A month after my daughter and her family moved to Austin, TX, I went to visit them in their new hometown. As soon as I walked off the plane, I saw signs that this is a place that is proud of local businesses. The airport has few chain businesses, but you can find Salt Lick bar-b-que, Amy’s ice cream and magazines and books from Book People.

Jennie, Hector and their kids picked me up at the airport and we were off to explore. Before we went to their house, I got the mini-tour. When I commented on all the people we saw who were running, walking or bicycling, Jennie said, “This town isn’t about buying stuff; it’s about doing stuff.” I liked it already. I got even more interested when Hector exclaimed, “What I love about this place is all the little independent businesses.”

That entrepreneurial spirit has rubbed off on both of them. Early this year, Hector launched his online business, Live Counseling, which uses 21st Century  technology to connect clients with experts from many fields. Jennie opened her doula practice, Sweet Beginnings, to give support to pregnant women before, during and after childbirth.

While it’s hard to miss all the local ventures in this lively and creative city, you can see the planning process at work at any one of the local coffee shops that are springing up all over town. One of my favorites is Dominican Joe where you’ll see almost as many laptops as coffee cups. Eavesdrop on the folks at the next table and you’re apt to hear enthusiastic brainstorming.

Austin entrepreneurs have another terrific resource to help them on their Joyfully Jobless Journey. In a beautifully restored post-Victorian house David Walker runs Austin’s first co-working space called Conjunctured. He and his partners have created a place where solo entrepreneurs can come and work in a less isolated environment.  Walker is wildly enthusiastic about the Joyfully Jobless life, but this isn’t his only business. He’s also co-owner of 302 Designs which produces t-shirts with beautiful designs and inspirational words. When I met him last fall, Walker had just signed a contract with Whole Foods who will be distributing their shirts. Everything about being an entrepreneur seems to excite him.

When the new Red Rocks Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas decided to include an authentic Texas bar-b-que restaurant they scoured the Lone Star state looking for the best they could find. Austin’s Salt Lick was the winner. Even though the Vegas locale is in my neighborhood and the menu is the same, I prefer the original for ambiance. Located in the gorgeous Hill Country outside of Austin, the original features long wooden picnic tables, live music and country hospitality.

If a visit to Salt Lick isn’t enough to satisfy your bar-b-que cravings, the County Line, with two locations in Austin, offers up more genuine treats for carnivores.

Another business caught my eye on my first visit when we passed a parking lot where there was a shiny Airstream trailer with a giant cupcake on the roof—and a long line of people. As I was about to discover every time we passed that way, the long line of people never diminished. I couldn’t wait to learn more about Hey Cupcake! As soon as it was politely possible to excuse myself, I began investigating this business on the Internet. I found out that Hey Cupcake! is the brainchild of Wes Hurt, a 20-something Texan who says he was born entrepreneurial.

His story reminded me of an article I wrote in Winning Ways newsletter called Take a Trip, Come Back With a Business. That’s exactly what Hurt did. The inspiration came during a trip to New York when he visited the Magnolia Bakery. He says, “I waited in line for 20 minutes or so and was amazed by the enthusiasm and anticipation emanating from everyone in line. That day I started planning what would eventually be Hey Cupcake!”

Hurt’s idea wasn’t exactly an instant success, however. He opened his first cupcake stand on the campus at the University of Texas where about 10,000 students passed by daily. Unfortunately, not enough of them stopped to buy a cupcake. Hurt was disappointed, but in true entrepreneurial fashion decided to revamp. He changed locations and moved into the Airstream. That did the trick. On their busiest days, they now sell about 1,000 cupcakes.

Of course, there’s more to the business community than food. Happily, Austin is home to one of the great independent booksellers, Book People. If you’re a booklover, you’ll find two floors of temptation here. There’s an extensive children’s section, gifts and all sorts of in-store events including author appearances, book camps for teens and preteens and weekly story hours for the younger crowd.

In this health-conscious community you’ll find lots of yoga studios, gyms and numerous alternative health practitioners offerings their services. One of the loveliest spas in the area is The Crossings, which is also home to retreats and workshops.

