If you arrived at the end of the holidays last year saying, “Thank goodness that’s over,” you might decide to take a different approach this year. Although the holiday season is supposed to be a time of celebration, many of us find it the most stressful, even depressing, time of the year.

Since the holidays will go on with or without your participation, why not make them the happiest, warmest time possible? 

Begin by giving yourself a gift or two.

Here are some ideas for extra special gift-giving that will eliminate the hassle and expand the pleasure in the busy weeks ahead.

° Give yourself the gift of plenty of time. The sooner you begin to organize your activities, the more relaxed you’ll stay. Start by spending an evening making a list of everything you’ll have to do. Make a list of ways to save time such as shopping off-hours or online.

Set deadlines for activities and put them on your calendar.

° Give yourself the gift of saying no. Part of the overwhelming feeling that comes with the holidays is thinking we have to accept every invitation, bake every cookie from scratch, and run ourselves ragged in the process.

Decide to say no to all the activities that don’t add pleasure. Keep “Less is More” as your motto. Your holidays will be more special if you go for quality, not quantity.

° Give yourself the gift of simplicity. The less complex you can make things, the more time and energy you’ll have to enjoy this season.

Pick one knockout outfit and wear it over and over again to parties. Simplify your shopping by having a theme or giving the same gift to several people.

° Give yourself the gift of extra pampering. Pay more attention to soothing activities like a long, leisurely soak in the tub. Pamper yourself, too, by watching what you eat and drink.

Your nutritional well-being may dissolve when faced with a Yuletide dessert table. Moderation is your friend.

° Give yourself the gift of a new tradition. You may carry around warm memories of holidays in the past and your current reality doesn’t match up. Your holidays will be more wonderful if you create some new traditions for yourself.

If you are far from family, plan a celebration that includes others in the same situation. Or plan a celebration unlike any you’ve ever had. Last year, my sisters, brother, brother-in-law and I spent the week of Christmas in San Miguel de Allende Mexico. It bore little resemblance to our usual holiday, but it was every bit as wonderful.

° Give yourself the gift of hired help. Many enterprising folks start service businesses to help around the holidays.

For a reasonable fee you can get assistance with party-giving, shopping, errand running. If you normally clean your own house, splurge on a cleaning service.

Don’t add to your stress by trying to do everything yourself.

° Give yourself the gift of laughter. If you want this year to be merry and bright, keep your sense of humor.

When things go wrong or not according to plan, don’t forget to keep laughing. Joy, delight and wonder show up when we make an effort to welcome them.

Determine now that you will, indeed, make this the best holiday season ever. Relax, smile and enjoy all the giving and receiving that comes with this time of year. You’ll give yourself and the people you love a holiday season that they’ll remember fondly for years.

Recently a Facebook friend inquired about self-help books and wondered if others found them helpful. There were comments on both sides of the answer.

It got me thinking about this short piece I wrote some time ago.

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When I first discovered the literature of personal growth and development there weren’t many titles to choose from. I read The Power of Positive Thinking, Think and Grow Rich, The Power of Positive Thinking over and over.

That’s all changed, of course, and today there are thousands of self-help titles. I always have a title or two in my current reading pile since 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 on to cherished beliefs is a guaranteed way to prevent growth. “I tried that positive thinking stuff once. Didn’t work,” is the motto of the self-help dropout.

Simply reading a single book (except, perhaps, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield) 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 the 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 slower journey. Exercises are like rest stops along the way, causing us to pause, reflect and apply.

° Right 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.

° Miss the point. As Henry David Thoreau said, “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.”

When I was growing up, my incessant questions were often dismissed with a reminder that curiosity killed the cat. The message, intended or not, was that shrinking was preferable to exploring. This repeated warning has an impact that goes far beyond the deceased cat.

The death of curiosity is the beginning of a lackluster life. Without curiosity we avoid challenges, growth and new experiences. Our world gets smaller and smaller as our fears grow bigger and bigger.

According to researchers, curiosity is more important than intelligence. In fact, there’s nothing silly about it. Here are some easy ways to keep feeding yours.

° Pick a theme and do a photo essay. With everyone running around with a digital camera in their hands these days, it’s never been easier.

Why not create a story in pictures? How about photographing the evolution of your business? Or portraits of people who have made a difference in your life? You might even end up with a new product.

° Lighten up. Curiosity doesn’t do well in a cluttered environment. Taking a load of stuff to the thrift store or donating books to the library are great stress relievers—and open up space for curiosity to come alive.

Get rid of anything and everything that doesn’t express the latest version of you. As you’re sorting through the things that fill your life, keep asking questions about what fits and what has outlived its usefulness.

