29 07, 2018

The Last Sunday in July

2018-07-24T13:15:30+00:00

On most mornings around here in the Adirondacks, if you get up early enough, there is a light fog on the lake that doesn’t lift until the sun makes its presence known. On a drizzly morning like today, the fog is thicker, which makes for beautiful photographs and paintings. After this, if there is time, I may attempt one or the other.

In the distance I can barely make out a green sailboat, muted in color by the fog, the mast popping out of the fog with a tinge of sunlight hitting it, and a foggy reflection in the water.

The cry of a loon flying overhead is an unusual sound. Though typically in the water, I’ve seen more flying this year than ever, making me wonder if they plan to fly further north for cooler weather. Other than that, the lake is pure silence, so much so that a voice across the lake from someone chatting and drinking their coffee is perfectly clear. It’s another good reason to never talk about the neighbors.

So Little Time

This, the last Sunday of July, is a stark reminder of how rapidly summer passes and how little time remains. There are mountains to climb, paintings to finish, family outings to get done before I return to the crazy life I lead once the kids return to school to start their sophomore year and get their driver’s licenses.

A Tradition We’ve Never Missed

Soon, we’ll take our annual canoe picture. We try to do it toward the end of the summer because the kids tend to change so much from the beginning to the end of each summer. It’s a tradition I started when they were four months old, sitting them in a canoe in front of the lake with the view of the mountain in the background. We’ve never missed a year. Though it’s unlikely they will continue that tradition in this camp, with this view, wouldn’t it be nice if they made a point to do it every year for the rest of their lives? I love tradition.

A New Game

Siblings, as you know, have moments when they don’t get along. At this age, as they find themselves, everything tends to be annoying to them. Yet when we get up here, once they get relaxed, they begin to interact on a different level, and eventually start to play together. This week they invented a game they call Boo Bee, where they use canoe paddles to hit a ball to one another. Last night one of the neighbor kids came over to play along. They are unknowingly creating memories they will remember their entire lives.

A Cow Apron? Really?

Earlier this week Laurie decided we should have dinner out by the old lean-to, way in the back of the yard at the edge of the old growth forest. We sat around the campfire as we ate our dinner. My dad said, “They won’t remember all our family dinners together, but they’ll remember this.” So true. We’ll do a meal or stories in the old teepee, and breakfast in a tiny cabin we call the trapper cabin, which has an old wood stove and is barely big enough for us all to fit. My dad puts on his old cow apron and his leather trapper hat, and makes us all breakfast in a cast iron skillet. And Tuesdays around here have become “Taco Tuesdays,” when our neighbors from Arizona come over and cook Mexican food. They and some other neighbors will gather, casually. It’s a good excuse to get together.

What matters is that we’re together. I cherish these times, knowing that soon the birds will leave the nest, off to flight school. Though not all the family can be here, they come when they can, and we reconnect, catch up, and have no agenda other than sitting on the dock and relaxing.

Dreams Worth Doing

From the moment school lets out till it starts again, we spend the entire summer here. Though I still put in eight- or 10-hour days, my evenings are spent in a boat or on the dock. Years ago I realized I loved summers here so much that I wanted to spend more time. Some summers I have not made it at all, some just a week or less. So I spent about 10 years sowing the seeds that allowed me to operate from here.

That meant making a lot of changes in the structure of my business. It was a giant hassle and took years to get to the point where I could do it, but the reason I do it is because it’s so important in my life. It’s my number one thing because it’s different from time with family at home in our busy lives. It forces us to reconnect, gives us a chance to play, to be in a different place, with no pressures.

I did not know I wanted it until I had the chance to do it, thanks to the hard work my father put in to make it happen. So it’s my new goal to continue the tradition, here or elsewhere.

Looking back, I realize this place, this idea of being together as a family, had become my top priority. I work hard so I can be here in the summer.

Have you given thought to your top priority?

Nothing Comes Easy

This did not happen overnight, for my dad or me. I watched him work unbelievably hard and struggle for decades, and I too struggled for decades. Nothing comes easy. Yet if you’re focused on your goals and you want something badly enough, it will happen if you dedicate the energy and time and make the commitment.

