One of the things Malcolm Gladwell discovered after researching outstanding achievers for his book Outliers is, “What we call talent is really the desire to practice.” He’s not the first person to point that out.

Three years ago, Tiger Woods told the audience of 60 Minutes that he’d been working with a coach to change his game and hadn’t mastered it yet, but said, “I am willing to lose in order to get better.” Then there’s my all-time favorite observation from Mick Jagger who said, “You’ve got to sing everyday so you can build up to being like, you know, absolutely brilliant.”

The willingness to sing every day in order to get better is as important to entrepreneurial success as it is to selling out concerts or winning golf trophies. Yet many adults recoil at the thought of practice, thinking that it leads to boredom. That’s only true if what we’re practicing doesn’t come from our passion.

What may also not be obvious is that we’re all practicing daily and whatever we practice most is what we master. We can excel at stinginess or generosity, originality or mediocrity, boredom or adventure. It’s just a matter of where we’re putting in our time and effort.

I’ve been thinking about the power of repetition since many of the people who ordered copies of the updated

Making a Living Without a Job
had already read the original version. I decided to send an advance reading copy to Sandy Dempsey, who I knew was intimately acquainted with the book, to see what she thought. She sent an e-mail after she’d read about 50 pages raving about the changes. Then she wrote this review in her
Dreaming Cafe mailing.

I’ve had a sneak peak at the newly revised Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love by Barbara Winter and it is going to knock your socks off. I am blown away and even though I have read the original numerous times, the new edition has so many new stories, ideas and resources to inspire, my head is spinning.

I even thought about sending a copy to the President. He could use it as a blueprint to empower and inspire the nation – a nation that was founded on the entrepreneurial spirit.

In reality this book should be mandatory reading in every high school and college and every adult education program This book could change your life!!

Needless to say, Sandy’s review knocked my socks off and I was immensely grateful.

I also realize, of course, that someone who reads this book before they begin their joyfully jobless journey will notice very different things than they would a year or two after opening their business. To paraphrase Clifton Fadiman, “When you reread a book and find more in it it’s not because there’s more in the book. It’s because there’s more in you.”

While we’ve all heard that practice makes perfect, that’s not quite true. Practice makes permanent, but we can only get better if we’re paying attention while we do it. Then we begin to notice where our practice is leading us. We discover only weeks after starting a yoga practice that we can turn our heads farther when backing up the car. Or we find that our fifth media interview is smoother than our first. Sometimes we see that we’re farther along than we thought and sometimes it shows us we need to practice more diligently.

Are you willing?


 Like many cities, Las Vegas has an annual Housekeeping Olympics with teams from different hotels competing in challenges such as laundry folding, bed making and the ever popular obstacle course. The coveted prize? The dirty toilet brush. 


This year’s competition was nearly canceled due to economic considerations. Happily, sanity prevailed and the event went on as usual. Teams dressed in matching uniforms cheered wildly for their mates as they zipped through their events. When I saw the story on our local news, I couldn’t help but think this had to be a highlight for the participants and a real bonding experience for coworkers. There’s not much that seems playful about the work that they do everyday.


My grandchildren arrive later this week so I’ve been thinking about play more than usual. One of the great gifts that children bring to a family is granting their adult kin permission to play, to be silly even. I still have a huge cardboard box that was transformed into a hospital, house and veterinary clinic the last time Zoe visited. I had no idea that a box could hold so many possibilities for the imagination.


When I was growing up, I suspect my German relatives were equally delighted  when playing with me. At the same time, a popular family slogan––repeated in German––reminded us that work must come before play. Arbeit kommt zuerst dann Spiel. It  sounded like a warning that we must keep our priorities straight. Play was not at the top of the list.


Don’t tell that to Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play. In his brilliant new book, simply titled Play, he writes, “The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression. Our inherent need for variety and challenge can be buried by an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Over the long haul, when these spice-of-life elements are missing, what is left is a dulled soul.”


Dr. Brown goes on to say we need both. “Work and play are more like the timbers that keep our house from collapsing down on top of us…The quality that work and play have in common is creativity. In both we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects.”


How does play figure into your life? Are you giving it its due? If not, I highly recommend tracking down Play and letting Dr. Brown convince you.


As for me, I’m heading for the beach with Zoe and Zach later this week. I’m sure it’s going to be very good for business.



Now check out this brilliant article from Zen Habits on  Work as Play: Turn life into one gigantic playground. 

