delPrado FamilyAfter spending ten days with my siblings in Lucca, Italy, I planned to take the train back to Venice, have a bonus afternoon in my favorite city, then fly home the next day.

That plan began to unravel when I went to buy my ticket and discovered a 24-hour train strike was scheduled for exactly the time I wanted to travel. After making numerous telephone calls to find an alternative option, I was assured that some trains would still be running.

What I wasn’t told was that I’d be making a 5 hour sidetrip to Bologna. That little surprise didn’t arrive until we’d all gotten off the train in Bologna. Many of my fellow travelers were visibly upset.

Realizing there was nothing I could do about the change in plans, I decided to look for the gift in this delay. I also suspected I was being naively optimistic.

Nevertheless, I attached myself to the del Prado family from the Philippines who were backpacking around Europe with their five delightful children. I had noticed them on the train and was curious to learn more about their adventures.

Wing, the mother, was not coping with the delay very well so I invited her to have a cappuccino with me.When I answered her question about what I do (I’m a self-employment advocate), she said, “You’re talking about me!”

I spent the next several minutes learning about her business selling handmade children’s clothing. Then I chatted with the eldest son, Ramon, who had started a business as an animator and was about to have his first film shown on television.

Since we weren’t sure exactly when our train to Venice would actually arrive, we couldn’t explore Bologna. So we hung out and spent the time together chatting and laughing and surmising about the time when we’d finally arrive in our destination.

While getting to know these entrepreneurial folks was great fun, the thing that everyone noticed about the del Prados was how kind the children were to each other. Despite being together for days, they seemed to enjoy the company of each other and the shared adventure they were having.

That same kindness was extended to me and when we finally parted at the train station in Venice, we were all on the verge of tears. The father said, “Thank you for making our trip so pleasant. We’ll always think of you as Auntie Barbara.”

As I walked off into the darkness toward my hotel, I immediately noticed that the sidewalk was covered with water. Raised platforms had been brought in to make walking possible. I struggled to navigate the temporary walkway in the dark pulling my suitcase.

When I got to the hotel, I asked about the flooding and was told there’d been such a storm all day in Venice that it looked like a hurricane was coming through.

Had I arrived at the time I wanted to, I’d have gotten drenched and had to spend the afternoon and evening in my hotel room.

Meeting the del Prados was a lot more fun than that—and a reminder that delays can come bearing a gift.

Dreams are extremely fragile—especially in their early days. Dreams, like babies and seedlings, need to be nurtured and surrounded by support.

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

° Passion must be present. While a dream may be born in passion, it’s up to you to keep it alive. If you’re halfhearted 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 that vision to keep pulling you forward.

° Take good care of the boss. It doesn’t matter how great a dream is if the dream keeper is too tired or too 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.

° 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.

If you’re in your home burn incense, play classical music, have a tabletop fountain. Cover your wall with art or an inspiration board that features pictures of your dream. And if you’re sitting on a beach, pick one with a great view.

° Take responsibility for staying inspired. There are three ways to run a business: Inspired, Uninspired or With Occasional Flashes of Inspiration.

Identify the things that inspire you and expose yourself to them frequently. Whether it’s music, words from a favorite author or other entrepreneur, or some spot in nature, know where your Inspiration Well is located and go there often.

° 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 that guide them.

° Be open to being inspired at all times. You never know where a great idea or solutions to a problem will come from.

Like Sir Richard Branson, carry a notebook with you at all times 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 thought. Do not, however, text them to yourself while driving.

° Notice what catches your attention. What makes you happy? What causes an emotional response? These are clues. Apathy is not a success tool.

Take time to pay attention to advertising and marketing that you like—and that you loath. Consider how you can bring the qualities you respond to into your business.

° 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. Seminars and coffee shops are great places to scout for new friends.

° 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 park, visit a museum or walk in a Japanese garden.

Challenge yourself to come up with new backdrops that feed your soul.