Which Ship Are You?

There are two kinds of ships. First, there are those at drift at sea, that float to wherever the waves take them. Sometimes they get grounded in the sand and stay there forever, sometimes they hit the rocks, and on occasion they get to another shore. The other kind of ship follows a chart, knows exactly where it is going. Engines are running, pushing the boat forward, with constant course corrections.

Chances are you won’t get there without knowing where you want to be. I’m only able to be here because it was the destination on my chart, and remains important to my family.

What is your destination? What is your top priority?

It won’t be easy to get there. It will take a lot of time, effort, energy, and toil. There will be moments of frustration and failure. But if you keep your eye on the destination and keep the engines engaged, you will arrive.

This might be a good day to set a destination and start working on a chart.

I’ll leave you with this…

Everything good you want to do in your life life may seem daunting and impossible. Dreams may seem impossible, but if they are dreams, they are what you were put on this earth to chase. Chase them with vigor. But you’ll get there faster with a plan, and when you break things into small, simple steps, it makes everything seem a lot easier to accomplish.

Go make your dreams happen. You deserve them.

Eric

 

The Last Sunday in July 2018-07-24T13:15:30+00:00
21 07, 2018

How to Set Your Brain on Fire

2018-07-18T13:08:36+00:00

The droplets of water drizzle lightly on the tin roof of our cabin in the woods. A cozy knitted blanket is tucked tightly around my arms and legs, with just enough slack to leave my arms free to type.

Beyond the old eight-pane windows, which have never changed since this cabin was built over a hundred years ago, lies a blanket of greens. A deep forest of cascading leaves, branches, and tree trunks. Happily the birds tweet, scattered over the branches of the old-growth trees, 600 years or older with trunks the size of Volkswagens.

Red-and-Black Checks

Nestled inside are the memories of decades past. The couches from the house I grew up in, now worn and slipcovered with red-and-black “buffalo checks.” A crackled hundred-year-old canvas canoe hangs in the rafters, upside down so the beautiful wood strips on the inside are visible. I painted a local couple’s home on the lake in exchange for the canoe about a decade ago.

Brown Velvet Lace

An old stone fireplace sits before me, unlit though it’s a chilly morning. Old books and magazines fill the shelves along the wall under two paint-by-number paintings, an old violin, and a hundred-year-old Victorian lamp with brown velvet lace hanging from its shade. A pair of snow skis adorn the wall, along with an old pennant for the local college, a pair of antique ice skates, a stuffed fish, and some paintings from my early days as a painter. Though it’s clutter, it’s comforting clutter.

Beside my overstuffed old chair sits a birch bark log I drilled and made into a lamp, a little log cabin model my son Brady made a few years ago, a sketch pad, and a harmonica I just bought in hopes I’d learn it this summer.

Sacred Family Time

Summertimes are special, and we look forward to them all year, never knowing how many summers we have left. I consider it sacred time with the family and a chance to recharge my batteries. Though I still work eight- or 10-hour days from here, the view from my office is a lake and a mountain instead of the old scrub oaks of Austin. The days are long — last night it was light till about 10 — so there is time for kayaking, swimming, bike riding, or whatever I can do with my family. It usually involves leaving camp for a visit to Donnelly’s Ice Cream, the best in the Adirondacks, so creamy it’s like a flavored stick of cool butter. There are lines of people waiting to get their ice cream, usually 50 or more people every time we stop. It’s that good.

Though I’ve not yet got to learning the harmonica, which requires a very quiet spot where no one can hear you, I’ve also decided to take classical guitar lessons. I’ve been playing for about eight years, since I began accompanying my daughter to lessons so we could do something together, but I have reached the limit of my basic abilities.

Going Classical

Thankfully I found Steve, a local instructor and excellent classical guitar player, who has discovered all the bad habits I’ve developed. So I’m having to relearn everything I know. For instance, I’ve been holding my fingers wrong, and for classical guitar I have to move the instrument to my left knee, not my right. Because it’s summer, I can find a hour a day to practice.

