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.



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.

This 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 big-game hunter and 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.

A few years ago, I received e-mail 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 another e-mail 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 and 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.


In January, I celebrated the fourth anniversary of living in Las Vegas. Frankly, I don’t think the oddsmakers would have bet on my love affair lasting this long.

For years I was one of those people who shunned this place. I blush when I think of the misconceptions I held. I was convinced (although not from actual experience) that it was nothing more than a shrine to tackiness.

My attitude began to change in 2002 when I decided to throw a birthday party for myself and picked Las Vegas because it seemed so ridiculous. The surprise was on me.

What I discovered on that celebratory weekend was that this was a creative hotbed. Although I had no aspirations to build a casino myself, I was fascinated by the entrepreneurial spirit that I saw blooming in the desert.

When I returned from my sabbatical in late 1999, I settled back in Minneapolis, but I felt my time there was coming to an end. No other place was really calling to me, but the hunt for my new hometown had begun.

After my granddaughter was born, I knew that I wanted to live closer to her family in California, but I decided against moving there. How about Las Vegas, I mused.

It seemed totally crazy at first. At the same time, I was ready to shake up my life and couldn’t imagine a place that was less like Minneapolis.

Once the decision was made, I was unprepared for the scorn and skepticism from other people. “Why are you moving to Las Vegas?” suddenly replaced, “What do I do about health insurance?” as my most frequently asked question.

I took this as a sign that I was making the right decision. As Paul Hawken says, “If everyone loves your idea, it’s too late.”

Then came the next challenge: I had only visited the city as a tourist. I had no idea about how to even begin my search for a home.

How it all came together, I now realize, is the same process that’s useful for making any kind of change. Whether you’re starting a new profit center, relationship or planning a trip, these steps will make moving on less stressful.

* Decide what will support your change. When I was floundering around in uncertainty, my daughter came up with the best suggestion. She said, “Why don’t you get a map of the city and plot out where things are that you’ll want to be close to?”

I did just that. I looked up addresses for post office branches, libraries, Target, and Trader Joe’s and marked them on my map. It was immediately obvious that the things I wanted access to all clustered in one area.

Seeing that on my map, made it easy to focus once I began looking. In making any change, begin by identifying what you want and need to have access to. You could mind map it for added clarity.

* Get help from someone who knows the territory. Just as my search began for a new home, I got an e-mail from Pat Egan who was visiting his mother and stepfather in Las Vegas.They proved to be just the link I needed.

I had met Sharon and Joe Cruse briefly in Minneapolis several months earlier. Transplanted Minnesotans themselves, they answered my questions and connected me with a real estate agent who showed me the house I now live in.

The biggest gift, however, was that Sharon was so enthusiastic about living here that my apprehensions (which had grown to massive proportions) disappeared.

* Allow discomfort. For the first several months, I thought I had moved to a foreign land. That passed as I found my way around, located places and people I loved.

I also took up a new hobby I called Get Lost on Purpose. From time to time I’d strike out with no destination, no map and see where I ended up. It’s a great way to exercise curiosity and alertness.

* Connect and share. I’d been warned that once I relocated, I’d have more visitors than I’d ever had in Minnesota. While that was true, I found that I really enjoyed being the insider and sharing my discoveries with tourist friends. Sharing my passions was a perfect way to nurture my own enthusiasm.

Although I’ve moved many times in my life, this one proved to be the best teacher I’ve had.

Throughout the month of May, I’ll be sharing more ideas about making change and moving on. I’m even planning to share a few stories about some of the bold dreamers who live in this place.

Can’t wait to see where the new theme takes me. Glad to have you along.