Starting With What You Have


A couple weeks ago I went to Powell’s and heard J.D. Roth talk about taking personal responsibility over your financial life. “No one will ever care about your money as much as you do,” he said.

Very true. And you can say the same about your career, your dreams, your goals, and pretty much anything else that is personal and important. When we stop waiting for someone else to come along and make something happen for us, everything moves a lot quicker.

The reasons we fail to begin are frequently cited as: time, money, or something else external. The reasons we actually fail to begin are often: fear, inertia, or something else internal.

It’s socially acceptable to blame our indecisiveness on a lack of resources. Everyone understands when you say you’re waiting for a change in situation before beginning. But in fact, it’s relatively easy to deal with the lack of resources. What’s harder is taking the first, critical steps toward overcoming the internal obstacles.

The act of beginning something is powerful. Putting words to page, setting an unbreakable date on the calendar, making a firm commitment.

Therefore the important question is: How can you start something today?

For a long time I wanted to be a writer. Then I finally realized the obvious: if you want to be a writer, start writing! Writing is free, and no one needs to bestow a title of WRITER upon you to begin writing. The same is true with art, business, travel, and plenty of other things.

If you want to start a business, all you need is one idea. The idea doesn’t need to be big; sometimes small ideas make great small businesses. Think about one thing you know how to do that other people would also like to know how to do. Set up shop as a “very small consultant” offering help with that one thing. Make it easy to get paid. Put a PayPal button on your site and say “I do this thing. Hire me if I can help you.”

Have you ever visited another country, even just one? Chances are, someone out there wants to know how it works: what they need to do before they go, what they should do when they get there, and so on. I certainly don’t have that market covered—go ahead, do that. Become the “untourist” expert on wherever you’ve been. Alternatively, if you have a hometown, you can do the same thing in reverse. Become the world’s leading expert on Minot, North Dakota and find a way to do something with it.

If you want to display your art, start on your street. Almost every one of the coffee shops where I live, including the big chains like Starbucks, hangs art by local artists on their walls. If I were a visual artist, I’d take a day and invest $30 on buying coffee at at least 10 different shops. At every one I’d ask how the artist got her art on display. You’ll probably hear about some manager you need to talk to, so I’d get a card and politely follow-up. I’d set a goal of being in at least one shop every month for the next twelve months. If you live somewhere that doesn’t have coffee shops, go to every restaurant. Or go somewhere. The point is that it’s either free or cheap ($3 coffee) to do this. You can start today.

If you want to see the world, find a way to go on some kind of trip. Here in Portland I see that Alaska Airlines is offering 25,000 miles for any round-trip flight that includes PDX on the itinerary. So if you live here, you take a quick $89 trip to Seattle or elsewhere nearby, and then you have a free ticket to Washington, D.C., Chicago, Orlando, Vancouver, or wherever. Done.

I know that most of you don’t live in Portland, but hopefully you get the idea. These are examples, so as always, if they don’t fit your situation, think about where you are and what you’re trying to accomplish. Don’t look at what you think you lack; look at what you have and find a way to make it work.

And just like with J.D.’s book about money, no one will ever care about your goals as much as you do. Don’t wait for someone to get you started. Start yourself.

What are you trying to do? How can you get closer to it … today?


Image: Mugley

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  • Dan Alcantara says:

    Realizing that all I had to do was to start was what pushed me to finally stick to my real passion of writing music. I used the simple recording equipment I have and recorded some songs that I had written and compiled them into an EP. I’ve only made $20 (minus fees from Paypal), but I’m ahead of how much I had when I started, which was $0.

  • Tyler Tervooren says:

    This is where the minimalist mindset really comes in handy. Rather than thinking of all the things you might eventually need, think instead of the fewest things you absolutely have to have just to get started.

    Usually, you already have those things.

  • Gip says:

    I’ve been reading your posts for several months, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented on one of them.

