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Lead With Your Heart, Not Your Head

If you’ve ever experienced the exhilaration that comes with a bolt of inspiration – especially when that inspiration involves a long-held dream –  you know that it hits you right in the heart. A big reason why most people never give their dreams even half a chance is that their dream quickly makes its way from their heart to their head. And soon as “logic” kicks in (and ultimately takes over) most dreams don’t stand a fighting chance.

If you tend to talk yourself out of your dreams, you may want to take a page out of author Barbara Sher’s book. No, not one of her best-selling books. Although Barbara is the best-selling author of some of my all time “find your passion” books including:

  • Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want
  • I Could Do Anything: If I Only Knew What It Was
  • Live The Life You Love, and
  • It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now: How to Create Your Second Life After Forty

The page I am suggesting you copy comes directly from Barbara’s own life. A few times a year Barbara travels to a small village in Turkey to “hide out” from her New York telephone and work on her books. In getting to know the local villagers she discovered that the older women had given up weaving the traditional kilims (colorful flat-weave carpets). The reason they put away their looms was that they felt ripped off by the rug dealers who came from the big cities to buy their kilims for their shops.

Their refusal to weave kilims bothered her for two reasons. “First,” she says, “I hate to see ancient arts lost. Second, I hate to see women unable to send their kids to good schools because they lack money. (Been there, done that).” So, Barbara decided to teach them e-commerce. By selling their crafts over the Internet the women could sell directly to the buyer and keep the money themselves!

Barbara’s father used to tell her she had “more guts than brains.” Which is why, she explains, she wasn’t the least bit phased by the fact that she was not an e-commerce expert and had no idea where to get the funding to launch such a project. What she DID have was “wild enthusiasm.” And, this is what she used to propel her dream. Barbara admits, “…there were experiences that were demoralizing and almost stopped me.” But she didn’t give up. In the end, she was able to find people willing to help her get her project off the ground.

About a year ago her dream became a reality. Barbara opened the doors to the first-ever Kilim e-Commerce School for Village Women. Now anyone can go to the web site at and order their own custom-made kilim (you select the colors), meet the weaver who creates
it, and actually watch the weavers at work.

I had been a fan of Barbara’s books for many years. But my first real connection with her occurred about seven years ago when I was first “wildly enthused” about my own project – leaving my corporate job to launch the Changing Course Newsletter . I tracked down Barbara’s phone number through her publisher. I was a bit startled when I reached her answering machine. I remember thinking, “Come on Valerie; she’s a successful author. She doesn’t have time to answer her own phone.”

I went ahead and nervously stumbled through my message: “I’m trying to start a newsletter for people who want to find their life mission and live it. I know you’re really busy, but I am a big fan of your writing and wondered if you would be willing to contribute?” My message went unanswered.

Fast forward about five weeks later. I was standing in my kitchen on a gray, rainy Sunday terribly discouraged and very nearly close to tears. It was one of those days when my head was giving my heart a good talking to: “What a dumb idea.” “It will never work.” “Who would want your newsletter anyway?”

Suddenly the phone rang. In no mood to talk, I let the answering machine pick up. I heard a cheery voice apologizing for the long delay in responding. It was Barbara Sher. She’d been traveling the country on a book tour and was just getting caught up. Of course, she’d be thrilled to contribute to my newsletter. I nearly broke a leg lunging for the phone!

This experience taught me two things. First, sometimes we need to lead with our heart’s desire because our “logical, practical” self doesn’t always know what it’s talking about. Second, dreams are almost always a group effort. You may be the head coach and the only player on the field but there are always people out there who are willing, if not to be on your team, to at least be cheering you on from the sidelines. So, if you need some help jump-starting your dream, ask for it. You may not always get what you want, but as the  Rolling Stones reminded my generation, “If you try sometime, you just might find that you get what you need.”

I once again feel honored by Barbara’s generosity. Those of you who have caught one of Barbara’s appearances on your local PBS television station know that she has an audio program called “Dare to Live Your Dreams.” The stations use it during their pledge times as one of the premiums they give to donors.

Barbara has generously allowed me to offer Changing Course readers this same life changing program. This 12-tape series will teach you practical, nuts-and-bolts, step-by-step methods to use your gifts and turn your dreams into reality. When you do what you love, work turns into pleasure. There is something you’re supposed to be doing and you shouldn’t waste another day ignoring it. The rewards are enormous.

“My advice to anyone with a dream,” says Barbara, “is to take action. Set a goal, any goal, and start doing everything you can to achieve it. I guarantee you life will change.”

Ten Tips for Figuring Out How to Get Paid to Do What You Love

I love proving people wrong. Not all people… just the ones who are operating under the kind of faulty and self-limited assumptions that prevent them – or the people around them – from working at what they really love. That was definitely the case for a recent client named Ellen (not her real name). Ellen was totally convinced she’d be, as she put it, my “first failure,” a belief she’d repeat several times throughout our session.

To prepare for our phone meeting, I asked Ellen to send me a list of things she loves to do. It was pretty clear right from the get-go that she held out little hope of turning any of her passions into viable income streams. “I don’t think there is any money maker in my Love to Do’s,” she wrote, adding, “I really worked at this list. I am not sure you can help since this is all I came up with.”

Boy was she wrong. By employing a few simple techniques, I was able to help Ellen come up with not one, not two, not three, but seven ways to make a living doing exactly what she loves.

Using Ellen as an example, I’ve put together ten tips to help you discover the income generating possibilities and opportunities hiding inside your own passions. In other words you’re about to attend Opportunity Analyst Boot Camp! And, just in case any of the books I recommended to Ellen resonate with you, for your convenience they’re available in the Changing Course Bookstore at

Before we begin, take a minute to read Ellen’s “Things I Love to Do” list to see if you can come up with any ways she might turn them into income. Ellen loves to:

  • Go to art museums
  • Travel
  • Politics
  • Photography
  • Writing
  • Research
  • Archeology
  • Planning things
  • Get dressed up
  • Different cultures
  • Okay, any ideas?

If you came up empty or close to empty, that’s understandable. What often gets framed as a lack of creativity, I happen to think, is really just a lack of information. The information-gathering phase is critical to discovering ways to make a living from your passions. Which leads us to our first tip…


If you want to come up with great income generating ideas you’ve got to get into the habit of asking questions… lots and lots of questions. Take Ellen’s list for example. Presumably, she knows what “research” and “planning things” mean, but did you? I didn’t.

As silly as it might sound, you need to start asking yourself some questions too… questions like, “What exactly DO I mean when I tell people I love to cook or surf the net or write…?” What kind of cooking, surfing, or writing? Do I want to do it for or with other people? Do it at home? Do it outside of home? Do it every day, a few times a month, a few times a year…? I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

For now, use Ellen’s list to practice flexing your Opportunity Analyst muscles by making a list of questions. For example, do you want to learn more about what her love for “politics” is all about? What does she mean when she says she loves “different cultures?”


In short, despite everything we’ve learned from guidance or career counselors, making a living isn’t only about work, careers, or income. Making a living is also about making a life. Your quest for right livelihood must start with a clear vision of what you want your LIFE to look like. In fact, I can’t even begin to help someone figure out what their ideal job might be until I understand what they want their ideal life to be.