This is the tale of Ken and Barbie. The stories are true, although the names are not. It’s a cautionary tale. Let’s start with Ken.

A talented cartoonist, Ken created a popular Website that drew thousands of visitors every week. Eventually, he decided to self-publish a collection of his favorite cartoons. So far, so good. Like many authors, he was delighted to learn that his books could be sold on Amazon. He put a big banner on his Website announcing that the book could be purchased online. It appeared that he thought this was an endorsement for the book and refused to sell the books directly himself.

And sell they did. Ken’s fans snapped up the book the moment Amazon made it available. They sold thousands of copies. This could have been cause to celebrate, but let’s take a closer look.

Ken not only had production costs for the book, he also had to pay to ship them to the bookseller. When his costs were subtracted, his total profit from each Amazon sale was 76 cents. No amount of urging could convince him to sell directly. He didn’t want to be bothered shipping those thousands of books.

Had he sold directly to his customers, his profit from each book would have been closer to $8/book. In the first three months after publication, he would have cleared close to $20,0000–ten times what Amazon paid him. He could easily have hired someone to handle the clerical chores and still come out ahead.

Then there’s Barbie. She, too, is losing thousands of dollars. Sadly, she’s also spent thousands of dollars to have an exquisite Website built for her business. She, too, has self-published books and produced  DVDs. There’s a sign-up box on her Website for a mailing list, but no one who signs up ever hears from her again. Her site is mostly promotional so there’s not much reason for anyone to visit it more than once. While she travels around the country wowing audiences with her speeches, she refuses to connect with those fans once she leaves the auditorium. You won’t find her on Facebook or Twitter or blogging. She can’t be bothered. And while her products sell briskly at her events, she hasn’t made a trip to the post office in months to ship anything from those cartons filling her garage.

Question Ken and Barbie about their reasons for shortchanging themselves and they’re quick to say that they simply can’t be bothered with minutiae. They’ll even hint that their creativity precludes them from doing anything as routine as building a relationship with their customers. After all, they sniff, they’re on their way to becoming a star.

Or maybe not.

Note: This is the final post in my Fellow Travelers series. It seemed appropriate to visit a few fellow travelers from my own neighborhood.


As I was going through some articles I had clipped, one in particular caught my eye because at first glance I wasn’t entirely sure why I’d kept it. It was an article titled “Dreaming Big” from my hometown paper, the Las Vegas Review Journal.

The article was a roundup of ten people chosen by the newspaper’s editors and entertainment writers as the movers, shakers, and visionaries who are making an impact upon entertainment as we know it. The article included a photograph of each person along with a short bio.

As I looked through the list, I saw exactly why I’d saved it. There was Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, of course, whose educational credentials list “no formal education beyond high school.” But that’s now what originally got my attention. Here’s what caught my eye:

Steve Wynn, Casino developer—Education: Bachelor of arts degree in English literature

Robert Reynolds, Band Manager of the Killers—Education: Bachelor of arts degree in English

Glenn Schaeffer, CEO of Fountainbleu Resorts—Education: Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in literature and Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

But there’s more about Schaeffer that is unique. According to the article, “A longtime casino executive, Schaeffer used his money and his literature background to make Las Vegas an important fixture in the literary world. In 2000, he was the force behind establishing Las Vegas as the first US City of Asylum, a project that gives oppressed writers a place to live and work after fleeing their homelands.”

Go English majors!

I’m pretty sure that nobody at the University of Pennsylvania told Steve Wynn that his degree in English literature would be the ideal path to revolutionizing the hotel industry in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, Wynn’s fascination with art, literature and entertainment all played a role in his bringing a new aesthetic and class to his entrepreneurial activity.

That, of course, is what the creative revolutionary does: makes connections and finds inspiration in disparate things. Out of that unique experience and insight, something new is born.

What these bold dreamers also show us is that our formal education doesn’t have to limit us, but can add another dimension to far flung activities. Take an inventory of your own past training and experience and see what you’ve learned and mastered that can be put to work in new and innovative ways. You may surprise yourself as you discover that you’ve been gathering all kinds of tools and insights that would astonish your guidance counselors who forgot to tell you that the joyfully jobless life was the perfect option for you.

In June 2005, I spent a week with my three sisters, brother and brother-in-law in England’s gorgeous Cotwolds. We rented a charming house from the enterprising Berrisfords, who own several guest cottages on an old farmstead. They were just the first entrepreneurs we were to meet during our stay.

