27 06, 2021

One Unexpected Secret to a Powerful Life


Thomas Kinkade-like window lights glow in romantic little cabins across the lake on this dark, rainy morning. Wood stoves warm the air as smoke dances from old red brick chimneys. 

The lake is still, glasslike, and the only sound is the peeping of hungry baby robins in the nest in the rafters of this old screened porch. It’s a morning for a warm sweater, thick socks, and an extra hot cup of coffee.

Finally, after several intense months of difficulty, I’m able to sit here, relax, and reflect.

A week has passed since the end of my annual artists’ retreat in the Adirondacks. To shake things up a little this time, and to celebrate our 10th year, we held a grand closing party at a classic Adirondacks “great camp” (a term used for giant homes usually built in the late 1800s),  followed by a world-class fireworks display on the lake overlooking the mountains. 

In reality, these extras are not necessary. No one expects them. So why bother?

Special Moments

The reason for extra effort and expense is that the people attending will never forget those special moments. Hopefully, as they look back over their lives, those will be special memories preserved. 


As we look back on our lives, we tend to remember the highlights, the special moments, the special feelings, the special places, and even the special things. 

The Struggle for Memories

I can remember a family vacation, and overhearing my parents say they weren’t sure if they had enough gas money to get us home, yet the vacation was memorable. I’m sure it was a stretch to buy an Airstream trailer, and a lot of work to drive three hours every summer weekend to camp in the trailer and go out in our tiny OMC tri-hull boat, but these are my fondest memories.

Implanted Moments

I guarantee you that people who go on our annual fine art trip to Europe hold on dearly to the memories of unheard-of private access to the Sistine Chapel, after-hours private access to the Hermitage museum, or a troop of bagpipers emerging from the fog to serenade us as we said farewell on our last trip to Scotland. Yet in spite of the enormous cost and effort to make such things happen, they leave an irreplaceable mark on those who receive these gifts. 

What are the things you remember from your life?

What are the special moments someone made for you?

What if you chose to live a large life?

More Work, More Pleasure

Living large isn’t about expensive things, it’s about extra effort, doing things that stand out and that others are not willing to do. A camping trip an hour from home is just as effective a memory if you make a little extra effort to make it memorable. Something as simple as s’mores by the campfire will last forever in the minds of your kids or grandkids. 

It’s Our Turn

Now that I’ve lost both my parents, I realize just how large they lived, and how much time and effort they took to create great family memories. Though there are times I’d rather sit in my chair, feet up, watching a movie or checking social media, I know it’s my turn to make sure my family members are treated to memorable experiences, most of which are orchestrated with a lot of effort. I want that for my family, but also for my friends and my customers.

Always go the extra mile. Meeting expectations isn’t enough. Do the unexpected. Give people more than they expect in everything you do. This applies to family, friendships, and your work.

Flipping Burgers

When I got my first job at McDonald’s, my dad sat me down and drew a chart. “This line is the expected. It’s what they want you to do. This line is below the expectation; it’s what most people do. And this line on top is unexpected. If you always do more than expected, the manager will give you more responsibility, and eventually more money if you deserve it. Don’t do what the other employees do, don’t just do what the boss expects you to do, do more than expected. Look for little things you can do that will be better than expected.”

What if we operated that way in all aspects of our lives? What if we gave more than required, more than expected? 

More than expected in our jobs.

More than expected in our families.

More than expected in our businesses.

The reason should not be “I’ll do more so I get more.” Instead, it should be done with the spirit of generosity. “I’ll do more because people will have a better experience. I’ll do more because it’s the right thing to do. I’ll do more because I want people to have great feelings.”

Civilian Mentality

My friend Lee Milteer tells me there are two kinds of people, civilians and leaders. Civilians do the required or below. Never anything extra. They feel they are owed something and never want to help “the man.” Leaders feel they are owed nothing and always do more than expected, even in what some consider menial jobs. Leaders don’t expect anything in return, they just do a little better because it’s who they are, who they strive to be. They care more about others than they care about themselves, and it shows up in everything they do.

Which do you want to be? It’s a choice.

You can escape your circumstances. No matter what you were born into, there is no requirement to cling to the way things have always been, or even the way you’ve always done things. The choice is simply a decision to change.