    You’ve got it exactly right! So many of the seemingly daunting steps that stand between us and our plans can actually be conquered in only a few minutes.

    Tasks often seem simpler while they’re in progress than before they start. So I’m adding my voice to yours: Do it today.

  • Susan says:

    I just wrote something similar, that you don’t need a Degree in Being Creative, you just embrace it. When I wanted to be a writer, I just did it. There were lots of ups and downs, but instead of starting at the bottom and ladder climbing, I immediately went to the best publications that I thought were a fit for my work and worked my way down. I know writers with more experience than me who ask how I’m doing it. They are baffled that I don’t subscribe to the ‘bottom-up’ philosophy.

    I imagine it’s the same with any business, creative or not. You just start doing. You don’t wait for someone to give you permission. There’s a dude in NYC who started a lobster roll business out of his apartment, he passes it through his mail slot if he doesn’t want to hang out. The price is a ‘suggested donation’ so he gets around a lot of legal issues. He’s in all kinds of magazines and newspapers now and has a huge cult following and has almost zero overhead.

  • Shana Liz says:

    This entry is so timely. I started applying for a new job today. After a year of being disappointed with my current position, I realized that in order to be happy, I have to take responsibility for my own happiness and not settle until I am doing what I love!! Music Therapy abroad – here I come! Thanks for inspiring me and so many others Chris.

  • Karen says:

    Wise, wise words Chris. If you want to do something, it has to start somewhere. No action means no forward movement… love the idea that no one will care about your goals as much as you do. The world won’t, so we have to for ourselves. 🙂

  • Devin says:

    Hi Chris,

    I like this article. And I hate this article. It does start with me. And it does start with me. Sometimes, I wish I had better more real excuses for not being where I hope. I will still keep plugging away.

  • John Bulmer says:

    Your comments are great for those of us who think but don’t act.

    For some time now I have been jumbling ideas around in my head of what I do or do not want to do with my life (am mid 40’s). Guess I am not the brightest bulb on the shelf but it took me several years to get to the basics of it all – quit thinking and start doing! Actions accomplish a lot more than constantly thinking.

    When someone asks me how to start something I simply reply – NIKE. In other words, just do it. What is the worst possible result?

    It is now time for me to tell myself: John – NIKE.

    I think it is great what Dan did – he is a professional musician by getting paid for his music. Awesome start. The amount doesn’t matter, its the getting it done.

    Thanks for this – in my life its great timing.


  • Etsuko says:

    Great reminder Chris!
    I’m working on my first book right now. I just decided in January this year that it’s time for me to publish a book, and started talking to people. I found a publisher who is willing to publish my book when I went to Japan in March. Now I have to write the whole thing.It’s great to know that I too CAN make things happen!


  • Anne says:

    Hi Chris

    Very true words(as usual)and I think most people are guilty of the learn, learn,learn instead of the do, do, do!

    Just starting is definitely the key, sometimes things will happen quickly other times it is an ongoing process. I know from experience.

    In the offline world my business grew quickly and easily, then I lost it all, I restarted online and it has been a slow and often painful road back. The important thing was the starting and never giving up on the dreams and goals.


  • Robbie Mackay says:

    @Dan Good stuff… downloading it now 🙂

  • sulagana says:

    This was just too inspiring. Inspiration to fly, and that too in a grounded way, is just so rare. Thank you.

  • Matt says:

    This post is both inspirational and timely. I’ve been struggling with disliking my job but too fearful to make moves toward doing what I really want to do. My excuses have included not having certain resources that I felt I needed as well as a fear of the unknown. I’d make a list and say that once I had all these things I would go for it. But I guess the truth is that if you wait for everything to line up the way you think it should you’ll never move forward because the road of life is not straight and narrow.

    What I like about this post is that for me the examples you give show that you don’t have to go all the way out on the limb to get started. You can crawl out just a bit and see how it goes. Take that first step and if it feels good then take another. Reading this has been very encouraging and has sparked some new ideas on how I can proceed and take that personal responsibility for my own future happiness.

