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?

Trying to build a business without entrepreneurial thinking is like trying to build a house with a toothbrush. An employee mindset is not a useful tool for such an important project.

Fortunately, learning to think like a successful self-bosser is something we can teach ourselves. Here are some proven ways of expanding entrepreneurial consciousness.

° Make persistence your personal trademark. We’ve all heard the stories of multiple experiments conducted by Thomas Edison before he figured out how to make a light bulb. Edison’s not the only one, of course, to succeed by not giving up.

During the remarkable renaissance of Tina Turner a few years back, the entertainer remarked, “I’m just now reaping the rewards for twenty-five years of hard work.” That persistence landed her on many Most Admired Lists, too.

By the way, psychologists and others who have studied the lives of successful people rate persistence as more important than intelligence.

° Embrace repetition. Most people operate on a limited budget of ideas. When one or two things don’t work out, they quit. Like persistence, constant practice is also a trademark of the successful.

If you need to be reminded that excellence requires repeated effort, consider this: when GQ magazine celebrated a milestone, they put Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford, two of the most photogenic creatures on Earth, on the cover. The photographer who took the cover shot used sixty-three rolls of film to get the perfect picture.

° Reframe the way you think about a current job, if you have one. Stop thinking that your job is a permanent condition. Instead think of it as your first profit center in your growing portfolio. It’s the one that allows you to generate cash flow while you create your next one.

Thinking of yourself as a service provider, not an employee, will change your relationship. If you start thinking of your job as a profit center, chances are greater that you’ll be saying good-bye to it sooner.

° Have a phantom mentor. If you could pick anyone, living or dead, to advise you, who would it be? Choose someone you admire greatly and have imaginary conversations with them. It’s not as weird as it sounds.

Or start asking yourself, “What would an entrepreneur do?” and see what answers spring to mind.

° Find the hidden gift in goal setting. A few years ago, I was considering buying both a desktop and a laptop computer, but was unsure about which to get first.

On a flight to Amsterdam, my seat mate was a pleasant man who told me he worked for a company that made hinges for laptops. I had no idea that this was a thriving industry and bombarded him with questions.

When I told him I was planning to get a MacBook, he said, “They’re coming out with something spectacular. If you can wait until August, do. I can’t tell you any ore about it since what I know is confidential.”

Later I realized there’s a gift given to goal setters and it’s this: when you are clear about your goals, life suddenly is filled with recognizable coincidences.

° Let love lead. A friend and I went to a sold out concert of Clannad, the Irish band, at London’s Royal Albert Hall. As we were leaving, I said, “Imagine saying, ‘Let’s start singing Celtic folk songs. I’m sure that will be a hit.’”

Of course, Clannad did nothing of the sort. They simply determined that they would spend their lives sharing the music that they loved, knowing that they wouldn’t be alone.

How many others shared that love was something that they couldn’t know ahead of time. There’s not always a way to do market research when love is your motive.

Trusting your instincts, however, can lead you to your perfect place. Like Royal Albert Hall.

When I first became a practicing goal-setter, I wasn’t very successful. I’d write down big goals and then have no idea how to even begin. Eventually, I made a discovery that seems so simple I didn’t believe it would work—until I tried it.

It now is firmly established as my most dependable operating system. It starts with picking a number, any number.

You don’t have to be a math whiz to put numbers to work for you. Assigning a number to a project can help you focus and, also, give you a finish line.

Open-ended goals have a way of never reaching completion, but attach a numerical addition and getting started is much easier and the finish line become much closer.

Here are a few ideas to get things rolling.

° Pick a number under ten and use it as your goal setting guide. For me, it’s the number five. You might prefer three or six. Then instead of thinking, “I need to get more clients,” set a short term goal to get three (or whatever your favorite number dictates) new clients.

Of course, you can repeat this exercise as often as you like, but your chances for success increase enormously when you work with a smaller number that seems reasonable.

Years ago, when I was floundering around trig to get my speaking business launched, I met a successful, but unhurried, seminar leader who told me her business plan was “Do one, book one.” As soon as she’d finish a program, she’d spend time marketing until she’d booked just one more.

It’s a policy I’ve used ever since with great success.

° Stumped about your next steps? Challenge yourself and your subconscious mind by asking idea-generating questions such as, “What are three ways I can grow my business right now?” Or “Who are four people I could collaborate with?”

