28 01, 2018

The Baby Steps to Giant Dreams


Purple-gray hills are peeking over the tops of the trees of my very rough, unkempt, natural backyard, which is filled with gnarly live oak trees, prehistoric limestone rocks, sage-colored prickly pear cactus, and dusty orange and rich green cedar trees.

Sneezing wildly as I sit in the open air on the long, covered back porch, I can’t take it any longer and move inside. No, it’s not my cold; that’s gone. It’s the cedar, part of a well kept secret in Austin, Texas. It’s called “Cedar Fever,” and it’s an allergy most of us get it after living here three years or more. Usually it begins around Christmas and lasts until early spring.

Though I prefer to sit on the porch on Sunday mornings, listening to the sounds of birds, distant barking dogs, and the rustling of treetops, I’ve walked down the little path through the tall grasses with dried leaves crunching under my feet as I made my way to my little studio building.

My Little Studio in the Trees

The studio is a 12 x 16-foot building, with a porch of almost the same size, tin roof, and dark brown slatboards. I’ve got a fireplace on the porch for sitting out on cold days, though lately it’s been too cold, even with the fire. Last week we had a couple of rare 16-degree days — an opportune time for the heat to go out in our house and a chance to appreciate what we had.

I feel blessed with our little slice of paradise in the woods surrounding Austin (they call it a “green belt”). I started to say I also feel lucky, and there is some luck involved, but I think too many people hope to get lucky instead of making their own luck.

Is Luck on Your Side?

I hear about luck a lot. Probably every week some artist tells me that they’re having bad luck selling paintings — that they’ve had some years where they have been very lucky, and others where their luck has run out.

Perhaps there is an element of luck we all experience. I suppose if you put yourself out there enough times, you’ll have some good results and some bad. But it’s hard to raise a family or pay bills on luck alone.

The Cycles of Art Sales

Art sales do ebb and flow based on economic conditions. Dozens of artists pine for the good old days before 2008, when they couldn’t paint enough and their incomes were soaring. Then it dried up for most of them, and for many galleries. With the simultaneous growth of online shopping, it was the perfect storm.

There Is No Such Thing as Luck

Dan Kennedy, a marketing guru I follow, once said that there is no such thing as luck in business and that though some may accidentally do something right and have some success from time to time, great success is based on understanding the principles of great marketing. He points out numerous stories of those who flourished during recessions or the Great Depression, and that those who embrace good marketing essentials can succeed in any economy.

Though I believe he is right, it crossed my mind that it might not be true in the art world, because problem “boulders” roll downhill and crush those in the way. Before 2008, people were getting huge mortgages and houses they could not afford and money to fund furnishings and paintings. When that ended, the massive purchasing dried up.

When I asked Kennedy about this, he said most people had been riding a success wave and that because they had not employed the right marketing essentials, they were vulnerable once that wave ended. I suppose that wave was luck … just riding the wave of a great economy.

Surfing When There Are No Waves

A great marketer, therefore, isn’t someone who can just ride a wave when the world is flush with cash, when people walk in the door with wads of money to spend. It’s the person who knows how to employ strategy to succeed and how to be flush with cash even when times are their worst. Plus, those who understand great marketing essentials will make considerably more during a wave.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Santa Fe, the dealers there mentioned that business hasn’t been this good in years — and they had big smiles on their faces, which made me believe they were not blowing smoke. I’m hearing from some artists that things are getting much better, though many are still not seeing the success they want.

It’s hard to know what will happen with the U.S. economy, though all the indicators are looking very strong. It’s very possible that you, if you sell art (or anything else), may be able to surf a wave again.

Artists Ready for Anything

Yet if I can prepare artists (or others) to catch the wave when it’s strong, and to keep riding high when things are horrific, then I will have prepared them for anything. Because we all have to survive no matter what the economy is doing, and you should never have to be vulnerable again. You see, there are always people buying art, even when the economy is bad. There are just fewer of them, and it’s important to be one of the artists those few are buying.