° Make creative cross training a regular activity. When Georgia Makitalo began doing mosaic work, she discovered that her writing output increased as well.

Anything that stimulates your creative spirit will have a multiplying effect.

Yet it’s easy to let fear and self-doubt keep us from venturing into unknown territory. Get over it.

° Go on a Curious Excursion. You don’t have to go far, but it’s useful if you go someplace new. Of course, museums are perfect for such an exploration, but so is a large hardware store.

° Earn money in a new way. It’s as good for your confidence as it is for your bank account to expand your moneymaking repertoire.

At the beginning, the amount of money isn’t nearly as important as the experience.

It’s about building an Option Bank.

° Feather your nest. Even in a place where you’ve lived for a long time, nesting can be a creative opportunity.

I love Thomas Moore’s observation: “The ordinary arts we practice everyday at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”

° Adopt something. Whether it’s a cause, an orphaned animal or a fledgling entrepreneur, give yourself to something or someone that needs your support and live.

You’ll both be better for it.

Every year more than a million Americans—and thousands of people in other countries—embark on the entrepreneur’s journey. Yet this renaissance of self-employment remains a Quiet Revolution. It’s time to start making some noise.

Banners and bumperstickers will have to wait. This revolution needs to begin with getting informed. Get the big picture. Load up on facts. Make it your hobby to learn about as many entrepreneurs as you can.

Here’s a question I’ve been stumping my friends with lately: “What percentage of all businesses in the United States qualify as micro-businesses with 1-5 people working in them?” The answer surprises everyone—including me.

According to the Small Business Administration 93% of all US firms are micro-businesses. Yes, 93%!

And how much do you think home based businesses contribute to the US economy? Would you believe $500 trillion? That’s what the Bureau of Statistics says.

Happily, this is a global revolution. A case in point is an article from London’s Evening Standard which reported that 300,000 people in the UK choose to become self-employed in a single year.

While the numbers keep going up every place, there’s a lot more we could be doing on behalf of this revolution to make it even bigger and stronger. Let’s consider some practical ways.

There have been several movements in recent times to encourage families to start having dinner together again. Take this a step farther. Whether you have children or dine with a spouse or partner, how about making dinnertime idea time?

Instead of just reporting on the day’s activities, use this time to share ideas, sharpen creative problem-solving skills, and share stories about adventurous people. Make it interesting enough and it will be a daily highlight with everyone learning.

“I prefer revolution to war,” mused Proust. “At least in a revolution only those go who want to.” Yes, revolutionaries are volunteers, not recruits, and that certainly describes us.

So be an active volunteer.

Adopt a guerrilla stance. For years, Jay Conrad Levinson has been training us through his bestselling books to do just that. What is this philosophy? It’s unconventional ways of achieving profits with minimum expenditure. When it comes to marketing, guerrillas rely more on creativity than cash to produce results. When it comes to living, guerrillas rely on creativity too.

Band together with other guerrillas to advance the cause. Be generous in sharing your experiences. Be militaristic in supporting other small businesses. Be courageous in sharing the joys and rewards of self-employment with others. Bravely declare yourself a dream building entrepreneur.

As Guy Kawasaki points out, “Entrepreneur is not a job title. It’s the state of mind of those who want to alter the future.”

Viva la Revolución!

I have had a lifelong love affair with the post office although it’s been sorely tested recently.

The fallout began late last summer when another USPS branch was evicted from their space and all their boxes suddenly took over the space next to the built-in boxes in my post office.

Of course, all those new postal patrons also drove cars so parking was also part of the chaos.

The service was also impaired. Days would pass with no mail in the boxes and then a week’s worth would be crammed in.

When regular patrons grumbled they were told it was a temporary measure and would be over by Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving came and went, but the boxes stayed. Nobody seemed to know what was going on.

We adjusted. Sort of. Friends suggested a private mail service, but that only solved part of the problem since the mail would have to pass through the inept post office.

One morning, the renegade boxes had signs reading, “Moving on March 3.” I noticed the other patrons  were as giddy as I over the announcement.

Apparently, March 3 was a close relative of Thanksgiving and the boxes stayed.

We did not give thanks.

Last Friday, I went to fetch my mail and saw an enormous flatbed truck in the parking lot. Did it mean what I thought it meant? Yes, indeed. The interlopers were being removed once and for all.

I considered organizing a flash mob on Saturday to celebrate.

In this age of online messaging, why do I persist? For starters, going to the post office is one of the few daily rituals in my life, but it goes much deeper than that.