Once you’ve determined the kind of life you want, your vision then becomes a bench mark by which to evaluate various career options – or what I call the Life First Test. For example, if you want to work from home and work best alone, opening a bookstore wouldn’t pass the Life First Test… but being a freelance writer might. (Since I’ve talked about this topic at length before, I suggest if you want to learn more, head over to the Articles section at Changing Course and read The Think Life First- Work Second Approach to Discovering Your Ideal Career (or just click here

Like a lot of people, Ellen’s ideal life is a combination of working from home and being out in the world. In her case, it means starting her day at home researching things that interest her… like history and travel. In the afternoon she’d like to get outside. When I asked Ellen what she might like to do outside the home, she reluctantly told me about what she called her “crazy dream job”… being the organizer of a big museum installation like the King Tut exhibit.

I didn’t think Ellen could land her fantasy job overnight, but I didn’t think it was crazy either. What I did wonder was whether it would pass the Life First Test. You see, Ellen’s ideal life includes living in the country… so living in any city big enough to support a large museum was definitely out. But still, the excitement in her voice was too important to just dismiss this interest in big exhibits. Which leads to the next technique every Opportunity Analyst must know…


I decided to probe beneath the surface to try to understand what exactly it is that Ellen likes about being in charge of a big museum installation. What really excites her is doing things on what she referred to as “a grand scale.” “The biggest event in most people’s lives,” she explained, “is their own wedding. I think events like this should be really wonderful and grand.”

In this case, going deeper meant figuring out what kind of grand scale events, in addition to weddings, could Ellen put on that would really jazz her? I’ll give you a hint… the answer is in her list. Take a look… any ideas?

Since Ellen loves history and research I asked her what she thought of specializing in coordinating large and elaborate family reunions? Not only could she do all the event planning, but with a little training in genealogy, Ellen could also offer to research the family tree. And, depending on what she uncovered (and the client’s budget) she could get her grand-scale kicks by organizing historical re-enactments using local actors or somehow involving the family members themselves. Ellen loved the idea!

To help launch her new business, I suggested she take a page out of Barbara Winter’s Establishing Yourself as an Expert class and create a tip sheet. She could put together The 10 Biggest Mistakes People Make in Planning a Family Reunion or a piece called 5 Ways to Guarantee a Stress-Free Family Reunion.

She could use the tips in a press release to her local newspaper, include them in a brochure, or on her website. To educate herself on the event planning business, I also suggested Ellen get a copy of a book called Dollars & Events: How to Succeed in the Special Events Business by Joe Goldblatt, Frank Supovitz.

And what about the Life First Test? If Ellen lived in jeans and sneakers and liked to be in bed by 9:00 p.m., we probably would have nixed the idea of putting on gala affairs. Instead we’d have explored how she could put her passion to work putting on fantastic children’s parties or mega- picnics. Fortunately, since Ellen loves dressing up and is a night owl, the family reunion and wedding planning idea passed the test with flying colors. But why stop here…


We could have stopped here, and Ellen would have been perfectly happy, but during this same conversation she also told me about an armor exhibit she’d seen at the Metropolitan Museum. The fact that Ellen was not the least bit interested in medieval weaponry and yet clearly so taken with the exhibit told me there was more gold to be mined here. Time to keep digging.

It didn’t take much probing before Ellen was practically gushing as she described how incredible the shiny armor looked displayed in front of the rich, colorful tapestry. As we talked, it became clear that Ellen also loves arranging things for maximum aesthetic value. Any ideas on how she might use this passion?

Ellen was only mildly interested in room décor so we quickly dismissed interior decorating. Instead I suggested she think about freelancing as a window dresser for retail stores or as a photo stylist. Photo stylists are the people who clients pay to arrange products, props, food, and the like so they look good in print ads, catalogs, TV, film, and so on. I pointed Ellen to the Association of Stylists and Coordinators where she could learn all about what it takes to break into this fascinating field.


We know from Ellen’s list that she liked writing… but that’s pretty broad. Normally when I ask someone what kind of writing they like, he or she will say they enjoy fiction, non-fiction, romance, children’s books, technical writing, etc. But the first word that popped out of Ellen’s mouth was “concise.” Ellen likes writing paragraphs, not pages and she also prefers non-fiction. Any ideas leap to mind?

My first thought was that Ellen had all the makings of a columnist. She loved the idea but naturally had lots of questions about how to get started… so I pointed her to a book called You Can Be A Columnist by Charlotte Digregorio. The more specific you are, the better able you are to pinpoint what kind of information you need to get started.


Ellen also enjoys politics. So writing a political column was a perfect fit. Unfortunately political columns are the toughest kinds of columns to land. That’s because the powers that be want established “experts,” which is really just short hand for political insiders.

The fact that Ellen is considered a commoner among the political elite doesn’t need to be a dream stopper. The trick is to find a way to make this apparent disadvantage work for her. For example, by calling her column (and maybe ending each one with), “But, Hey What Do I Know?” she just might be able to use her “just a regular Joe-anne,” “average woman on the street” type status to her advantage. It worked for Independent party presidential candidate Ross Perot! And if a millionaire businessman can convince millions of Americans that he’s just like them, then Ellen’s got a shot at selling her column to a local editor.


Like most writers, Ellen also likes editing. What if, I suggested, she offered her editing services to professors and graduate students who need to write papers but for whom English is a second language? Since she also enjoys doing research, for an extra fee she could also help them track down information.


Chances are you may have wondered what kind of photography Ellen loves. Bridal? Portrait? Nature? Animals? Action? When I put this question to Ellen, she once again hesitated fearing I’d find her answer odd. Quite the opposite… I found it utterly fascinating! You see Ellen’s loves photographing unusual buildings… and she works exclusively in black and white. How cool is that!

Okay, you’re wondering, but who’s going to pay Ellen for her cool black and white photos of interesting buildings? Well, there’s a bank in my area that hands out free calendars featuring vintage photographs from the surrounding towns. What if she pitched the idea of a calendar featuring unusual architecture to a community-minded bank or to the Chamber of Commerce? If it worked out, it could lead to a whole series of calendars or perhaps even posters or framed photos. Which leads me to the next thing every Opportunity Analyst should know…


There’s more than one bank and more than one Chamber of Commerce. In fact, there are thousands of them and they’re everywhere! Since Ellen loves to travel, why not make this same pitch in towns and cities all over the country? She could even make a name for herself as the unusual building photographer and publish a book – or better yet, a whole series of books!


Since Ellen’s going to be traveling the country taking photographs anyway, why not tap into her love of writing by being a travel writer. Not only can she make some money, but travel writing is a great way to defray the costs.

Just ask Duane and Harlene Harm. According to travel organizer Barb Perriello at Agora Travel, Duane and Harlene attended the American Writers and Artists Institute Travel Writing Course in Paris. Then they spent the following summer traveling across the western U.S.

All told, they visited 23 different dude ranches in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana over a three-month period, staying for an average of three days at each ranch. The total value of their summer stays? About $55,000… and they didn’t pay anything. Not one cent.

What’s more, they wrote an article for “Steamboat Magazine,” a high-end coffee-table publication based in Steamboat Springs, CO that comes out twice a year. And they were paid for their work. (You can learn more about careers for people who love to travel at

Okay, back to your Opportunity Analyst training. You already know Ellen likes travel and writing, right? But there’s another clue that told me travel writing was the perfect fit… do you know what it is?