I’m Ready to Give Up

And already I’ve suffered through those “this is too hard” moments, when I’ve said to myself, “It’s simply not worth it, I’ll just stick to what I know and stop these lessons.” Unfortunately, I’ve said that about six times this past week, pretty much every time I practice, because my fingers are in excruciating pain — I’m using different spots on the tips than I’ve used before, and having to use specific fingers on my other hand differently, with one finger assigned to each string. I keep getting it wrong.

I keep telling myself that I can do it, that every good guitar player went through this, and that the outcome will be worth the pain. But pain and frustration aren’t easy, and quitting is. Yet I know I have to pay my dues.

Comfort zones are happy yet dangerous places. Dangerous because we can get so cozy that we stop learning, and we don’t put ourselves out there to try new things.

Why bother? Why not stick with what we know and be happy with that?

Confusing My Brain

Well, that’s an option, and I think it has a lot to do with your personality. In my case I need fresh challenges at every turn; I feel as though I’m going backward if I’m not growing. But the best part is the mental rush when my brain starts to scramble. For instance, this week in my guitar lesson, the instructor was pushing my limits and I simply could not keep up — my brain was confused, and I had to just stop and think about each task, one at a time. I felt for a brief moment like my brain was exploding. Though confusing, it was invigorating, and I could feel my brain changing.

The Brain Gym

Experts say that one of the best ways to combat aging and dementia is to challenge your brain with crossword puzzles and online games. Just like your muscles need resistance to stay healthy, the same is true for your brain.

What if you asked yourself when the last time was that you were learning something new and challenging your brain? One of the things I love about painting is that it’s a continual challenge, and I’m constantly learning. Yet my brain isn’t freaking out like it was when I was asked to do a multi-string multi-finger sequence I could barely figure out. It’s those kinds of things that I think we need. Things that really push our limits and make us feel alive.

Resisting Change

If comfort is the enemy, then perhaps stimulation is our friend. Six years ago I awoke to the realization that after 20 years of running my business, I had been repeating the same practices year after year. I was doing nothing new, and it was reflected in the lack of growth in my business. But when I started attending conferences about things I knew nothing about, my brain, and my motivation, changed. It was very much like my guitar lesson. At first I was confused and overwhelmed, then as my brain started opening up new paths, I was starting to understand new concepts. When I tried doing them myself, it was hard, and I was ready to give up, but my stubborn nature made me stick with them. The end result was that they started changing the outcome of my business, and I became better than I had been.

Ask yourself…

What have I wanted to learn but have feared failure? (I know I keep telling myself I’ll never get good at this guitar thing, but I’m starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, I have to continually manage my mindset.)

What have I always wanted to learn but have never taken the time or effort?

What have I wanted to learn but have resisted because of some mental block, like “I’m too young, I’m too old, I’m too” … you get the idea.

It’s also a good idea to consider that there are things you would love that you don’t know exist. Why not visit the website of a local college or adult education center and pick something completely foreign to you? Even if it’s not something you turn out to love, you will learn something of value.

Usually our minds and our comfort are the biggest roadblocks.

How about a new mantra? “I’m curious. I want to grow. I want to keep learning. I want to keep my brain stimulated.”

Keep in mind that whatever you decide to learn will get hard, and it will be easy to find a good excuse not to continue. It is at that inflection point that the true learning begins.

Today is a good day to play with the idea and do a little self-examination. Mental stimulation keeps life more interesting, has a great impact on your brain and health, and has a huge impact on your state of mind.

Just the challenge of a few guitar lessons has really challenged me, has been mentally and physically painful (burning fingertips), and I’ve wanted to quit and not wanted to practice. But I’ve accepted the challenge and will not give up.

My wish is that you find a fresh challenge.

Eric

How to Set Your Brain on Fire 2018-07-18T13:08:36+00:00
15 07, 2018

When Change Is Hard But Good

2018-07-12T19:05:56+00:00

Walking out on the dock last night, it was pitch black. There was not so much as a ripple in the water; it was still as glass. I’ve never seen a darker sky anywhere, for here in the middle of the wilderness, we’re 25 miles from the nearest small town and hundreds of miles from light-polluted big cities. The sky was littered with stars. Not just a few, but thousands were visible, and I could see a depth to the night sky I’ve never before noticed. In the distance, just above the silhouette of the mountain, is a small bright blood-orange ball they call Mars.

