23 02, 2020

Never Waste a Good Tragedy


In the distance, in all directions, I hear a chorus of chirping, and then, from my own trees, the sounds of birds fill the cool air. 

It’s cool enough to wear the “Asilomar” sweatshirt I bought at the second Plein Air Convention in Monterey, yet I celebrate “cool” instead of “cold” after a few weeks of winter. The good news is that I’m back outside on the long back porch, sitting on the squeaky brown wicker couch with Coke-red cushions, where words flow like soft ice cream pouring out of the machine at Donnelly’s, my favorite spot in the Adirondacks. As I started to sit, another indication of birds perched overhead made me clean the seat before parking myself there. But any sign of spring is a good one. 

Hello from Russia

In reality, I should be saying the view from my hotel window is a frigid and snow-covered city called Saint Petersburg, in Russia, where I will have just arrived after 24 hours of travel, leaving yesterday. I knew I’d be exhausted, and writing this and getting it to you on time would be impossible.

A Vivid Dream

Rarely do I remember dreams, but last night’s dream was of a stadium filled with tech people, a hundred thousand or so, and I was looking for a seat, but every seat was taken. Like church, I always walk to the very front row to find seats, and there always is one. In this case a lady sitting in a giant high-backed upholstered chair, as if she were queen, flagged me over and said, “This seat is open.”

100,000 People 

We chatted briefly, and somehow it led me to tell her the story of how my son Brady recently dropped with cardiac arrest at age 17. Her reaction, like most, was concern and horror, and little did I know — she was introduced and was the head of the conference, the main speaker. As she walked to the stage, after a moment of introduction, she pointed to me and asked me to come up and tell my story. 

Standing in front of 100,000 people, I read the Sunday Coffee I wrote about the experience. The otherwise noisy stadium went silent, and there was not a dry eye in the place. I finished to a silent pause, as though everyone was in shock, then a rousing cheer of applause and a standing ovation.

Awakening from this vivid dream, I said my quick morning prayer and I heard these words. “Never waste a good tragedy.”

Good Things Happening

My next thought is that lives can be saved by telling Brady’s story to as many people as will listen. Already hundreds have bought home and office defibrillators, and hundreds more have taken CPR classes or at least watched a training video online.

If one life is saved by spreading the word, it’s worth it. Every life has purpose and value, and if given another day of breath, we must make something of that breath.

In the past I’ve suggested that every tragedy in our lives has a purpose or a lesson, and that we need to embrace the bad things, knowing good things can come from them. This is what I mean by never wasting a good tragedy. What can you do to make good come from bad?

Why Me?

Learning a lesson is enough. Sometimes we ask why God would do such a thing, but maybe it’s His reminder that He is in control, and that we need to pay attention to Him. Though the pain is unbearable, once we get to a place where we can again function, how can we help others and prevent them from going through the same pain? In my case, it’s letting people know that even a child can suddenly drop from an unknown heart defect, and that particular defect may mean the heart can only be restarted by a defibrillator. Though CPR is important, CPR alone only kept my son’s brain alive until EMS could arrive.

Your Own Heart?

Though I’ve probably become obnoxious about it, every person who will listen is learning the lessons I learned. I had seen these “cough your way out of a heart attack” videos, thinking if I had a heart attack, I might be able to save myself, or at least call 911. What I did not know is that most people simply black out. You usually can’t save yourself. So my lessons not only include CPR and defibrillators, but not telling yourself your heart is healthy because you have no symptoms and because you’re in good physical shape. I’ve lost too many friends in great shape because they never once visited a cardiologist, never once had a stress test, and more importantly, never had a heart MRI or a catheter with a camera. 

What bad things have happened to you? 

What lessons were to be learned? 

In what ways could you use that tragedy to help other people?

Horrible Fire

My friends in Malibu, a couple who paint with me at my events and who are avid readers of Sunday Coffee, saw their house burn a year ago. They shared their angst and their anger, but they also shared the “I wish we had done these things” list — things like backing up photos, things like having pictures of everything that’s meaningful to you, so at least you have photos of lost memories like the kids’ artwork or Grandma’s piano.

Though my friends have shared this story with many of their friends, could they tell it on a larger scale so it convinced more people to take certain precautions? I’m thinking they are still suffering from PTSD and trying to figure out how to rebuild, but one day, when they have time, maybe they can look for a way to spread the word.

Again … don’t waste a good tragedy.