It was Ellen’s reference to “different cultures.” By employing the previous nine tips, I discovered that Ellen has a real passion for learning about different cultures… but not by reading alone. What Ellen loves is tracking down and visiting the places the locals like to go. She’s also fascinated by local traditions and etiquette. All this tells me Ellen won’t be writing about the typical tourist haunts. Instead she’ll be using her interest in cultural diversity to educate her fellow travel lovers about how to see area through the eyes of its residents.

Nobody likes to be proven wrong… that is unless the thing you’re wrong about is thinking you can’t profit from your passions. Follow these ten tips and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an Opportunity Analyst… and one giant step closer to earning your living doing exactly what you love!

Why We Wind Up On The Wrong Career Path And What To Do About It

This article originally appeared on

You don’t have to look very far to find people who’re trapped in the wrong job or profession. Carpenters who should have been accountants. Accountants who should have been horticulturists. Horticulturists who should have opened an animal shelter.

Having worked with career changers for nearly a decade, I’ve found there are four reasons why people get, or stay, on the wrong career path. You’ll soon see that the obvious reason – money – didn’t make the list. That’s because, unless you are truly at the subsistence level, I find that money is all too often an excuse used to mask deeper issues. Let’s take a closer look at what some of those issues might be.

1. Listening to Your Head and not Your Heart

Billy Wilder once said, “Trust your instincts. Your mistakes might as well be your own instead of someone else’s.” Instinct speaks to us in many forms. Sometimes it’s an unsettling flutter in the solar plexus warning you that something isn’t quite right here. Other times instinct whispers encouragingly in your ear, “Go this way.” And sometimes instinct makes itself known as an unmistakable and heart-pounding, “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I learned the hard way about ignoring these internal yellow, green, and red lights. It was 1993 and I was commuting 90 miles a day to my corporate job when a marketing job came up in a smaller company with half the commute. I had a good interview with the Vice President of Sales to whom the position reported.

He seemed like a decent enough guy, confident and amiable in that way people in sales often are. A week later we were on the phone negotiating my salary. When I tried to discuss a higher salary his whole demeanor abruptly changed. His voice took on a kind of annoyed edginess that teetered on rude.

A flag went up immediately. Instinct said, “There’s something not quite right about this guy.” After a sleepless night I did what a lot of people do when money or fear or both are involved: I let my rational mind shout down my wiser inner voice. “It’s still a great salary.” “The benefits are good.” “It’s so much closer to home.” “He was probably just having a bad day.”

Of course my instincts were right. My new boss turned out to be an egotistical fist pounder who could be charming and rational one minute and a raging bull the next. This experience taught me a valuable but painful lesson about instinct. More often than not, the heart has a far more sophisticated early warning system than does the head.

2. Turning Other People’s Dreams into Your Own

Whenever I do a career consultation my client’s are assigned the task of putting together a list of things they love to do. I recently had the pleasure of working with an engaging young engineer from Portland, Oregon named Manish. It was clear from the beginning that Manish was struggling to come up with his list. I think a lot of the problem had to do with the fact that he’s spent years living someone else’s dream. But I’ll let Manish tell you his story in his own words:

“When I was young and unsure of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I asked my dad ‘What would be a good job to have when I grow up?’ He told me, ‘an engineer.’ I didn’t really know what an engineer did, but I figured I could do it. I made it a goal of mine to become an Engineer and made a point to take classes in school that would prepare me for this line of work.

I was enrolled in an engineering prep class in high school, and one day we got to visit a local universities engineering department. From that point on, I knew that the engineering field was not for me, but did not listen to my inner-voice and continued towards my goal. In fact, I found myself more curious about the people around me than anything else. I found myself almost distracted by everyday behavior and didn’t pay much attention to the engineering department tour. More on this interest of mine in a minute…

While in high school, I spent a lot of time with my older brother of 7 years in his garage working on, and mainly playing with, cars, motorcycles, boats, etc. Now I can’t remember if it was because of my lack of technical savvy or my continual rambling on about ‘psychological stuff,’ but my brother would interrupt me now and again by saying, ‘Are you sure you want to be an engineer? You should go into Psychology.’ I never took him serious, or anyone else who told me this, because I thought every other career was less than being an engineer. So without putting any thought to it, I continued towards my goal.

When I entered college and signed up for my engineering coursework, I was faced with the reality of engineering not being very interesting to me within the first term. To top it off, I wasn’t very good at it either. Still determined to achieve my goal, I told myself I can’t give up (so stubborn of me). So I ended up in a field similar to engineering called Safety Engineering or Occupational Health and Safety.

Safety had some technical stuff to it, but it also had some behavioral stuff to it. I thought I had hit the jackpot… but to make a long story short, I hadn’t. Safety was 10% fun and 90% not. I’ve been in the field for a little over six years now and I’m ready to make the jump. Funny thing is, my wife says that I’ve been talking about getting into school counseling or any other field since I started in my first job out of college. I wonder why I never listened to myself…until now :)”

Manish is certainly not alone in turning a deaf ear to one’s inner calling. Classrooms and professions are filled with people who are living someone else’s dreams. That’s because it’s not the major, or the job, or the career path itself that’s so hard to let go of. What’s hard to give up is other people’s approval – especially if they happen to be people you love and respect. Walking away from a career, even one you know deep inside is all wrong for you, means risking that esteem. As Manish is learning though, it’s never too late to start listening to the one person who knows more than anyone else about your true gifts and interests – you!

We’ve all received – and perhaps continue to receive – a lot of subtle, (and perhaps not so subtle) messages about what we should “be” work-wise. But outside pressure isn’t the only reason Manish and a lot of other people push on in dogged pursuit of a profession for which there is little real interest. That leads us to two more closely related reasons why otherwise intelligent people get and stay on the wrong career path.

3. Not Being Willing to Admit you Made a Mistake

As Manish’s story also demonstrates, the real pressure that keeps us on the wrong path is self-generated. At some point along the way, Manish shifted from fulfilling his father’s notion of the ideal profession to not wanting to give up on what had become a personal mission. Despite his brother’s attempts to point Manish toward the right road, he opted to continue on like a driver who stubbornly refuses to admit he’s lost.

The good news is Manish has wisely decided it’s time to pull over to ask for directions and is now heading toward his true gifts. The bad news is there are far too many other lost drivers on the highway of life who are still unwillingness to admit they’re going the wrong way.

Despite the occasional story about a physician who left to become a florist or an attorney turned singer, the overwhelming majority of unhappy people choose to stay miserably stuck largely out of pride. For a lot of people it’s a lot easier to keep that lousy job than to stand up and admit to the world that they zigged when they should have zagged.

4. Not Wanting to “Waste” the Degree

Then there are those who really did love their chosen career – at least in the beginning. But over time, they and their occupation, well, they just grew apart. If this sounds familiar, chances are what keeps you on the wrong path is, just like a relationship gone bad, it’s hard to walk away from a career into which you’ve put so much time and effort to say nothing of the financial investment.

Take my friend Donna. After earning her master’s degree in social work some fifteen years ago, she went into private practice as a family therapist. For the first five or so years Donna got a lot of satisfaction out of helping others. For the last ten though, her work has felt more like a burden. So what keeps her there? It’s simple. Donna doesn’t want to “waste” the degree.

