After 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 train ticket and discovered a 24-hour strike was scheduled for exactly the time I wanted to travel.

I made numerous telephone calls to find an alternative option, but was assured that some trains would still  be running. What I wasn’t told was that I’d be making a five 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.

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, 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.

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. 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.

We hugged each other and Mr. Del Prado 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 the sidewalk was covered with water. Raised platforms had been brought in to make walking possible. 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.

Not long ago, I sent myself a card that caught my eye at Trader Joe’s. “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” it challenged.

While there are many ways to measure success, one of the best is adding up the number of Firsts in your life. When we’re children, everything is a first. As time goes on, many people simply cease doing anything that is not a repeat of a past performance.

It’s the path to early senility.

How can you experience a life filled with Firsts? How can you find yourself exclaiming, “I’ve never done that before” ?  It may be easier than you think.

Every day living offers an abundance of opportunities to do something you’ve never done before. Drive a new route. Eat a new food. Get to know a stranger. Pick up a book from a section of the library you don’t usually visit. Try a new marketing approach. Write a poem. Wear a color that’s  been absent from your wardrobe. Take a public speaking class.  Plan a business project with a new partner.

While ritual and tradition may be comforting, making a conscious decision to pile up Firsts can be addictive. Doing so can also lead to larger adventures since it’s a guaranteed confidence builder.

In order to bring more Firsts into your life, your imagination needs to be fully engaged. While we all have  random first-time experiences, they can be far between if we don’t instigate them ourselves. Learning to think in new ways, in turn, is vital to growth.

“It is one of the paradoxes of success,” Charles Handy discovered, “that the things and the ways which got you where you are, are seldom the things to keep you there.”

You’ve got to keep creating Firsts if you want to see progress.

The enemy of living this way is the undeservedly popular comfort zone.  While that zone is different for each of us, it’s the place where there are no surprises, nothing unexpected.  It doesn’t build brain cells, it doesn’t stir the imagination. It’s the place where we keep the remote control and emotional control.

Parents often encourage their adult children to live in a comfort zone, thinking it’s a place that prevents worry. There are very few Firsts for those determined to preserve  comfort—which is truly worrisome. The comfort zone is a holding tank; it doesn’t lead anywhere.

No matter where you are nor how old you are nor how long it’s been since you’ve had a First, come up with one right now and do it. Then find another and do it again. Expect that you’ll experience discomfort and welcome it as an ally in creating a richer life, not a sign that you should turn back.

“Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed,” said Richard Bird. That’s an invitation to a life filled with Firsts.

CB028317I make no secret of the fact that I’m in the midst of a love affair with Venice. It almost didn’t happen.

My first visit was decades ago when I participated in a whirlwind tour of Europe. We zipped through Venice, were escorted to a glass factory store specializing in selling over priced goods to tourists and whisked away.

I was not impressed.

It wasn’t until 1999, on a short stay with my daughter, that I began to uncover the charms of Venice. Suddenly I understood why artists, poets, writers and musicians kept returning for fresh inspiration.

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 the family home.

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, a warehouse.

The second floor was used to entertain visitors, while family quarters were kept on the third floor.

Many houses also had additions on the street side that were used as offices, but frequently evolved into personal libraries.

So, you see, the homebased 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.

Ponder that on your next trip down the Grand Canal.

Almost anytime I mention my siblings to someone who’s never met them, they smile and say, “You have the most interesting family.”

Although I think that my siblings are all fascinating people, I sometimes forget what a uniquely adventurous group we are. Until three years ago, getting together was a rare event that insured we were all on our best behavior when we congregate, but I think it goes much deeper than that.

Our siblings are, after all, the longest relationships most of us have. That shared history, no matter how good or how bad, lays a foundation that can’t quite be met by any other relationships that follow.

My sisters and brother aren’t just my longest relationships, however. They are each intriguing people in their own right.

What I like best—and admire most—is that each of them has designed a life that reflects their personal passions and talents.

Just imagine a family gathering with this cast of characters.

Nancy is two years younger than I am and the one who always had the most clarity about her path in life, it seemed. When she was in junior high school, she decided to become an archaeologist.

That’s precisely what she did, becoming a leading authority on Etruscan architecture.

She lived in Athens, Greece, for most her adult life, then spent a decade in Rome before moving back to Santa Barbara at about the same time I moved to California.

We tend to think of her as the scholarly one—she is Dr. Winter—but that’s not the side we see.

Continuously curious, she is always up for new adventures and just paid her first visit to Universal Studios accompanied by my grandchildren.