The Sad Loss of a Child

For some, your stories for friends or anyone who will listen are enough. For others, the important lessons of your tragedy may need to touch millions. It’s my hope that the quarter million who read Brady’s story will open it again and forward it to everyone they know, in order to save one more life. After sending the story, I heard from a woman who told me that her child had dropped dead suddenly and there was no defibrillator nearby. Had she heard Brady’s story, maybe someone in her home or neighborhood would have purchased one. At our lake, everyone on the lake knows who has one, so it can be grabbed within minutes to save a life.

It never occurred to me that my purpose would come to include heart health, or to Brady, who is now telling his story to the kids at school and church. Maybe one day he’ll stand in a stadium to share it. 

None of us look forward to tragedy or pain, yet if we go through it, let’s ask ourselves what we need to learn and if it’s something to be shared to help others.

Have a great Sunday. (More about Russia below.)

Eric Rhoads

PS: As we speak, I’m in Russia on some very special projects. I’m producing a documentary on what happened to art, how the modern art world hijacked realism starting in the early 1900s, and now, how the realism movement is gathering steam. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Russians, one good thing that occurred was their training system — they developed the finest art training system in the world. And when the world went modern and all the schools teaching older concepts were closed due to lack of interest, the Russians kept this kind of art alive. Therefore it’s a significant piece of my documentary. I’ll be interviewing the head of the Hermitage museum, and the directors of the Surikov and the Repin, the two great art schools in the Russian Academy started by Catherine the Great. I’ll be interviewing the Russian equivalent of the Wyeth family, the Kugachs, who played a major role in this important sustainment of art, and several others including the great Russian master Nikolai Dubovik, my friend for many years, and Nikolai Blohkin, one of the great Russian masters alive today and a former instructor at the Repin Institute. I’m also interviewing art historians at the Tretyakov museum and the State Russian Museum, and my crew and I will be shooting other footage, including me painting in Russia. I’ll be plein air painting in Saint Petersburg, in Moscow, and in the country in the north. Thankfully, they are having record warmth, so it will only be freezing, not 20 below (hopefully).

I’m also taking advantage of having a crew and have convinced Blokhin to, for the first time in history, document the Russian training in drawing and painting for a future art instruction video. Though I rarely get to direct these shoots anymore, I’ll be directing this one because when you get someone that important to do it, you show up.

I have no idea if I’ll find time to get Sunday Coffee done while I’m there, but if not, my team will send out something,

PS 2: This week I had an important meeting with a painter who is also an expert on building community, who I’ll soon be announcing as the new head of community for a new program we’re launching to help people in both the realism and the plein air movements connect and stay connected to their peers. I’ll reveal the first part at the convention in May and the realism part at FACE (Figurative Art Convention & Expo) conference in October. (By the way, as I write this, there are only 42 seats left for the Plein Air Convention, and probably fewer by the time you see this. It’s going to be the biggest and best of all time.)

PS 3: This summer, as every summer, I’m providing a painters’ retreat in the Adirondacks. This year is the 10th anniversary, and I’ve already exceeded the 100 seats available, but due to demand, I secured another couple of dozen rooms and have already sold half of those. I have to assume this demand is because everyone knows we’ll be doing some special things this year. Exciting! This year I’m having everyone over to our home, a 120-year-old “camp” that is almost exactly as it was when it was built as the first home on our lake. It’s a rare treat for us to be able to offer it, but because it’s boat-access only, we’re going to need a regatta of transportation. 

PS 4: We’re making tremendous progress on my goal of teaching 1 million people to paint with the coming production of our TV show, The Great Outdoor Painting Challenge. The casting is still open if you want to consider being on the show to compete for a prize, and we still have some executive producer opportunities if you want to be involved financially. You know where to reach me. We are planning to shoot this summer, so get in touch quickly. 

Never Waste a Good Tragedy2020-02-20T22:11:11-05:00
16 02, 2020

The Art of Backing Off


Speeding through the hills on the winding road, I desperately rush from the house once I see the drawer where we keep the coffee is empty. First, I scoured the shelves in the pantry, then I remembered Laurie telling me, “Don’t forget to pick up coffee.” But, alas, I forgot. So to the car I went. As I reached the intersection between our country road and the big four-lane feeder, it was emptier than a teenager’s gas tank, a rare sight. Usually mornings are packed with bumper-to-bumper Austin traffic. So I take my time, ease out, and make the one-minute trip to the gas station — which I’m dreading, because how good can the coffee be, after all? I’m surprised to see machines with grinders, and hopeful, but alas, the watered-down coffee is not my normal rich brew. Guess what I won’t forget to do today?