Sitting here in my Adirondack chair with my head back, looking to the heavens, I heard the eerie call of the loons … not once, but three times, because each call reflects across the lake, then back, then back again.

Nowhere I’d Rather Be

Yesterday my wife was telling me about our neighbor, a lovely lady who has the means to live anywhere in the world and who has homes around the globe, yet finds this place her favorite place on earth. I feel the same, not just because it’s the closest thing we have to an old family homestead, but because it’s extraordinarily beautiful and in an area filled with traditions. In fact, Frederick Vanderbilt said this was the most beautiful lake in America and the second most beautiful in the world. Families on this lake have been here since the 1890s, and they are all deeply rooted together; everyone has known everyone’s kids, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. They gather for sailing, for barbecues, and for memorials when a lake member graduates to that great big lake in the sky.

Living In the Past

Tradition is rich in this little lake, nestled in the 6 million-acre protected Adirondack Park. Most people here resist modern things and are living in cabins built well over 100 years ago and heated by wood stoves and fireplaces when needed, and most have no road access. A trip to get groceries involves an old wooden boat, heading to a landing that is like a portal to modern times for the necessary trip back to 2018. Being here is like living in the past. It’s an escape from reality.

I’ve looked, and have found no lake in the world like this one. Though there are lots of beautiful lakes in the world, most have been modernized and are filled with the noise of Jet Skis and speedboats. Here it’s mostly wooden boats, canoes, ancient guide boats, and hundred-year-old sailboats that race weekly in August.

A Morbid Thought

My ideal last breath would be in this very place, in this very chair, looking at this very view of the mountain, someday watching my children’s kids playing on the dock, filled with laughter and squirting one another with squirt guns. Hopefully that will be a long, long time from now.

Though I can dream, as in a Greek play, the good of this place has also come with tragedy. Families who have owned these properties for generations are being forced to sell by unusually high taxation, so high it’s sustainable only for the ultra-wealthy. My only hope is that when the last of us are taxed out of this lake, the new caretakers of the lake carry on the traditions.

Saying Goodbye to Home

Years ago my father announced to the family his intent to sell this lake home. It’s an old story. Families downsize and sell the old family homestead, and family members are saddened because of their memories and the comfort of the old family pictures, and the vase they bought Mom for Mother’s Day as a child. I was deeply saddened when my grandparents sold their homes, and I’ll be saddened when this home is gone.

A Flood of Memories

Recently my grandparents’ old home on West Wildwood Avenue came up for sale, probably 30 years after their passing. As I looked at the photos, my mind was flooded with great memories of my grandmother reading the Bible to us, we kids playing on the old oak stairway, my grandfather reading the paper in his favorite chair, learning to woodwork in the old garage, “Mema” baking pies in her little kitchen, and “Papa” giving us haircuts in the dining room. Though I had a chance to buy the house, and it was affordable, I realized that their absence would make the home feel empty. That house had its time for our family, and now it is time for another family to make their own memories. The same is true here.

The Seasons of Life

As I think about the possibility that we’ll leave here one day, I have in mind this somewhat comforting reminder: For every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down, a time to build up; a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to rend, a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Like most, I’m set in my ways. I like it here. I’m happy. Yet I was happy in another place and was sad to see that sold, and didn’t want to come up here. Once I was here, I fell in love.

The Value of Change

Change is good, and though it’s uncomfortable, there is also the unknown, which can be pretty exciting. My wife and I have moved every decade since we’ve been married, and we look forward to our next mystery move once the kids hit college. Though we love the comfort and stability of knowing people and places, we also love the thrill of learning a new place and meeting new people.

Is being cozy and comfortable being stuck?

I often hear, “We should have done this years ago.”

