From the July 1998 issue of Startups

For seven years, Valerie Young commuted 90 miles every day to and from a corporate job. She did lots of "water-cooler whining" and fantasizing about what she really wanted to do . . . someday. When her mother died unexpectedly, just five months before retirement, Young realized "someday" doesn't always come. Today, she's happily self-employed publishing Changing Course, a newsletter to help people follow their dreams. Here, the Northampton, Massachusetts, entrepreneur shares her 10 steps to escaping your job and creating the life you really want.

Step 1: Get the point-of life, that is. Life is short and precious; when it's over, few of us will wish we'd gone to more meetings. And on the off chance you don't win the lottery, it's up to you to create the life you want. It's not going to drop in your lap.

Step 2: Get the picture. People spend so much energy focusing on what's wrong with their lives, they have no energy left to envision what they do want. Start from a positive place. Five minutes a day imagining your ideal life is better than 30 minutes spent complaining.

Don't get hung up on the kind of work you want; start by envisioning the life you want. Are you spending time indoors or outdoors? Where do you live? What kind of people are you with? Visualize your ideal day as often as you can.

Step 3: Get passionate. Just because you're [good at something] doesn't mean you like to do it. To find your passion, look back to what you loved to do in childhood. I know of a guy who loved to build sandcastles as a child. Now he has a business building sand sculptures for seaside events. What inspires you?

Step 4: Get a grip on IT. IT is what scares you; it's different for everyone. People often think, "I'm scared; that means I shouldn't do this." Change, by its nature, is scary. Recognize that a certain amount of fear goes with the territory.

In my seminars, I have people indulge in their worst-case fantasies, and I ask them, "How realistic is that?" and "What steps can you take to prevent it from happening?"

Step 5: Get real. Ask yourself, "How much do I want this vision I've created? What am I willing to do to get it?" Expect a short-term drop in income. It also takes time. If you're already putting in long hours [at work], are you willing to spend time at night and on weekends to get [your business] going?

Step 6: Get informed. Talk to people who do what you think you'd like to do, to get a realistic picture of what it's like. Join associations. Read trade publications. Take advantage of the SBA.

Step 7: Get ready. Set a target date and put your goal in writing: "I will be running my own bed and breakfast by the ocean by March 2000," for instance. Then work backwards and create a realistic plan for getting there.

Step 8: Get support. If you have a network of supportive people, meet once a week to generate ideas. Don't have a network? Create one. Find other people [who want to start businesses]. Have lunch once a week to keep each other on track. Take a course on starting a business-you'll meet a room full of people who share your vision.

Step 9: Get going. If you can't call the school to send you literature about the business class, at least look up the phone number. Doing one thing a day, no matter how small, keeps the momentum going.

Step 10: Get gratitude. Visualize the future, but also be mindful of the abundance in your life right now. These 10 steps are a journey. Savor the journey, because all you really have is now.

For more information about Changing Course ($29 per year), visit http://www.making-waves.com or call (800) 267-6388.