The air is thick with humidity, slightly cool, but signaling a nice warm day, though I’m guessing without glancing at my screen that it will be rainy. I like rain; it removes the pressure of getting out and keeps me home to do a stack of projects that have been building up and calling out to me for months, sometimes years. Today I may continue my purge, prompted by dealing with my mom’s stuff.


Speaking of moms, last week a dear friend who had been estranged from her daughter wrote to tell me she was seeing some light through the darkness of estrangement. The illness of her grandchild brought them together again briefly, resulting in an invitation. Though she did not ask, I suggested she back off.

Listening for Reasons

If we are listening, we may hear about the things we cannot understand. In her case, she has never really known why her daughter suddenly cut her and her husband out of her life and maintained radio silence for close to a decade. But, like it or not, there is a reason, and no matter how much you reach out to try to resolve the conflict, first, you listen. (Listen, Trust, Pray, Wait.)

Circling Vultures

When my friend talks to me about her daughter, she truly has no idea why they are estranged. I don’t think she is hiding anything, but there is something circling, like a vulture, in her daughter’s head. It builds and escalates each time it circles. Over the course of years, what might be a small problem grows like a cancerous tumor.

A Sad Leap

My friend John argued with his daughter one night, as we all do. She went to her room, and in the morning he found a note saying he would find her car at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. She had jumped, and he has spent his life wondering why. What was circling in her head that made her feel so hopeless?

Looking for Clues

Another friend managed to prevent his daughter’s suicide, and after much therapy, he told me that they discovered that one small thing, something he had shrugged off as meaningless teen stuff, was the driving force. His advice to me: “Listen carefully to everything. There are always clues.”

Unsolicited Advice

Though my friend did not ask my advice about visiting her estranged daughter, I offered it anyway (a good way to lose friends). Because I know her and her intense personality, I simply sent these words. “Use the opportunity to show her how much you have changed. Don’t push the buttons you can push with your mommy instincts. Let it be fun and enjoyable, without the temptation to give parental advice.” I should have added, “Listen carefully.”

Checking Out

As a parent, I desperately want to keep my kids safe, teach them important lessons, and push them in directions I think they need. But there are times I am accused of “checking out,” when it’s actually me backing off. It’s a trait I inherited from my dad, who is the master of backing off. He is brilliant at the art of not interfering.

Giving My Parents Nightmares

Though I can’t say I gave my parents a hard time, I now realize there were times they were probably concerned, but they never said a thing. For instance, there was a period in my life when I developed a friendship with an erratic, somewhat crazy individual. I looked the other way when I discovered he had a drug problem, and when I heard rumors of physical abuse. His strong personality was attractive, he was fun to be around, and I ended up becoming business partners with him. And, just like parents do, we can see our kids sometimes pick friends we believe are not good for them. My mom and dad never said a word, or if they did, I never heard it. Yet they had to be concerned. I know I would be.

When Bad Friends Happen

With my own kids, we sometimes see them make friends with people who might not be good for them, yet if we point it out, it strengthens the glue between them a little more. In teen thinking, the opposite of parental wishes is where they want to go. And if we keep saying, “Don’t do this,” they hear, “Do this.” It’s why so many parents can’t understand why “Don’t do drugs” and “Don’t get pregnant” or “Don’t have sex” don’t work. Instead of telling them, we have to help them discover things on their own.

Bad Girls

Backing off, as difficult as it may seem, can be highly effective. I’m sure my folks wanted to say something about some of the girls I brought home to meet them. I once dropped a girl after one of my parents told me they liked her. I’m not advocating zero communication, or not providing feedback, or not training your kids to do the right thing, but sometimes a good story about someone else will cut through when a direct approach won’t.

Just Hanging Out

When people are ready to talk about something, signals are there. The other day I noticed my daughter came into my studio when I was painting. “Just hanging out, Dad.” But I put down my brush, sat on the floor, and just started talking to her, and soon, she started sharing things. We talked for quite a while, and clearly she just needed to connect but hadn’t realized it.

We humans are flawed. We’ve all been brought up differently, even if we’re brought up in the same household, and we can’t communicate. Yet, by backing off, you sometimes open up a safe space.

I realized that this is true at home and in business. I spent a lot of years pushing, only to realize that the most effective approach is pulling. 

Where do you need to back off?

Who needs you to stop offering advice and stop trying to control them?

Where are you saying too much, when fewer or no words will work better?

Mental Chess

Backing off takes more time, and it’s like a mental chess game. It requires patience. It’s the “wait” part. It reminds me of baking a cake as a kid. Though the recipe says to let the cake cool, I’d try to put the icing on right away, only to get clumps of cake in my icing. Sometimes waiting serves a purpose.