My next sister, Becky, had the difficult situation of being born the middle child. Maybe that’s why she has a natural ability to organize things. Much of her working life has been spent in libraries, but her organizing skills show up in everything she does from trip planning to running her house.

Like the rest of us, she’s an enthusiastic traveler. The only one of us who is married, she is also the only one of us to have appeared in the Today Show window.

Jim is the lone male in our tribe, but he’s learned to manage it well. Besides being a genuinely nice person who often reduces me to hysteria, he also has seemed the most paradoxical.

A longtime employee of Southern California Edison, Jim is also a talented painter and enthusiastic surfer, continuing to surf as often as the waves cooperate. His gorgeous painting of Italian rooftops hangs above my fireplace, a lovely reminder of one of our family trips to one of our favorite places.

Margaret is the youngest and has a well-earned reputation as the Scrabble player to beat. Besides sharing a love of books, Margaret and I were also single parents of a single daughter each.

Like our father, Margaret is a walking encyclopedia of useful information. If i want to know how to fix something or cure a malady, I check with Margaret after doing preliminary research on Google.

Her home is a testament to her skills as a gardener, woodworker and decorator. She also makes stunning hair fascinators.

Although Becky, Jim and Margaret have spent most of their lives in California, our relationship has evolved even more now that Nancy and I are in the same neighborhood.

Whether we’re gathering for our monthly Second Sunday dinners or planning a museum outing, I always come away thinking, “I really like these people.” Then I notice that my creative spirit feels well-fed.

As Jane Howard reminds us, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

 

 

Several years ago, I confessed to the participants in my Making a Living Without a Job seminar that I was mysteriously drawn to learning to play poker. A man, who looked as if he might have sat at a few poker tables himself, shook his head and said, “You won’t be good at it.”

I laughed and said I knew exactly what he meant. After all, when I was in high school my mother had warned me by saying, “Your problem, Barbara, is that you wear your heart on your sleeve.”

It was not intended as a compliment, of course.

Although I decided not to become a professional poker player, I have created a business that is all about letting me wear my heart on my sleeve.

I’ve been publishing Winning Ways newsletter for 27 years without getting bored. I’m certain my enthusiasm has remained high  because it’s a perfect vehicle for sharing the treasures I uncover in my own Joyfully Jobless Journey.

In fact, a really good business is simply a way to repeatedly share what we love with others.

So it always startles me when I get a friend request on Facebook from someone I don’t know with no profile picture, no biographical information, or, even, a mention of where they live.

In ordinary life, we become friends with people who share our interests or make us laugh or enrich our lives in some way. Over the years, my closest friends have all introduced me to new pleasures and inspired new explorations of things I knew nothing about.

That couldn’t have happened if they kept these passions private.

One of the things I love most about social media is that it becomes another outlet for sharing passions. Anyone of my Facebook friends who is paying attention knows that I am passionate about books, treehouses, and Venice, in addition to being fervent about self-employment.

So this month, I’m going to write about some of those passions on this blog and want to suggest that you consider how things that seem to have nothing to do with your business can actually inspire it.

I love the way Robert Weider puts it: “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.”

And then they wear it on their sleeve.

When I first moved to Minnesota, I used to joke that there was a church on every corner. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it seems that most major thoroughfares are dotted with them.

For several years, there was a church that I passed almost every day. Like most churches, it had a message board out in front. Unlike most churches, this message board actually contained messages.

Even more unusual, the messages were changed a couple of times every week so there was always a new one to check out.

Some of the messages were attention-getters like the one that said, “Satan loves a dusty Bible.” Others were funny. My favorite one said, “Trouble sleeping? Try a sermon.”

Mostly they were lovely philosophical reminders to be kind and to contribute to making the world a better place.

One day I was pondering some troublesome problem that had me stumped. As I passed the church, the sign board declared, “Love is the answer.”  I burst out laughing. That was exactly what I needed to solve my problem.

One day I called the church and said, “In case no one has told you this, I want you to know how much your message board is appreciated by those of us driving by.” The secretary said they’d gotten many positive comments on it, then added that the senior pastor went out at 5:30 in the morning to change the board.

“Please thank him for me,” I said.

Several months later, I passed by the church again and saw a gathering in the yard. A fancy new message board had just been installed. It had a burgundy and charcoal frame and was lighted from within.

It was pretty spiffy, but I noticed that the message simply listed the times of their services. That’s the way it stayed. I hardly noticed it anymore.

What’s the point of posting the times of their services? Those hours never change and surely their members already know when services are held.