  • Dan Alcantara says:

    @Robbie Thank you so much for the support! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • suzie says:

    I’ve also avidly followed your stuff for some time now. I live in a 3rd world country. I started my own business by default, I was cajoled into it by my friends. But at the end of the day you DO do it yourself. I make African inspired clothes. you can check them out on Facebook- HALFRICAN. (talk about advertising! :-))

    But what I want to say is that where i live its the people I see every day slugging it out working with their bare hands and doing lots of the things you say not because they are looking for direction in life but because that’s what they have to do to survive. You’d be surprised how many times you can try and fail and work harder and fail again and just keep going somehow when there are no other options! Happily i like what I do. But these people inspire me.

    good work!

  • Hillary Boucher says:

    Love this and like previous posters commented–somehow perfectly timed.

  • Julie Q says:

    Completely agree – there comes a point when you need to stop inventing possible risk & just get to it.
    When I unexpectedly lost my job from ‘The Large Evil Machine’ of a company that I worked for, I paused for 2 seconds, but that’s about all. I took what skills I had & started my interim mission that very night – 6 weeks later I was sitting in my new office, in my dream job, in my ideal work environment, running things at my own pace, in my most productive hours, et al.., all because I used what I had to begin with:
    1) A network
    2) A specific talent
    3) Determination

    I refused to let risk win & settle for the first safe, stable position which came along in ‘Another Large Evil Machine’. I’ll never again let ‘fear’ cause idleness, because happiness is too important to wait for.
    Thanks Chris!

  • Rick Kitagawa says:

    Hey Chris,

    To echo others, what a timely (and super awesome) post. It really is almost absurd at how easy it is to really take small, concrete steps to your goals when you really take a hard look at all the internal factors and stop blaming the external.

    As one of your Emperors-in-Training, I’m definitely going to get my butt in gear and really go with the idea of starting a mini-consulting business. I also really like the “make it easy to get paid” part. I will, and I’m hoping that the free e-guide on wedding invitations I just wrote will start me on my way! Thanks for the awesomeness!

  • The Dame says:

    What an absolutely valuable article! Thank you so much for the inspiration! 😀

  • Richard says:

    One of the processes I implement when starting a new web project is to aim some kind of positive action – any action – on a daily basis. Basically I won’t settle down to sleep until I’ve done something – built a new link, written a new article, submitted a guest blog post, checked out relevant affiliate programs, whatever.

    By making an agreement with myself – no matter how small this may be – it creates a “pattern” and I see the results improve over time without too much effort. It works well for me – anyone else tried this technique to get started?

  • Eevelyn says:

    This really struck a chord with me. I’m so guilty of just dreaming without putting any action to it! Especially the idea of the aspiring artist going round and asking in coffee shops. I haven’t heard that before but it’s a great tip, and something I think could be applied not just for artists – thank you! You’ve put my thoughts on new tracks this morning 🙂

  • Alison Stevens says:

    Wow. A perfectly timed reminder that I need to keep doing what I’ve started doing, since no one else is going to get the obstacles out of the way. In fact, I decided yesterday that it’s time to take the plunge. Thanks, as always, for your encouraging words!

  • Greg says:

    Inertia is the greatest barrier most of us face. Sometimes, you’ve got to dive in. Although it can be downright scary, sometimes that’s what it takes.

  • Tammi Kibler says:

    Great post, Chris.

    We shouldn’t sit around waiting for the right support or kick in the pants to get started, but if we do it’s good to know you will show up in our inboxes and light the fire.

    Now I’m off to build my empire.

  • Mars Dorian says:

    Awesome Chris !

    You’re right, you are always the only person that cares about your stuff. I’ve procrastinated a lot – always schlepping my stuff – tomorrow is another day where I kick-start my business. Never happened until very recently. The aim is just to jump – to do the action, and then to “fix” your journey as you go.
    It’s my mantra now, I breathe it like the oxygen !