Don’t Solve

Listen, but don’t react. Instead of reacting, listen some more. Sometimes people need to be heard. On occasion my wife has reminded me, “I don’t need you to solve my problem, I just need you to listen.” It’s excellent advice for us all. It could also be cast as “I don’t need to hear your opinion, unless I ask.”

Give yourself time to hear the true meaning behind words.

Yesterday I saw this on a sign:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?”

At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?”

At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

— Rumi

The art of backing off includes all three gates.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Eric Rhoads

PS: I trust you had a happy Valentine’s Day. I can remember being young and depressed because I had no one in my life on Valentine’s Day. Though we celebrate those we love, let’s always look for opportunities to be sensitive to those who are without and try to include them in our plans.

PS2: When my kids were born, I used to calculate how old I’d be when they turned 18 and what year they would graduate high school. Because I’m a time traveler, this faraway time has already arrived. In 2002 my wife broke water when laughing at America’s Funniest Home Videos. We rushed to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California. Because she was pregnant with triplets, they needed to give her a drug called a surfactant for 24 hours to aid effective birth. As she was lying in the hospital bed, miserable, they checked her temperature every hour. Everything was fine, but one bright nurse allowed her instincts to kick in. She said to me, “I wonder if this thermometer is working right. She feels warm.” So she got another, discovered a fever (not a good thing), and they rushed her into the birthing room. Neither of us were expecting this. I grabbed my video camera, only to realize it had only a small amount of battery power, so while they prepped her I literally ran down the street to a photo store — only to find out they did not have what I needed. So I ran back, and by then we went into the delivery room. I watched as they pulled these precious gifts out one at a time, and just after they got them out, and into the warming beds, the video ran out. I plan to show the kids that video today. 

What a blessing life has been with triplets. Though we estimated that we went through 50,000 diapers, and though we had to do everything times three, we would never trade it for anything. My wife has been amazing through it all. And continues to be “on it” as we go through the final stages of life at home, college applications and preparation, and all the drama and sadness that comes with it.

Happy birthday to the oldest, Grace; Brady in the middle, who is named after my grandfather Brady Goad; and Berkeley, who got his name as we drove past the “Welcome to Berkeley” sign on every trip to the hospital. You three are the very best thing that ever happened to us.

I can say that we were one of those couples who were not sure we wanted kids. Life was pretty good without them, but once we decided to do it, it was better than we could have ever known or expected. There is no love like the love of your kids.

PS3: Another celebration: Kari Stober joined my company in 2012, and today we celebrate eight years together. It’s been fun watching her develop and become absolutely indispensable. Also Stephen Parker, who is one of the best designers I’ve ever worked with, joined in 2013, and today we celebrate his seventh year. 

PS4: Artist Johanne Mangi, one of the best animal painters I’ve ever seen, is staying in the world famous artist’s cabin starting today. She will be shooting a new video this week on how to paint horses. I’m still not sure how we’re going to get a horse in the soundstage. 

Artist Carl Bretzke checked out of the cabin last week, after shooting a video on how he does such stunning nighttime (nocturne) paintings. In fact, we shot one of the scenes on our property, where he painted the world famous artist’s cabin.

PS5: Every year when Presidents Day comes around, I remember my childhood friend Stewart Berk, who today celebrates his 64th birthday. We were inseparable from second grade until we graduated high school, and today we still talk, always picking up where we left off. He is a dear friend. Though I don’t understand how it is that my friends get old, yet I never do. Hmm. It’s also the birthday of my friend Robin Marshall, the radio and TV talk host. Happy birthday, Robin.

PS6: Soon the PleinAir Salon art competition will close out. We close it March 15 because we have to pick winners, who will be awarded at the Plein Air Convention in May. If you’ve got some great paintings around that deserve recognition, you might consider getting your entries in soon.

The Art of Backing Off2020-02-13T09:32:31-05:00
9 02, 2020

The Someday That Never Comes


Glancing into the dark woods, small streaks of dancing orange light kiss the trunks of the trees, and a few select leaves. Moments pass, and these same trees and shrubbery are flooded with brilliant golden light. Looking off to the distant horizon, a glowing orb has just awakened and is peeking above the edge of the mountain, whose purple edges are glowing with the halo of light, much like a Joe McGurl painting.

Home to Great Artists

I’m tucked away in my warm studio, sitting in the model chair, looking out over the property. The world famous artist’s cabin sits proudly in the distance, having housed some of the most important artists in the world; they stay within her log walls when shooting art instruction films and documentaries. Two weeks ago it was Tennessee legend Dawn Whitelaw, last week Kathie Odom, and this week Carl Bretzke, who does the most amazing nocturne paintings.