Finally, if you want to see more of the entrepreneurial spirit in action, visit some of the small towns in the gorgeous Hill Country surrounding Austin. There’s Fredericksburg, home to dozens of little shops, restaurants and charming bed and breakfast inns. Or take a slightly longer drive and you’ll find yourself in Gruene, situated between Austin and San Antonio. How could you ignore a place whose slogan is, “Gently resisting change since 1872”?

We don’t need to push life so much as we need to
experience it more elegantly, to be motivated more by
inspiration than by ambition.
~ Marianne Williamson

If you’re like me, you may have given little thought to inspiration. For much of my life, I believed that inspiration was random and rare—and something only artists cared about. I would occasionally hear someone say, “I was struck by inspiration,” but that only reinforced the notion that it was an infrequent event. My thinking has changed about that, of course, and so are the results I see in bringing my own visions to life.

I’m not sure how that change occurred, but I do know that there’s nothing rare about inspiration. While it still remains somewhat mysterious, I now  know that it’s not a feeling, it’s a phenomenon… and a rather quiet one at that. Although we may sometimes feel fired up in an inspired moment, it’s equally possible that an inspired state is serene.

Inspiration comes bearing gifts. It expands our horizons, transcends and dissolves obstacles, makes us feel both lighter and more powerful at the same time. Inspiration always leads to more, not less. When operating from this state, we feel more creative, more confident, more intelligent, more loving, more alive. It also engenders trust that we’ll always have what we need, when we need it. Inspiration is the loving parent of innovation, problem-solving and action. It’s nearly impossible to be inspired and complain at the same time.

Best of all, it’s absolutely free and available to anyone who wants it. The trick is knowing that it needs to be invited. As James R. Ball reminds us, “An uninspired mind is a handicap we can all do something about.”

You may know you’ll be inspired when visiting Venice, but what about the rest of the time, the time spent in familiar surroundings? What if, in addition to putting yourself in inspiring environments, you were equally determined to create your very own Inspiration Station right where you are? Here are some ways to do just that.

Know what inspires you. Inspiration triggers are highly personal and unique to each of us. Writer Philip Pullman says, “I don’t know where inspiration comes from, but I know

it goes to my desk, and if I am not there to receive it, it goes away again.” Music, stories, even smells can help move us into an inspired state of being. So can work. The late Michael Crichton, who was a prolific writer, said, “Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you are interested, keep working. If you are bored, keep working.”

Just as important is to know what robs you of your inspiration and eliminate those psychic vampires from your environment.

Take a fresh look at your workspace. When Karyn Ruth White first set up shop at home, her office looked like a cold, impersonal cubicle. “No wonder I never wanted to go there,” she now says. Her current home office is anything but impersonal, with wonderful artwork and favorite quotes positioned on the walls surrounding her desk so she can see them easily.

Valerie Young's view

The place I call World Headquarters is a shrine to things that I love. There’s a vintage travel poster from Venice, a Chihuly drawing, and a framed reminder from John Ruskin which says, “We are not sent into this world to do anything which is not in our hearts.”

A room with a view can also be a source of inspiration. Valerie Young looks out her home office windows and sees woods and a field where cows peacefully graze.

Move things around. Uncluttering expert Peter Walsh has discovered that people who live in massively cluttered places reach a point where they stop seeing how bad it is. Even if our environment is spotless and tidy, it’s easy to become indifferent to our surroundings. Every few months, move your desk (if possible) and rearrange the things hanging on your walls.

Keep things that inspire you close at hand. When I first met Chris Utterback, I called her one morning when nothing was going right. “Make me laugh,” I demanded when she answered the phone. To my surprise, she said, “Just a minute. I’ll go get my cartoon scrapbook.” That was a new idea to me, but ever since, I’ve kept a folder labeled Make Me Laugh so I always know where to look when I need a giggle.

I take seriously Gustav Flaubert’s observation, “The greatest goal in life is not the attainment of fame. The principal thing in this world is to keep one’s soul aloft,” so

I also keep favorite books and music within reach in case I have an inspiration emergency. For instance, two books that made a huge difference in my life when I was contemplating self-employment were Supergirls: The Autobiography of an Outrageous Business  by Claudia Jessup and Genie Chipps and Macy’s, Gimbles and Me by Bernice Fitz-Gibbon. Both titles are long out of print, but have a permanent home on my bookshelves. Even after all these years, I consult them both from time to time.