Stuck in the Mud

I’ve been stuck much of my life. Stuck in jobs. Stuck in businesses where it was easier to sit still than to move forward. Stuck in relationships. Most of the time I got unstuck it was because someone made a change against my will. Getting dumped by a girlfriend, dumped by an employer, and dumped by investors. And in every case, I ended up in a place I like better.

Change is probably the hardest thing any of us experience. But just because we’re comfortable doesn’t mean it’s good for us. I have friends who are comfortable in dead marriages because they fear being alone the rest of their lives, fear they might end up in a worse relationship, or fear they might lose their money.

Have you ever lost a job, thinking it was the end of the world, only to find out it was the best thing to happen to you? I have.

Are you stuck?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I talk about being stuck? There is a good possibility that first thing you think of is where you’re the most stuck. Admitting it is the first step to getting unstuck.

What would you change if there were no consequences?
What would you change if you knew it would be easy?
What do you know you need to change but just don’t want to?
What have others been saying to you that you refuse to hear?

My Happy Place

There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, feeling settled and secure, and being in your happy place. Frankly, I could be here on this dock the rest of my life and be thrilled. I don’t feel stuck at all, but I’m not in control, and my future here is not in my own hands. So the most logical thing for me to do is to realize it and work to get into a position to be where I am in control.

In spite of my anxiety about having to leave this special place one day, I’m also excited to know that one day in the future I’ll be on to a new adventure. A change in perspective or attitude makes it easier to take.

Though I hope you’re not stuck, it might be worth asking yourself if you are and what you could do to get you into a better place.

Today is as good as any to think about it.

Eric

When Change Is Hard But Good 2018-07-12T19:05:56+00:00
8 07, 2018

Your True Purpose

2018-07-06T08:16:36+00:00

This morning as I stepped on to the dark brown wooden dock, I jumped a bit from the heat on my bare feet and carefully tiptoed my way to my bright red Adirondack chair overlooking the lake. A warm blue color reflects the humidity in the air, like looking through layers of glass, making the distant mountain look even farther away.

Deep Wilderness

Behind that distant mountain is pure wilderness, as far as the eye can see. Untouched, unspoiled, most never even explored by man. Each summer I canoe the lakes deep into that wilderness, where one can feel what it must have been like for explorers in uncharted territories. There is no road noise, no sound of humanity, only the splash of my paddle and the calls of distant birds. It’s a silence I never experience anywhere else, and it is intensely therapeutic as my eyes focus on deep greens and blues reflecting in the still water, and I spot an occasional animal on shore and bald eagles overhead.

Soul Food

This special place on the little lake on the edge of the wilderness feeds my soul. A walk down a wooded winding road is my morning commute for three months of the year. It’s quiet time, thinking time, a chance to breathe in the feel of the forest, the scent of pine as pine cones crunch under my feet and the soft carpet of pine needles puts a spring into my walk. Every morning’s walk is a time for prayer, to show my gratitude for one more season in this place.

Trusting More and Controlling Less

As I walk the road I think about all the past discussions I’ve had with God, decisions I’ve faced, my angst over certain issues, including some that consumed me unnecessarily. Yet each day walking that road I am reminded that I’m not in control and that everything I’ve struggled with was not worth the worry. It reminds me to stop trying to control outcomes and lets me focus more on trusting that everything eventually works out with perfect timing.

The Woods

Something about the woods makes one think about one’s life and purpose. Perhaps the brain is stimulated by the air, the scents, the visual of greens and browns, and the light shining through leaves like stained glass. Sometimes I’ll just sit on a rock to ponder life.

True Purpose

Looking back on my lifetime of obsessions and things that seemed critical for months or years,  I’ve realized that I’ve only recently found my true purpose. I stumbled along for decades searching for it. A couple of times I convinced myself that I had found it, but it never felt entirely like a fit. Yet today I feel deep commitment and comfort.

If you’re like most, you have probably asked yourself, “Why was I born? What is my purpose? Why am I here?” You’ve thought, “There has to be more to life than this.”

Perhaps your purpose is clear, or perhaps your compass is drawing you in a lot of different directions.