A Sketchbook for the Smithsonian

Inside you’re greeted with an old riverstone fireplace, walls covered in antique photos of Native Americans in hand-cut tin frames and paintings in hand-carved tramp art frames. The walls are adorned with paintings from visitors past, who often leave something behind. On the coffee table sits an old sketchbook, where each guest, artist or not, is required to leave a drawing. That book will someday end up in the Smithsonian, as artists who have stayed over the past decade have become famous, and some, sadly, have passed on to that great gallery in the sky. My own art may not be my legacy, but gathering the greats and documenting their process and thoughts may be. This book reflects this special time in history.

A Lucky Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy lately, not because of my own near-death experience, but my son Brady’s lucky day. It may sound odd that his heart attack was lucky, but it’s clear angels were caring for us all on that day. His life was spared, making me feel as though there is a special plan, big things in his path. Maybe it was this moment in time needed to make him, or us, pay attention and take less for granted.

A Bolt of Electricity

My wife said she had been praying for a “lightning bolt” because of some issues he was going through and the stress it was causing us. Ironically, it required two times on the defibrillator, a jolt of electricity, to bring him back, and she got the lighting bolt she prayed for. We realized that it comes in very distinct order … pray, trust, wait. Her prayer was answered, because this event has made the family closer, strengthened our marriage, and seems to have impacted our son’s own outlook. And all those years of prayer over the dinner table, asking for protection and watching over our family, came true, and who knows how many things that might have happened were prevented. Again, pray, trust, wait. 

Focus on Big Stuff

What is the lightning bolt prayer you need in your life? What seems so big, so overwhelming, you cannot solve it on your own? It’s not about that new car, new house, or new gadget. Save that for Santa Claus. Focus on lessons you need to learn, things where you or others need to give your attention, transformations needed. Most of all, ask for what is intended for your life, because our own plans are small.

Even I Get Down

Though I don’t want to keep making these morning moments together about this incident, it has impacted so much of my thinking. This past week, this normally optimistic, upbeat, conquer-the-world guy started to get down, and started wondering if what I’m doing is worth doing. In some ways, I thought, it would be easier just to move forward, retire, and sip a drink on the beach. I had to ask tough questions like “Does any of this matter?” “What happens if I don’t do what I do?” And “Is there anyone in place who can carry on my work in the event defibrillators don’t save my life?” (By the way, I bought a defibrillator for our home this week, and you should buy one for yours.)

Blasted with Emotions

Though I came out of my funk, realizing I had been blasted with emotions, sleep-deprived, trying to be strong when I would rather curl up into a fetal position, and more scared than I’ve ever been. Yet it’s made me rethink everything, and I’ve decided I’m going to let go of some things because they simply don’t matter to me anymore, or are not worthy of time devoted in the remaining precious days, whether those days be short or long.

Intense Focus

I’ve also decided that intense focus is required to get everything done that needs to be done. As you may know, I’m driven to help artists make the living they want, and they need it more than ever. I realized I’m not doing enough. Though I have a book, a video series on marketing, and a blog on art marketing, and though I teach it at the Plein Air Convention and FACE, it’s not enough. And I’m seeing people selling products that promise hope but offer no substance or good advice, and it infuriates me. Frankly, I’m not yet sure what I’m going to do, but it’s one of the biggest new areas of focus in the new me. 

What needs to get done in your life?

What’s in the back of your mind that you’ve always wanted to get done someday? Someday is now, because those paddles may not revive your heart tomorrow. Everything is about today. What are your top three?

Making a Difference

Not only am I driven to help artists sell more art, I’ve realized there are parts of the current system that are broken and need to be fixed. I need to find answers. And there are messages that need to be communicated, education that needs to take place, to help consumers think about art. There is a whole generation that was not exposed to art in school who need to know how much art can improve their lives. Therefore I’ve decided to work on a major documentary to address this, and I’ve started a TV channel for Roku, Amazon, and Apple TV that will not only expose people to the art instruction we’ve created, but to other content about art. It’s a major undertaking, over two years and a massive investment, and is in testing as we speak.

There are also books to be written. I have a list, and as soon as I decided to make someday today, I had a dialogue with a publisher about three of them. Things have to get done because someday never comes if you don’t just take action.

What are the “someday” projects in your life? What can you do to put them into action and get them started now, and find a way to get them finished as soon as possible?

