When I first discovered the literature of personal growth and development, there weren’t many titles to choose from. Today there are thousands. I always have a self-help book or two in my current reading pile because there’s so much to learn.

However, the self-help movement has spawned plenty of dropouts. Why don’t all readers find this genre helpful? Here are some thoughts on that.

° Refuse to abandon skepticism. Hanging onto cherished beliefs is a guaranteed way to prevent growth. “I tried that positive things stuff once. Didn’t work,” is the motto of the self-help dropout. Simply reading a single book is not going to produce visible change. It’s more a process of chipping away at limiting thoughts and behaviors that have taken hold over years.

° Exercises are too much trouble. Most of us think of reading as zooming from the beginning to the end of a book. Self-help books invite us to slow down and take a low-speed journey. Exercises are like rest stops along the way, causing us to pause, reflect and apply.

° Wrong book at the wrong time. Personal growth is an evolutionary process and we expand our receptiveness one concept at a time. Sometimes a book arrives ahead of our readiness. When that happens, don’t abandon self-help. Try a different book.

° Don’t have a laboratory to experiment. You’ve got to have context. If you are in a position to try out new ideas and assess the results, you’ll start synthesizing healthier attitudes and behaviors more quickly. That’s one of the secret rewards of self-employment. Running our own business not only requires a high level of self-awareness, but also a commitment to on-going growth and improvement. Best of all, we can try out our new ideas every single day.

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting. ~ Henry David Thoreau

I don’t have many routines in my life except for my daily trip to the post office. I grew up in a small town without mail delivery so picking up the mail has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father used to drive us to school, but a mail stop came first. As the oldest child, it was my duty to fetch the mail from the box. To make it more fun, I began taping coins to bits of cardboard and sending away for things I saw advertised in comic books, insuring that some of the mail would be addressed to me. Even though e-mail has replaced the personal letter, I still enjoy finding something handwritten in my mailbox.

Since today is a postal holiday, there won’t be a mail run, but I wanted to pass along one of my all-time favorite letters, although I’ll keep the writer anonymous. He wrote, “Exactly 24 hours ago, I took my penny pail to the bank and cashed it in for $23.09. Against my better judgement I decided to visit Border’s Book Shop to have a latte and browse through a book that had caught my eye on several previous tours. Before my coffee was cool enough to drink, I decided to spend over half my available cash on Making a Living Without a Job.

“After brooding for nearly two weeks and accomplishing nothing, I read your entire book in one sitting. Since then, I have sold books (not yours) to a used bookstore, sold an expensive golf bag to a secondhand sporting goods store, sold a rowing machine to a secondhand exercise machine store, took four large trash bags of good clothing to a consignment shop, dared to try my new Rollerblades, scheduled a meeting with my father-in-law to learn his business secrets, faxed a letter and resume to a local business college to teach several courses, made several phone contacts for some consulting work and listed 37 potential Profit Centers. Oh, yes, I also made a huge pot of Texas Red chili and did five loads of laundry.”

He goes on to write about his previous adventures being self-employed. “I have been making a living without a job, though I lacked an understanding of the process and certainly lacked the passion you so eloquently described. I knew the time had come to return to the dream. Thank you for giving it back to me.”

With the possibility of a letter like that waiting for me, you can understand why a trip to the post office is my first priority every morning.

Live in the active voice, not the passive. Think more about what you make happen than about what happens to you. ~ William Dewitt Hyde

They’re baaaaaack! Those annoying Internet flashing banner ads that disappeared for a while have returned with a vengeance. They make my eyes cross and my head ache. They do not make me think, “Oh, that looks interesting. I’d better check it out and see what I’m missing.” Same goes for local tv ads that are broadcast at twice the volume of regular programming. And do you know anyone who adores automated phone systems?

Also rating high on my Annoyance Index is my local supermarket. I only shop there for a few things that the delightful Trader Joe’s can’t supply. A few months ago, I noticed something strange was happening at my neighborhood Von’s. Perhaps they hired a customer service consultant who advised them to be more helpful. Or maybe their manager came up with a plan to endear the store to their waning customer base. It’s not working. Under this new policy, I can be browsing quietly in the store—and then am startled when an employee swoops out of nowhere to ask me if I need help. Scaring the daylights out of me is not their worst offense, however. 

The other day I dropped in to pick up a few items. After I’d paid for them, I was asked, “Do you need help out with that?” What I had just purchased was a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of ketchup and an onion. An automatic question like that doesn’t make me feel like they want to be helpful; it tells me they’re not paying attention. Or, perhaps, they are implying that anyone as aged and frail as I am, shouldn’t be trusted getting to their car with such a load.

In Fromm and Schlesinger’s The Real Heroes of Business, they say, “If you want to know how to give great service, find people who do it and watch them.”  If you want to know how to avoid giving great service, watch people who annoy you. (By the way, there are lots more of the latter than the former.) Then decide which you want as your role model.