About three miles from the house we were renting, was the tiny hamlet of Awre which boasted a few houses, a large church and the Red Hart Inn. We decided to have dinner there on Father’s Day. A friendly woman named Marcia sat us at our table. Marcia explained that she was one of the owners and didn’t usually wait on tables, but had given the day off to some of her staff so they could be with their fathers. She then charmed us with a story about the pub’s resident ghost.

As we waited for our food, I noticed a sheet of paper on the table which listed the names of every person who worked in the business as well as all the local suppliers that provided meat, produce and ice cream to the business. It was more like a playbill than something you’d expect to see in a restaurant. I began to wonder why more eating establishments didn’t introduce their staff this way.

When our food arrived, it was obvious that the remote Red Hart had attracted a talented chef—and a pastry chef who made the best brownies we’d ever eaten.

Later in the week we returned for a second visit and and were disappointed when didn’t find the brownies on the menu. Marcia was sympathetic and explained that they liked to rotate their offerings. At the end of our meal, the shy young pastry chef appeared at our table and gave me a handwritten copy of his sensational brownie recipe.

As we learned, the Red Hart Inn wasn’t the only business that was happily operating in this rural area. We kept encountering small businessowners in all of the villages and small towns that we visited. Even touristy gift shops proudly advertised local products like fudge and ice cream. It was a vivid reminder that the entrepreneurial spirit can and does flourish anywhere and everywhere. And, obviously, they delighted in promoting their area small businesses.

I’ve learned a lot about the role of philosophy in business from the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop chain. Here’s some advice she shared about starting a business:

There are no rules or formulas for success. You just have to live it and do it. Knowing this gives us enormous freedom to experiment. Believe me, it’s a crazy, complicated journey. It’s trial and error. It’s quite literally, “Let’s try lots of this stuff and see how it works.”

My thinking was forged in the 1960s and in those days I would rather have slit my wrists than work in a corporation. So we had no organizational chart, no one-year, five-year plan. What we did have was management by our common values.

Entrepreneurs want to create a livelihood from an idea that has obsessed them. Money will grease the wheels, but becoming a millionaire is not the aim of a true entrepreneur. In fact, most entrepreneurs I know don’t give a damn about the accumulation of money. What gets their juices going is seeing how far an idea can go.

Geography has nothing to do with that.

Enthusiasm is a cultivated emotion, it seems to me. It also seems that many people haven’t experienced that emotion for a long time and have no idea how magnetic enthusiasm can be. When you’re passionate about something and not afraid to show it, opportunities have a way of appearing when you least expect them.

I was reminded of this simple truth one day as I was checking out some books on London at my library. The librarian asked me if I was planning a trip. “Oh,” I laughed, “I’m always planning one or coming back from one.” She smiled and said her daughter had spent a year studying in London. During that time, my librarian friend visited and loved the city. That was all the invitation I needed to start a rollicking conversation. I quizzed her on what her favorite sights had been.

Before I knew it, two other librarians had moved closer and were eavesdropping on our conversation. I began telling them that one of my favorite spots was the manuscript room in the British Library. As I was going on about the treasures there, one of them piped up and said, “Do you lead tours? I want to go with you.” I could have signed her up on the spot had I been planning such an excursion.

If your enthusiasm level has dwindled, take responsibility for filling it up again. Stay away from dreary people. Read things that inspire you. Find something every day to get excited about and share it with someone—even a stranger. You never know what opportunity might be looking for you and just needs your enthusiasm to issue the invitation so it can land on your doorstep.

Enthusiasm is the most important single factor in making a person creative. ~ Robert E. Mueller

Here’s a interesting article on the 11 Traits of Highly Creative People.

And here’s another on how to Travel for a Year on $14,000.


When I left my job as a high school English and speech teacher after five years in the classroom, I was barraged with questions. These were not the questions of encouraging creative thinkers, but ran more along the line of, “How can you throw away your education?” “How can you throw away your security?” “How can you give up your benefits?” (For the record: when I left teaching I closed my teacher’s retirement account and bought my first colored television. There was no money left over.) 

Quitting a job is an invitation for the dreambashers to speak up, but they’re considerably louder when what you’re leaving isn’t merely a job, but a career that you’ve invested time and money to train for. 