Unrealized Dreams

I’ve met dozens, maybe hundreds of people who tell me their dreams, yet so many go through life never finding the time to move forward on those dreams. You have the time to do anything you can dream — it’s simply a matter of how you allocate your time. I’ve recaptured hundreds of hours by eliminating TV from my life. And since the other day, when my phone told me I had wasted two hours on social media, I’m cutting back. Plus my kids say, “Dad, you’re always on your phone.” I’d better pay attention more before they head off to college this fall.

I truly hope you don’t have a lightning bolt hit you. They don’t always turn out as things did with the one that hit us. Some of us need a lightning bolt to recast our priorities, but maybe you can recast them without one. I hope so.

Life is a precious gift, and each of us possesses the ability to do great things. Don’t waste another moment. Dream big, don’t ever give up, and use that gift of life for something that will change lives. It’s all inside of you waiting to come out.

Eric Rhoads

PS: About two years ago I decided my goal was to teach a million people to paint. Though I’m sure the number has reached tens of thousands by now, it’s not enough. I need scale to make that happen, so I have a deal to do a television show on a major TV network. The show, The Great Outdoor Painting Challenge™ has a cast of 15 painters, with several judges and mentors, and there will be a winner each show. The cast will paint outdoors, and be given different challenges. And we will teach painting. The show is estimated to reach 20 million people each episode. This is a major undertaking, and it’s not designed to be a money-maker, it’s designed to expose people to the plein air lifestyle and help them catch the painting bug. But I need help getting it done. Though I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, I need to raise close to $700,000 more. And I need to involve a major museum that will participate in the show. If you know of a couple of possible donors who want to see families, kids, and adults get excited about painting, we need their help. I’d appreciate you passing this along to them with your endorsement. The show will air summer of 21. E-mail me.

PS 2: If you’re a painter and want to be on the show as a cast member or a mentor, we need you to go to the casting site and get your video application done. Casting will continue through spring. Go to TheGreatOutdoorPaintingChallenge.com.

PS 3: Friday is Valentine’s Day, which is a chance to express your love for your soulmate. Though flowers are wonderful and candy is nice, attention is what we all want. Give those you love your attention. It’s the best gift.

PS 4: Each year on Valentine’s Day our lowest price for our Plein Air Convention expires. We offer early discounts to help pay the early bills, but then we have to raise the price to pay the rest of them. We try to reward people for being early to register, and that time has come. If you want to experience the plein air lifestyle, this convention is all about learning, meeting your fellow painters, and making friends. And there is no pressure to paint; many come just to observe. I should also mention we’re down to the last XX seats, which is unusual this early. I’d suggest making that decision today before the mad rush. One Valentine’s Day we sold 300 seats, and this year we don’t have that many left to offer. 

PS 5: Because time got freed up and I can’t go on my speaking and documentary tour to China due to the coronavirus, I decided to take action on a goal and am heading to Russia to film parts of two documentaries I’m working on. And since I’m there with a crew, I’ll be filming an instructional videos with one of the top master artists in Russia, who taught at the best art school in the world. I’m not yet sure if I’ll have the ability to get Sunday Coffee done, depending on schedule. Plus, the Internet may be frozen; it’s tremendously cold there — though I do intend to take my paint box and do at least one winter painting. This painting thing is an addiction. Also, I plan to visit some locations for my Russia 2021 painting trip, so e-mail me if you have interest in going on that trip and we will notify you when we have details. I can only take 50 people.

PS 6: Sorry there is so much to talk about today. We are in the final month and a half of the PleinAir Salon national art competition. It’s not just for plein air paintings, but studio paintings as well, and not all landscapes. Anyone can enter — there is even a student category. All the prizes are cash, and the big $15,000 grand prize and all prizes will be presented at the Plein Air Convention. If you win in any category, you are entered into the judging for the grand prize.

PS 7: Happy birthday to Morgan Samuel Price, West Fraser, Joe McGurl, and Elizabeth Robbins. Next Sunday, hard to believe, our triplets turn 18. Wow.

The Someday That Never Comes2020-02-08T23:07:22-05:00
2 02, 2020

The Power You May Not Be Using


I feel the gift of nature, the feeling of being alive as I stare out over the fields covered with dew, the distant blue mountain, and the rays of light beaming through the twisted old oaks that fill the rough grass with shadows. Nature, somehow, feels more alive this morning, as I realize I’m in a mode of praise when I could have been grieving.

If you read about last week’s worst day ever, you may not know that after 10 sleepless nights in two different hospitals, my son walked out as a miracle, surviving what most never survive.

Groundhog Day

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray wakes up each day and repeats the exact same day, over and over. It’s comical, but also somehow profound.