A wise mentor, my dad (who turned 91 last week), reminds me constantly that you shouldn’t increase your lifestyle spending when times are good because you may need that cash when times change. But you should also use those times when you’re flush with cash to build your knowledge and awareness.

A War Chest for the Unexpected

It reminds me that artists who ride the wave will gain a great advantage by keeping a war chest of ad dollars that will help them capture art market spending when others are unable to do so. I once wrote about a gallery that was built during a recession because of this principle.

But … all the cash in the world is of no value to those who don’t know how to use the essential tools of marketing. It seems to me that we are doing a lovely job of training thousands of highly accomplished artists in schools and ateliers today, yet few, if any, are teaching marketing essentials. Frankly, few professions have the vision to teach these business essentials. Even doctors get great training but stumble when they try to go out on their own because no one ever teaches them how to run a business. Artists who are selling art are running a business, though few like to admit that. Anyone who is self-employed in any craft is running a business.

My Struggle to Learn Marketing

Some people think that marketing comes naturally to me, and that I have a “talent” for marketing, but that isn’t true. I struggled for years because I misunderstood marketing and had to learn it by trial and error. And I didn’t like it; I would rather have been doing something else. Though I had some great mentors in marketing, it was not until I flicked the switch in my head that I finally told myself I had to master the art of marketing or I’d never eat consistently. Once I made that decision to begin a lifetime of getting better at marketing, I started to see a shift in my income. It was a slight shift in the beginning, but it grew over time, the better I got and the more things built on themselves.

‘Can I Help Artists with Marketing?’ I Wondered

Frankly, I had all this knowledge from decades of good and bad experience that I was putting to use for my own business. Then one day I was speaking with some artists who asked me for advice, and they told me I should be teaching artists, which frankly had never crossed my mind. I decided to try it and made a presentation at a small art event that was met with good reviews.

Then, when I launched the Plein Air Convention, I thought it might be a nice add-on for artists, but the convention already had all of the time scheduled. So I added it at 6:30 in the morning, thinking that only a few serious people who wanted to learn marketing would show up. I was blown away by the interest when most of the people at the convention showed up, and I’ve been doing Art Marketing Boot Camp since then.

Watching People Thrive

Because of the success so many artists are having as a result of attending the classes or watching the videos, I’m now encouraged that any artist can become a world-renowned brand — or at least big enough and well known enough that they dominate sales in top shows and get sought after by top galleries. Or, for those who don’t want that but just want to add an extra $1,000 a month, that too is possible. I’m trying to teach principles so artists can live their dreams and, most importantly, have consistent income even when times are bad.

How Do I Start?

The question I get most is, “Eric, I want to market, but where do I begin?” The very first thing is to have a strategy before you implement any tactics. Most people think that if they buy an ad, or do some posts on Instagram, that will build their career. But that’s like getting in the car and driving, hoping you’ll show up somewhere interesting.

Start with a Yellow Pad

The absolute first step is to define exactly, in detail, what you want your life to look like. You start with your must-have essentials, like how much to pay your bills and meet your monthly needs. And then start your dreaming process: where you want to be in two years, five years, 10 years, and for the rest of your life. This then helps you define your strategy, and from the strategy, you create specific tactics. It’s important to know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Frankly, whether you’re an artist or anything else, this is an essential first step. You have to define your life before you start shooting arrows at random targets — that won’t get you to where you want to be.

Which Kind of Artist Are You?

There are two kinds of artists … those who paint for pleasure and only for themselves, and those who sell their artwork or someday hope to. It doesn’t matter if the art is representational, abstract, installation art, photography, or selling potholders or handmade aprons on Etsy. It’s all art, and if the intent is to sell it, artists would serve themselves well to learn some of the core essentials of marketing. There are lots of people who teach it, myself included, and lots of styles and ideas, and any study of marketing and sales will benefit anyone who wants to sell something.