Now I know it’s not easy to turn your back on an established career, especially if it’s one that pays well, has some prestige associated with it, or required earning some kind of advanced degree. And yet, think about the logic here. If you identify with Donna’s dilemma what you’re really telling yourself is. “I’ve wasting the last 10 years of my life so I might as well throw away the next 20 as well. To hell with my true gifts, I’ve got more suffering to do”

John Powell once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” If you identify with any (or all) of the four reasons for getting and staying on the wrong career path, don’t waste time despairing. Instead learn and then act.

The fact of the matter is we all get lost from time to time. That’s life. The danger comes when we fail to heed the road signs and thus remain stuck in the breakdown lane. I have an abiding belief that everything in life happens for a reason. The key is to find the lessons.

Even my job with the boss from hell offered invaluable lessons and experiences. In addition to getting to travel the country, I learned in no uncertain terms to trust my instincts. That job was also just the catalyst I needed to make my final exit from the j-o-b world. And, as importantly, it introduced me to meet people who’ve been integral to helping me succeed as a solo entrepreneur.

What should you do if you find yourself on the wrong career path? We’ll, if you’re living with the consequences of having long ignored your better instincts, get a pen and paper, find some quiet space, and put your listening ears on. Then write down everything that little voice has been trying to tell you but this time without censor or rationalization.

If you’ve been living someone else’s dream then take a good look at what’s really going on. Some questions you might want to ask yourself are: What does having other people’s approval or meeting someone else’s needs help me avoid or get? What price am I paying for this approval? Does the cost outweigh the benefits? If so, it’s time to start exploring your own dreams.

If you’re hanging onto a job or career because of all the time and money you’ve invested then the first thing you’ll want to do is to let yourself get close to your fear. I’m not talking about the fear of letting the world know you made a mistake or financial angst. What I’m talking about is getting in touch with the one thing that should really scare the heck out of you – namely, never getting to experience what your life would be like if you pursued your true gifts and passions.

Once you’ve let that little reality sink in, sit down and write a “Dear John” letter to your past love. Tell your career that while it has been a good and faithful partner for some time that you have simply fallen out of love. It will understand. Then pick up a paintbrush, look into culinary school, or otherwise start courting your new love interests.

It’s easy to find yourself on the wrong career track. When that happens, the key is to stay alert for warning lights, watch for the signposts along the way, learn from those inevitable detours, ask for directions, and then start slowly inching your way onto that big expansive highway called Your Life! As George Bernard Shaw once observed, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

Want to Change Careers? Think Life First, Work Second

The public radio show, Marketplace, recently had a segment on entrepreneurs who choose their business to fit their desired life. The first of a five part series was based on a new book called Not Just a Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You a Life by Mark Henricks.

I haven’t yet read the book (definitely plan to) but was intrigued to hear Henricks introduced by the show’s host as a “Lifestyle Entrepreneur Expert.” Imagine my surprise to learn that there is actually a title to go along with my rather unconventional “figure out what you want your life to look like first, then come up with ways to make a living that will allow you to have that life” approach to career counseling. Who knew? Time for new business cards!

While some listeners may have been surprised to learn that 90% of small business owners are seeking a life and not just a living, I wasn’t surprised in the least. The 55 women who recently joined PBS “star” Barbara Sher, Barbara Winter (author of Making A Living Without a Job), and myself at the Making Dreams Happen workshop would not be surprised either. The main reason workshop participants ventured out to Boulder was because they want more than a job change, more than a career change. What they want is a life!

But even this group of avowed dreamers discovered that it’s not always easy to think life first, work second. Things started out well enough. In the very first hour of the very first day I asked the group the same question I ask each of my individual career consulting clients, namely, “What do you want your life to look like?”

This question always seems to evoke some common themes. By and large people are looking for their lives to be more in balance. They want an end to office politics. They want to work at something they really love. They want to call their own shots. But from here they diverge. Some want to work at home. Others want to head out to a sun-filled studio or to the garden or to their little shop or to the recording studio or a dozen different places where their dreams happen.

Some want to work alone, others need that connection with others. Some want to more fully enjoy their present surroundings and if they never see an airport or hotel again it will not be too soon. Others, like the client of mine from Australia, wanted to spend part of the year in the mountains, part of the year at the shore, and at least two months a year in Italy.

As the workshop progressed and participants began to talk excitedly about their dream businesses I couldn’t help but wonder if in their enthusiasm to escape the j-o-b world, some may have already lost site of the life part.

Take Tina. Tina was so excited about her idea of starting a centralized clearinghouse that school districts could call for qualified substitute teachers that she’d made a 22 hour bus trip from Minneapolis to be there. Over a break I got a chance to chat with Tina. When I asked her how she felt about getting up at the crack of dawn to match subs with schools, trouble shooting no-show teachers and other likely blips, and to otherwise sit in front of a computer all day, Tina looked utterly panic-stricken.

That wasn’t what she wanted her life to look like at all.

Tina’s real dream is to travel the country in an RV taking photos while her husband Mike pursues his love of bikes. A very different life than that of a program administrator.

At one time I’d thought I might like to try my hand at being a comedy show writer. Maybe that’s why I felt an instant connection when another workshop participant named Lynn told me of her comedy writing aspirations. In my case anyway, comedy writing never passed my life first test because it would mean having to work in New York or LA. Both great places to visit, but not my style on a full-time basis.

Even though Lynn already lives in Southern California, I wasn’t surprised to learn that her ideal life had nothing to do with spending hours every day sitting in commuter traffic on the Los Angeles freeway trying to get to and from her studio job. Once Lynn realized that she a) wanted to work from home and b) pretty much wanted to work alone, her entrepreneurial options changed accordingly.

So Lynn and I went back to the career change blackboard. This time though, we used the life first model to come up with some options that would allow for a more harmonious life-then-work fit. When we landed on the idea of being a work from home writer of a humorous slice of life column (think Erma Bombeck for baby-boomers) Lynn practically levitated out of her chair.

Lynn just sent me her first column yesterday. It was not only hilarious but dead-on. If anybody can launch a career as a nationally-syndicated columnist, this very funny and determined dreamer can. (If you’ve always wanted to write a column check out Charlotte Digregorio’s You Can Be A Columnist: Writing and Selling Your Way to Prestige.)

The reason I’m so fixated on the life first, work second approach is because it worked for me. You see, one of the biggest reasons I stayed stuck in an unfulfilling job for so very long was because I didn’t know what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” Now if I’d waited until I knew the answer to that question then, well, I might still be there today.

But there was a very important piece of information I happened to know A LOT about – namely, I knew what I wanted my LIFE to look like… I wanted to go to bed and get up according to my own internal clock. I wanted to take time off when I needed to and not when the employee manual said I could. I wanted to work from home and live close to nature. I never wanted a boss again and I didn’t want to work in an organization of any kind. And, as importantly, I wanted whatever work I did to feel meaningful to me.

When it finally dawned on me that I could start working on the part I did know about it became infinitely easier to come up with ideas for making money that would let me live my life in my own way. So what exactly did I do? First, some history…

At that time I was spending two hours a day commuting to my corporate marketing job. Step one of my new “life first, work second” approach was a no brainer. I had to get a job with a shorter commute. Doing so would allow me to dedicate my commuting time to the task of figuring out what I wanted to do on the work front.

