26 07, 2020

Drawing Bad Cards


If I close my eyes at this moment, I can hear a gentle breeze quietly tickling the pine branches above and the slight slosh of water hitting the dock. It’s heavenly. So peaceful. So quiet. 

Opening my eyes after a deep breath of the freshest air I’ve ever breathed, I feast my eyes on a large, pink billowing cloud, about 30 stories tall, floating just to the east of us and carrying a rainstorm with it in the distance. I can hear an occasional distant rumble and can see a gray sheet of rain falling below it. The pink morning sun is coloring the deep green trees, yet if I were to run and get my easel to capture the mood, it would be gone within moments. I’ll just try to imprint it in my memory.

On the dock across the lake I can see two red spots — Adirondack chairs that glow when the sun hits them, and then are barely visible when it tucks behind a cloud. The red against the green is the perfect color harmony.


When I was back in Austin for PleinAir Live, I mentioned how eager I was to return here when someone said, “You’re lucky. I’ll never see an opportunity like that.”

I quickly, and gently, responded that he would in fact see it if he wanted to, and that my luck had more to do with 40 years of 18-hour workdays. His response … “I will never see it because I’ve been dealt a bad hand.

Born Into It?

Clearly I was not going to change his mind easily, nor was he going to be open to having his mind changed, but it made me stop and think. Was my success because of the draw of the cards? Because I was born into it somehow?

If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t know if I would have achieved the success I have experienced if it had not been for the mentorship of my dad. I was not born into money … they had none, but I did have the benefit of overhearing conversations and being invited into business meetings and watching him build his business from nothing to something. So maybe I did get a lucky card. I certainly consider myself lucky to be born into a family with an artist mother and a creative entrepreneur father.

But is it all the luck of the draw?

Looking back on friendships and acquaintances, I know people who have truly had luck in their favor, but did nothing with it. People who were born with a silver spoon, but are unhappy, unsuccessful, and who grumble about the cards they were dealt. One once told me “being born rich was a curse.” Another told me that because he grew up with money, he wants to be poor because he hates rich people.

What Are You Wearing?

Whoever we are, no matter how we grew up, we don’t have to wear our circumstances. I can pretty much meet someone for the first time and know the stories they are telling themselves about their bad luck.

When talking about ideology, my friend and mentor Jay Abraham says, “Whatever you think, you’re right.”

Why is it that someone born rich can fail at everything in life and someone born poor can become a billionaire?

It all boils down to what we’re telling ourselves.

Getting Rich

One of my kids says, “Dad, I’m going to be rich once I get out of college,” and my response is, “What’s stopping you from starting now?” The story he is telling himself is that college is the first step. My fear is that once college is done, there will be another step he has to take to make things perfect before he can start. Then another.

Starting Now

My best advice to him was to start now. Nothing happens easily, nothing falls in your lap, so why not use this time to work toward your success? My overnight success in radio, for instance, started at age 14. Today I’ve been associated with the radio industry for 51 years. Time is on my side.

I’ll see some kids I meet working three jobs, selling things on the side, and doing all they can to get started now. The only roadblock is the one between our ears.

No Easy Path

I’ve come to understand that no path is ever paved, no conditions are ever perfect, and that the only thing that determines your success is your thinking. There is not some sudden lightning bolt that makes things better – unless you win the lottery. I don’t play the lottery because I don’t believe in luck. I believe luck is a byproduct of thinking and action.

Zip My Lips

I love my friends dearly, but when they complain about their conditions and not having anything, I’m tempted to suggest that a change in their attitude would make a huge difference. But usually I zip my lip and try to enjoy their company. 

The most powerful thing impacting the outcome of our lives is our thinking.

  • If you think you can’t succeed because you had bad parents, you’re right.
  • If you think success isn’t possible because no one in your family ever succeeded, you’re right.
  • If you resent your parents’ success so much that you think you can never succeed, you’re right.
  • If you think “I’m too old to do anything more with my life now,” you’re right.

I can list 50 excuses right now for why success isn’t possible for me. I’d be right about all of them … if I allowed myself to fall into that deadly trap.

What If?

But what if you told yourself your disadvantaged upbringing was an advantage?

What if your screwed-up wife-beating alcoholic father made you stronger and improved your chances of success?

What if being from the wrong side of the tracks taught you street smarts that would make you more successful?

As Tony Robbins says, “You can’t change your past. All you can do is change your future.”

For every failure excuse, there is a success response.

If you look for it, you’ll find it.

Is it time to ask yourself if you have blind spots?

Those blind spots are killing your potential because you’re allowing them to.

Every successful person I know has been kicked in the teeth, gets up, gets kicked down again, gets up, gets kicked down again, and keeps getting up. EVERY one.