Prevailing Over Depression

The other essential is your mindset. Most of us tend to have a pack mentality, which means we believe what others are telling us. If all the artists out there tell us business is bad, nothing is selling, the world of art is coming to an end, we tend to believe it. A young man named Kellogg heard all of those things as he was starting his new company when the Great Depression hit. Had he listened and given up, his family would not be reaping the rewards of decades of dominance in the cereal category. You have to be an independent thinker and believe there is always someone who will buy your art, no matter how grim things look. With that mindset, you won’t stop trying. Though it won’t be as easy as when you’re riding a wave, and though you do have to work harder during lean times, you will prevail. But the time to learn about marketing is before things get bad.

It’s Horrible. No, It’s Wonderful

In just the last two weeks I’ve talked to several artists. Some of them told me how awful business is, how they are not selling, how they are having trouble surviving, and how every artist they know is experiencing the same thing. Others I spoke to in the same week told me that their art sales are booming, that it’s better than it’s ever been, even better than before 2008, and that all their friends are experiencing the same thing.

The optimists were not artists who were “better.” Almost everyone who told me one or the other of these things was a high-quality artist, and some were in the same styles or genres of art and the same regions.

Making 2018 Soar

Since we’re still early in the year, there is ample time to impact your success in 2018 and beyond. Start with your mindset, move to your needs, then start to focus on your dreams, and define what you want the rest of your life to look like … whether you’re young or old. Then study like a madman … others who know marketing can save you decades of experimentation and pain. A few hours invested to watch a video or read a book once in a while can help you take control.

I’ve Changed My Mind

When I was a younger man, I used to think that if you dream it, it will come true. Though I still believe mindset is the most important starting point, I have realized that the ship doesn’t move unless you put coal in the furnace, and unless you learn to steer it, it will just drift and you’ll go in whatever directions the waves push you. You have to have a destination and a chart to get you there, and you have to always be prepared for course correction in the times you get off course.

Jumping in Head First

In the last five years I’ve seen a massive change in my own life because I immersed myself in new learning in the areas I felt I needed to master in order to accomplish my dreams (most of which are not financial in themselves but require money to accomplish, such as the museum I want to build). You can become a master at anything with about two years of intense study.

Five years ago I started buying every course I could get my hands on or could afford. I started reading every book I could find on the subjects I wanted to master. I read four books over the Christmas break, and usually about two or three a month. I listen to probably 20 podcasts in most months, and I attend probably three or four educational events a year. Though I’d rather sit around and hope that things will happen, and though I’d rather not spend money I often can’t afford to spend, and time I can’t afford to spend, I know the necessity of immersion when I want to learn and master new things.

I don’t want to be so presumptions as to tell you what you need to learn, or what is important for you in your life. Only you know those answers. But I do know a lot of people who know what they want but don’t know how to get there, who get frozen with fear.

Little Bitty Steps

Big goals are overwhelming. Tony Robbins would say to start small. Rather than saying “I need to lose 30 pounds,” set a smaller, less overwhelming goal, like “I’m going to take a walk every day.” This is true for all goals. Rather than saying you want to be known at the level of a famous artist like Joe McGurl, which would be overwhelming to consider, start out by telling yourself “I’m going to study one hour a week.” Then do something like read a book, watch a video, or paint one extra hour.

Repetition Not Only Sells Products, It Sells Your Brain

I honestly can’t say that you or I will become exactly what we dream. But I can say that if you shoot for it, you and I will get further ahead than we are now, and any progress is better than no progress. I do believe that if you tell yourself something over and over, you will start out doubting it, then will begin doubting it less and start seeing indicators that it might be possible, and if you keep telling yourself it’s going to happen, your subconscious mind starts leading you in that direction. I have found this to be true in my own life, and I know lots of others who tell me it’s happened to them.

Woohoo! I Get to Buy Something Cool!

The greatest satisfaction of my entire life, other than my family, has been coaching artists, teaching them the principles of marketing, and seeing their lives change. Just a week or so ago I sent out a note about an artist who followed something I created and exceeded her annual goals because of it, and bought a new truck. When I called her she told me, “I did not believe it would work, but I was desperate to make something work and thought, what do I have to lose?”

Are You Sick Enough to Make Changes Yet?