Unanswered Prayers

If you’re feeling a little anxious about that purpose and not having discovered it yet, don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up; don’t put yourself under pressure. You’ll find it at the perfect time when you’re ready to receive it. All the pain, discomfort, stress, anger, hurt, fear, illness, sadness, uneasiness, and unanswered prayers are the seasoning that prepares us for the right moment.

Embrace Everything

And you may find the things you hate most about yourself, your circumstances, your upbringing, or your physical attributes are the very things that lead you to the clues that help find those answers. The things you’ve always perceived as negatives may be things you can use to your benefit. Embrace everything about yourself; these are the cards you were dealt, and that has everything to do with your purpose.

Also know that you may already have discovered it unknowingly. I was working within my purpose for a few years before I discovered it was my true purpose.

Protecting Your Purpose

Once you’ve discovered it and realized how it will impact the world around you, protect it with everything you have, because your mission may take years or decades to build momentum. Therefore you need to use impeccable self-care for your mind, your body, and your spirit and your attitude. You need to be tuned in to what you are receiving and transmitting, because those things will impact the outcome of your purpose.

Aligned with Purpose

Self-care means proper diet and exercise to protect the vessel of your purpose and provide you with the time and energy you need. It means being aligned with your purpose and knowing what is and is not acceptable for you to achieve that purpose. It means surrounding yourself with people who will be supportive and shedding those who are not.

Monitor Your Influences

Chances are your parents may have expressed concern over who you were hanging out with as a kid, because they knew that who you spend time with is who you become. Your purpose requires you to spend time with those who are supportive. Though you and I can have resistance to negativity, I teach in my marketing classes that repetition sells. Sadly, negative repetition also sells, and that self-doubt starts to creep in when you have the constant drone of negativity around you. Though you may feel you’re being strong, any doubt in your mind that keeps you from your purpose is cancerous, and negativity breeds negativity. That’s why it’s important to distance yourself from negative people.

I don’t believe that anything is random. Each person born has a purpose. Some will never discover it, yet may have had a huge impact on others by way of unintended consequences. Others may allow their self-doubt and lack of confidence to block them from their dreams and never take action. Still others may shoot a lot of arrows before hitting their target.

Watch for it. Listen for it. Yet be patient. Purpose will come.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Life has many chapters, many of which are about finding purpose. Yet so many who consider themselves seniors or elderly feel they have lived their purpose; they feel as though they’ve had their chance and they seek no new purpose in life.

I’m reminded of a surgeon who was changing the lives of others with his gifts. Yet in a brief moment, after a nurse noticed a shake in his hands, he had to pull himself out of the game, knowing that shaking might make the difference between life and death. Suddenly he had lost his purpose, and his dreams of another decade of surgery were shattered. It was devastating, and this great man considered suicide. Yet when all was said and done, he discovered a deeper purpose, bigger and better than anything he had done in the earlier parts of his life. He now looks at that devastating moment as the best thing that ever happened to him.

If you are breathing, there is more purpose. Don’t buy into this concept of “aging out.” Instead, age in. There is more to do, more purpose to find, and we must embrace every season and every challenge as opportunity.

Your True Purpose 2018-07-06T08:16:36+00:00
1 07, 2018

The First Step to Changing the World

2018-06-28T13:53:36+00:00

Today is different. Unlike so many Sunday mornings, when I awaken and visit the back porch or the dock with my steaming hot java, this morning my view is of a small room with gray walls decorated by black-and-white photographs. I’m sitting in a swivel chair, surrounded by a microwave, a phone, a television, and a little two-cup machine to make my coffee. My teen boys sleep deeply, one in one of the two double beds, one on the pull-out couch. The sound of my fingers on the keyboard does not seem to be enough to awaken them.

Today, soon after they awaken, we’ll leave this small-town motel, make our way to the Tsongas Center at UMass (University of Massachusetts) in Lowell, about an hour outside of Boston. We’re here for the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders.