Since I also think quotes can be sources of instant inspiration, I keep files of favorites on my computer.

Change the scenery. Julia Cameron advocates regular Artist Dates, time away from your office or studio to explore. Whether you call it an Artist Date or Inspiration Field Trip, you need it.  Designer Kaffe Fassett talks about hours he spent at the V & A Museum in London gathering ideas for his designs. I love the idea of regularly strolling through a shop or garden or museums in search of new ideas.

Equally important, it seems to me, is to have a short list of nearby spots where you can take yourself from time to time. Bookstores and libraries are high on my list although plenty of folks like plunking down with their laptops in a coffee shop.

Connect with inspiring people.As popular as social networking has become, it can’t replace the experience of spending time in the presence of people who lift your spirits. Whether it’s a formal master mind group or an informal collection of others who are building their dreams, actively find ways to connect.

One of the most memorable gatherings I planned came the first year I lived in Las Vegas and discovered I needed another 1,000 miles to keep my elite status with my old airline. I decided to make a turnaround trip to Minnesota and invited my joyfully jobless friends to join me at the airport. It was such a lively party that I could barely tear myself away when it was time to reboard my plane.

It was also a powerful reminder that when we take responsibility for staying inspired, we naturally inspire others to be their best.

Even though I haven’t had much personal contact with Venetian entrepreneurs, there are two I will never forget.

Claudio is the owner of a small hotel I stayed in on a visit a few years ago. One morning he and I had a long visit about his hotel (a Rick Steves recommendation) and what his life as a native Venetian was like. On the morning I checked out, he was at the front desk. After we’d completed our business, I said, “Claudio, I enjoyed my stay. When I come back I will be sure to stay with you again.”

He bowed slightly and said, “I shall be here, Madam, awaiting your return.”  I giggled all the way to the train station thinking that Claudio would be there to welcome me back.

Then there’s Carlo. In October, 2006, my siblings and I rented an apartment in Venice for a week. When we arrived at the vaporetto stop, we were greeted by our temporary landlord Carlo. He shook hands with each of us and then escorted us back to the 500-year-old building he owns. The first thing I noticed about him was that he didn’t actually walk: he bounced. And he smiled a lot.

The next afternoon he stopped by to make sure that things were running smoothly. “So, Carlo,” I asked, “where did you learn to speak English so well?” The grin got even bigger and he told us how he’d decided to learn English when he was sixteen and began his lessons by  listening to Simon and Garfunkel. A few years later, he went to London and was dismayed to learn that nobody could understand him.

We invited him to sit down and tell us more about this building which he was renovating. What followed was a delightful story about creative entrepreneurship. He told us he’d been a pharmacist, but when the building came into his family rather unexpectedly, he left his pharmacy to devote himself to his new enterprise. His parents occupied an apartment on the ground floor and there was another space he rented to a group of architects. Carlo lived on the top floor while the other four apartments were vacation rentals.

Redoing the building had been a huge undertaking and he seemed to be enjoying it all. I tried to imagine how difficult it would be to rehab an old building in a city where everything had to be brought and removed by  motorboat. It seemed daunting, but Carlo seemed to have taken it all in stride.

When Carlo told us that he was facing a couple of off-season months with few takers, my sister Margaret suggested he advertise on Craigslist, which he hadn’t heard about. To our delight—and his—he promptly got two bookings after posting on that popular site.

If there are more charming landlords and hotel owners than Carlo and Claudio, I have yet to meet them.

Further Explorations

Writers, painters and musicians have found inspiration in this elegant city. From William Shakespeare to Indiana Jones, Venice has proved a fascinating backdrop for storytelling.


  • A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlene di Blesi is the story of an American food writer and restauranteur who falls in love with a Venetian banker and moves to Italy. While the book is treated by critics and readers alike as a romantic tale, I saw something else: how di Blesi’s entrepreneurial spirit infected her new husband who ultimately leaves his dreary job.
  • The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt was not the story the author was planning to write when he landed in Venice, but an intriguing city disaster led to this unusual glimpse into modern Venice society. The audio version is also good.
  • If you love mysteries, American teacher-turned-writer Donna Leon has a series set in her adopted hometown.
  • There are countless works of fiction and nonfiction covering all eras of this enchanting city.  DK’s Eyewitness travel guide to Venice and the Veneto is fun to read, as is The Collected Traveler anthology of Venice, if you’re really curious.