If the point of posting them is for the convenience of nonmembers who might want to join them, I’m not sure there’s any obvious reason to pick this church over any other.

I’ve tried to imagine what happened here. Maybe the senior pastor retired and nobody else wanted to do it, I thought. Maybe not enough people let them know that they liked the effort.

Or perhaps, and I hope I’m wrong here, the church forgot that it’s really in the inspiration business. Most likely, somebody decided it was too much bother to keep the messages up and in making that decision lost an enormous opportunity to contribute some random good.

“The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don’t,” writes Stephen Covey, “is literally the difference between night and day. I’m not talking about a twenty-five to fifty percent difference in effectiveness;  I’m talking about a 5000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware and sensitive to others.”

What Covey is talking about seems to be a big secret: if we want to get great results we can’t wait for others. We have to practice generosity first.

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once told an interviewer, “It’s not our customer’s job to lie awake nights figuring out how we can serve them better. We have to take responsibility for improving.”

We always have the choice of creating a life that is grim or glorious. If you want to make this coming year the best one you’ve ever had, take the challenge now to discover and share as generously as you can.

Whether you’re repairing small engines, teaching yoga or designing Web sites, you’ll find there’s no shortage of opportunities to inspire and encourage other people—if you are so inclined.

Inspire them by your joy, inspire them by your commitment, inspire them by caring about their success. When you’re focused on ways to be generous, you’ll be dazzled by all the abundance you’re getting back.

My weekend excursion includes a return visit to Colorado Free University in Denver followed by a quick trip to Austin to visit my grandchildren. My artistic granddaughter Zoe and I are going to see if we can locate the Chihuly glass sculpture at the Austin Museum of Art.

Even though I’ve been under the weather for the past 10 days, I’ve rounded up some terrific resources to add to your Joyfully Jobless tool kit. Check these out.

If you haven’t met Chris Guillebeau yet, here’s a great way to get to know him. You can get his new manifesto called 279 Days to Overnight Success for, as Zoe says, zero dollars. Here’s what you’ll learn:

• How I Became a Full-Time Writer in 279 Days

• The Complete Revenue Estimate for my Personal Site in 2009

• The World Domination Strategy for Establishing Your Brand

• Avoiding the Vampires who Want You to Fail

• Why Adsense (and most other Web Advertising) Sucks

• How to Stay Off the Digg Home Page and Still Get All the Traffic You 

Got wanderlust? Then you’ve got to read Christopher Elliott’s Secret to an Endless Vacation. It’s full of great advice for entrepreneurial gypsies.

Has there ever been a better time to be a career coach? Whether by choice or by chance,thousands of  people are reevaluating their choices, looking for new opportunities. If you’d like to help others find their calling, I highly recommend that you learn how to do just that from Valerie Young. Her Outside the Job Box consulting program is terrific and will help you launch a new business while helping others change course.

Seth Godin shares the secret of the new marketing. Good stuff, as always, from Seth.

Do you Twitter? If not, why not? When I came across Katherine Goldstein’s article, Twitiquette:The 5 Biggest Twitter Faux Pas, I thought she really nailed it. If you’re using this fun networking site, avoid these common annoyances.

April 15th is one of those landmark dates that’s not a holiday. I was thinking about it this year and wondering how many people would find themselves in pretty much the same situation when April 15 rolls around again next year. 

There’s one group of people who I’m certain will be making visible progress long before that ominous day. The folks who are coming to Follow Through Camp on May 15 & 16 in Dodge City, KS are going to leave with a saddlebag full of tools and a new focus and plan. There’s still room for a few more folks and if you would like to be one of them, sign up now

Ever think about taking a sabbatical? Here are some entrepreneurs who did just that.

Another great story from someone making the transition from employee to entrepreneur:

For more years than I care to count, I’ve dreamed of owning my own business.  I suffered an injury in 2007 and was off work for an extended period of time.  I spent a lot of that time thinking and exploring the possibility of starting my own business.  I also happened upon a description of a class you were offering in Upper Arlington, Ohio.  I promptly signed my husband and myself up for that class.

I found your class so amazing and inspiring.  I immediately read your book, signed up for your newsletter, and started doing my homework.  Doubt got in the way.  My injury healed as much as it would and I ultimately returned to my regular job….but I’ve never stopped thinking, planning, dreaming, and hoping.  A few months ago, while thinking about one of my potential business ideas, I decided to take the leap and mention it to my husband.  He was 100% supportive!  That gave me the courage to “take the plunge”.