I want you to have exactly the life you imagine, and I have belief in you, no matter how horrible your circumstances were when you grew up or what they are now. I know that when things get bad enough and you get sick enough of those circumstances, and when you decide to change your story and move in a new direction, you will get there. The only thing it requires is determination to start down a new path, strong desire to get to where you really want to be, a strong, motivating reason that the new life you dream of will accomplish something important in your eyes, and taking action, which involves learning and taking some baby steps every day.

Not only do I want you to live your passion, your dream, I want you to be ready to ride this coming big wave, and to be able to thrive when the wave ends and economic downturns occur. Because it’s as predictable as the sunset.

What is one baby step you will take toward defining your dreams?

What one thing can you do today … right now …  to move you in the right direction?

What one little thing can you do every day for just five minutes that will move you toward your dream?

What is one thing you can watch or read to help move you forward?

Baby steps, my friends. Baby steps. Because babies grow into adults and do great things, and I know that is deep inside of you.

I’m here to help, if I can.


Eric Rhoads

PS: A couple of months back I wrote about the pressure I was getting from my family to get a dog. Yesterday we adopted Tucker, an 11-year-old terrier who is cute as a button and had to leave his home because he did not get along with a new baby. Our family is filled with joy over this new family member. I’ve posted some pictures on my Facebook page if you scroll down a bit. Though I’m restricted by Facebook by the number of friends I’m allowed, you can still follow me (I hope you will).


The Baby Steps to Giant Dreams2018-01-27T05:45:00-05:00
21 01, 2018

The Art Barriers We Create


My palms were sweating. Should I go in, should I not? Do I belong here? “Maybe this is only for special people,” I was thinking.

The sounds of noisy Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale were silenced as the glass doors slowly closed behind me. Immediately I was overwhelmed, seeing walls and walls of shimmering gold-framed paintings that matched any in a museum. This art was different from any I had found in a gallery before, and though I had an untrained eye, I could tell it was somehow better, higher quality than anything I had seen.

The Silver-Haired Dealer

Suddenly an elegant woman in her 60s approached me. Her long silver hair shimmered in the light streaming through the window. “I’m Pauline,” she said, “and I want to tell you you’re welcome here and can take as much time as you want. A lot of people are not used to art and have a lot of questions, and I want you to know there is no such thing as a silly question. Please ask at any time.”

Immediately my shoulders relaxed. She was right, I was totally intimidated in this environment because I knew nothing about art. I felt out of place in any art gallery, but especially this one, which had a lot of older art.

I wandered freely and soon was staring for long periods of time at the amazing paintings in her collection. I found myself in a trance.

The Passing of Time

I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I’ll bet I walked around gazing at the museum-quality pieces in the gallery for more than an hour. Every time I was about to leave, something else caught my eye and I’d stay longer.

Just as I was about to go, even after saying, “Thank you and goodbye,” this long-experienced art dealer thanked me for coming in and said, “Was there anything in particular that caught your eye?”

“As a matter of fact, there are two things that I fell in love with, but I don’t know anything about buying or collecting art and I’d be totally intimidated to buy anything this good.”

She walked me over to the paintings and told me the stories of the artists and the artwork, and, because I was looking for a special anniversary gift, I ended up walking out having committed to purchase both paintings, planning to pick them up a couple of days later. Both were small — one was an English countryside painting of a cottage, the other a couple of costumed figures in Venice.

Pondering My Purchases

Over the next two days, I could not stop thinking about those paintings, I loved them both very much, yet, as silly as this sounds, I could not stop worrying about the responsibility of owning such fine historic pieces of art.

Was I ready to become a collector?

Was I capable of properly caring for paintings that were well over 100 years old?

Was I willing, and responsible enough, to be the caretaker of these fine works of art, knowing that they needed to live on for generations?

I even worried about them because of the neighborhood I lived in, which was OK, but had seen some break-ins. Would these paintings get stolen?

Upon showing up at the gallery to collect them, I told Pauline that I was backing out. I simply was too nervous about the responsibility, and though she was very gracious and let me out of the sale, she also tried to address my concerns.

Stuck in My Brain

A few more days went by, and I could not get those paintings out of my head. Though I was afraid to set foot in that gallery again for fear I might not be welcome, I went back, and ended up paying cash for the landscape painting.