One of the most poignant calls I’ve ever received came from a young man who had read Making a Living Without a Job. He introduced himself by saying he was a pre-med student and was purposely flunking out of medical school. Before he went farther with his story, I said, “I think you’re courageous.” I was pretty sure nobody else had told him that. He went on to say his family had disowned him and no one was speaking to him. He said my book had been very helpful in getting him past all the anger.

“Do you know what you love?” I asked. He didn’t hesitate for a moment. “France,” he said. He sounded wistful.

“Do you speak French?” Of course, he did and said that was why he was calling me. He had an idea about starting a business to do medical translations. Did I think it was valid?

“Only if you want to be forced to take regular trips to France and make a lot of money,” I replied. 

I have no idea if he followed his dream, but I hope so. I thought of him again when I was teaching What Would an Entrepreneur Do? in Madison last month. One of the participants was a man whose name I knew because he was a subscriber to Winning Ways. I didn’t know his story, however.

During the course of the seminar, he told us that he had left his medical practice as a pediatric ophthalmologist. “It was fun at the beginning,” he explained, “but once I had mastered various procedures, it lost its charm.” 

What I found fascinating about his story was the fact that when he left medicine he was working in a large clinic. When news got out about his changing direction, he received numerous e-mails from fellow doctors who obviously envied his courage, courage which they lacked. 

The fact that we’ve invested time and money in a dream we then outgrew is not reason enough to stick with it. I know that’s not a popular notion, but it’s one that needs to be challenged. When it comes to matters of the heart, we not only need to follow the promptings of our own: we need to encourage others to do the same. There’s simply no possibility of creating a world that works for everyone if we refuse. 


I am currently reading and loving Hugh McLeod’s cheeky Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Here’s a tiny sampling: “The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa. Even if your path never makes any money or furthers your career, that’s still worth a ton.”

Today my sister Margaret is headed to the garment district in Los Angeles on a field trip for her business. I know she’ll return with all sorts of treasures that will take on a new life in one of her hair ornaments.

Yesterday she participated in a bridal show, introducing brides to her Over the Top Fascinators. Since starting her business earlier this year, Margaret has acquired feathers, jewels, fabrics and combs of all shapes and sizes. She’s also acquired two rescue dogs that need a lot of attention. Happily, she can combine both in her living room.

A few days ago, she and I were having one of our frequent Skype chats (where she often shows me the latest creations she’s working on) and for some reason the conversation turned to the subject of resumes and cover letters. Margaret suddenly looked thoughtful and said, “I’d be working on my resume right now if I hadn’t found the feather.” 

“If I Hadn’t Found the Feather could be the title of your autobiography,” I joked. She laughed, too, but is quite aware that this happy enterprise has made a huge difference in her life. Her perpetual enthusiasm is downright contagious.

Like many wonderful enterprises, this one seemed almost accidental. Last fall, Margaret’s daughter had a friend who was getting married. Alexis, the bride, asked Margaret to make a fascinator for her to wear at the wedding. I’m not sure if Margaret knew much about fascinators at the time (I was oblivious until she introduced me), but she found the experience so delightful that she bought a few feathers, some veiling and began creating a few more. Then she had some new ideas and turned those into hair ornaments. Suddenly, she was headed in a new direction.

Margaret’s daughter Gretchen shared her enthusiasm and offered to build a Web site for her. Gretchen rounded up some friends and a photographer and scheduled a photo shoot. In its brief lifetime,  Over the Top Fascinators has had disappointments and detours, but Margaret’s passion has moved it right past those interruptions. 

Watching my youngest sister evolve as an entrepreneur got me thinking about tiny Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas. Bhutan is an unlikely place for the birth of an international trend, yet its policy of determining success based on Gross National Happiness has gotten the attention of leaders from around the world. The term was coined by Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, when he ascended the throne in 1972. GNH defines prosperity based on spiritual well-being and environmental responsibility rather than consumption. 

Imagine that…building prosperity that takes into account personal happiness and well-being. And to think it could start with finding the feather.

Haven’t I been telling you that self-employment is the best personal growth seminar ever invented? Pamela Rutledge has written a terrific piece that is on the Psychology Today’s Web site called  The Positive Psychology of Entrepreneurship which affirms what I’ve been saying. If you need another reason to be joyfully jobless, see what she has to say. It’s my favorite find of the week.

Siblings Megan and Chris Hurley have a terrific Web site called Finding Benjamin which aims to teach kids about money. They share ideas for business ventures kids can start. And they’re looking for article contributions.