You may surprise yourself with how quickly you begin getting answers.

° Write a tip sheet. Don’t forget how useful numbers are in writing tip sheets which can be turned into articles. Six Ways to Get More Exercise is an easier article to write than one called How to Get More Exercise.

Using numbers also is a reminder that when you write a tip sheet the intention isn’t to tell everything you know. That same intention also simplifies goal setting since it brings your focus to one part of the bigger project.

° Subtract things from your life that you no longer want. Instead of trying to unclutter your life all at once, for example, get rid of nine things a day until the job is done.

Go through the junk drawer and throw away nine things or toss out nine magazines or find nine things in your closet you never wear and put them in a bag for the thrift store.

Assigning a number to a necessary, but not necessarily pleasant, tasks can break through procrastination and get positive momentum going. It’s the same reason setting a timer can help you get more done.

° Pick a number, any number, and then pick one of the projects listed below.

° Ways to get into the conversation
° Books to add to my library
° New profit centers to design
ˆ Fascinating things to study
° New adventures to schedule
° Self-bossers to invite to breakfast
° Fresh marketing tools to create
° Media interview to book
° Non-essentials to eliminate
° Ways to support other entrepreneurs
° Articles to publish

Or add your own projects to the list—and then get busy making them happen.

If you are a reader of Joyfully Jobless News, this may be familiar.  When I came across it again the other day, I decided it was worth a second visit. This simple idea has added enormously to my productivity and fun.

°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

The sky was overcast and the wind was frigid, but there we stood huddled together with hundreds of others for three shivering hours. It was our second day in Amsterdam and we were in line to see what we had come for—the Van Gogh Museum.

My siblings and I had been planning this trip for months. Hundreds of emails hammered out the details. Eventually, a theme emerged.

What began as a trip to Provence evolved into what I named Stalking Van Gogh. As it turned out, we not only stalked, we shivered.

My brother Jim is the painter in our family and had been an admirer for years. I had rather recently discovered my passion for Van Gogh’s work and wanted to see as many paintings as I could with my own two eyes.

I decided the time had come to finally read Irving Stone’s Lust for Life, a fictional account of the artist’s life. Of course, it added to my enthusiasm for the upcoming voyage.

After Amsterdam, we traveled by train (my favorite way to go) to Provence where we spent a week in St. Remy which is also the location of the asylum where Van Gogh did some of his most prolific work. We visited Arles, dined at the Yellow Cafe featured in one of his well-known paintings, saw other places he’d painted there.

We ended our stay with four days in Paris. Unbeknownst to us, a glorious surprise was waiting for us there.

On our first day, a Sunday, we headed to Musee d’Orsay, oblivious to the fact that an enormous exhibit was running with Van Gogh’s work gathered from around the world. Paintings from museums and private collections adorned several rooms in the museum.

It was hard to leave all that magnificence, but having spent all that time with Van Gogh as a focus, made the trip extraordinary. It was not the first time, however, that I’d taken a trip with a special focus as my guide.

When I first began traveling to London, I decided that instead of just going there, each trip would have a theme. One time I explored gardens. Another time it was architecture. Then there was one of my favorite visits when I scouted booklover’s London.

I started assigning themes to other projects and discovered that getting things done  got easier. You’ve probably used this yourself, perhaps when you decided to throw a party and then got the idea to give it a theme. Suddenly, ideas and resources became visible.

You may even discover that necessary, but boring, projects become less unpleasant once you give them a title. For example, I decided to begin a daily uncluttering project and although I knew it was a good idea, I wasn’t feeling a lot of enthusiasm about it until I named it Lighten Up.

A well-chosen theme reminds us of our ultimate goal. It gives us the big picture.

Whether you are starting a new exercise program or creating another profit center or building your speaking skills, start by naming the theme. Decision-making becomes easier. You’ll waste less time doing things that don’t fit. Focus comes naturally.

Best of all, a theme unlocks your imagination.

There’s a character in Nick Hornby’s delightful novel High Fidelity who constantly challenges his friends to create on-the-spot Top Five Lists. “Name your top five Dustin Hoffman movies,” he demands.

The story is peppered with Top Five Lists covering all sorts of pop culture topics. It’s not a bad exercise.

When I began experimenting with ideas about setting goals, I started breaking down my yearlong aims into 90-Day Projects. For me, the number five was also operating.