Although my sister Nancy moved to Greece in the early seventies, it wasn’t until twenty years later that I made my first visit. Not only were the ruins of Athens, Delphi and Corinth new to me, the trip was filled with many other firsts.

I ate food I’d never encountered before, made my way around a country with a different alphabet than ours, and haggled with shopkeepers. All of these new experiences made the trip unforgettable—and taught me things I’d never have learned otherwise.

Of course, we don’t need to travel to distant lands to find new adventures.

From time to time, I do a little inventory to see how many new experiences I’m giving myself. I often think of Gelett Burgess’ observation: “If in the last few years you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.”

I have no desire to end every year with the same opinions and experiences with which I started it. One of the best ways to insure that doesn’t happen is to embrace as many firsts as I can squeeze in.

Firsts are important not only for the pleasure that they bring. They’re also a concrete way to measure growth and progress.

If we aren’t constantly putting ourselves into new situations, trying new things, challenging a fear, opening ourselves to new ideas, meeting different people, how can be possibly become all that we’re meant to be?

“The person who never alters their opinion,” sputtered William Blake, “is like standing water and breeds reptiles of the mind.”

Without a steady stream of new experiences, we are in danger of becoming stagnate. I’ve met too many people who are living proof that this is so.

Some experiences really do only come around once in a lifetime. We don’t get a second chance at some of life’s firsts.

Our first kiss, our baby’s first steps, opening our first business, can only happen once.

There are other firsts we’re happy to have as a singular experience, like eating squid or spending the night in an airport after a flight is canceled.

Sometimes once is enough, but we can’t really know for sure unless we give it a try.

If you really want to build daily excitement and energy, challenge yourself regularly to do things for the first time. Remember that perfection and mastery are not your goals.

Learning more about yourself and expanding your pleasure options are what you’re after here.

Who knows? You might be one of those folks who tries bungee jumping to celebrate your ninetieth birthday. Even if you aren’t, you will never grow dull if you keep looking for ways to experience as many firsts as you can possibly imagine.

So when was the last time you did something for the first time?

Psychologist Eda LeShan said that middle-age occurs when you realize that  you won’t live long enough to read all the books you want to read. According to LeShan’s definition, some of us were born middle-aged.

Finding the time to read isn’t just a problem of our busy, modern world. Back in the 14th Century, Italian poet Francesco Petrarca faced the same dilemma and solved his conflict this way: “Whether I am being shaved, or having my hair cut, whether I am riding on horseback or taking my meals, I either read myself or get someone to read to me.”

Doubling up on activities is, of course, one way of squeezing in more reading time. Here are several other tips gleaned from voracious readers.

° Carry a book with you at all times. Paperbacks are wonderfully portable and make it easy to tuck a favorite into your purse or briefcase and use those unexpected free moments while your waiting to read a chapter or two. iPads and Kindle are other popular mobile companions.

Some readers finish a number of books every year in those odd moments waiting for the dentist or lunch companion.

° Eliminate something else that takes your time. What habitual time-users fill your days? Mind-numbing reality shows? Adjusting your schedule ever so slightly could open up reading space. Take a look.

° Listen to audiobooks. Authors and actors narrate both fiction and nonfiction titles—and the list of titles keeps growing. I’ve finished several books just running errands around town.

I find them indispensable for longer road trips. Audiobooks are also great when housework is being done.

° Travel by public transportation. If it’s possible to take a bus or train, rather than drive yourself, you can get lots of reading done in transit. The London Tube is full of readers, as are other subways, buses and trains.

° Wear your iPod. Just don’t turn it on. If your reading time takes place in a noisy lunchroom or airplane, don a headset or earbuds. It will block outside noises and deter others from chatting with you when you’d rather be reading.

° Don’t finish books that you don’t enjoy. Sounds obvious to me, but many folks think there’s something wrong with stopping midway through a book. Nonsense. Get on to another that brings more pleasure.