  • Graydon Hazenberg says:

    I do a lot of travelling and sometimes people ask me “How can you afford to travel so much?”, ascribing external factors to my decision to spend as much time exploring as possible. The two best replies to this (shamelessly stolen from other travellers) are

    a) “How can I afford NOT to travel?” The opportunity cost, turning down a chance to see someplace new, is enormous.

    b) “You can always make more money. You can never make more time.” For the typical Westerner, money is far more elastic than implacable time.

    When people say to me “I wish I could travel like you do”, my response is usually “Pick someplace you want to go, pick a block of time you’re going to devote to it, buy a ticket, and go!” It’s simple at its most basic level, but we make it seem more complicated because of internal barriers that we may not want to acknowledge.

    Great article, and an inspiring one, too. Love the blog!!

  • Susan Adsett says:

    I had to laugh when Chris suggested “take a day and invest $30 on buying coffee at at least 10 different shops”.

    Coffee makes me hostile – if I drank 10 cups of coffee, someone would be DEAD.

    I have shown work in coffee shops before, but I’d totally forgotten about them as a venue. I’ve started a new series of house portraits , and I think putting them in the local coffee shops would be perfect – I’m going to get on that this weekend!

    without drinking the coffee though. I’ll stick to tea.

  • connie says:

    The scariest words in our language–it’s all up to me. I keep hoping for a magical helper or hypnosis or… anything. I do take action–sporadically on about 9 different things with little certainty about any of them. Every idea leads to a new idea. But, I did one smart thing. I enrolled in your class, Chris, for the month of May and even that commitment has me nervous. Oh oh, in 3 days I actually have to do something, choose a course of action. I also admit that I’m excited; maybe with some guidance, I really can bring one of my many ideas to fruition. Thanks for being you and for being here. A lot of us need what you offer.

  • Leyla says:

    Loved this article . It’s a good reminder for me.
    “The reasons we actually fail to begin are often: fear, inertia, or something else internal.”

    ” I-n-t-e-r-n-a-l” is what I am focusing on.

    I keep on getting rid of that internal stuff that prevents me from taking action. I’m rolling forward with my dreams!

  • Cody Limbaugh says:

    I think I’m going to post this up in my gym. This is great Chris!
    For too many years I was a planner instead of a do-er. Too often we are taught the process of think>research>plan>impliment>evaluate. And somewhere in the mix is an unwritten rule that you must also be “motivated”.
    I finally came to the realization that creativity, research, plans and motivation can all come as a result of beginning the task at hand.
    Not feeling motivated? Take action! Enthusiasm will be built out of the work you get done!
    Fearful? Then start NOW! The longer you wait the more fear grows. Action evaporates fear.
    Need more planning/research/knowledge? No better place to learn than in the trenches. Besides- people will come to your side to help and guide you if you are working- but you can’t steer a parked car (or bike).
    In our gym, many of the workouts are timed and begin with 3-2-1…GO! No matter how un-motivated or fearful you are before the workout, once we say go, everything changes.

  • Cody Limbaugh says:

    Sorry to be so long-winded. You’ve inspired me Chris!

  • Melissa Dinwiddie says:

    Seth Godin wrote about an overlapping theme today: taking the leap vs. being pushed. Getting the nudge from someone else can be so helpful — that’s a lot of what mentoring and coaching is all about — but the important thing is to learn to mentor oneself. To be the midwife for one’s own dreams.

    Not always easy, but it separates those who get their dreams made and out in the world from those who don’t.