For instance, one of my writing goals was to sell five magazine articles every 90 days. It’s an easy number to work with and I repeatedly used it in setting goals.

You, of course, may have a different favorite number that repeats itself in your life. Use whatever number you like to help you focus. Start by incorporating it into your lifetime goal lists, as well as  your shorter term aims.

Here are some that are on my list.

° Travel to five continents

° Create five strong and dependable profit centers

° Meet five people I deeply admire

° Have five causes I support financially

° Eat five fruits and vegetables every day

° Have five people with whom I regularly collaborate

° Discover five new pastimes that I’m passionate about

° Have five entrepreneurial friends with whom I connect on a regular basis

° Coach five protégés

 You’ll notice that this list includes the whimsical as well as the serious.

Start your own list and pick one or two items to start working on immediately. Your life will be richer if you do…and continue to add to your list and explore new territory.

Remember those carnival barkers who hollered, “Pick a number, any number,”? Could they have been suggesting a tool you can use to build your business?

You don’t have to be a math whiz to put numbers to work for you. Assigning a number to a project can help you focus and  give you a finish line.

Open-ended goals have a way of never reaching completion, but attach a numerical addition and getting started is much easier.

Here are a few ways to put numbers to work.

° Pick a number under ten and use it as a goal setting guide. For me, it’s the number five. You might prefer three or six.

Then instead of thinking, “I need to get more clients,” set a short term goal to get three (or whatever your favorite number is) new clients.

Of course, you can repeat this exercise as often as you like, but your chances for success increase enormously when you work with a smaller number.

Years ago, when I was floundering around trying to get my speaking  business launched,  I met a successful, but unhurried, seminar leader who told me her business plan was, “Do one, book one.”

As soon as she finished a program, she’d spend time marketing her services until she’d booked just one more.

It’s a policy I have used ever since with great success.

° Stumped about your next steps? Challenge yourself (and your subconscious mind) by asking a idea-generating question such as, “What are three ways I can grow my business right now?” Or “Who are four people I could collaborate with?”

° Write a tip sheet.  Don’t forget how useful numbers are in writing tip sheets which can be turned into articles. Six Ways to Get More Exercise is an easier article to write than one called How to Get More Exercise.

Using numbers also is a reminder that when you write a tip sheet the intention isn’t to tell everything you know.

° Numbers work equally well for subtracting things from your life that you no longer want. Instead of trying to unclutter your life all at once, for example, get rid of nine things a day until the job is done. It’s far less overwhelming if you break it down into bite sized chunks.

Go through the junk drawer and throw away nine things or toss out nine magazines or find nine things in your closet you never wear and put them in a bag for the thrift store.

Assigning a number to necessary, but not necessarily pleasant, tasks can break through procrastination and get positive momentum going.

° Pick a number, any number, and then pick one of the projects listed below.

*  Ways to get into the conversation

*  Books to add to my library

*  New profit centers to design

*  Things to study

*  New adventures to schedule

*  Self-bossers to invite to  breakfast

*  Fresh marketing tools to create

*  Media interviews to book

*  Nonessentials to eliminate

*  Ways to support other entrepreneurs

*  Articles to publish

 Or add your own projects to the list—and then get busy making them happen.

Trying to build a business without entrepreneurial thinking is like trying to build a house with a toothbrush. An employee mindset is not a useful tool.

Fortunately, learning to think like a successful self-bosser is something we can teach ourselves. Here are some proven ways for expanding entrepreneurial consciousness.

° Make persistence your personal trademark. We’ve all heard the stories of the multiple experiments conducted by Thomas Edison before he figured out how to make a light bulb. Edison’s not the only one, of course, to succeed by not giving up.

During the remarkable renaissance of Tina Turner a few years back, the entertainer remarked, “I’m just now reaping the rewards for 25 years of hard work.” That persistence landed her on many  Most Admired Lists, too.

By the way, psychologists and others who have studied the lives of successful people rate persistence as more important than intelligence.

° Embrace repetition. Most people operate on a limited budget of ideas. When one or two things don’t work out, they quit. Like persistence, constant practice is also a trademark of the successful.

If you need to be reminded that excellence requires repeated effort, consider this: when GQ magazine celebrated a milestone, they put Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford, two of the most photogenic creatures on Earth, on the cover. The photographer who took the cover shot used 63 rolls of film to get the perfect picture.