When I was growing up in tiny Janesville, Minnesota, we did not have home delivery. On cold winter mornings when my father would drive us to school, a stop at the post office was part of the journey. Since I am the oldest child in my family, I got to procure the mail.

I took great pleasure in entering the tiny post office, spinning the dial to put in the code for our box and removing the contents.

Getting the mail was more fun when there was something waiting in the box for me, so I looked for ways to receive more of it. I began taping coins to bits of cardboard and sending away for things advertised in comic books that I didn’t really want just to up my quota.

Penpals became another source of excitement. For several years, I waited in breathless anticipation for the latest epistle from Alicia Hammersley from Buxton, Derbyshire, England. Having an international penpal was thrilling.

So, you see, the mail isn’t simply about collecting pieces of paper. It’s about connection. Other methods of delivery just aren’t the same.

When I started my first business, it was obvious that mail order would be part of it.

That’s why I’ve been adamant about keeping Winning Ways newsletter something that can only be accessed from your mailbox. Longtime subscribers often send me notes when they renew and tell me how they celebrate the arrival of Winning Ways.

That’s a connection I want to keep making. If that sounds oddly old-fashioned, so be it. After all, it was the post office that showed me there was a bigger world that needed to be explored.

All these years later, I still feel a tiny thrill every time I put the key in my box. Who knows what delights are waiting inside that small space that will add more joy to my day?

Several times a week, I grab a copy of  Seminar in a Sentence, a little book I published a few years ago that contains some of my favorite quotes. When I was tracking down a half-remembered bit of wisdom today, I reread the introduction to the book and decided to share it here.

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Although I don’t know when I began collecting quotes, I do know that I learned about the power of words early in life. As a student at Trinity Lutheran School, I began memorizing Bible passages as so as I entered first grade.

As I got older, I discovered that these words I’d committed to memory often came in handy when I was confused or frustrated. They also could be used to win arguments with my younger siblings.

When I was a bit older, my hardworking Aunt Marge advised me to memorize beautiful poems, “So you can recite them to yourself when you’re scrubbing the floor.” That bit of advice both surprised and moved me. Seeing her working hard to care for her two daughters, I often wondered what lovely poem was on her mind.

More beautiful words entered my life when I chose English as my college major and, later, taught English to reluctant high school students. However, this was more an exercise in appreciating fine writing than it was in taking those words to heart.

It wasn’t until I began my journey of self-discovery that I found myself startled, encouraged and inspired by the words of others.

How did that author know I needed to hear those very words? Were there universal truths that could be revisited over and over again and make an impact every time?

I didn’t really care what the explanation was. It was enough to know that despite distances of time and geography, there were others who had thoughts that touched me and, frequently, lighted my path.

When I began writing myself, it seemed natural to include quotes from my growing collection. I also noticed that although I never intentionally memorized these words—not even my favorites—they often had lodged in my memory and would show up in the most casual of conversations.

One day a quote-loving friend and I were talking about the power of words. I said, “I think a good quote is a seminar in a sentence.”

I still think that and urge you to start your own collection, if  you haven’t done so already. They will be at your service when you need a quick seminar.

Here’s the quote I was searching for today. It’s from C.S. Lewis and has been a favorite of mine ever since I first came across it.

Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection.

If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire; if you want to get wet you must get into the water.

If you want joy, peace, eternal life you must get close to, or even into the thing that has them.

They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.

If you are close to it, the spray will wet you. If you are not, you will remain dry.

After a conversation with a delightful stranger, I shared the experience on Facebook saying, “Oh, I love serendipity.” After I’d posted, I began to wonder if calling it serendipity was accurate.

While the common understanding of serendipity defines it as unexpected good fortune, it goes further than that. In The World of Serendipity, author Marcus Bach explains why some people enjoy a large measure of unexpected good while others rarely have such experiences.

He writes, “Once upon a time, there lived an Englishman named Horace Walpole. He was best known for his passion for writing letters. For most of his life, he kept the postman busy lugging mail away from his home.

“On one occasion, Walpole wrote that an old Persian fairy tale had made a deep impression on him. The tale had to do with The Princes of Serendip. These three young noblemen, traveling the world, rarely found the treasures they were looking for, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater than the ones they were seeking.

“Even though their goals eluded them, they were more than rewarded with their wayside discoveries, and soon it was as if an unseen power and guidance seemed to know better than they knew what was best for them.”

Therein lies the key to serendipity. It does not occur when we are passively waiting for something you happen. We must be actively engaged in the pursuit of some goal and, yet, be willing for it to turn out differently than imagined.