Person without a smiling face must not open a shop. ~ Chinese Proverb

Have you visited Inspiration Station yet? My plan for that part of the site is to explore different places from an entrepreneurial point of view. The current locale is one of my favorite places—Venice, Italy. I’ve been thinking about Venice since I wrote the pieces there, so I was particularly intrigued by a story in the latest issue of Ode magazine. 

It’s a short piece about a women’s prison on Giudecca Island, which is a short distance from mainland Venice. The Santa Maria degli Angeli project is a wildly successful enterprise run by the prisoners who have a garden, greenhouse and cosmetics lab. The soaps, lotions and shampoos they produce are purchased by upscale hotels. Not only do the women share in the profits of this business, studies have shown that once they’re released, they tend to become highly production citizens.

Another project that has an even longer track record is San Francisco’s Delancey Street Foundation. Thousands of felons, drug abusers and illiterate members of the community are thriving thanks to this project. What’s their secret? Here’s what their Website says: ” We have pioneered an entrepreneurial pathway out of poverty. We have successfully developed over 20 enterprises run completely by formerly unskilled people using the each-one-teach-one philosophy. We have pooled our resources so that our enterprises have provided about 60% of the funding and growth of our organization.” 

Besides their impressive record of giving people at the bottom of society a new life, what’s fascinating about the Delancey Street Foundation is the kind of businesses they run. They are the largest local moving company in San Francisco. Imagine how much resistance the idea of using former felons as household movers must have gotten! Another enterprise is an upscale restaurant  entirely staffed by ex-convicts. People who come to the restaurant not knowing about their background quickly learn when they read the menu who is cooking and serving their meal. 

So here’s my question: If  the Giudecca Women’s Prison and the Delancey Street Foundation knows about the personal growth rewards of self-employment, why aren’t our schools raving about the Joyfully Jobless option? Free enterprise needs a new press agent.

Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are. ~ Paul Hawken


I got this e-mail today and as I was answering it, I got thinking there might be other readers feeling the same way. So here’s the question and how I answered it:

I’m planning to take your upcoming class on goalsetting. I feel like I’m not sure how/what can make me focus better. I wonder if it’s even possible for me to accomplish such a path sometimes. I find I tend to feel bad not to spend time with family and friends or my mind gets lost in worrying about them or pleasing them, etc…or taking time at 10pm at night to watch Donny Deutsch… or go do other things. How do you and the others really achieve all of this stuff and find time for everything else?

I know you get a lot of emailings from a wide range of personal growth teachers. Maybe Step One for you is to really decide what is most valuable–even rank all those emailing as A, B, C–and unsubscribe from the Cs. Only look at the Bs if you have buckets of time to spend. (This advice comes from a fine classic by Alan Lakein called How To Get Control of Your Time and Your Life.)

Secondly, do you have a theme, an organizing principle? It sounds as if Simplify! might be fitting for the next 90 days. Then every activity, invitation, distraction is held up to that mirror. Does it take me closer or farther away from a simpler, richer life?

It’s sorting again. A, B, C.

Also, if cleaning up your office is a starting point (and it’s a good one) do it with the spirit of William Morris who famously said, “Have nothing in your houses that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Physical clutter is often very connected to mental clutter. It’s also easier to handle. So if you tackle that project with the intention of getting rid of anything that’s not fabulous or meaningful or representative of who you are right now, you’re bound to get free of some of the mental stuff that’s also keeping you stuck.

If you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your family and friends, for instance, talk to them and negotiate something that works. Tell them you need to focus on laying a foundation for your business and ask them how you can spend time with them in a way that’s satisfying, but not excessive. A special day or gathering every few weeks may be a better solution than regular, but not so festive, times together. Then when you are together, you’re really there and not thinking about things you need to be working on.

Then there’s this fine quote from Jim Loehr who has a book on storytelling: Life is enriched because of the commitment, passion and focus we give it, not the time we give it.

Buon viaggio….good journey. How nice to have you along.

This blog has been a long time brewing. Hardly a day passes when I don’t come across a fascinating new business idea, inspiring story or useful resource and want to pass it along. Up until now, I haven’t had a vehicle for doing so. That’s where Buon Viaggio comes in.

Here’s what you can expect if you come to visit often. There won’t be much ranting, but there will be lots of raving. I’ve also taken a vow of brevity since I know how distracting and time-consuming it can be to keep up with all that’s happening in Cyberspace. And I promise you that I’ll never blog about what I’m having for lunch.

After all, you’ve got dreams to build and that’s where you should be spending your time and energy.  I’m going to do my best to add momentum to those dreams in many different ways—without taking up a lot of your time. 

So if you need a daily shot of inspiration, this is the place to find it. Benvenuto!

It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity. ~ Dag Hammarskjold