Do You Really Want to Live This Way?

For all the wonderful things you may think about someone like me, I can share some horrible things I’ve gone through that might make it OK for me to cower in the corner out of fear and do nothing with my life. Admittedly, there were times I gave up and gave in, but I eventually told myself to get back into the fight.

It may be your health. It may be depression. It may be the loss of a limb. It may be a horrible past.

I don’t want to make light of any of those things, but I know that you can overcome them, or work with them to turn them into strengths.

For every person I know who is stuck because of the ideas they are telling themselves, there are others who ignore those ideas and move forward, no matter how frightening or painful.

Being a member of a lucky birth club isn’t even a guarantee of success. I know people living on trust funds who have more money than I’ve made in my life, and who are miserable.

Your Ship Won’t Come In

If you’re saying, “I’ll be happy when my ship comes in,” or, “I’ll be happy once I make my first million,” or, “I’ll be happy once XYZ changes,” you won’t be happy. I’ve had my ship come in only to have it sail away. I’ve made money, until I lost it all by making stupid decisions.

We are born with brains. Yet too often we settle in, not realizing our brains are pliable. Your brain can grow, can change, and you can change ANY circumstance if you set your mind to it. 

No, it’s not easy. The only thing that’s easy is accepting who we are and not changing it. Is that what you want from your life? Or do you want better?

Listen to Your Heart

Your spirit is quietly screaming for you to stop accepting your lot in life, ignore the cards you’ve been dealt, and create a new you. It’s never too late. Is it scary? Yes. But which is scarier? Being stuck knowing you could have tried — or trying?

Today is the day to move away from the past and move toward the future. You have it in you.

Eric Rhoads

PS: My mindset was pretty negative. Six income-producing events were canceled. My business has been struggling. Facing three kids going into college at once (triplets) and knowing that if I did not make a change, I’d disrupt the families of those who worked with me. 

Mentally, I was not sure how I’d survive. I was scared. I was finding a lot of reasons it was too hard to do, but I gathered my strength, took a deep breath and jumped in to create the world’s first virtual art summit. I was not sure I could succeed, but I had no choice but to try.

The good news is that the event was a huge, worldwide success, and it is allowing me to continue my business, and if I can make one more event a success, we can make it.

Last week after PleinAir Live, I announced Realism Live, the first virtual realism art conference. If it can be created in realism, we’ll be teaching it, including drawing, painting, portraits, figures, florals, still life, landscape, and more. And we’ll have a beginner’s day.

When we announced it, we immediately had 600 sign up. We need 1,000 more to make it work, and I believe we will. 

If art has been in your mind and you’ve wanted to try it, or you want a chance to learn from the best of the best, please explore www.realismlive.com. It’s in October. Your participation will make a big difference.

Drawing Bad Cards2020-07-24T17:41:32-04:00
19 07, 2020

The Race to the Bottom


I’m here at the Austin airport and I’m looking out the window. The sun is blinding me as it reflects off of the chrome trim. Instead of breathing the fresh pine-scented air, the smell of jet fuel fills the air. I can’t wait to be back at the lake late tonight.

After a week of my virtual art summit, PleinAir Live, and being on camera late into the evening each day, I’m ready to sit on the dock in an Adirondack chair and have time to think.

Unexpected Success

I’m grateful for over 1,500 folks who joined us for the world’s first virtual art summit to learn and grow over the past five days. It’s also been a great lesson in pivoting. As my business collapsed around me, this survival mode was met with resistance and fear (some from my own brain and some from others). I almost did not do it, because I kept thinking of all the limitations and not understanding how to do it. But, instead of cowering away from something I did not understand, I faced it, mastered it, and had a successful event.

Is Fear Driving You?

In these strange COVID times, I’ve been watching others make a race for the bottom. Though I’ve done a little discounting out of fear, I’ve seen numerous others drop their prices by half or more because their minds are telling them they cannot survive these times. Yet I’m learning that many businesses are thriving and having some of their best success ever, in spite of it being counterintuitive for the times.

The Mental Basement

My friend Lyn Boyer said it best when she told me, “I had to make a choice. I could either race for the bottom by giving in or pull myself out of the basement mentally.”

I often say we tend to tell ourselves stories that we assume are true. But unless you follow the data, what you think is true may not be.

What are the stories you’re telling yourself about these COVID times?

Are those stories really true?

Rather than cowering in the corner out of fear of the unknown, is it possible to walk up the stairs and get out of that mental basement?

Challenges and problems make us stronger. I had a choice … give up and hope things returned to normal, or pivot, ignore my fears, and find a way to survive. And thankfully, the pivots are taking me to new places — places from which I’m learning new and wonderful things.