Today, 28 years later, I regret not having bought both, and I no longer own the one due to a change in my family situation.

That art dealer, Pauline Pocock, has since passed on (her son carries her legacy forward), and I’ve always regretted not listening to her. Though I had been intimidated by the responsibility of ownership, I should have listened to her about the joys of ownership as well as the potential increase in value. Both of those paintings would be worth a lot today, and living with the one I had was wonderful.

Galleries Create Barriers

Like it or not, there has always been a barrier between consumers and art galleries. Though not all people are intimidated by galleries, many still are, and that is often rooted in feeling insignificant because they know nothing about art. I have a billionaire friend — who has a significant collection — who once told me, “I won’t go into any art gallery. They intimidate the heck out of me.” Yet this is a man who managed thousands of employees and did amazing business deals galore.

Another Life Goal

Though I’ve told you of my goal of teaching 1 million people to paint, one of my other life missions is to help people feel more comfortable around art, to help them consider the idea of entering a museum or an art gallery. To help them feel at ease, and to know there is no special secret code you have to know to be around art.

Dragging a Friend to a Museum

Recently I was in New York on some non-art-related business and I took a colleague of mine to a museum to kill some time between meetings. He wasn’t really happy about it, but knew I loved art and went along with it. I showed him some of my favorite things, told him some stories about the art or the artists, and he was fascinated. This man told me, “Eric, I haven’t been in a museum since I was in grade school. I’ve never even considered going into a museum. It’s not on my radar. But since I’m in town this weekend, I’m going to go back. I had no idea what I was missing.”

A single visit can open someone’s eyes to the world of art, and some will become interested at a deeper level and may become collectors.

Though my kids often would whine when I dragged them to museums, the outcome was usually positive and they didn’t want to leave at the end of the day. Almost every podcast interview I do with artists reveals a family member or friend who took them to a museum or bought them an art lesson, leading to a lifetime in the art world.

What about you?

When was the last time you dragged someone into a museum kicking and screaming?

Though I hate to admit it, art isn’t on the radar of most people, yet that discovery can be life-changing.

What if each of you (about 40,000 now) dragged four people to a museum in 2018? 160,000 lives would be touched, and you could help them get comfortable by educating them.

Museums are dying for fresh faces. If we don’t do this for them, who will?

Eric Rhoads


PS: I don’t ever want to see a world without art galleries. Though more things are moving to digital, the paintings I recently saw in the galleries as I visited Santa Fe would not have spoken to me, would not have stood out, would not have given me the same impact or desire had I just looked at them online. Galleries play a critically important role of showing art, introducing us to new artists, and helping others find great art. So, take someone to a gallery, too.

The Art Barriers We Create2018-01-19T12:26:13-05:00
14 01, 2018

The Suffering Artist


The dark, narrow spiral stairway was so tight that my shoulders rubbed against the walls as I climbed. The surrounding walls were gray, with crumbling plaster that hadn’t been painted for over a hundred years. The thump of my feet on the worn wooden steps echoed against the walls. Looking up, I could see a small landing, an old wooden door cracked barely open, and a blinding light streaming through the crack.

Arriving at the top, I walked into a room so small there was barely space for a single metal-framed bed and a modest wooden chair. I had to squeeze to scoot in and shut the door.

I Can Hear Pain

An eerie feeling fell over me as I stood staring at the bed, which was flooded with streams of pink afternoon light through the wavy glass of the old window. Closing my eyes, I could hear the groaning, the crying, the wailing, and the footsteps of caregivers tending to the patient, who spent his final days suffering on the very mattress I was staring at in disbelief.

The myth, the stories, the romance all came alive at that moment, when I realized the man had lived and died in this simple, humble room.

I was shaken, and it all became real to me at that moment. I stood quietly and stared while I soberly envisioned the last moments of his life.

Minutes later, I was walking through the streets of this small village in a trance, passing scenes immortalized in paint … a courthouse, a cafe, a church, a field … until I reached the grave of this man and of his brother, who died of grief shortly after. The markers on the simple grave were for Vincent and Theo Van Gogh.