° Reframe the way you think about a current job, if you have one. Stop thinking that your job is a permanent condition but merely your first profit center, the one that allows you to generate cash flow while you create your next one.

Thinking of yourself as a service provider, not an employee, will change your relationship. If you start thinking of your job as a profit center, chances are greater that you’ll be saying good-bye to it sooner.

° Have a phantom mentor. If you could pick anyone, living or dead, to advise you, who would it be? Pick someone you admire greatly and have imaginary conversations with them. It’s not as weird as it sounds.

Or start asking yourself, “What would an entrepreneur do?” and see what answers spring to mind.

° Find the hidden gift in goalsetting. A few years ago, I was considering buying both a desktop and a laptop computer, but unsure of which to get first.

On a flight to Amsterdam, my seatmate was a pleasant man who told me he worked for a company that made hinges for laptops. I had no idea that this was a thriving specialty industry and I bombarded him with questions.

When I told him I was planning to get an iBook, he said, “They’re coming out with something spectacular. If you can wait until August, do. I can’t tell you any more about it since what I know is confidential.”

Later, I realized that there’s a gift given to goalsetters and it’s this: when you are clear about your goals, life suddenly is filled with recognizable coincidences.

° Let love lead. A  friend and I went to a sold out concert of Clannad, the Irish band, at  London’s Royal Albert Hall. As we were leaving, I said, “Imagine saying, ‘Let’s start singing Celtic folk songs. I’m sure that will be a hit.’”

Of course, Clannad did nothing of the sort. They  simply determined that they would spend their lives sharing the music that they loved, knowing that they wouldn’t be alone.

How many others shared that love was something they couldn’t know ahead of time. There’s not always a way to do market research when love is your motive.

Trusting your instincts, however, can lead you to your perfect place.

 

My first meeting with Barbara Sher took place in the restroom of a Toronto hotel. She and I were both teaching seminars that day for the Learning Annex and I boldly introduced myself to her.

I had admired her work since I first encountered it in her book Wishcraft so I was more than a little starstruck when I made her acquaintance.

Several years later, I had the pleasure of spending several days with her when she, Valerie Young and I ran the Making Dreams Happen event in Boulder, Colorado. This time, Barbara and I shared a duplex cottage.

Since she preferred a heartier breakfast than the one served to the group, Barbara invited me to share her home cooked morning meal. It was a lovely bonus to spend time with her, of course, but it was even more dazzling to watch her in action during the seminar.

Besides sharing a passion for helping people create the lives of their dreams, she and I also became members of the Grandmother Club at about the same time. She went so far as to suggest we betroth her Leo and my Zoe to one another.

(I suspect that neither of our grandchildren would take kindly to our plan for an arranged marriage.)

Since our time together in Boulder, I’ve continued to be a fan of her work from afar. I am especially enchanted by the work she’s doing with the folks she calls Scanners which is both fresh and insightful.

If you’re a follower, too, you know that Barbara Sher keeps coming up with new tools, new books, new workshops year after year. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn of a delightful addition to her repertoire which she just announced.

If you’re looking for help in bringing your goals to life, see what’s happening at Barbara’s Club. Then follow the directions.

As she so eloquently reminds us, “You don’t know who you are until you do what you want to do. Then look at it. Your only job is listening to your genes, obeying the call of talent, respecting the desire and being true to it. You’ll create your fingerprint, your name, the footprints of your path. Get to work.”

 


 

Most of us who have heard the Eastern proverb that goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” think that it refers to an individual who comes to guide us.

I’d like to suggest that the proverb applies to business as well. Your business can and will teach you to uncover hidden talents, to think bigger, to discipline yourself.

Of course, you might be able to learn those things in other ways, but it might not be nearly as much fun as it is in the classroom you create for yourself.

It would be impossible to identify all the things my business has taught me. Here are a few I do recognize.

* Building from the ground up is fun. My mentor used to say that we all have an architect within us, a force that wants to design and build things that have never existed before.

The joy of seeing an idea come into being is one of life’s great blessings—one that entrepreneurs have over and over again as they create new things.

* I can’t outperform my self-image. My business is always a reflection of what I think of myself and who I am in the world.  Once I learned this, working on maintaining a positive self-image and challenging self-doubts became a top priority that led me to a new area of study.