I’m reminded of a woman who called and excitedly announced, “I had the best time today being Joyfully Jobless!” She told me about some new people she’d met and discoveries she’d made for her business.  A year and a half earlier, this same woman was feeling hurt when she was dismissed from her job with a large corporation.

Would this enthusiastic conversation have happened if she was still punching a time clock?

Letting go of situations, relationships and belongings that have outlived their usefulness is also important if we are to experience grander possibilities for ourselves.

Marcus Bach explains, “This is one of the deep secrets of serendipity. While serendipity means finding joy and meaning in discoveries on the way to a stated goal, the secret is to look upon incidental goals as substantial and upon accidental happenings as purposeful.”

Make room for unexpected good fortune in the weeks and months ahead. If you do, you’ll find yourself greeting each day with an enthusiasm and anticipation you never had before.

Did I mention that enthusiasm and anticipation are magnets for serendipity?

When my Aunt Marge was alive, I visited her as often as possible. She was eager to hear about my travels and recent adventures. Somewhere in the conversation, she would exclaim, “Oh, you meet the most interesting people.”

I totally agreed, of course.

While I have a long list of things I love about being self-employed, Meeting Interesting People is one of my favorite perks. People who are passionately engaged in what they’re creating are pilgrims on the road to Being More.

That may not have entered their mind when they began following their ideas, but it is a powerful bonus of creating and sharing their unique offerings.

One of the things I love most is watching a new business evolve. Although I hadn’t met her at the time, I still recall the email I got from Connie Solera telling me about her plans to leave teaching and create more art.

Her Dirty Footprints Studio has been responsible for helping women from all over the world get in touch with their creative spirit. Recently, Connie did two painting retreats in Oaxaca, Mexico and shared each day’s activities on Facebook.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who waited patiently for those lively posts that arrived every evening. Fearless Painting, indeed! Go see for yourself what these women produced.

It’s also fascinating to me how people find each other. I recently did a Skype call with Tiffoni Lewis and her husband Neil. They are building a fun mobile pottery painting business from their home near San Antonio, Texas.

A while back, Tiffoni’s father came to my seminar in Las Vegas. He later sent me a note saying he wanted to give her a gift subscription to Winning Ways newsletter. That led to an email from Tiffoni asking if we could chat.

When I was growing up, the people I knew were mostly those who lived in the same small town. Creating a business that involves travel expanded my horizons and my circle of friends.

Just this morning I had a message from Carlo Pescatori. I met this entrepreneurial Venetian when my sisters, brother and I rented an apartment from him several years ago. Last week, I had a message from Kathie Kelling in Phoenix who is planning a trip to Venice and was seeking advice. I promptly thought of Carlo’s place and sent along information to her.

Connecting people with each other is another fun perk of the Joyfully Jobless Journey.

This morning’s email also had a message from Patrice Wynne, a delightful woman I met on my trip to San Miguel de Allende in December. Patrice has a lovely textile shop that uses local talent to produce its’ products.

The shop, named Abrazos, Spanish for embrace, benefits the community in numerous ways including employing local seamstresses to produce the bathrobes, shirts, aprons and other colorful items sold in the shop.

Visit their site and read about their collaborations with museums including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts who are selling items from Abrazos in conjunction with exhibits of Frida Kahlo’s work and other Mexican artists.

When I was starting out in my seminar business, I offered a program on creating a mail order business. While I am enthusiastic about this sort of profit center, I wasn’t nearly so thrilled with teaching the class since it seemed to attract misanthropes. I removed it from my repertoire after only two sessions.

Of course, the internet has made it possible for people who don’t like people to run a business with no direct human contact.

That would never work for me.

As Caroline Myss so wisely advised us, “We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into.”  Wishing you a tribe as wonderful as mine.

I know Halloween is long past, but I came across this piece I’d posted on my blog five years ago and decided it was worth another visit. I also shared it in Joyfully Jobless News in November. It’s a reminder that the learning never ends when you’re building a dream.

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My mailbox has been getting some truly spooky messages lately. It’s not the first time, of course, but I’m still startled when I get one of these cries for help.

The scariest of these messages goes like this: ”I think I want to start my own business. What should I do?”

I also shiver when someone asks, “I want to write. What should I do?”

No, these aren’t zombies asking the question, but they send chills down my spine because they remind me that too many of us are lacking some basic tools—tools that could get us pointed in the right direction and keep us heading that way.

The next time someone asks, “What should I do?” I’m going to send them this list of answers.

° Start an investigation. Do your homework. Head out to the library. See if your community has resources that can be of help. As Jim Rohn said, “If you wish to find, you must search. Rarely does a good idea interrupt you.”