Our son was living his own Groundhog Day, and we were not sure it would disappear. When the brain is shocked or given massive amounts of sedatives or amnesia-causing drugs, inflammation causes short-term memory loss.

Short-Term Memory Loss

For four days after my son’s heart attack, while he was perfectly conscious and seemed normal otherwise, we would tell him what he experienced. “Your heart stopped. They revived you. You were clinically dead,” we would say. Each time, he would say, “I was?” In fact, we did this probably 50 times in one day, and not once did he remember it, or anything else from that day. 

We brought some DVDs of his favorite TV shows (I’ve suddenly become a fan of The Simpsons), and he would watch the same episode over and over, not realizing he had watched it three hours before. Professionals told us his brain would return to normal in days or possibly weeks. But it was frightening during the days when he remembered nothing.

Our other Groundhog Day was life in the hospital. Though the hospital we were in is one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, with THE best cardiology and electrophysiology team in the world, the experience was, one day after another, a lot of waiting. A lot of the same routine as the day before.

Rushing to Wait

We arrived on Tuesday after my son was transferred, and by Sunday, five days later, he had had only one of the many tests he was supposed to have. It took two days just to do a CT scan. And we were told he needed and would have an MRI “right away,” but right away never came. First it would be Wednesday, then Thursday, then we were told the machine broke on Friday, and then we were told it would be Monday. Finally, it happened.

Though there had been tremendous value in their monitoring my son’s heart for a few days, a chance to see some other rhythm incidents, we were just parked in a room as he was cared for by very wonderful professionals — nurses, doctors, cardiologists, and others. But just sitting each day. Yes, we got daily visits for five minutes from the doctors, and regular drop-ins and care from nurses. But why could they not have done all the tests the first day or two? Looking for answers starts with the tests. Of course, the nurses and doctors have no answers for that. It’s not up to them.

Sudden Change

What would happen if the CEO of the hospital chain had experienced what we experienced? My guess is that every test would have been done the first day, the procedures done the second or third day, and the patient would be out the door. The problem is that too many CEOs of too many businesses don’t understand what their customers have to go through. If they did, things would change.

My guess is that I’ll get a survey in the mail, and my guess is that what I say will be the same thing hundreds of others have said, and nothing will change. And it crossed my mind that this could be a strategy to “sell” more room nights. I can’t imagine the size of our bill after 10 days.

Deeply Grateful No Matter What

Please keep in mind, I’m grateful. We would be thrilled to spend months on the cold blue vinyl couch if it meant saving our child. But it was frustrating, and I’m intentionally not mentioning the name of the hospital because I don’t want them to think we are anything but grateful.

But whether we’re talking about family, running a business, or doing anything in life, it’s critical that we see the world through the eyes of the people we’re in those relationships with. We all need to listen more. We all need to understand the needs of the other.

Each of us approaches our life with a built-in bias that tells us how we think things should be done, but most of us are wrong. It’s why friendships and relationships end, it’s why businesses fail. It’s why some hospitals still do things the way they were done decades before.

Two-to-One Ratio

My old friend David Gifford (Happy Birthday, Dave!) a wonderfully accomplished sales trainer, used to say, “God gave us two ears and one mouth. Listen two-thirds of the time and only talk one-third of the time.” Great advice for life. We’re all eager to speak, but we learn more when we listen.

Silence Is Golden

My dear old friend Steve Rivers used to sit and listen and never talk. He might nod, but usually it was a blank stare. It was very intimidating, and when he didn’t talk, you would ramble on and say more and more. He told me later, before he died, it was his secret weapon for success and the best technique he ever learned: Shut up and listen, and people will tell you everything you need to know. In those uncomfortable moments of silence when people were waiting for a response, he would look people in the eye and say nothing. So we would ramble on. He did not have the need to speak, just the need to listen. Listening is where you’ll find the answers.

Are you listening?

I have to admit, I’ve been a bad listener. Too many times I’m barking out instructions and directions instead of listening for answers. I’m trying to learn not to have to be the smartest guy in the room, and to become a better listener.

I’ve also learned that when you’re around someone with all the answers, you tend to clam up and say nothing, even if something needs to be said. No one wants to feel like a fool. I’m sometimes that way with others, but didn’t realize others were that way with me. So I decided to change.

What if we all listened more? My guess is that everything would change.

More Real Feedback

Recently I asked my team to talk to our customers more, saying each should talk to a couple every week. That goes for me, too. It’s easy for me because I’m always talking to people. But I need to do more of it, not only with my customers, but starting at home with my wife and my kids. I think they would talk more if I talked less and didn’t dominate the conversation so much. 