What about you?

We have no idea what we face, what this all looks like in a day, a month, a year, or longer.

We can’t assume it will get better and we can’t assume it will get worse. We simply have to adjust to the moment and do the best we can at the moment. Usually, the best we can do is a surprise, even to ourselves.

Can you pivot?

No matter how bad things seem, know that there is growth from pain, and know that a pivot can change your life. I discovered my virtual conference reached more people than the live events I do, and people want more (which you’ll soon learn about). And I never would have known if I’d given up and not tried the things I feared.

Fear not.

Eric Rhoads

The Race to the Bottom2020-07-18T22:21:07-04:00
12 07, 2020

Difficult Lessons


The springs stretch on the screen door, vibrating with their high-pitched creaking sound. Seconds later, the screen door slams with a thump. It’s a sound I can remember from my Aunt Ruth’s porch at her little white farmhouse nestled among the high corn in Tennessee. 

When I hear the sound from my own screen doors, it instantly brings back feelings of a better time, a moment when I was the happiest, the moment I got my first puppy, Pepper, who was born on the farm. 


This morning as I snuck quietly out of my cabin, I accidentally let the door slam, probably waking Laurie, yet the sound transports me to that place every time I hear it. Now, as I sit in the 140-year-old screened porch overlooking the lake, my mind has wandered off to the past, to the moments imprinted on my soul. It’s the very reason I try to imprint memories into the minds of my own children, so they will look back on the good old days here at the lake.


Sometimes an escape is pleasant, even if only for a moment, to run from life in 2020. I’ve talked about the difficulty of having most of my business crunched like an empty aluminum can in the hands of a muscle man. First it was canceling one event, then two, then three, now four. Just when I thought there was a ray of hope that we would be free to meet, we returned to caution. Not a bad thing, just a disappointment that we have to wait things out.

I think if you were to ask any of us if we want to repeat this moment in time, we’d all say we’d rather get on with our lives and never think about masks or quarantines again. Yet each of us has had a lesson to learn. What was yours?

Though I have experienced many lessons, the best has been to slow down and enjoy my surroundings, my family, the people I love.


Before COVID I was spending 30 weeks a year on airplanes. Now, other than my flight to the Adirondacks in June, my only flight is today, returning to Texas to host our PleinAir Live event this week. And, though I’m thankful for this event and over a thousand people who are attending, leaving home and the quiet life is difficult.


I can’t speak for others, but I think the stimuli of life, the seduction of doing more and more business, the ease of travel, and the desire to be stimulated by the next trip, the next meeting, the next business opportunity, will be something that changes in me. It was an addiction, yet now I’m getting beyond the surface and finding that gold in my own home.

What have you found that has surprised you?

Returning to the Old Ways

My fear, frankly, is that this will pass and we’ll all fall back into our old patterns. I’ll mourn this time once it has passed, not because of the forced quarantine, but because of the forced opportunity to get to know my family on a deeper level. It’s been a precious gift.

A Quick Exercise

Quickly, today, grab a yellow pad and write down every good thing that has come from the past three months. Then write down all the things you don’t want to return to when it’s over. Circle the highlights, and build a plan to not return to the things you hope to avoid — and find a way to preserve the things you love. If you don’t do it now, before you know it you’ll be back on the merry-go-round and may not be able to jump off. Yet now, before you’re fully on it, you can still make the important changes.

COVID-19 had its blessings. Understand them, embrace them, and make the changes that need to be preserved.

Eric Rhoads

PS: This afternoon I’ll put my mask on, drive an hour to the local airport, then board two different flights to return to Austin, where I’ll be hosting PleinAir Live Wednesday through Saturday. 

We created this event as a response to people’s inability or discomfort with travel and their need to connect with other painters and friends, and study with the best painters in the world. And we’re doing it for a fraction of the amount they would spend if they were our live Plein Air Convention, which has now been canceled.

If you’re curious about this plein air thing I talk about, if you want to learn a little about each different painting medium, like watercolor, oil, pastel, gouache, and acrylic, and want to learn about plein air history, the movement today, and the way to paint outside vs. inside, our one-day beginner course is for you. It’s $97, and you can watch safely from home.

And if you choose, you can sign up for the following four days, filled with the top artists in the world, some of whom you’ll never have a chance to meet or study with in your lifetime.

In the three weeks since we came up with the idea, we have pulled off what I was told was impossible. We’ve put together a world-class group of artists to teach, and we are making art history with the first virtual art conference, the first worldwide gathering of plein air painters online, and the largest online virtual paint-out in the world. 

I’d love you to be a part of it, and frankly, we could use the help. You can learn more at www.pleinairlive.com.