I read every one of Barbara Sher’s books, re-read Barbara Winter’s Making a Living Without a Job, dove into Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love the Money Will Follow, Laurence Boldt’s Zen and the Art of Making a Living, and about a dozen other career-change oriented books including a wonderful little book called How to Get Off the Fast Track and Live a Life Money Can’t Buy by Melanie M. Kirsch. (Kirsch’s book is unfortunately out of print but you can get a used copy for as little as 36 cents at

To my delight, what I gradually came to realize was that what I really loved was reading and talking about the whole topic of finding your life mission and living it! But how to make money at it?

Using my ideal life as my compass I settled on the idea of starting a newsletter. And that’s when the original, pre-Internet Changing Course Newsletter was born. I spent the next six months learning everything I could about how to create a successful newsletter. I even published the first six issues while still gainfully employed. Then about a year into the new job I pitched the idea of doing my job from home and my boss at that time went for it. (To learn how to put together your own effective work from home proposal check out the Telework Job Seekers Handbook at

My dream life was starting to come together. It was only a matter of time before the no-boss, no-organization part would be realized as well.

What about you? If you identified with the 90% of small business owners who said they were seeking a life and not just a living then you need to start by getting crystal clear on what having a life means to you. If I could offer all of you aspiring self-bossers out there only one piece of advice it would be to take the time to really answer the question, “What do I want my life to look like?”. Then use your answers as the touchstone to evaluate any and all possible business ideas.

Only when you know what you want your life to look like can you come up with ideas for satisfying work that will allow you to have the life you really want. As B.C. Forbes once said, “Don’t forget until it is too late that the business of life is not business but living.”

If You Think You Can’t Change Course, You’re Right

You’ve heard the expression that some people see the glass as half full while others perceive the same glass to be half empty? Yesterday I had the opportunity to see this difference in perception in action.

My father and I drove to the airport to pick up my some family members visiting from Florida. It was 100 degrees and muggy. “Knowing” there wouldn’t be any parking spaces close to the terminal, my father was inclined to head directly to the back lot where we’d be sure to find a space.

I, on the other hand, was inclined to start with the row closest to the terminal and work my way back. Since my father was literally in the driver’s seat, he reluctantly agreed to check out the last row in the front lot. If we didn’t find something there, he said, we’d proceed directly to the back lot. Not only did we find a spot, but as we were walking to the terminal we passed a primo front row space. His response? “It probably wouldn’t have been there when we were looking.”

In other words, I prefer to think that things will work out. My Dad presumes they will not. Not surprising, during his adult life my father held two jobs. He was horribly exploited in his first job and left only at my mother’s constant urging. He stayed at his second job for over 30 years. In part, father’s long job tenure has to do with that fact that he is a product of at time when there was a different set of rules regarding employer-employee loyalty. You got a good (or even a not so good) job and you stuck with it for life.

There is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with staying in the same job or town or anything else for an extended period of time. My mother’s family has lived in this same area of Massachusetts since the 1600s. My father’s family came at the turn of the last century. I love it here in what is known as the Pioneer Valley and despite feeling tremendous pressure after graduating from college to go somewhere new, I have never had any desire to move anyplace else on a permanent basis.

When staying in one job or place too long IS cause for concern though, is when it is not driven by a sense of contentment but by the belief that things will not work out anyway, so why bother. A lousy attitude will kill a dream faster than just about anything else.

If you find yourself automatically driving to the back lot of life, maybe it’s time to do an attitude check:

  • Do you see yourself as deserving of happiness?
  • Do you think things will probably work out for the best and if they don’t, do you see that as an opportunity to try again?
  • Do you see yourself as the director of your life or as a bit player operating from someone else’s script?
  • Do you think that life generally has it out for you and therefore it is hopeless to even try to change your life? Or do you see life as Helen Keller once described it as being, “an exciting adventure or nothing at all”?

Pessimists THINK a lot about changing course; unfortunately those with a negative attitude rarely ever act on their dreams. If you are prone to pessimism but really DO want to go after your dream of a more meaningful work/life, you may need to first practice viewing things from a positive perspective.

Moving from a pessimistic, hopeless view to an optimistic, hopeful one will not happen over night. It is a goal that must be worked on one day at a time. Start by taking one situation each day and trying to reframe it from a glass half-full perspective. Fake it if you have to. After a while you will find yourself readily being able to not only see the glass of life as half full, but enjoying a long, quenching drink from it as well.

When it comes to successfully changing course, attitude really is every thing. That’s because as Henry Ford once put it, “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Six Cool Careers For Pet Lovers

There are many ways to translate your love of animals into your vocation. Here are just a few of the hundreds of things you can do with or for animals or their owners that I dug up on the web.

1. Take Care of Them

If you love dogs and cats you may want to consider establishing yourself as a professional pet sitter. Start by visiting the websites of other pet sitters in your area. That way you’ll get an idea of prices and possible add-on services. For example, Candy Bird of Pampered Pet Sitting was recently featured in my local newspaper.

Candy specializes in a rural area here in Western Massachusetts known as the Hill Towns. She charges $12-15 per dog and $8-10 per cat. Candy has a set rate of $50 for weekly care for one pet (more for 2) and charges extra for administering medication, nail trimming, and driving pets to appointments.

In the article, Candy recommended pet sitters be bonded and insured. Bonding offers the home owner security against theft. Pet insurance (who knew!) covers you in the event something happens to the pet while in your care.

You can learn more about pet sitting insurance at Pet Sitters International of which Candy is a member. Insurance rates vary depending on the coverage options you choose. The rates for the liability insurance range from $254 to $590 or more and for the bonding from $50 – $300 or more.

I thought I’d check on some city rates so I headed over to Uptown Walkers in Chicago. They charge $35 for pet sitting and also offer dog walking services at $12 for a half an hour walk and feeding. As a nice value-added service Uptown Walkers will also water your plants, bring in mail and newspapers, adjust blinds and drapes, and rotate turning lights on in the home promoting home security. It was not clear though if this costs extra. Visit them at

Pet Sit Canada offers an ebook called Starting a Pet Sitting Business in Canada: A Manual for Beginners. All proceeds from the sale of this guide go to the Canadian Pet Sitters Association

Pet Sitters International puts out a glossy magazine called The World. I decided to click on an article called Top 10 Reasons NOT To Travel With Your Pets by Thom Somes. Now if Thom had simply had a link to his site I may have skimmed the title and moved on. But under Thom’s name it said, The Pet Safety Guy. When I saw that I thought, now here’s a guy who knows how to brand himself as an expert! Which leads me to income stream #2.

2. Teach People About Them

Pet Safety Guy, Thom Somes, runs courses for pet owners, pet lovers,owners of pet-related businesses like veterinarians, pet walkers, sitters, trainers and others. His California-based company, Pet Tech, offers a 3-day pet safety training program. Once you take the course you can then offer it to your clients.

According to the website:

“Pet Tech supports its instructors with marketing strategies,

advertising materials, public relations and a student referral program. As a qualified Pet Tech instructor, you can fulfill an important need for pet owners and increase your revenues as well as the following:

  • Increase the success of your business
  • Attract new clients
  • Be part of a fun and exciting industry
  • Offer additional services to existing clients

The Instructor Training is ideal for: obedience trainers, kennel

operators, pet retailers, pet sitters, veterinarian staff, animal

shelter employees, pet rescue personnel, pet groomers, EMT’s, fire

fighters, and any pet lover.”