Though I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, I strive to be a leader in my work, my volunteer work, my hobbies, and my family. In spite of the difficulty sometimes, I want to leave the earth with my wife, kids, friends, and customers being appreciative for the memories I orchestrated. I’m trying to instill this in my kids. 

Looking back on the memories my parents and grandparents created for us, I appreciate it more than ever, because I know it took a lot of planning, effort, and sometimes money. But those memories are sweet.

What are you doing to create sweet memories for those you love?

How are you going the extra mile when it’s unexpected?

What can you do to do more than expected in your work, your family, your projects?

I’ve realized that the extra mile is indeed a key to a successful life, work-life, or business. It’s rarely easy to do things well, but the satisfaction of making things better for others is always worth it.

You can do this. I have confidence in you.

Eric Rhoads

PS: If you are an artist or want to be, and missed my June Adirondack retreat, I’m doing it again in the fall, one time only in the Adirondacks. Last year the color was more vibrant than I’ve seen colored leaves anywhere. We still have room for you.

It appears my Russia trip is still going to happen in September, and we have exactly one seat left. Ten days of painting in Russia will be life-changing (I know, I’ve done it). Come with us.

Or come with us to Berlin and Vienna for a fine art tour unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. This is our 12th tour, and it’s going to be one of our best behind-the-scenes events. Check it out.

And if you want bright, glowing colors or want to learn how to create them, pastel painting is the trick. We’ve got a four-day virtual event dedicated to pastel in August. Hope you’ll come.

One Unexpected Secret to a Powerful Life2021-06-25T15:40:38-04:00
20 06, 2021

Words of Wisdom


Rich, deep blues fill the cloudless sky, surrounded by massive ancient growth cedar and pine trees. The mirror we call Spitfire Lake is a perfect reflection, not a ripple in sight. 

Distant log cabins on the lake are starting to fly their flags, an indicator that people are coming in for the summer. Soon this quiet spot will see an occasional fisherman, some sailboats and water skiers. Signs of summer are upon us.

Not only is the lake reflecting, but I find myself reflecting on my father, with this being the first Father’s Day I’m unable to make a call, send a gift, or see him in person. Not a day has gone by since his passing in March that I haven’t started to e-mail or phone him to share something, only to realize they don’t have e-mail in Heaven. 

My Guest Today

I thought about the best way to honor my dad on this day, and since I’ve talked about him a lot in the past weeks, I asked myself what he would want, or what he would say, if I had asked him to be a guest writer. This, I think, is what he would say to you, as he looked at you with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face:

You Are Special

“I see things in you that you may not see in yourself. I think there are big plans for you that you may not realize, and it seems to me that you are maybe not thinking big enough. I don’t think God has small plans for any of us. I think he expects us to make big plans, and I think he has given us exceptional abilities to do big things.

Curiosity Is a Gift

“I know what you’re thinking … I don’t have the skills, or the money, or the special circumstances or advantages. But part of the gift you have is the curiosity to discover the things you need and find a way to do them. Though you’ll have roadblocks, and moments in your life when you’ll feel there is no hope, I know that you’ll look at them, study them, and make a list of 50 ways to achieve them, and one of those things you think of will do the trick. You just have to know that failure is not an option. You were not made to fail, you were made to win, and you can always find a way to win ethically.

Ethics Rules, Always

“You might be tempted to take shortcuts, but you need to always think in terms of excellence. How can you do things better than anyone on earth? How can you stand out? How can you be the best of the best? Anyone can take shortcuts, anyone can succeed by ignoring ethics, but they can’t look at themselves in the mirror. You want to know that you succeeded without doing things illegally or immorally, or with compromise, or by taking the low road instead of the high road. And don’t be a copycat. Anyone can copy other people’s ideas and make a couple of slight changes. Instead, be original. Copycats are simply unethical thieves who are too lazy to invent their own ideas and want to ride on the coattails of others. 

Whose Dream Will You Chase?

“How do you want to spend your time? Do you want to spend your time living someone else’s dream, or living your own dream? You only have so much time, and it will leave you very quickly. Your time should be spent building a dream you believe in, something that will change the world, something that others cannot do, that only you can do. You’re special. You’re here for a purpose. You should not waste what you’ve been given.