  • The Merchant of Venice has been made into film several times with the role of Shylock played by Sir Laurence Olivier and Al Pacino, among others.
  • Dangerous Beauty is a personal favorite about an impoverished Venetian woman who becomes a courtesan when she learns that women in that profession have access to libraries. Based on a true story of the life of an early feminist.
  • What exploration of Venice would be complete without Casanova? The 2005 movie with Heath Ledger as the legendary lover is charming and fun.
  • Bread and Tulips is a movie that will be especially appealing to those who have visited Italy.
  • And, of course, there’s the romantic classic, Summertime, with Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi.

Venice, Italy is an exotic and mysterious place that attracts visitors from around the world. It’s been doing so for centuries.

In its heyday, it was a rich and powerful center of trade and business. Poised between East and West, Venice became a city of merchants, many of whom ran their empires from exquisite palazzos designed to serve as their business headquarters, as well as being the family home. These gorgeous buildings still line the Grand Canal, greeting newcomers entering the city by vaporetti.

A typical Venetian house had an elaborate facade facing the canal since visitors and clients usually arrived by boat. The house was tall and narrow, with the ground floor serving as an office and, perhaps, warehouse. The second floor was used to entertain visitors and discuss business affairs, while the family quarters were kept on the third floor. Many houses also had additions on the street side that were used as an office, but  frequently became personal libraries.

So, you see, the home business movement  isn’t such a new idea after all. The Venetians, who did it more elegantly than anyone, were running international enterprises from their homes hundreds of years ago.

Despite heroic efforts to preserve Venice’s elegant buildings, the days when merchant ships sailed in and out laden with exotic cargo are long over. Today’s Venetian entrepreneur is more apt to be a shopkeeper catering to tourists—or a musician playing Vivaldi. If you are visiting, take a walk off the tourist paths and wander into a residential area. If you happen upon a supermarket or hardware store, pay a visit. It’s also worth a boat ride to see the glass shops of Murano where you’ll find pieces done by imaginative artists, alongside tackier pieces intended as souvenirs. The Lido is another island which is home to the Venice Film Festival. It also has the distinction of having streets where buses and cars can drive as well as beaches.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother reading to me, “They’re changing guards at Buckingham Palace, Christopher Robin went down with Alice.” My passion for London started long ago and it has never subsided. Like many Anglophiles, I became smitten with all things British from reading books, long before I ever made a visit.

Now, as an entrepreneur, I’m equally fascinated by the businesses that cater to local and visiting booklovers. If a London visit is on your horizon, here are a few places worth exploring.

Daunt Books Marylebone High Street, London

Browse in a bookstore. If you were to spend a month in London, you’d have to visit twenty-five stores a day just to take them all in. Assuming that your time is more limited, head straight to Charing Cross Road and stroll along this booklover’s paradise. Coming out of the Leister Square Tube Station, turn right and you’ll come upon Quinto, a dusty used bookseller and Zwemmer, specializing in design and art. In 2001 rents were raised sharply in the area so many of the smaller specialty shops are no longer there. In the next block is the famous Foyle’s, not an especially easy store to navigate. Check out the side streets, too, for more antiquarian and specialist shops.

Travel with guides, fiction and non-fiction organized by country. www.DauntBooks.co.uk

The smaller shops scattered around London are where you’re most apt to meet a bookselling entrepreneur. In the charming The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, there’s this observation about booksellers which is as true today as it was in post-World War II times when the book is set: “”No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one—the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it—along with first dibs on the new books.”

You might be tempted to skip the chains, but don’t miss Waterstone’s in Piccadilly which claims to be the largest bookstore in Europe with seven floors of books. Each floor features books by category and has lots of lounging space. You can also have a bite to eat in the fifth floor cafe which has a spectacular view overlooking the Millennium Wheel.

Hear an author talk. Writers are the original homebased business owners. Author appearances are as popular in London as they are in the U.S. And, for the most part, you can listen to a contemporary author read from their latest book or discuss their writing career for free. Some bookstores charge a small admission fee, but allow you to redeem your ticket against the purchase of a book.