A Giant Room of Brilliant Kids

Imagine, if you will, a hockey rink packed with thousands of high school students, all from different walks of life, different communities, and different schools. Yet they all have two things in common: they have some of the highest grade-point averages in their schools, and they want to be in science or technology. This annual by-invitation-only Congress was designed by the visionary Richard Rossi, head of the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists (who also designed another event held earlier in the week, for future medical professionals). It was created to keep these kids interested in science, to expose them to the greatest living scientific minds, to inspire them, and to help them learn and be exposed to high levels of thinking.

Driven to Change the World

One of the benefits of being a dad, in this case, is the chance to see who is in charge of our science and technology future — and it’s been comforting. This week I’ve watched speakers who are in or just out of high school and who have already invented things that have changed the world. Things like medical tests and robotic breakthroughs. I’m seeing thousands of kids who are driven to change the world, and I’m confident they will. And I’m able to watch some of the greatest minds in the world speaking to these kids, and have had a chance to meet most of them.

This is our third year at this event, and it’s become a bit of a family tradition for the Rhoads boys. Last year my dad came with us as well.

Great Minds

I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, so I love events like this. Great minds are so rare, and so much fun to listen to. And after listening to 30 or 40 speakers over three days, you start to see patterns emerge, and new ideas in your own mind. I first learned this concept when I would attend the early TED conferences as a sponsor, and later when Google invited me to attend a private event with 400 of the greatest minds in the world. I’m still not exactly sure how I got on the invitation list, but it was a treat to be around the most brilliant people I’ve ever encountered.

Just Like You and Me

What I learned there and am reminded of here is that these people are very rare air; they think differently, and they approach life differently. But in other ways they are just like us. They put their pants on one leg at a time. They have the same doubts, the same insecurities, the same issues and family challenges. Some of them aren’t any smarter, but they possess an incredible work ethic to pursue their dreams and ideas. These people did not have anything handed to them, but they have something in common … passion combined with determination to follow through on their big ideas, and a refusal to give up when faced with roadblocks.

Just a Kid

To help the thousands of teens in the room understand that these speakers were not born with some special advantage or gift, these people tell stories of when they were teens and the obstacles they faced. They talk about how they could not get adults to take them seriously, how they were ignored as “just a kid,” and how they struggled to get things done with their limited resources — something that of course helped them discover new and better ways to get things accomplished. These elements came up in their stories again and again.

These high school kids are fortunate to have a 3.5 grade point average and to be invited to the Congress, and the ones who attended were fortunate enough to have parents or friends or fundraisers to get them there. But what about the rest of the teens who don’t have these opportunities?

I Would Never Be Invited

As a teen I would have never been invited to this event because my grades were below average. In fact, I don’t think I ever got an A or B in anything — my averages were Cs and Ds, and I had a lot of failing grades. I was held back in the 4th grade, which was devastating to me.

I can remember being about 12 and feeling the pressure to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up, and not having a clue. I loved photography. I loved music. I’d play those K-Tel albums with shortened versions of the top hits over and over.

My Bad Grades

In our house, I was never scolded for my bad grades. I was never even given a talking-to about getting my grades up. Though I can remember those moments of terror as I watched my mom or dad open the report card, knowing it was bad. My dad always told me, “Though you should do your best, grades are not going to have a thing to do with what you want to do with your life.” Mom never seemed to be too upset either. (Of course, they may have been freaking out inside.)

In spite of my bad grades, I was filled with encouragement that I could do anything with my life that I desired. I heard it so much that I started to believe it. As a result I took my interests to a higher level and made efforts as a teen that I otherwise might not have made.

Show Me Your Fingers

For instance, when I was getting the “Fingerprinting” merit badge in Boy Scouts, I came up with an idea. So I asked my mom to take me to the local shopping mall and wait for me. I went to the office, asked to see the manager of the mall, and told him I had an idea to fingerprint kids so that their fingerprints would be available in case they were ever lost or kidnapped. He liked the idea. Keep in mind, this was the 1960s, long before anything like this had ever been done. Then I went to the manager of the Kentucky Fried Chicken store. I had discovered that their little sealed wipes were great for removing ink. I got him to donate thousands of wipes. And I got the local police department to donate the fingerprint cards. I set up for a weekend in the mall, got the mall to advertise it, and me and my friends fingerprinted hundreds of kids and gave the cards to their parents in case they ever needed them.

