We are living in interesting times, and each of us has experienced something that is a part of history, a time future generations will look back to through our eyes. Though I knew most of my great-grandparents, I don’t have too many memories of their stories. But grandparents offered many a tale, family lore, tales of struggles and interesting times. 

The Great War

I can remember my Grandfather Walter telling stories about World War One. Not so much stories of war, but life in the army. I can remember sitting at the little yellow 1950s breakfast table in the kitchen of my grandparents’ Webster Street house as he told me I needed to learn to eat faster. “In the military they gave us only about five minutes to eat, and if you don’t eat fast, you won’t get enough, and you won’t know when the next meal is coming.” Yes, he converted me to a fast eater because I was too poky.

Al Capone Days

My other grandfather used to tell tales of living in a boarding house in Chicago during the Al Capone days. I seem to remember him saying that Chicago at the time was like the Wild West, with people getting gunned down by mobsters in broad daylight. I don’t know if he saw it or read about it, but it sticks with me. 

Dot Com

Today we hear stories of the “dot com era” of the Silicon Valley boom, when money was being thrown at companies and speed was needed to go public. Billions were made, and legends were created. I remember being so excited about it that I wanted to be part of it. 

A Big Win

Knowing nothing about raising money, I got on the phone with an old elementary school friend I had reconnected with as a result of a reunion. He was a venture capital guy in the middle of Silicon Valley and had been involved in some legendary companies. I told him I had an idea and had no idea how to get it funded. That call turned into a conference call, a quick flight out for an in-person meeting, and then multiple flights. The end result was that my idea was funded, we moved to San Francisco, and we were in the middle of a historic time. I met with people who became legends or funded legendary companies, including the founders of Google as it was just getting started, Napster, SalesForce.com before it was ever funded, and others. I’m sure I could bend your ear about those interesting times if you were ever to ask, and maybe one day I’ll be blessed with some curious grandchildren to listen.

Stories for the Future

Imagine being alive to tell your grandkids about a special time in America where you experienced something like the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, or more recently the Vietnam War or the Iraq War. 

Living History

We are living in one of those times now. Our lives will go down in history. We have spent most of 2020 in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. From it we’ve learned about ourselves, our families, our government, and what people are willing or unwilling to tolerate. We’ve learned about fear, about anger, and we’ve experienced a change in our culture. We’ve seen things in our streets we could never have imagined, we’ve watched our lives change, and we’ve gained or lost trust in others. As a result of 2020, we will never be the same. And, I suspect, one day some curious grandchildren will hear the stories of 2020 from us. 

I could cling to the stories of my grandparents for hours, but what was sometimes missing were the lessons they learned. Maybe they shared them and I missed it. 

Topsy Turvy

Here we are, having lived through 2020. We’ve had our world turned upside down. We’ve discovered that some we trusted cannot be trusted. We’ve learned that others we never suspected were capable of it would become patriots or heroes. We’re wondering who to believe about matters impacting our way of life. We’re hearing contradictory messages about science from equally credible people who disagree. Everything has been turned upside down.

There are millions of stories. Some will be stories of disruption and destruction, others of lost family, others of lost businesses. We’ll hear stories of wild and unexpected success along with stories of devastation. 

This week before we enter a new year, perhaps a new era, we’ll write our stories about 2020. 

If you were to write your 2020 story, what would you say? 

How will you say 2020 treated you?

What lessons have you learned that you can share with your future offspring?

I’d like to think that in 2021, we’ll get beyond 2020, see the sunshine of success again, and soon it will seem like a blur. 

Though I suspect, just like the Great Depression affected the behavior of an entire generation, we will think differently forever as a result of this year.

How will you think differently?

What will you DO differently?

I look at restaurants that have been around for decades going out of business. The great 21 Club in New York, which brought me lots of lifetime memories with friends, is going away forever. What could they have done differently? Maybe nothing, because the restaurants were forced to shut down. 

Rethinking Everything

You have to believe it will make people rethink leases on buildings, and wonder if the next business won’t require a building. It will make people rethink savings. A steady cash flow that continued week to week for decades wasn’t enough to keep some in business, because they had not saved enough to sustain them through something unexpected.

I’m wondering how many will want to work from home forever, who will no longer be out in the community. How many will never live in a city again due to the fears of experiences like civil unrest and basic supplies being unavailable?

How to Get My Attention

Though I don’t want to make light of tragedy … tragedy was the only thing that got my attention enough to fast-track things I’ve talked about for years but never done. I don’t think I realized just how vulnerable my income was, and had I not made some fast, radical decisions, I’m not sure I’d be able to write about it today.

That’s why it’s important for all of us to look at the lessons. 

Though many things were out of our control, what could we control? 

What could we do differently?

How could we have been more prepared?

This pandemic wounded many, destroyed many businesses, but at the end of the day, if we ponder the lessons, we’ll all be stronger for the unexpected next time. 

Yes, we’re living in interesting times, and there will be stories to share and lessons to learn. What will you take away from this tough year that will make you stronger and better?

Eric Rhoads

PS: I was listening to a podcast where Matthew McConaughey was interviewed about his new book, Greenlights. He talked about how most people stop at the red lights life puts in the way and how you have to learn to turn them into green lights. Pros never give up or give in; they keep at it till they find a way. If you believe in something, let no one, no discouragement, and no challenge get in your way. You can defy gravity. You have vision that no one else can understand and that others will discourage. Don’t let them talk you out of the great things you can do. There are no limits, and no age limits (too young or too old). No matter what is happening in the world, it cannot stop you. The limits exist only in your mind. Make 2021 the year you take your moon shot.

Back in April, if you’d have caught me on the right day, I was ready to give in. I was at a loss. I thought I’d be out of business. I faced laying people off, and I saw my business crash. I got pretty depressed for about 24 hours. But then I told myself, “Enough pity. It’s times like these that separate the amateurs from the pros.” Either I was going to accept things as they were, and accept failure, or I was going to find a way, no matter what. Failure was not an option. So I pulled myself together, and let fear guide me to action. I talked to all my mentors, talked to my team, and launched ideas that could have failed. In fact, I almost didn’t launch them because I was convinced they would not work. But I had nothing to lose. We survived 2020 by doing two virtual events when everything else was cancelled.

Our third virtual event, Watercolor Live, is coming up in January. It’s breaking all previous attendance records so far. It’s a gathering of the world’s best watercolor master artists, teaching watercolor. People are attending from 30 countries so far. You can become an incredible artist, and this is the open door inviting you in. Don’t let this opportunity pass. You CAN do this.