My visit to Auvers-sur-Oise made Van Gogh come alive for me like never before.

A Miserable Artistic Existence

Every artist I know is aware of the the tragic story of this starving artist, the man who painted with passion, misunderstood because he did not follow the style of the day, the man who struggled, starved, and led what many think was a miserable existence and a life of addiction to alcohol. Some say he was insane.

Biographers know about the life of Van Gogh through his letters, where his angst and pain were revealed in detail. And we as artists hold him in high esteem as someone we admire because of his passion, his struggle, and his suffering. Van Gogh has become a sort of role model for those of us who call ourselves artists.

The Struggle

Painting and sculpting are hard. Though the techniques can be learned with practice, the search for one’s own voice is where the struggle lies. Like a good country song, it is the pain, and life experiences, that help us find our voice, help us express what is truly inside us, help us go beyond rendering to become true artists.

Deep Painting Passion

In a soon-to-be-released podcast with Alvaro Castagnet, the world-famous watercolor artist, he passionately told me that technique, though important, is not what makes great art. It’s the mood, the feeling, the reflection of our lives, and not doing what’s been done a thousand times before. It’s standing out and finding your unique self. Vincent Van Gogh is the poster child for painting something beyond rendering a pretty scene.

The Bravery to Feed Your Own Soul

Van Gogh broke through. He had the bravery to do something that fed his own soul. Although he knew how to do pleasing paintings that matched the times, Vincent instead followed his own spirit. He could have conformed and would have struggled less and made a living. Yet, to him, there really was no choice but to paint from his heart and passion. Though it is believed Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, and it was not until his sister-in-law, Theo’s widow, was an elderly woman that his work was released, sold, and became appreciated, he ultimately became world-renowned only because he followed his own muse.

Van Gogh is indeed a role model because he painted for himself and did not paint to please others. He wasn’t thinking, “This one’s going to be a big seller,” he was trying to please no one but himself. I learned this about Van Gogh from artist Dena Peterson, who had to paint like Van Gogh for the movie Loving Vincent, and who studied all of his letters for the production of the movie and the recent release of her video How to Paint Like Van Gogh.

No More Little Red Barns

In my art marketing video series I speak about the well meaning galleries that ask for more paintings of little red barns, knowing they sell well — which is fine, if that’s what you’re passionate about and pleases you. But it is my belief that there has to be a bigger purpose to your art than sales alone. Your painting is your voice, and one that could live on for generations beyond you, telling your story, communicating your ideas. Other than writers, who else can say their work can have such a long-term impact?

Amazing Historical Paintings

Just this week while I was in Santa Fe planning for April’s Plein Air Convention, I visited several galleries, some with historical paintings that looked as fresh as the day they were painted. Each of them told a story, evoking emotion in their viewers. Like rare first editions of books, these works carry high price tags, because so few artists have ever perfected their craft through a lifetime of study and experimentation, painted to please themselves, and painted with mood, emotion, and story. Those who are caregivers of these paintings own the best art has to offer.

Emotional Breakthrough

Whether you’re a painter, a sculptor, a musician, a writer, or frankly, someone in any position, including parenting, those who are remembered are those who strive to be the best in their craft, who communicate with powerful and emotional stories, and who please others most because they have pleased themselves with a passion for perfection.

These traits lie within each of us, waiting to be discovered.

What if, next time you pick up your brush, your clay, your tools, you push your limits, squash the little voice in your head that is holding you to the past, and seek to be free?

Paint like no one will ever see it, so the only person you’re pleasing is yourself. You’ll have breakthroughs unlike any you could otherwise experience.

Paint your joy, your pain, your fear, your angst, your faith, and your anger. Paint what hasn’t been done. Seek your own self in your work.

Will you try? Will you be willing to take chances, to ruin good paintings, to make mistakes, to be bold and find new approaches? This is your year to break through beyond the average, beyond the expected.

I know it’s in each of us, including you.