  • daniel says:

    I do something that takes a minute and may help someone. You take small steps to accomplish anything so I took the gratitude rock idea (from ‘the secret’ where you pick up a rock and say what your grateful for)
    I have a little item next to my monitor that I pick up and I ask 5 questions (5 fingers) this gives me 3 tasks and I end with a smile: and I’ll use the picture/coffee shop idea as an example
    1.What am I grateful for? (I pick a few things)
    2.What can I do for someone right now? (if you give a lot you get a lot … you can share your art)
    3.What do I need to start now? (it’s the next step, like make a list of where the coffee shops are)
    4.What do I need to finish now? (you can’t just start, you need to finish one thing to start another … finish visiting all the coffee shops on the west side … then the east side … then doctors offices … then)
    5.Who loves me? (this one usually makes me smile, if I don’t smile = question 1, 2 and 3 need to be about these people)

  • Andi says:

    I want to write a memoir and I want to write it baaaaad. Thanks for this post–you just fired up my creativity again. 🙂

  • linda esposito says:

    Today I’m trying to get through The Dip, and loving the challenges!

    Thanks for the inspiration that well carry me into the weekend Chris.

  • Matt Ray says:

    Thanks, Chris, for the reminder to do “something.” I went to Alaska Airlines and signed up and even though I don’t live in your area, I still got 500 free miles for doing it and Alaska is going to start flying out of Oxnard, right near my home town, so now I’m set for when they begin. Also, I think Alaskan is a partner with American, so all of their miles work for American too? Cool stuff. Good reminder. Always a great read.

  • Meg says:

    I love the “one thing every day” approach. Then, no matter how big or small, I feel like I’m getting somewhere closer to where I want to be. It can be as small as being active on twitter (I do that every day, ha…) to get my blog out there, to recording a post idea or acting on some of the ideas I already have.

    I also have my 365 photo project, so every day I’m taking at least one picture and sharing it. Every picture, good or bad, is one picture closer to being a better photographer. And maybe finding paid work someday. 😉

  • Young Mogul says:

    Great article as usual! Man, this piece has really gotten my creative juices flowing. I am already pretty fearless, but this article made me think about ways that I can continue to push myself to get the most out of life.

  • Tom says:

    I’ve recently started my own blog on helping people achieve calm in their life. I’ve accepted that there’s a good chance it might fail, but that isn’t going to stop me. Even if it never gets off the ground, I’m learning valuable lessons that’ll help me with whatever would come next.

  • Andre says:

    Chris, as always, you are so right. I have gotten off of the path of what is right for ME! I have to refocus on what it is that I want and how to go about it. Analysis paralysis has also been a problem for me. I can research something to the Nth degree and never do it. That stops, here and now… I am so glad that I found this site!

  • Cathy says:

    Hey Chris!

    I really enjoy your articles at the moment when I have time to read them. I am trying to get a business started..I have mad skills, passion and love for what I would like to do…my problem is I can see the big picture I just have a hard time defining what things I have to do in order to get there so I get to the point i get overwhelmed, frustrated then I back off…regain my composure and keep pushing forward. I am making progress but I feel I could be doing better…

    Anyhow I like what you do and hope you have a great weekend!


  • April says:

    Love this article! This is one of my beliefs but I find that most people loooooooove their excuses….I used to love mine too…until I looked at my bank account 🙂

  • floreta says:

    Thanks for the tips! You’ve touched upon a lot of goals that I have “sometime”. I like the gallery/coffee shop tips because I’d love to get my art up in Portland (first step… start painting. Ha!). I never considered myself a writer either, for the longest time, but my (minimal) travel funds income is now supplied by freelance writing. Huzzah!

  • Hannah says:

    So many of us are paralyzed by perfectionism. A basic willingness to fail is needed in order to succeed. I have mastered the art of failing, which is to say I don’t beat myself up any more; just keep starting over.

    I stopped making art for 8 years in pursuit of other things; when I first started again I explicitly gave myself permission to make bad art. I was so freed up that my creativity exploded and people responded to my art like never before.

    I practice giving myself credit for little things even when I feel I’m not uber “productive.” Over time that adds up and inspires more production.

    ;-)) !!!

  • Ari Herzog says:

    How did you learn about the Alaska Airlines promotion? By visiting its website — or is there an aggregate website of airline promotions you peruse?