Tell Me More

There is an old technique I learned in a class one time. We were told to go to lunch, engage a waitress in conversation, and after the first question, just say, “Uh-huh, tell me more” (and find different ways to say it), and see how long we could keep them talking. I was amazed at how much I learned from my waitress. People love to talk about themselves.

I tell my kids, when on job interviews, to ask questions. Ask for advice from others. Again, people love to talk about themselves, and when we listen more than we talk, we can deliver a better relationship or customer experience. I wish I had known that at 17. 

Try it today. Ask questions, then listen. Don’t be in a hurry to comment or give your opinion. See how long you can keep it going without speaking other than “Uh-huh” or “Really? Tell me more.”  I think you’ll find it will open doors and help you in new ways.

Listening is the key to all great relationships. And life is about relationships. Let’s listen more.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’m heartened by all the messages this past week about my son. Thank you all for the thoughts, good wishes, and prayers. We received hundreds of e-mails, comments, text messages, phone calls, and an outpouring of love and concern. Friends brought food to the house for the other two kids so Laurie and I could concentrate on Brady. 

Brady has made a full recovery. They discovered some abnormal heart rhythms that were causing his issues, so they were able to remove those electrical pulses in surgery and placed a defibrillator in his chest as a backup. We can all breathe easier. We returned home on Wednesday and life went back to normal. Laurie and I feel as though we experienced PTSD, and we’ve been absolutely exhausted, catching up on our sleep.

We are extremely grateful for all the good wishes and prayers, and we know that Brady is a walking miracle. First, because he was in a public place when this happened. Had he been home or at school, he probably would have not been revived because a defibrillator was necessary. Second, because when EMS could not revive him, a doctor who, unusually, happened to ride along that night was able to bring him back. Third, we later learned a harsh, gruff doctor at the first hospital wanted to send Brady home because he was convinced he had done drugs (he had not). Thankfully, a young cardiologist named Jason fought to send him to the children’s hospital, where they discovered this defect in his heart. That doctor’s bias, had Brady been sent home, probably would have resulted in his not surviving another heart attack. 

PS2: Hundreds have told me they are taking CPR classes as a result of last week’s Sunday Coffee, and many have bought defibrillators for their homes, businesses, and schools. We met a young man who had the same issue as Brady, who coached him on life with a defibrillator. This young man convinced the state of Texas to make a law to put a defibrillator in every school in Texas. We need to make this a federal law for all schools, all malls, all public places, and honestly, it should be in every home and business. I bought one this week for our home. 

PS3: I’m very excited about my upcoming Plein Air Convention this May in Denver. It’s our best speaker-teacher lineup yet, with some of the best artists in the world. If this plein air thing is something you want to explore, this is the best possible place to experience it, but we don’t have a lot of seats left (this is our biggest ever). Last I checked there were 94 left (unusual to have so few seats left this early), and you can save $500 off the price by booking before February 14, Valentine’s Day, which will be here soon. And right before the convention, we have a rare Scott Christensen workshop, a great Thomas Schaller watercolor workshop, and a Plein Air Basics Course for beginners.

PS4: I should also mention that my event in the Adirondacks, where we paint for a week (no training), is almost sold out. I think we have 15 seats left. This is the 10-year anniversary, and I’m planning some new and different things for this year only. And my Fall Color Week painting retreat for September in the White Mountains will be sold out before we know it too.

PS5: You may have heard me say I’m going to spend three weeks in China on a seven-city speaking tour, speaking at the top universities teaching art and meeting with top art leaders and artists in China, as well as attending two massive plein air events there, all while filming three documentaries. You’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going until the coronavirus has been eradicated. I will, however, be heading to Russia soon to film an art instruction video with the top Russian artist in St. Petersburg, and to shoot some documentary footage for two films I’m producing. Like Russia or not politically, they have the two best art schools in the world, and saved realism when other countries had moved into modernism. I’m also working on planning for a painting trip to Russia in September 2021, a rare chance to paint in the exact spots painted by Repin, Levitan, Shiskin, and others, including small Russian villages with livestock in the streets and women wearing babushkas and carrying water to their charming little dachas. It will include visits to the top museums and tourist attractions in Saint Petersburg, and hopefully meetings with my friend who is the director of the Hermitage, along with visits to the best art schools in the world. We will be accompanied by some of the leading Russian artists, who will work with anyone wanting some help. I’m only able to take 50 people, and if you have interest (with no obligation), send an e-mail and simply say, “Yes, I am interested in Russia.”

The Power You May Not Be Using2020-02-01T08:52:20-05:00