My First Marketing Experience

Another time, I had joined Sing Out Fort Wayne, a local group distantly affiliated with Up With People, the national singing group. At 14, I was put in charge of publicity for our upcoming show, so I went to a local bank, asked to see the president, and asked him to run full-page ads in the paper for our group. I told him it would be good to have his bank name associated with helping a group of “responsible” teens. He ran the full-page ads, and our shows were packed. It was my first real marketing experience.

I could tell more stories, but the point is that interests and passion drove my actions. Though I had some self-doubt and fear about whether I could get these things done, my passion overcame my fear. I kept thinking about what my dad and mom continually said: “You can do anything.”

But… You Can’t Be…

Skeptics will say, “Yeah, but that’s not realistic. Why teach your kids they can do anything when the reality is they can’t do just anything?” There is usually an example attached to prove their point. It’s a valid point. Yet my reply would be that I’d rather have them try and find out their limitations than not try at all, and they will learn something and may accomplish something in the process. Plus they’ll learn quickly that they can accomplish most of what they set their mind to do.

The Tragedy of Disbelief

What I find tragic is the number of people who could have changed the world but who never tried because they did not believe in their ability, or believed that you had to have special parents, special circumstances, or a lot of money. For every story of success, there are dozens who never tried.

Part of the reason this happens is because parents often don’t believe their kids can make something happen because of their own broken dreams. So dreaming gets replaced with “Do what I did. Get a good steady job and a good income. Though I don’t like it, I’ll have a good retirement one day and can do what I love then.”

Why Kids Change the World

Look, I am not being critical of anyone or their circumstances. But the best and most likely people to change the world are young people with new perspectives and big ideas. We as adults need to embrace their ideas, support them, let them know we believe in them, and help them know how to change the world.

Art Revolution

In the art world, for instance, there is a giant upset coming. Young people who grew up around the artworks loved by their parents and grandparents are rejecting that kind of art for a new form of realism, rooted in 600-year-old techniques. In fact I’ve created a convention just for these artists to help fuel this movement.

Kids see things differently because of their comfort levels with new technology and understanding of things we adults cannot relate to. And as I’m seeing at this event this week, some are not allowing anyone to tell them, “You can’t do this till you’re out of college.” They are changing the world now.

Nurture Now

This event has inspired me to create an event just like this for future artists. I’ll add it to the list. Meanwhile, it’s a reminder that kids grow into adults rapidly and will soon take control of the world. We, as adults, need to encourage them, nurture their ideas, and not allow them to limit their own thinking.

One of the benefits of aging is watching babies turn into fine adults and seeing them do big things with their lives. We may never know that the little things we said or did had unintended consequences.

Last week I discussed the idea of encouraging others, and this week it has become crystal clear that our kids or grandkids need us to let them know there are no limits, no matter what their circumstances.

Not Another Dinner Party

A friend recently told me that her parents had people from all walks of life in for dinner. The kids had to sit quietly at the table to learn about these visitors. Later in life she learned her parents did not do it for their own entertainment, they did it to expose their kids to different people and ideas. It’s the same reason some families try to expose their kids to travel so they can learn about different worldviews.

The Two Important Lessons I Learned This Week

Never treat kids like kids. Treat them like adults, encourage them, and help keep them from limited thinking. The other lesson? Expose yourself to the greatest minds you can find, because they will stimulate your own mind and show you the possibilities yet to come.

Never Stop Influencing

We are never done till the final dust is thrown in our hole. Until then, with every breath, we can learn, we can grow, we can support and encourage others, and our own tiny influence could result in someone changing the world.

Mom, I Wanna Go to Mars

One of my sons intends to help colonize Mars. Their mother is mortified at the idea that we would never see him again. Yet who are we to rain on his parade? He needs to do what he dreams. It’s not about us. He needs to know we believe in him.

Helping teens, kids, or anyone change the world starts with you and me. Today is a good day to start … to listen, to hear dreams, and to encourage them.

The First Step to Changing the World 2018-06-28T13:53:36+00:00