A course just ran in Atlanta and more are scheduled for California and Pennsylvania. The rest of the 2003 schedule is not up yet so there may well be a course coming up in your area. If not, maybe you can help organize one.

3. Train Them to Behave

After getting my dog, Cokie Roberts (no relation to the highly respected journalist), from a local no-kill animal shelter, I hired a young woman to come to the house to give us private training lessons. I say “us” because so much of dog training is teaching the owner the commands and to follow through. She charged the same as if I’d taken a class and the convenience factor was priceless. Cokie easily mastered “sit,” “down,” and “leave it.” A very determined boy, he’s still working on “come.”

If you have an interest in learning to be a dog trainer, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) has established and seeks to maintain a series of standards for professional competence in pet dog training by certifying dog training professionals. Exams are held in 15 states and candidates who pass the exam will earn the title Certified Pet Dog Trainer and may use the designation, “CPDT,” after their names. The CPDT holds their annual conference and trade show each September.

4. Bake for Them

Take two trends – the quest for natural foods and the fact that people are spending more than ever to pamper their pets – and you’ve got the makings of a winning business. P.C.’s Pantry,Inc., a bakery and deli for dogs and cats in Boulder, Colorado, specializes in “Barkday” cakes for pet parties, “meat loaves,” and homemade biscuits in 18 varieties including Bark-B-Q, Choco-Lab-Brownie, and Pup-kin. They also offer pet-related gifts for pet-lovers, a line of holistic pet foods and supplements, and a delivery service.

5. Heal Them, Board Them, Consult About Them, Sell Health Food for Them, Write About Them… Or All of the Above!

One of my clients was interested in opening a dog spa complete with a small cafe where dogs and their owners were both welcome. So, I decided to do a little research. That’s when I found Cindy (I never was able to find her last name), a former accountant who heard her calling to heal animals using warm water therapy.

As it turns out Cindy is also a very enterprising small business owner who has not one, not two, but six income streams all feeding right into her passion for dogs. (That is if I counted them all.)

After working for many years with horses, twelve years ago, Cindy opened LaPaw Spa and Mountain Meadows health retreat boarding center in Redmond, Washington. She also opened a health store offering nutritional support and alternatives and has an eBook. (Can you say “multiple income streams”?!)

One of Cindy’s sidelines, and the one I found so unique, is if you want to open your own warm water healing spa, she’ll travel to your site to consult with you! The purpose of the “mentoring service for people interested in getting started with their own spa business” is to “help to get you on the right track, give you ideas about the necessary equipment, and hopefully, keep you from going through some of the trials and tribulations that she went through before she came up with the perfect system that she has now.”

Cindy also offers phone consultations to dog owners who have questions, need encouragement, have access to a pool and would like some custom help for or about their disabled or aging dog. Oh yes, she’s also working on an eBook.

You can learn about Cindy’s training through the Worldwide Aquatic Bodywork Association and her wide range of services here.

If nothing else, visit the page that features the beautiful photos of her tranquil home and just listen to the birds sing here.

These are just a few of the many ways to make a living working with animals. If you love animals and want to find a way to turn your passion into your living, invest some time to bark up the right tree. Because, when you love what you do, you are truly living in the “lap” of luxury!

Creative Entrepreneurs See Opportunity Even in Death

The great thing about traveling is opening my hotel room door in the morning to find that day’s edition of USA Today. In just about every issue of this national newspaper (a great stroke of entrepreneurial genius itself) is an article that gets my entrepreneurial juices flowing.

The February 4th issue featured a story about the growing trend among baby-boomers for more natural, at-home, eco-friendly funerals. Or as the article puts it: No embalming, no funeral directors. No sticker shock.

I did a bit more “digging” on the three entrepreneurs featured in the USA Today article – Jerri Lyons, Chip Beresford and his wife Megan, and Dr. Billy Campbell. As you read about how each of these inspiring people see what lessons you can apply to your own quest to work at what you love.

Take Jerri Lyons. In the past eight years, Jerri has helped over 200 families return to the age old tradition of conducting their loved ones funerals in their own homes. As can sometimes be the case, her business began with a very personal and powerful experience. The 56-year-old started her Sebastopola, California non-profit Final Passages (,  after the unexpected death of a close friend Carolyn Whiting. Carolyn had left detailed instructions for a home funeral. Jerri was a participant in Carolyn’s home funeral and “was profoundly moved by the entire three-day experience.”

As Jerri explained, “Community participation and ceremony, at home, supported those grieving and allowed more time for closure. The bathing and dressing of her body was performed with dignity and honor by her friends. Barriers of fear and anger were broken down, giving more room for love and celebration through this important passage.”

It was “the most personal, meaningful and respectful experience” that awakened in her a passion to share it with others. Jerri says she pioneered Final Passages “to reawaken a choice that our ancestors once held sacred.”

For about $1,000, she will help wash, clothe and give a wake to the departed. Or, those with less means or more of a do-it-yourself spirit can purchase a handbook for $45. The trend toward home funerals is largely being driven by baby boomers. According to Lisa Carlson, author of Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love, “From home births, to writing their own wedding vows, boomers have been creating their own traditions – so why not create their own funerals.” To learn more about Final Passages visit

One factor driving the trend is cost. While the article states that a traditional funeral can run close to $10,000, a “green” funeral with a bio-degradable cardboard casket can be had for closer to $1,000. If a cardboard casket feels, well, cheap but a $2,000 velvet-interior model seems frankly unnecessary, you can always spurge on a pine box for as low as $395.

Former funeral director Chip Beresford and his wife Megan decided to open The Pine Box store in Houston to help families, “get back to basics.” He says when he first become a funeral director he, “felt honored to help families through some of the most difficult times they might encounter, the death of a loved one.”

Funeral service was and still is, Chip says, an honorable calling (as the daughter of a now retired funeral director, I’d have to agree). Unfortunately Chip says, that most funeral directors still have that same commitment to serve, “but their hands have been tied” by the big business take-over of most of what was once a largely family-owned enterprise.

Before you rule out that cardboard box, you may like to know that Jerri encourages families to decorate them in ways that commemorate their loved one. And, for those who are as passionate about the environment as I am, they’re more eco-friendly.

It was his passion for the environment that led Billy Campbell a doctor from Westminister, South Carolina to create Ramsey Creek Preserve, a 37-acre woodland cemetery where tree plantings and inscribed rocks replace manicured lawns and headstones. Campbell plans to replicate his idea across the U.S. To learn more about Dr. Campbell and his wife’s vision visit

Okay, so you may not be interested in starting a green funeral related business yourself, but what did you just learn from these entrepreneurs about turning a trend into an entrepreneurial opportunity? Well, for one, you can get involved at whatever level you feel comfortable.

Jerri deals directly with the deceased and their grieving families. She also shares her knowledge through workshops for health care practitioners as well as for others who want to create their own natural funeral organization elsewhere. The Beresford’s provide a product of value to grieving families on a budget. Dr. Campbell turned his love of the environment into an eco-friendly cemetery and a healing environment for families.

If you’ve been visiting this site for any length of time, you know that I’m passionate about showing others how they can become Opportunity Analysts. The other lesson here is about the life-changing, option-enhancing power of trends… and as any good Opportunity Analyst will tell you trends = opportunities!