(For most of us, this is an on-going process, by the way.)

* Goal-setting works. Learning how to set goals and stay focused on results is indispensable to building a business. It’s also the way to inspire ourselves to stretch and go farther.

It still astonishes me that I never learned about goal-setting as a student in school. Once I discovered what it means, I became a practicing goalsetter and continue to amaze myself with how powerful it is to write things down and start building.

* It all balances out. Taking a long view is the secret weapon of every successful entrepreneur. Life is about ebb and flow; so is business, of course. If cash flow is down this month, it may be unusually large next month.

It takes a few years of being in business before you can really see how this works, but it’s still helpful to make this a basic assumption.

(Knowing this is also a fine stress reducing tool.)

* We live in a world of opportunity. I certainly didn’t know this in the days when I worked for others. Now, I am constantly in awe of how huge the possibilities are for anyone willing to take responsibility for discovering and acting on those opportunities.

(Of course, opportunities usually come disguised as a problem in need of solving.)

* The more I invest in my business, the more it returns the investment. When I spend my time and money in ways that stretch me, my business gets better. Books, seminars and other entrepreneurs are not  simply indulgences; they’re power tools for success.

Taylor Caldwell said, “The true purpose of education is to enlarge the soul, to widen the mind, to stimulate wonder, to give a new vision and understanding of the world, to excite the intellect, to awaken dormant faculties for the exaltation of the possessor.”

The true purpose of business is exactly the same, but in this course you get paid to learn.

What a great way to spend a life.

 

The headline for the marketing seminar caught my eye. The photograph with the story startled me. There was Curtis Beckman, news director at a prominent radio station.

He was doing a session on Working With the Media. Obviously, he was a man after my own heart.

“Jennifer,” I told my daughter, “this is the man I was mad for in college.”

“Did you go out with him?” she asked, looking at his still handsome face.

“Oh, no,” I said. And I thought to myself, “In those days I was too insecure to ever believe I could have what I really wanted.”

Changing those self-doubts into confident feelings was a slow process for me. I went to bed that night thinking about those changes and how different I had been in my college days.

Then an intriguing idea struck me.

“What,” I wondered, “would have happened if there had been a class in winning? What if instead of studying laboratory rats the psychology department had taught us about the healthiest people around and how to become emotionally healthier?”

The thought was so exciting that I couldn’t get to sleep. Instead, I designed the course outline for Winning 101. Here are some of the things we would cover.

° How to Have Strong Self-esteem. As Nathaniel Branden pointed out, “Productive achievement is a consequence and an expression of healthy self-esteem, not the other way around.” This class would put first things first.

° How to Build a Winning Self-image. Thinking highly of ourselves was not encouraged when I was growing up.

Psychologist David Burns, author of Feeling Good, advises, “Instead of saying, ‘I will love and respect myself when I’m a big success,’ try saying, ‘I will love and respect myself when I’m hurting and need the support. ‘”

Fortunately, we can acquire a positive self-image by changing our focus and self-talk. And, no, a healthy self-image is not the same thing as a narcissistic one.

° How to Set Goals. I didn’t learn about goal-setting until years after I graduated. No wonder I floundered for so long.

As I eventually learned, goal-setting is neither mysterious nor difficult. It is, however, necessary if you want to find your focus and spend your time building something that matters to you.

° How to Think Like a Winner. Here we’d explore the personal philosophies of outstanding people. One of the discoveries made by Abraham Maslow in his study of self-actualized people was that they had role models.

Since we can learn a lot by seeing winning behavior in action, Winning 101 would invite guest speakers—a rock star, an entrepreneur, an Olympic contender.

° How to Get Results. In this segment, we’d learn a powerful two-step process for producing results.

The formula consists of 1) focus on the ultimate outcome, 2) take action. There would be lots of homework, practice sessions and group reports. We’d also learn how to effectively solicit help and support.

° How to Get Along With Others. Not a popularity course, but some basic human relations training would round it out.

I even found a motto for the class. “The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said that.

Although I’m not going back to college and I doubt that this course has been added to the curriculum, I discovered that these valuable lessons are all taught to us as we build our businesses (if we’re paying attention).

Think of it: you can acquire these life-enriching skills while your business pays you to learn.

This September, why not go back to school as your own curriculum director? Learn as much as you can about being a winner in your own life. It could be the best class you ever took.