So, I am proud to share with you that I am starting a homemade dog treat business called Jade Clare’s Canine Cookies & Treats.  I will be debuting and selling my products at a local farmer’s market this summer.  I have had so much fun applying for the market, researching laws pertaining to vendors, playing with cookie recipes, designing my display, etc.  I’m working my butt off (as I’m still employed at a traditional job as well) but loving every minute of it!!!!  This is a part-time gig right now but the sky’s the limit!  The endless possibilities make me feel so liberated and hopeful about my future.

Thank you.  Thank you for teaching, inspiring, encouraging, and empowering me for the last two years!

Sincerely,

Ann Marie Wiley

New Albany, Ohio


Connecting with people who share the same passions affirms that you’re not alone; that there are others like you and that while many might not understand your passion, some do. ~ Ken Robinson

As much as I love to travel, there’s one part of the process I don’t much like. That’s the part that occurs between the time I leave home and arrive at my destination. I usually deal with this by saving a book that I especially want to read or by bringing along a needlework project to keep me calm.

A few years ago, I was getting ready to leave for London and decided that I wanted to make the travel time about something more than just grinning and bearing it. Perhaps I could turn it into an Inspiration Quest, I decided, looking for things to inspire me along the way. Setting that intention may just be my new favorite travel tip because I kept finding wonderfully inspiring stories the entire time.

My first stop was the newsstand at the airport where I picked up a copy of O Home magazine which had a cover declaration that read INSPIRATION! The issue featured several women entrepreneurs along with an insightful piece by Martha Beck.

I’d also purchased a copy of People magazine which had a review of a book by Hollywood producer Bernie Brillstein who claimed that civility is his secret to success. 

Then there was an especially inspiring piece about Stormie Trujillo, a mother of three and Pueblo tribe member whose bracelets of Native American symbols are becoming all the rage. Homeless as a girl, she and her family slept on the beaches near LA where the then 12-year-old found her calling. “I picked up seashells and wood and would string them together. That’s how I got started as a jewelry designer.”

That wasn’t all, however, Even the in-flight magazine was participating in my Inspiration Quest with an article called “Six Great Places to be Creative.” Their first choice?  London.

I was also blessed with a delightfully inspiring seat mate named Daniel who is preparing to be an actor. I asked him if his career choice had brought him much criticism and he said it had. “But I’ve wanted to act all my life,” he said, “and my parents warned me I’d encounter negative advice so it doesn’t really bother me.” We talked about his vision and commitment to following his heart. Mostly we shared thoughts about the joy of living a creative life. I couldn’t have found a better companion to accompany me over the Atlantic than this inspired young man.

So on the eve of another long journey, I’m renewing my intention and am anticipating another Inspiration Quest. But, of course, this isn’t just a fine exercise for a long flight. Conducting an on-going Inspiration Quest makes every kind of life journey a joy.

Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsh used to remind his writers that their entrepreneurial readers were actually artists and business was their canvas.

That’s been on my mind for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, I’m noticing a lot of online marketing gurus who resemble snake oil salesmen more than artists. Happily, on the other hand, Creativity with a capital C seems to be raging all over the place. It’s delightful when it’s married to entrepreneurial activity, but that’s not always the inspiration for creating.

On Saturday morning, I dashed into Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy of Is Your Mama a Llama?, a book I give all new babies and their parents, and decided to swing past the magazine rack and select something I hadn’t ever read before. I was startled to see two very glossy new small business magazines. On closer inspection, I discovered that each of them was actually a recruiting tool for a direct sales company. Imagine an entire magazine of advertising disguised as journalism. Clever or duplicitous? 

The magazine I settled on also had a connection to a business, but it wasn’t selling a business opportunity. MaryJanes Farm magazine is just one of the profit centers flowing out of the enterprising mind of Mary Jane Butters, an Idaho organic farmer who has a huge following of women who are passionate about gardening, wistful about farming and enthusiastic about creative activities of all kinds. I love people who are the artists of everyday life and this magazine celebrates that spirit. 

Over the weekend I also caught up with a couple of friends whom I hadn’t spoken with in ages. My friend Jill McDermott, who lives in Spring Green, WI, told me that her personal project for the year was to reconnect with her creative spirit. To that end, she’d taken a class the day before called Yes, You Can Draw. “I was the only person in the class who had no art training whatsoever,” she laughed. “It was challenging, but by the end of the day I discovered that I could draw.”