  • Chris says:

    Hey Ari,

    Not 100% sure about this one – I read about 50 travel blogs, websites, forums, etc.

  • Brigit Vucic says:

    Really good article – thanks for the inspiration. We might as well settle in; stand up; and do the best we can to live our lives truthfully and well.

  • Andrew Lightheart @alightheart says:

    A Very Small Consultant.

    I love this – for so long small business people (er, me included) had to pretend to be bigger to get business. No longer.

    Inspirational, again.

  • Wesley Craig Green says:

    I have to admit, I’ve been one of those people who blamed external forces for not achieving or even working towards certain goals. It was a crutch for not taking that one step which if I took it, would take me towards whatever goal(s) I was wanting to achieve.

    It wasn’t till I realized and admitted to myself that I- and I alone in most cases- hold the keys to my goals. There is no “perfect time”… there is no “secret answer”… there is no “if I only had whatever”. There was only myself holding me back from my goals.

    Fantastic post, Chris. Cheers!

    Wesley Craig Green

  • Hannah Crum says:

    Great post! I just thought of another thing that I could sell from my website! Looking forward to starting the course tomorrow!! Woot!

  • Xpat says:

    very insightful article..It is indeed very true.. we have to start with what we have and work on that..

    This article inspires to be start working on my dreams and get rid of procastination.

  • Mike Ziarko musing says:

    Chris – Another great post. The fact of the matter is, with a business, or with anything in life, if you want something to happen you have to take a small step, you have to get started. So many of life’s undertaking appear so massive that they appears impossible because we’re overwhelmed due to the sheer size. But you can’t climb that mountain without going through the foothills. You can’t get to Everest basecamp without acclimatizing. You can’t make the push to the summit without tackling the Hillary Step. It all starts with a step.

    I’m looking forward to incorporating a lot of your philosophy in my upcoming series about your unconventional guides. The idea is to review the guides as a way to introduce readers to you and your sites content, and hopefully bring some positive feedback so they can make a sound decision about investing the time to take them all in. This series will serve as launch-pad for next release of the Empire Building Kit.

    keep up the great work,

  • Sandy Mejia says:

    One of the BIG truths in life, that at the end, is not that big, the thing is, it deals with BIG issues, those internal issues, those fears that sometimes we have even get use to live with them, we hold them close to us, and at the end, the thing is: let go, let go and breath, breath and be free.

    Life is made of little things, little steps, decisions. The thing is, we are the writers of our own stories, so u better enjoy it!!

    Am living one of my dreams now, scary? yes. Just opened my own store, but there is nothing like the feeling of knowing u are doing what you heart wants to.


  • McKenna Cameron says:

    Have been struggling for a while with corporate job vs. self-employment. This week I lost a patient (I’m a nurse) and when I asked for the next day off, they couldn’t give it to me because of staffing. That was it for me. I would’ve given it to me and used outside registry if I had to. I wanted to ask “When was the last time you lost a patient in this unit and you can’t give me one personal day?” Instead I got busy in the wee hours when my patients are asleep planning my imminent escape. Thanks for this post – very timely!!

  • wendy says:

    not too long ago, i started researching about quitting your job and traveling. of course, your blog post with the same title came up in my google search. it seemed like we would never get there. almost 18 months later, and we are finally doing it! i must say, reading your blog really solidified our decision to do this. and here you still are, giving great advice to fellow adventure-seekers! it is really important to start with what you have and from where you are, and to remember the journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step!

  • TERRI says:

    I loved this post when it first hit and have thought about it a lot since then. Your posts are often very relevant for me, chiming into where I am, and this seems to be the same for others. I’m not sure how you do that! After many months of planning my voice in the world and learning about blogging as one way forward, this post arrived as I was just starting out – it certainly gave me courage and helped me overcome the resistance that often lurks around any creative venture. Thank you!

  • btredy says:

    simply great article.

    ” The reasons we actually fail to begin are often: fear, inertia, or something else internal.”

    rightly triggered.

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