the car and Zoe recalled (perfectly) what scene each song accompanied.

The rest of her visit was filled with lots of art projects. This is obviously a girl who gets up in the morning asking herself, “What can I make today?”

On Saturday morning she begged for a return visit to Michael’s for more supplies. I relented because I’m that kind of grandmother. She surprised me by selecting a white mask and a bag of feathers.

As soon as we got home Zoe sat down with my 20 Years Under the Sun book, a history of Cirque’s first two decades. After studying the pictures, she set up her studio on my dining room table and began painting and decorating the mask.

While she worked I was puttering in the kitchen so she gave me updates on her progress. She said, “I want this kind of like Cirque, but it’s going to have me in it too.”

“That’s called inspired by,” I said. “Your mask is inspired by Cirque du Soleil, but it’s not a copy.” I explained a little bit more about what “inspired by” means.

That got me thinking about all the times I’ve been “inspired by” myself. Paradoxically, part of the creative process comes from being an enthusiastic spectator.

And we needn’t limit our spectating only to activities or enterprises that are like our own.

I have no desire to create theatrical experiences, but Cirque du Soleil inspires me. I’m fascinated by their commitment to finding the perfect balance between business and creativity.

Entrepreneurs and other creative types are constantly seeking inspiration, of course. This causes them to pay attention and be on the alert at all times because experience has shown them that inspiration can arrive at any time.

After watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, my sister Margaret posted a photo of her latest creation with this explanation:This is what happens when I watch Marilyn Monroe get married in the movies: a little hat made of pleated satin with a voluptuous, hand-made chiffon rose and a wisp of tulle.”

That, of course, is the lovely thing about inspiration. It begets more inspiration.

But only if we’re paying attention. Or as Mary Pipher says, “Inspiration is very polite. She knocks softly and goes elsewhere if we don’t answer.”

At the end of every year, I pick my favorite books from the ones I’ve read in the previous twelve months. When I came upon Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art a few years ago, I declared it one of my favorite books of the decade. It still is.

Whether you’ve discovered the book for yourself already or not, I am delighted to share Steven Pressfield’s answers to my questions. Here they are.


 My  enthusiasm for The War of Art comes from having a whole new understanding of the nature and role of resistance. How did you begin to recognize resistance and deal with it in your own life?

 I first tried to write a novel when I was 24, quit my job, etc.  (I told this story in The War of Art, but I’ll tell it again here.)  I got 99% of the way  through and I totally fell apart.  Couldn’t finish it.  Bottom line: divorce, heartbreak, causing terrible pain to people I love, years of wandering, working weird jobs, etc.  It was very clear to me that SOMETHING was screwing me up; I just didn’t have a name for it.

Finally, finally, finally I realized that all my troubles stemmed from that one failure of courage (and a million other such failures thereafter.)  I had to go back and do it over.  Not that same book but another one.   Along the way, I came to call that negative force in my mind “Resistance.”  That’s what it felt like to me.

It seems to me that nurturing inspiration is a powerful way of dealing with resistance. How do you feed inspiration and what inspires you personally?

 I’ve never thought about it that way, Barbara.  That’s pretty cool.  You may be onto something there!  The positive force that actually produces Resistance as “an equal and opposite reaction” is an Idea—for a book, a movie, a business, whatever.  That’s the baby  that wants to be born.  So the more you can feed that embryo, the stronger will be the mother-love and the urge to be born.

I realize, thinking about it (thanks to your question) that I really do cultivate my ideas, when I’m lucky enough to get them.  I raise them in secret, inside myself, like little hothouse tomatoes.

One thing: I don’t talk about them.  I don’t dilute their force by blabbing to everybody.  The pregnant mom metaphor is pretty good.  You gotta protect that “baby bump”  and give it time to grow.  Once it’s really growing, it produces an irresistible power to be born.  Even Resistance is no match for it then.

How can a new writer or entrepreneur or musician put fear of rejection into perspective?

Great question, Barbara.  I’m not so sure it’s all about fear of rejection.  Fear of success may be the bigger issue.  The bottom line for me (and I suspect for many other writers, artists and entrepreneurs) is that the pain of NOT taking that chance is greater than the pain of taking it.  It’s like you have a choice of two forms of difficulty—the difficulty of facing your fears and doing the work you were born to do …  and the difficulty of losing your mind, your wife and family, etc.  I know that sounds pretty hard-core but I think it’s true.

People seem to flock to how-to formulas. Do you think it’s possible to live a creative life if we don’t leave room for mystery?

How-to formulas help, but they can also be a particularly insidious form of Resistance.  We spend all our time studying “how,” and forget to actually “do.”

There’s a great quote from Plato, which I can’t remember even close to verbatim.  He puts it in the mouth of Socrates, who says something like, “The skilled poet is no match for the divinely inspired fool.”  In other words, it does all come down to the mystery, which is really not so mysterious at all—it’s just hearing the voice in your head or seeing the vision in your heart and believing it in enough that you find the courage to actually manifest that voice or that vision in the real world.