Most dependable for locating events and signings is Time Out, the weekly entertainment magazine. Locate the “Books & Poetry” section of the magazine for a current listing of events. Besides author appearances, they also publicize writer’s workshops and poetry readings which are open to the public. Even if you aren’t up on contemporary English literature, this could be an interesting way to spend an evening.

Take a guided tour.  Of all the small companies conducting walking tours, London Walks has the broadest selection of offerings. You can join London Walks and explore London’s Literary Golden Mile or follow in the footsteps of Eliza Doolittle. There’s Oscar Wilde’s London, along with that of Shakespeare and Dickens. Or you might choose a pub crawl that includes a few haunts of famous writers.


London Walks not only offers a wide range of walking explorations, they also have a diverse and entertaining group of tour guides. Many of the guides are actors, while others are art historians, authors or former museum employees. Still others have special qualifications. Alan, for instance, is the chief researcher and archivist of the Oscar Wilde Society and conducts his Wilde Walk attired as Mr. Wilde himself.

These two hour walks, which take place rain or shine, cost a mere £7.00 and are a wonderful way to pick up fascinating details about your favorite authors. Telephone: 020 7624 3978 www.Walks.com

Margaret, Barbara and Bill in London
Bill Bryson with
Barbara and Margaret Winter

Be a Bohemian for a day.  Bloomsbury, the area surrounding the British Museum, has long had a reputation as a scholarly oasis located in West Central London. Long before Virginia Woolf & Company made this area the height of literary fashion, writers had discovered this peaceful place. Thackeray writes about the area in Vanity Fair; earlier residents included Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Gertrude Stein.

However, Bloomsbury became most famous as a literary mecca when the Bloomsbury Group was formed. Although this group is remembered as a literary band, they’re also remembered for their ferocious insistence on personal and sexual liberty and freedom of expression. That should give you plenty of ideas about how you might behave on your Bloomsbury visit.
Begin your Bohemian adventure (dressed in black, of course) by taking the Tube to Holburn. This commercial area is unimpressive and somewhat frenetic. Follow the signs towards the British Museum and you’ll begin to move into a quieter and gentler neighborhood. This area has several lovely public areas, the largest of which is Russell Square. Although the ambiance has changed, you’ll find many vestiges of Bloomsbury’s literary connections by simply strolling along Bedford Place and Woburn Street. Blue plaques adorn the houses of Nos. 46, 50 and 51 Gordon Square where Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf and others of the Bloomsbury Group once lived; at No. 5 Woburn Walk you’ll find the former residence of William Butler Yeats.

Enjoy the perfect place to spend a rainy day. The new British Library is a feast for any booklover. Long housed in the British Museum, the new Library was opened amidst controversy on November 24, 1997. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable place to escape on a cold and rainy day.  Take the Tube to King’s Cross Station, turn right on St. Pancreas and walk about a block and a half.

All sorts of author talks and book-related events take place at the Library, most of them open to the public. There are three (well, four with the gift shop) main attractions. The priceless personal library of King George III is a spectacular display housed behind glass walls that are six stories high. The King’s Library contains some 65,000 volumes, 20,000 pamphlets and 400 manuscripts. While the contents are only available to serious scholars, visitors can enjoy the display while visiting the Cafe or Restaurant.

The manuscript room is the main attraction, however. It always takes my breath away to see an original notebook of Jane Austen’s, a first folio of Shakespeare, and the lyrics to a Beatle’s tune scribbled on a scrap of paper.  Besides historical books, you’ll also find original music compositions such as Handel’s Messiah with annotations.

Skip the hotel. Maggie Dobson is the entrepreneur behind At Home in London which matches up visitors with locals offering homey bed and breakfast accommodations. I have given up pricey hotel stays since discovering this great little business. Because Dobson selects carefully, her hosts are superb. www.AtHomeInLondon.co.uk

Explore on your own. When Napoleon called England a nation of shopkeepers, he didn’t mean it as a compliment, but you’ll be happy to learn that many small enterprises have survived throughout London. Even with the infusion of chain stores, London neighborhoods still house plenty of fascinating shops offering a wide range of goods, old and new.