If you don’t quite know what kind of business to start, the best way to turn your passion into your job is by tuning into opportunities that which often come disguised as trends, niches, complaints, problems, or changes. I shared three examples of people whose work grew out of a particular trend. With just a little creativity I bet you could come up with a dozen other ways to get involved in this growing trend… and many others. The key is to get started.

Did you like this article? Read more free articles about Changing Course.

About the Author

“Profiting From Your Passions®” expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger’s, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman’s Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

Reprint Permission

You may re-print these articles electronically, in print, or on your website providing the byline appears at the end of each article. A courtesy copy of your publication would be appreciated. If your publication is sent via email send a copy to [email protected]

If your publication is mailed, please mail to Changing Course, 7 Ripley Road, Montague, MA 01351. If you publish the article(s) on a website, please email us a link to the article.

When It Comes to Your Dreams, Sometimes You The Best Advice Is To Ignore Everything Your Parents Told You

This article originally appeared on

When Robin Williams told his father about his desire to become an actor, his dad advised him to study welding – “just in case.” My own parents urged me to become a teacher, but it wasn’t because they noticed the early signs of a gifted educator. My parent’s dreams for me were far more practical. Going into teaching was a Plan B – in case something happened to my future husband, I’d have something to “fall back on.”

Most of the time my parents did get it right. But everything I learned about achieving career bliss I learned by actually ignoring my well-meaning but cautious parents. That’s because, if you aspire to find work that you truly love, some of what your parents taught you could actually work against you.

Here are three childhood lessons every adult career changer should ignore as well as some exercises to help you achieve your goal.

Old Advice: Grow up
New Advice: Don’t

If you were still throwing tantrums at 12, be thankful your parents told you to “grow up.” But, if you want to recapture the experience of getting deliriously lost in a favorite pastime, growing up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Lots of people, director Steven Spielberg among them, knew from a young age what they wanted to do when they grew up. Your own childhood may well contain clues to a new career direction.

Make a list of all the things you were really into as a kid. Did you love to build forts? Sing? Compete in science fairs? Draw? Do magic tricks? Learn about dinosaurs? Tell jokes? Watch scary movies? Play sports? Play dress-up? Play video games? Play school?

What do your answers tell you? How might you build on these childhood interests today?

Old Advice: Follow the straight and narrow road
New Advice: Wind your way to happiness

You probably got the message growing up to always follow the straight and narrow road. Good advice for staying on the right side of authority, bad advice for coming up with “outside the box” career options. That’s because it is often the wide road with lots of detours that lead to the most interesting places. Say you wanted to turn your love of astronomy into your vocation, what career destination would you most likely wind up at, if, vocationally-speaking, you took the straight and narrow road? Astronomer. Right? A fine occupation, but it is just one of many options.

Here’s where what Patrick Combs calls his “Super-Simple, Unique & Weird Job Idea Jogger” can help. Even though his book, Major In Success, is aimed at college students, his idea jogging exercise can help anyone looking to chart a new course.

To start, fill in the blanks in the following sentence: A great job would be [verb] in the [your interest] field. The astronomy-lover who also enjoys reading would write: A great job would be reading in the astronomy field. This might lead to such off-the-beaten-path careers as: Editor of an astronomy magazine, NASA researcher or author of books about the latest astronomy developments. Change the verb to drawing, says Combs, and see what ideas get jogged. You could: Illustrate astronomy books. Design observatories. Map star systems. Create science fiction paintings, murals, or coloring books.

Old Advice: Never talk to strangers
New Advice: Talk to lots and lots of strangers

“Never talk to strangers” is good advice if you’re approached in a dark alley, bad advice if you need encouragement to quit your programming job to become a park ranger. In fact, if the choice is to seek out support from a group of total strangers or from your own family, go with the strangers. The reason, says career counselor Barbara Sher, is that “almost any stranger would respect your dreams more easily than our family does.” To prove it, try this assignment from her book I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.

Tell a group of strangers the most offbeat dream you can think of – like raising Dalmatians in the Himalayas. Tell them, however, that you don’t yet have any contacts in Tibet. Not only will they be interested, says Sher, “they’ll even try to solve your problem.”

Now, she says, try the same experiment with your family by announcing that you’re going to quit your corporate job and sign on as crew on a clam boat off Rhode Island [or the reverse]. Observe whether they “drop their forks before or after they scrambled to talk you out of your ‘folly’.”

If you’re ready for a big career change, maybe it’s time you actually do get bigger than your career confining britches. It can be as simple as re-igniting your childhood passions, exploring a more creative career search path, and seeking out the right people to encourage your dreams.

Oh, on wearing clean underwear thing in case you’re ever in an accident – your mom was right.

Learn how you can Fast Track Your Dream of working at what you love on your own terms.

Did you like this article? Read more free articles about Changing Course.

About the Author

“Profiting From Your Passions®” expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger’s, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman’s Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

Reprint Permission

You may re-print these articles electronically, in print, or on your website providing the byline appears at the end of each article. A courtesy copy of your publication would be appreciated. If your publication is sent via email send a copy to [email protected].

If your publication is mailed, please mail to Changing Course, 7 Ripley Road, Montague, MA 01351. If you publish the article(s) on a website, please email us a link to the article.

Fascinating Ways to Make a Living Doing What You Love May Be Closer Than You Think: Start Your Own Opportunity File and Open Your Mind to Endless Possibilities

You don’t have to look very far to find fascinating ways to make a living. Opportunities are literally everywhere… if you’re looking, that is. It seems I can’t turn on the television or radio or open a magazine or newspaper without seeing at least one good business idea.

Maybe that’s why, as we were winding down a consulting session the other day, one of my clients said to me, “Boy, you sure have a lot of information in your head.” I appreciated the compliment, but Julie was only half right. When you’ve been in the business of helping people change course for as long as I have, it’s only natural I’d know a lot about creative income streams. But most of them aren’t in my head – they’re in my Opportunity File.

What’s an Opportunity File? Basically anytime I happen upon an interesting story about someone who is making money doing what they love, I add it to a big file called Opportunities. If you don’t yet have an Opportunity File, I encourage you to set one up. It’s positively addicting!

I thought it might be fun to just pull a couple of examples from the top of my Opportunity file and share them with you. Since they’re on top, that means I’ve come across them in just the last week or so.

Collecting is all the rage these days. As I looked more closely at my top of the pile examples, I realized that in one way or another, they all have something to do with collecting. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

First there’s antique Christmas decorations collector, Gerald Nixon (aka Mr. Pink… I’ll explain in a moment). Gerald had so many antique Christmas decorations in his personal collection that he finally had to open a shop just so he could move about his apartment. Today he has over 10,000 ornaments as well as light
reflectors, aluminum trees, rotating color wheels, rotating musical tree stands, vintage holiday cards, and wrapping paper.

Okay, why is he called Mr. Pink? Well, it seems the guy owns a very fuzzy pink Santa suit that he happily dons every weekend in December. You can imagine how many tourists ask to have their picture taken with him! You can visit Gerald at his shop in Manhattan at 223 16th Street or online at  If you hurry, you may even catch him in his furry pink suit!

And speaking of winter… after his grandfather died and left him his old wooden skis, Mark Miller began collecting vintage skis. Soon neighbors in his small hometown in New Hampshire started dropping off their old skis. Then Mark began buying skis at auctions. Before long, he had over 100 pairs!