That call was followed by another from Karyn Ruth White in Denver. She just got certified to lead Laughing Yoga so we talked about her plans for teaching that. Karyn raved about a book she was reading called The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. I recalled having it checked out of the library some time ago, but don’t think I got around to reading it. Karyn said, “I think it’s The War of Art’s older sister.” That was all the incentive I needed to give it another look. And I’m urging you to do the same. Tharp makes a convincing case for the necessity of daily practice, whether we’re dancing, writing or running a business. 

On Monday, I spent an hour catching up with Ken Robert, a guy I’d met a couple of years ago at Work at What You Love. Ken has started blogging (last week I mentioned his terrific piece How to be Mildly Creative) and I’m loving the results. During our conversation, he mentioned another piece he’d written, one I hadn’t seen, called Creating Like a Kid. It, too, is quite wonderful and a poignant reminder of how easy it is to stray from our creative impulses.

In some ways, creativity remains a mysterious process. What’s not true about it, however, is that only a few of us a privileged to possess it. When we see creativity in action, we’re witnessing the results of practice, nurturing and cultivation. As Dale Chihuly, one of my favorite artists/entrepreneurs, points out, “A lot of creativity has to do with energy, confidence and focus. These are the elements for making creative things. It’s probably the same thing in whether you’re making a movie, whether you’re an entrepreneur doing business, whether you’re an artist, or whether you’re a gardener or a cook. These are all the same qualities that it takes.”

Anytime’s a good time to feed your entrepreneurial spirit, of course. But if your weekend means you have a little extra time, here are some armchair travels for the joyfully jobless.

I admit I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to business cards so when Sara Young handed me hers at the end of my San Antonio workshops, I took notice. “Where did you find this wonderful thing?” I asked. To my surprise, she told me hers had come from Etsy.com. I couldn’t wait to check it out for myself and was dazzled by the selection. If your business involves earth-moving equipment, you won’t find anything here, but if you want something funky and slightly different, this could be a treasure chest for you.

Before you head over to Etsy, check out this article that Nicole Relyea sent me on Creative Business Cards. You’ll be astonished by the original creations in this piece. You’ll see cards that look like theater tickets, one made from a household object, another that looks like a razor blade. No kidding.

Wish you were wildly creative? That’s what Ken Robert thought, too, but decided to settle for mildly creative. He wrote a terrific piece about his discovery and I bet you’ll find it useful, too. Check out How to be Mildly Creative.

Your Next Quest is the name of Michele Meagher’s business which helps women design the next chapter of their lives. Her February Quest Maker interview is with Margaret Winter, my baby sister, and it’s a great story of making the transition from employee to entrepreneur. Go take a look.

In 1999, I took an 8 month sabbatical and spent part of the time traveling solo in Europe. Along the way, I met an artist in London who urged me to contact Alternatives, a long-running program that offers workshops and talks on all aspects of spiritual and personal growth. Since I was avoiding anything resembling business at that time, I listened to her recommendation and promptly forgot about it. Fortunately, Alternatives came back on my radar screen and I became a huge fan of their work. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to be going back to London the end of this month where I’ll be doing two all-day workshops with them. On March 29 there’s Making a Living Without a Job and the following Saturday, April 4, What Would an Entrepreneur Do? If you or an entrepreneurial friend are in that part of the world, I’d love to see you there. 

Whether you’re in the UK or not, you can listen to the lively podcast interview I just did with Alternative’s director Steve Nobel about learning to think like an entrepreneur.

Several days ago, I had to take my car in for some minor repairs. I grabbed a brand new book I’d ordered to take along for company while I waited. To my amazement, I found myself hoping the mechanic wouldn’t finish too soon. I could hardly put the book down. What was so enchanting that I didn’t want to leave the smelly brake shop?

Rubies in the Orchard by Lynda Resnick, that’s what. Resnick is a) a marketing genius and b) a fabulous storyteller. You may not know her name, but I’m guessing you have heard about some of the companies she and her husband have grown: Franklin Mint, Telaflora, POM Wonderful and FIJI Water. Besides having a fascinating personal story, Resnick’s book is loaded with marketing tips she learned along the way. Highly recommended.

Finally, join me for a teleclass or two. On Thursday, March 19, we’ll be exploring A Beginner’s Guide to the Seminar Business. If you’ve been thinking about adding seminars and workshops to your portfolio, but don’t know how to get started, this one’s for you. If you’re itching to travel and looking for ways to turn seeing the world into a profit center then How to Support Your Wanderlust will give you dozens of ideas for becoming an entrepreneurial gypsy. That one’s coming up on Monday, March 23. And if you can’t join me in person, you can still register and receive the audio download.

When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from those who have never left home. ~ Rumi