If you’ve been paying any attention, you know that I’m a huge fan of Twitter, which enriches my life every day. Simply don’t understand folks’ reluctance to get into the conversation. However, if at first glance it looks like a high school popularity contest, read this sane article,  The Value of Twitter Followers: Quality Over Quantity which opens with this observation, “Twitter followers have become the status symbol of 2009, but how valuable are they, really? I think we’re placing too much importance on the numbers and paying far too little attention to the actual reasons why followers can be valuable to us.” By all means, take a look at this article and, if you haven’t done so, give Twitter a chance.

I’ve long been fascinated by meaningful coincidences, so I took note when I had not one, but two, requests to do radio interviews arrive within an hour of each other. This was the invitation that came first:

I’m sure you won’t remember me, but my name is Holland Cooke, and I attended your  seminar “Making A Living Without A Job” in Washington DC.

YOU CHANGED MY LIFE…and I’m hoping you’ll let me return the favor.

I’ve been HAPPILY without-a-full-time-employer since January 1, 1995.

Mostly, I’m a media consultant, specializing in talk radio.  And soon, I’ll be moonlighting ON talk radio, when I guest-host the syndicated Jim Bohannon Show on 300+ stations, Monday 7/27 and Tuesday 7/28.  As you may know, Jim took over what-used-to-be The Larry King Show, when Larry moved from radio to TV years ago.

I’m writing to invite you to appear with me.

Back in the 80s, curious-and-entrepreneurial-as-I-was, your book and topic were of REAL interest to me personally.  Now…times-being-what-they-are-economically, I think your message means more than ever, to everybody…and I think it’d be a great hour of radio, outlining some of the principles you told our seminar way-back-when, and fielding listeners’ calls.

The next invitation was from Terri in MN, a woman who had attended a workshop of mine there a couple of years ago. She now has her own radio show. It delights me to get these invites from former students who are giving me a nice opportunity to talk about my favorite subject. 

Summer is the  time of year to catch up on my reading. I have uncovered some real treasures and will be writing about some of them in Winning Ways. One of my new favorites is The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. It’s not a perfect book (he spends way too much time telling us what he’s going to tell us), but it’s basic concepts are revolutionary.

In many ways this book is a challenge to live our lives from a different state of awareness. The chapter on Time is astonishing, but there’s a line from the book I can’t stop thinking about:

The art of commitment should really be called the art of recommitment. Commitment gets you started and propels you through the early stages of any game, but it’s recommitment that ignites your reserves when you feel like you’re going to give up.

Three of my four siblings are coming to visit early next week so that was the impetus for me to go through a stack of magazines and move some to the recycling bin. My decluttering project slowed down, however, when I came across some articles I hadn’t yet read. Three of them were worth passing along to you. Happily, you can find them all online.

The October 13 issue of Newsweek had a special feature on women leaders. My favorite article was movie director Kimberly Peirce’s piece To Make It Big in Hollywood, You Start With a Good Story. What caught my attention is what she says about fear being part of the creative process. Pierce says, “Fear is part of creativity, whatever your job is. It’s part of believing in something and wanting it to happen. So I let it in and I say to myself, ‘OK, you’re scared.’ And then when something works out, I say, ‘Wow! You were scared!'” I’m going to remember that.

The big article goldmine I uncovered is in the September issue of Ode magazine, which always has thought-provoking articles. This issue is especially rich. For starters, there’s retired teach John Taylor Gatto’s piece called Childhood’s End which eloquently discusses why our schools are failing us. I think it’s important for anyone who has come through the school system in the last fifty years or so to understand the philosophy that has driven education. 

Gatto ends the article by issuing a call to arms to parents. He says, “School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers…Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so they’ll never be bored.” 

I also love Gatto’s observation that “genius is as common as dirt.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the piece since I read it and am going to track down his book Weapons of Mass Instruction.

I urge you to read–immediately–Ode’s cover story, In Praise of Failure. It includes wonderful quotes from J.K. Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard. While we’ve all heard stories about people who ultimately succeeded after years of failure, this article points out, in the clearest possible way, why success is impossible if we resist failure. In fact, it reminds us that if our energy is devoted to NOT FAILING, we end up in mediocrity. 

Every entrepreneur should have this article at their fingertips to read again and again.

Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. ~ J.K. Rowling