Eric Rhoads

PS: This was an amazing week for me. I was in Santa Fe in preparation for the convention and I had the privilege to see a lot of art and meet a lot of art dealers. What made it especially amazing is that the overall mood is excellent. Everyone reports that their art sales are booming. That’s good for all of us. I want to thank Joe Anna Arnett and James Asher for showing us all the cool painting locations and introducing us to so many dealers.

It was also a good week because we made three big announcements having to do with our future. First, PleinAir Magazine Editor Steve Doherty is retiring. I’ve written something about Steve here. I’m deeply grateful for his time with us.

Though Steve is impossible to replace, we managed to hire an new editor for PleinAir Magazine with more than 20 years of experience in art publishing. Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education, and art history.

Another big deal is that we launched a new weekly newsletter called American Watercolor. We have been seeing a renaissance in watercolor painting and decided to show our commitment with a new publication. Because Kelly is deeply connected in watercolor circles, she is also the newsletter’s editor.

The Suffering Artist2018-01-12T09:08:26-05:00
7 01, 2018

The Stories We Tell Ourselves


Last week I talked about the stories we live … then I saw this Monday Morning Memo written by my friend Roy Williams, which was worth sharing.


I am, by profession, an ad writer. I tell stories about people and products and services.

You do, too.

But because I get paid for it, I spend a lot of time considering — and measuring ­— the impact of stories.

Some of the stories I’ve told have made people an enormous amount of money.

But the most important stories I tell, by far, are the stories I tell about myself, to myself. Those stories are the source of my identity and the foundation of my purpose in life.

But we’ve talked enough about me.

I see something good in you and I’m calling it out.

Is it okay for me to do that?

Let us stare together into the eyes of the truth:

Whether good or bad, your current circumstances are temporary.
Success is temporary.
Failure is temporary.
Your future depends on your choices.
Your choices depend on what you believe.
What you believe is not determined by what you see and hear, but by how you interpret what you see and hear.
How you interpret what you see and hear is determined by the stories you tell yourself, about yourself.
Who do you believe yourself to be?
What do you believe about this world we live in?
What does the future hold?

Your mood, your attitude, and what happens to you next will be greatly impacted by your answers to those questions.

“If you want your baby to die with a name, you need to pick one now.”

The newborn had inhaled meconium during birth, the most the doctors had ever seen. His lungs were 95% full of it. The father and the baby rode with lights and sirens to Dell Children’s Hospital 30 minutes away, with the grandmother riding the back bumper.

The doctors at Dell looked at the x-rays and slowly shook their heads in disappointment.

The grandmother stayed with the newborn while the father went back to see his wife.

The mother was puzzled when the nurse showed her the baby’s birth certificate. She and her husband had been torn between two names for their new son and had agreed to choose the name after they met him.

The husband walked into the room.

She said, “I thought we agreed to talk about it before we chose the name.”

“Honey, Lincoln died. But Gideon overcame impossible odds. When they asked me his name, I said: ‘This boy isn’t Lincoln. This boy is Gideon.’”

When the specialist at Dell met with the parents the following day, he was holding two sets of x-rays. Holding up a film in his left hand, he said, “I have no explanation for it, but this baby…” Then he lowered that film as he raised the one in his right, “isn’t this baby.”

Gideon will be 8 years old on March 15 and he suffers no after-effects at all.

You may believe that what happened was going to happen anyway, and that belief in the power of a name is superstitious nonsense. That would be the logical, scientific belief, to be sure.

But do you really believe that beliefs have no power?

Beliefs are what separate Democrats from Republicans, Hindus from Muslims, stock market Bulls from stock market Bears, and scientists from storytellers.

Your beliefs are what make you who you are.
And your beliefs are determined
by the stories you tell yourself
about yourself.

You are not responsible for the beliefs of others.
You are responsible only for your own.

During his time at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau observed, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And I agree with him.

I also agree with Jack Kerouac. “But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”

Did you experience 5 years of life during the past 5 years?
Or did you experience 1 year of life 5 times?
Don’t let 2018 be the 6th straight year of 1 years’ experience.

Do something new.
Tell yourself a different story
about yourself.

And believe it.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves2018-01-05T09:31:32-05:00