° Learn to skim. Time expert Alan Lakein suggests, “When you pick up a book, start by reading the headlines in the book jacket. Then glance through the book quickly, looking for something of interest to you…Your job in reading a book is to find the key ideas and understand their application to your situation.”

That only works for nonfiction, of course.

° Have a regular reading time daily. Even reading for 15 minutes every day will yield big results over time. Tune into your own special body clock and discover the times when you feel less energetic, less creative. Take advantage of these lower energy times to schedule your reading. For many people, bedtime is still their favorite time to enjoy a good book.

° Make reading a high priority. Books should feed your imagination as well as provide information. Be eclectic in your reading and clear about why it matters to you. Even in this high tech world, booklovers continue to delight at the smell and feel of a book in their hands telling a story that transports.

Devoted readers smile in agreement at Anna Quindlen’s observation: “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people whose idea of decorating is to add more bookshelves.”

 

 

What many people fail to realize is that dreams are extremely fragile—especially in their early days. Dreams need to be nurtured and surrounded by support.

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

° Passion must be present. While a dream may be born in passion, it’s up to you to keep it alive. If you’re halfhearted 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.

° 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.

° 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.

° 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.

° 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.

° 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 at all times 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.

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

° 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.

° 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.

In one of the first books I ever read about self-employment, You, Inc., author Peter Weaver pointed out that people who work for themselves tend to take better care of themselves.

“I’ve found that most people who have their own small businesses seem to run a little harder, stay a little thinner, drink less and smoke less,” Weaver wrote. “Oh, you can find some who are florid-faced, wheezing, too fat, drink too much and smoke too much, but in general most self-bossers tend to take care of themselves.

“Maybe it’s because they realize that they are the most important asset on their company’s books. They’ve invested so much time and money in their business, they want to protect their investment.

“Then, maybe it’s because they’re happier with life and they don’t feel the need to overindulge as a means of escape.”

As you may have heard, October 16 is National Boss’s Day. If you’re the boss of you, I suggest you celebrate heartily.

Slip off to a movie matinee.

Send flowers to yourself.

Invite a Joyfully Jobless friend or two out for lunch.

Write a Gratitude List of all the blessings your business has brought you.

Set a new bold goal.

By all means, look in the mirror and blow yourself a big kiss.

Being the boss rocks. Celebrate!

Despite numerous stories extolling the profound rewards of taking time away, it’s an idea that is not being as heartily embraced as it might be. In fact, many people find the whole notion downright terrifying.

Because the concept of regular sabbaticals throughout our lifetime has been so ignored in recent times, there’s some confusion over what constitutes a true sabbatical.

My definition of sabbatical is time away with a purpose. The purpose of such a time is not to abandon your life, but to enrich it.

In the original concept, first defined in the Old Testament book of Hebrews, a sabbatical was to be taken by everyone, every seven years. During this year off, fields were to lie fallow, debts were to be forgiven, relationships were to be repaired and introspection was encouraged.

Over time, of course, the notion disappeared and today many people don’t even observe a weekly Sabbath, much less consider an entire year of restoration.

Whether you’re in a year divisible by seven or not, here are several signs that it is the perfect time to consider a sabbatical of your own:

° You can’t remember the last time you had a new idea you were excited about.

° You’ve reached all of your goals.

° You’ve reached none of your goals.

° Your kids think you’re a nerd and you suspect they’re right.

° You have a nagging suspicion that you’d be really good at something if you only  had time to learn how to do it.

° You get wistful every time a plane flies overhead.

° Nobody ever asks you what’s new.

° A long-term relationship or career has come to an end.

° You’re ready to find a new hometown.

° You’re tired of being an armchair traveler and want to see distant lands for  yourself.

° You feel drawn to donate your time and talents to a humanitarian cause.

° You need time to do research or start a long-term project.

° Your soul is weary.

If any of these describe you, it’s time to let go of the excuses and get going.