In 1994, he decided to turn his hobby into a business and moved himself and his collection to Park City, Utah, where he became a ski instructor. Today Mark has the largest collection of antique winter sports equipment in the world. Two warehouses hold his collection of 3,000 pairs of skis, 2,000 pairs of snowshoes, 500 vintage sleds, and 400 pairs of wooden skates.

Increasingly, Mark’s collection comes from Europe where he managed to track down 500 pairs of American snow shoes used by the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in World War II. The shoes were just sitting in an old barn in Turkey. Mark does all the refinishing work himself before selling his vintage finds through his web site at and through home décor shops in four western states.

The next opportunity I found in an article in FSB magazine about hot franchises. I’m not usually very interested in franchises. I’ve got nothing against them mind you… it’s just hard for me to picture
someone who wakes up in the morning excited about opening their own Subway or Jiffy Lube shop. On the other hand, franchises can be the ideal solution for someone who basically wants to run his or her own business but doesn’t want to build something from scratch.

Anyway, it was my keen interest in recycling that peaked my curiosity about Canadian Brian Scudamore’s franchise entirely geared around turning trash into cash. Brian got into the business of clearing out unwanted things from people’s basements, garages, attics and the like when he was 19 and still in college.

He bought an old truck for $700, and in an attempt to make his business sound bigger than it was, he named it Rubbish Boys. (Even though Brian was the only rubbish boy he thought big). His business was so successful, he ended up dropping out of school to haul junk full time.

The junk hauling business itself is nothing new. But over time Brian got the bright idea of modernizing the business with uniformed drivers driving fancy trucks who show up when they say they will. So he decide to start a company called Got-Junk (think UPS but with junk pick up). Today this 33-year-old’s Vancouver-based company is one of the fastest growing franchises in North America with 74 territories – most in the U.S.

Is there really that much money in junk? This year Got-Junk expects to post revenues system-wide of $12.6 million. To learn more, go to

A lot of people skip over articles or entire publications if they don’t see an immediate application to their life. Not me. The more unrelated to my life, the more intrigued I am. Case in point was a supplement in my local paper that was dedicated to equestrians. I like horses and all, but am not even remotely connected to the
horse world.

While I scanned the articles, what I was really drawn to were the advertisements. Why? Ads reveal all kinds of interesting ways people with a particular interest have found a way to earn a living. Among the ads for such obvious businesses as tack shops and veterinarians was an ad for “quality equine laundry.” Who knew?

I quickly discovered that the company will “clean, refurbish, and return each blanket spotless, repaired, and wrapped with tissue in a zippered plastic case.” They also promise to make Velcro stick again and to air-dry the blankets on a special rack to avoid shrinkage. This enterprising company will arrange for pick up anywhere in New England.

This last one is not so much about collecting things as it is about collecting and using experience. A headline in my local paper featured a guy who recently bought a local trophy and engraving shop. I don’t have a big need for trophies, but I know when it comes to entrepreneurs, there’s always more to a story than the headline.

I was right. It seems the new shop keeper, 51-year-old Russell Wilkinson, has had a pretty varied background. According to the article, Russell has worked in construction, been an electrician, owned his own shoe repair shop, been a security chief at a local park, delivered packages for UPS, owned a local restaurant, and trained to be a scuba diving instructor in Key West.

People often ask Russell why he doesn’t just get a regular job. His reply? “If I’d done that, it would have been the biggest waste of the most expensive education a person can have.” Russell’s story serves as a good reminder that despite all the pressure to find that one thing you’re good at and then stick to it for the rest of your life, having a varied occupational life can make life a whole lot more interesting.

It also reminds us that no experience is wasted. So many people went to school for things that have nothing to do with the work they do today… myself included. I never view past training, jobs, or even relationships as wasted time. All of our past experience adds up to who we are today.

Do you want to work at something you truly love? Opportunities are all around you. Get a note pad and a file folder and start your own Opportunities File. Let it be a source of inspiration and ideas. And one of these days, the right opportunity will click for you.

Did you like this article? Read more free articles about Changing Course.

Learn how you can Fast Track Your Dream of working at what you love on your own terms.

Did you like this article? Read more free articles about Changing Course.

About the Author

“Profiting From Your Passions®” expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger’s, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman’s Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

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Recreate Your Life: Summer is the Perfect Time to Grow a Dream

This article originally appeared on

Has the school calendar of your youth hardwired you into seeing September as the time for new beginnings? If you yearn for a new job, a career change or maybe even a total life makeover – summertime is by far the best time to act.

Summer is synonymous with fun. It’s possible to make a change and still have time for recreation. In fact, the word recreation literally means to “re-create.” And what better way to spend your summer than recreating your life! Here are six ways you can use the rest of the summer to grow a dream:

  1. Catch a falling star. When my best friend, Elaine, and I weren’t building forts or skipping rope we could be found lying beneath a shady tree or a star-filled sky. These weren’t idle pursuits. We were flexing our imaginations. As the most carefree of the four seasons, summers are made for dreaming. It’s the perfect time to gaze upward, to look inward and to imagine what could be.
  2. Grow a dream garden. Look within and you may find the seeds of a dream planted long ago. Left untended though, dreams will fail to sprout. Summer is the ideal time to cultivate our dreams both old and new. Start with good soil. What is it you care deeply about? What makes you happy? What do you want your life to look like? Now get rid of the weeds – the lame excuses, apathy, self-doubt, and fear born from lack of information. Tend to your dreams and watch them grow.
  3. Take advantage of the longer days. Even though those so-called lazy days of summer have gotten a lot busier of late, the additional hours of daylight do seem to add a bit more time to our lives. Once you’ve engaged in some active reflection, use some of this “found time” to start working toward your goals. Even if it’s only 20 minutes a day, it’s all forward motion!
  4. Read a real thriller. As you’re packing for the beach leave the romance novel or who-done-it at home. Instead treat your life like the adventure that it is by picking up a real thriller like Paul and Sarah Edwards The Practical Dreamers Handbook or Create a Life That Tickles Your Soul by Suzanne Willis Zoglio. Maybe you already have a new direction in mind. Then take this time to read up on that exciting new career.
  5. Invest in your dream. Save both money and time by spending your vacation at home. Make it a real vacation by doing the kinds of things a tourist on a budget might do – go on a picnic, head to a museum, take a day trip. Stash the money you would have spent on a more costly vacation into a “dream fund.” Use your savings to take career-expanding classes, buy some snappy new interview outfit or even start your own business. If your dream includes relocating do hit the road by using your vacation as an exciting research expedition.
  6. Summer is the ideal time to ease into a new job. With all the overlapping vacation schedules, many organizations operate in a somewhat more relaxed mode in July and August. As a new hire, that means the trial by fire period is apt to be a little less trying. If you’ve bee putting off a job move until the fall, keep in mind the slower pace makes summer a great time to learn the new job ropes before the workplace once again launches into fall overdrive.

Recreating your life is about making choices. What choices are you willing to make to grow your dream? Whatever you decide to do, have a safe, relaxing, and inspired rest of the summer!

Learn how you can Fast Track Your Dream of working at what you love on your own terms.

Did you like this article? Read more free articles about Changing Course.

About the Author

“Profiting From Your Passions®” expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger’s, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman’s Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.

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