° Make space. If you’re going to start a new project, you need to make room for it. That frequently means you must first clear out some space. Frequently, that requires spending your time on things that don’t serve your true goals.

“What I discovered,” says architect Sarah Susanka, “is that when you make the time and space for what you long to do, 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.”

° Listen to informed sources. Seems so obvious to me, but I’m astonished at how often people take advice from people who don’t know. The more you investigate, the wiser you’ll become about who has the information that you can use.

° Learn to synthesize. Adopting and adapting in order to produce something new is a time-honored tool of the creative spirit.

If you’re growing a business, that means paying close attention to the things you like and don’t like as a consumer and asking yourself which policies and procedures you will integrate into your own enterprise—and which you’ll consciously avoid.

° Break your goals into 90-Day Projects. Give your projects a theme. Immerse, don’t dabble.

At the end of 90 days, evaluate and decide if you’ve accomplished your objectives. If not, decide if you are up for giving it another 90 days.

° Remember this: “Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection,” writer C.S. Lewis pointed out. “If you want to get warm  you must stand near the fire; if you want to get wet you must get into the water.If you want joy, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.

“They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you; if you are not, you will remain dry.”

Throughout our Joyfully Jobless Journeys we’ll need help. New goals require new information, new ideas, new connections.

Don’t hesitate to look for it, but also realize that the ultimate responsibility for making your dreams happen is in your hands.

bjwun-job-fairIt’s National Boss’s Day, a day that I celebrate heartily since I have the perfect boss. It took her awhile to figure things out, of course, but lifelong learning is one of the gifts of self-employment.

When I started my first business, I didn’t know another self-employed person who was creating something unique. There was no internet and not many books that were written for someone wanting to start a one-person operation. It was all trial and error…lots of error.

Today there are abundant resources, but some of the most important things I learned still aren’t being acknowledged. Here are eight things I wish I had known sooner.

° The business you start out with is not the business you end up with. By its’ very nature, business is an evolutionary process. As you change and grow—and as the marketplace changes and grows—you’ll make adjustments.

The good news is that you can get started wherever and whenever you want without having to know every detail. Be willing for your business to deliver pleasant surprises and lessons.

° Refuse to take advice from uninformed sources. It’s easy when you’re filled with self-doubt to listen to dream bashers. Don’t do it. And don’t solicit advice from those who have failed.

It’s amazing to me how often I talk to people who have abandoned a great idea because someone who knew nothing about their business (and probably wasn’t even an entrepreneur themselves) talked them out of it.

As the Persian poet Rumi wisely advised, “When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from someone who has never left home.”

° Know the difference between an expense and an investment. Many new self-bossers see any outlay of money as an expense. While your business will have costs associated with running it, spending money now to produce a greater good in the future is an investment.

Your money needs to go to both. Some of the biggest return on investment comes when you invest in yourself.

° What you don’t know can be learned. Learn how to research your ideas and connect with informed sources. If you operate on the assumption that you can acquire the information and skills you need at every stage of development, you’ll always have the pleasure of being a voluntary student.

Equally important is determining which parts of doing business make your heart sing and which make your heart sink. Once you know that, you can farm out the parts you’re not good at. Know what you want to know and know what you don’t care about knowing.

° Personal growth is a daily activity. Paul Hawken says, “Being in business is not about making money. It’s a way to become who you are.” I became an entrepreneur because I was curious about what I could become. Self-employment continues to be my best teacher.

In order for your enterprise to reach its’ fullest potential, you have to reach yours. An occasional seminar or personal growth book or CD isn’t going to have the impact that daily work does, even though those tools are also important.

° Don’t confuse a project with a dream. Your dreams are your ultimate destination. A project is a step along the way. Too many people use a project failure as an excuse to abandon their dreams.

Know the difference and don’t make that mistake.

° Patience is your best friend. There’s a fine line between being patient and being a procrastinator. It seems to me that what many people call failure is simply running out of patience, giving up before their idea had a chance to blossom.

Remind yourself that you can’t possibly know how long it will take to accomplish something you’ve never done before. Be willing to be impatiently patient.

° Know the difference between taking a risk and taking a calculated risk. Timid people who are not self-bossers think that you’re a wild person jeopardizing your family and your finances. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Studies have shown that successful entrepreneurs take risks, but they’re cautious, calculated ones based on research and intuition. Do your homework. Take a step.

Of course, part of the appeal and adventure of being joyfully jobless is not always knowing exactly how things will turn out. Be willing to let things turn out better than you imagined.