“What I discovered is that when you make the time and the space for what you long to do,” says Sarah Susanka, “everything else shifts to accommodate it. It never works the other way around. If you wait until there’s time to do what you want, you’ll be waiting until your eighty-fifth birthday.”

Hardly a day passes when I don’t encounter someone who is unwilling to give up even a speck of comfort in order to go after their dreams. How sad.

Although I don’t know the source, these words have been on my mind as I’ve been listening to the litanies of excuses: To dream costs nothing; to not follow costs everything.

The truth is, dreams can make us uncomfortable. After all, they challenge us to be more, do more and have more—and that can make us squirm.

Finding answers, finding direction, finding passion all begin with asking questions that stimulate fresh ideas and insights.

If you’re feeling brave (or even if you aren’t) give some serious thought to these uncomfortable questions:

Who wins if I abandon my dreams?

Who wins if I commit to my dreams?

What evidence do I have that I truly support my dreams?

What can I learn now that will help me accomplish my dreams?

What excuses do I need to banish to a distant shore?

What am I willing to trade in order to have my dreams?

Here’s one more thing. In fact, you may have already seen it. Even so, take 31 seconds and watch it again. It’s full of more uncomfortable questions worth answering for yourself.

It’s simply called Learn.

 

 

 

 

Have you ever had the experience of working hard to make a change only to discover that once you had done so, other things seemed to change all by themselves?

I thought of this mysterious phenomenon last week when I got the following message from fellow traveler Alice Barry.

In January I felt a real slump in my energy and felt like I was constantly battling my digestion and feeling awful all the time…really in pain. It was affecting my ability to take on work, focus and feel creative.

I joined a holistic health class to get some support and ended up kicking gluten out of my diet completely. Things changed instantly.

One of the biggest changes, besides clear thinking and great digestion with no pain, is that I am now actually losing weight naturally. I’m down 2 inches on my waist and my pants are falling off!

The other benefit is that after mucking through 2010 with not a single new idea for myself, I feel like the flood gates have opened.

I’ve started to talk out loud about my desire to learn voice over — something I’ve always dreamed of but allowed my theater professor’s discouragement to steer me away from so many years ago.

Last week, in a class I’m taking, I started brainstorming ways I could start applying my voice to the small business and entrepreneurial clients I have right now. Here’s where it gets good.

Three days later a contact of mine called me out of the blue and asked if I would be someone who could do the voice over work for a promotional video she had recently shot to promote her speaking engagements! Naturally, I accepted. Then I asked a friend of mine who does voice over here to record me and coach me on it and he agreed without hesitation.

All this plus I have a full schedule of clients…about half business coaching and half naming and branding.

After spending 2009 giving every dime I made to my lawyer to break away from my former business partner, I can say that I have now far surpassed that pay out and am actually in the flow once again—but beyond where I’ve ever been before.

Barbara, every day I’m so honored to pass along to my clients all the insights I’ve learned from you about creating a business that’s right for them. It’s stunning how the smallest tweaks to their thinking push them forward in big ways.

And I’m so aware right now of the foundation you helped me build for how I want to work, the fun I want to have and how beneficial that has been to me. Especially when I see and hear from so many others who are struggling against what’s good for them and what they think they’re supposed to do to build a business.

One thing I think that is so key here is that A.) I have a good foundation of entrepreneurial thinking from absorbing myself in it for years — a foundation that is for working and for living, and B.) therefore making that one change was much easier and felt worth trying even if it wasn’t the answer.

Instead of wallowing in feeling bad or not making progress and isolating myself from people, I started asking questions and telling people how I felt. That landed me in front of the right resource at the right time.

I know have a whole new understanding of how the food we eat affects our energy and the energy we have affects our businesses both in what we can bring in and what we can put out. Changing my energy and my health has directly contributed to my new successes.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of getting to know Alice Barry yourself, pay a visit to her Website  Entertaining the Idea. And if you’re in the area, join Alice and me on May 12 & 13 in Minneapolis for two days of Energize Your Entrepreneurial Spirit.