Difficult Lessons2020-07-11T22:14:15-04:00
5 07, 2020

The Contrast of Summer


Stillness comes in various forms. Today, the lake has no movement as I sit looking on from the old screened porch. There is not a leaf rustling, not so much as a momentary breeze, and the sticky high humidity is hovering against the distant shore, obscuring the view, making the deep greens look more like a deep turquoise.

A pinkish glow is reflecting into the water from the sky, and the gentle slam of a screen door and the voices of a couple chatting over coffee are as clear to me as if I were sitting at the same table. The lake is a giant amplifier, which is why we teach our kids to always be careful about what they say when they’re on a boat or sitting on the porch.

This morning, as I have my coffee, a huge bowl of ripe, deep red strawberries picked up at yesterday’s farmers market are about the most flavorful I’ve had. Store-bought berries don’t cut it, so I binge in summertime.


When I was a child growing up on Lake Wawasee in Indiana, we used to take our pontoon boat onto the lake, and it seemed as if we were right under the exploding fireworks in the sky above us. I never thought I’d experience that feeling again, but last night a local neighbor treated us to a display every bit as special as any I can remember. We were watching from the boat, along with our neighbors, who would honk their boats’ horns for applause. The booms would roll across the lake, bounce off nearby mountains, and create an echo effect much like that I remember as a child. I’m feeling pretty blessed.

How Many Summers Left?

Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED conferences, used to talk about “How many summers do you have left?” with emphasis on making the best of these special seasons. Now, with COVID fears and seeing the disease impact families we know, it makes me realize just how special this time is, and how we need to embrace our time with those we love even more. The stakes are higher than ever. There is nothing like a pandemic to help us discover our true priorities. 

Clarity of Mission

For me, these moments on the lake in this 140-year-old camp, and the time with family and friends, is my priority, because it’s a tool to draw us closer, provide us with peace from the freshness of the air, the scent of the pines, and the glow of light along the trees against the distant purple mountains. It was a lifelong goal to accomplish, and now my desire is to help my family keep it for generations to come. Not an easy task. If it were not for bitter winters with no heat and a boat-only-access home on a lake that freezes, we would want to be here all the time. Yet I think half the magic comes from the winter months, when we can’t wait for the summer.

Contrast is what summer is all about. We look forward to it and give it special planning because we can do more things in the summer, when we don’t have busy school or work schedules. We look forward to long, warm sunny days that contrast short and frigid winter days. If we had summer all the time, we would not cherish it.

What Matters Most

The pandemic has also provided contrast. Both clarity on what’s important, and a chance to experience family and being home on an entirely new level. For some, the contrast of noisy kid-filled homes gives a new fresh appreciation to the drag of getting up to go to an office, where concentration is so much easier. For others, it’s the stark realization that commuting is for the birds, and life is too short to spend two hours a day on a freeway.

Polar Opposites

Contrast is what Chinese philosophers were talking about with yin and yang and the I Ching. And in the Bible, there is light vs. darkness, heaven vs. earth. Good isn’t recognized without evil, comfort without discomfort. It’s contrast that makes us appreciate things, which is why success is sweeter having experienced failure. Money is better when you’ve been poor. Success is better if you’ve had to struggle.

Pray for Pain

Though my natural instinct is to want to protect my kids, I also know that if everything is handed to them, there will be no appreciation for what they have. My prayer is that they experience pain, difficulty, and struggle, but that they live through it so they can appreciate the good when it comes. It’s hard to make a teenager understand that concept.

I’ve watched when people have things handed to them without effort, and it’s sad when that contrast is missing. Appreciation is sweeter with contrast.

Though we don’t want struggle, embrace it. Everything will be sweeter. 

Because we’ve been in lockdown, getting out is sweeter than ever. To the extent you can, make this the best summer ever, as though it’s your last. Live it like you’ll be in lockdown next summer. 

Each day is a gift, and for the first time ever — except for the few alive who experienced the Great Depression — we’re being served this time to understand that our perfect lives were more of a gift than we realized. 

Embrace it. Pray for the best, but make the best of what we have.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’m embracing a painful week. My income is mostly tied to an event we do every year called the Plein Air Convention. We needed to cancel it this week. It was the right thing to do. And, in spite of the pain, I can find so much good to come from it, including the chance to innovate and create the world’s first fully virtual art conference, which is slated for July 15-18. It could change everything because people from all over the world will be interacting as one, for the first time in history. It may change the plein air world entirely. Wish me luck. And if you think this idea of painting might be of interest, take a risk. It will be worth it. www.pleinairlive.com.

The Contrast of Summer2020-07-04T20:25:34-04:00