Monitor Your Mind

“You will have doubts. Negative thoughts are normal, but as soon as you realize you are having them, you need to push them out. They don’t serve you well. Remember, if you think you can’t, you are right. If you think you can, you will. Things may seem overwhelming, but when that happens, break them into smaller projects and win them, one small piece at a time. 

All People Are Important

“You will meet a lot of people along your journey. Some will not seem important to you, and you may ignore or dismiss them. This is a mistake. People can see through you if you only spend time and attention on people you need. Every person you meet, no matter what their station in life, has a gift and you can learn something from them, and you can contribute something to make their life better, usually by pointing out things they can’t see in themselves. Everyone can use a cheerleader and someone to give them hope.They have been placed in your path for a reason, so use that to help them. It’s not always about finding others to help you. 

The Gift of Giving

“There is an unwritten law that when you help others, you end up helping yourself. You should not do it for that purpose, but it always turns out that way. When you give of your time, your mind, and your encouragement, you can make a big difference. When you give of your money, you’ll see a return even when not intended. But never talk about your gifts. That’s private. If you’re doing it to brag, it won’t serve you well.


“Life is about quiet elegance. Be the best you can be, but don’t toot your own horn too much. Instead, there is power in knowing what you’ve done and not feeling the need to tell the world. Humility is a great gift. But being a wallflower won’t serve you either. You need to learn to speak up for yourself, and sell your great ideas. If you lack the ability to tell your stories and motivate others, it will be hard to make your dreams a reality. Invest in learning to sell, to speak in public, and to convince others in the face of obstacles. Remember, a sale always starts with a ‘no.’ Don’t give up, don’t give in, but do it in a way that others can see your vision, the benefits to them, and in a way that they can save face. Build others up, not with flattery, but with true belief in their abilities.

The 3-Month Rule

“You can change the outcome of your life, your business, your relationships within 90 days. I’ve seen companies go from zero to being on the road to giant success just with one idea and 90 days to implement the change.

Accept Blame

“If things are not going well, remember, it’s your fault — not someone else’s, not market conditions. Don’t be a blamer. Be a contrarian. Don’t accept the excuses others are using. Great fortunes were made in the Depression. And don’t follow the advice of the masses. Use thinking time, and don’t stop with one idea, keep going till you try new, less obvious ideas. Thinking time will solve even the most challenging problems. If you follow the pack, you’ll go off the cliff with the pack. And don’t cloud your decisions (especially investments) with emotion. Emotion is wrong 50 percent of the time. Facts and data rarely lie.”

Dad would cap everything with his idea of the ticket to Heaven (John 3:16).

It’s hard to wrap a life of Dad’s lessons into a few paragraphs, yet there is power in his words, and I’m honored to share them this Father’s Day.

You can do this. You’ve got this. Now, go for it.

Dads, this is your day!

Eric Rhoads

PS: Yesterday, after a week of painting at my 10th annual painters’ retreat, we all said our goodbyes. My kids say I tear up with goodbyes, and yesterday was no exception. After a year of anticipation, and a lot of quality time from morning till late night, I hate for it to end. It’s truly like a summer camp experience for adults who happen to love painting. We timed it so everyone could get home for Father’s Day. I want to thank everyone for all the hugs and virtual hugs and hand bumps, and for the time we spent together getting closer acquainted. We had a lot of fun. And it feels so right to be together again. 

PS2: I’ve discovered that paintings with the most vibrant colors are pastel. And if you want to learn pastel as a beginner, or want to improve by learning from the world’s leading pastel artists, explore our August Pastel Live event, which will be held online. And more of our virtual art events are coming this year.

PS3: I’m taking a group of art lovers, art collectors, and artists on an European Art Tour. Fine Art Connoisseur editor Peter Trippi and I lead the tour, and this year we’re going to Vienna and Berlin. You’ll experience art like never before. It’s not a painters’ trip (though some paint in their spare time). Check it out. 

PS 4: Fall in the Adirondacks is spectacular. My Fall Color Week painters’ retreat will be here this year only, at a new location, a camp called Saranac Village. It’s a classic old Adirondack great camp that has been converted to a kids’ camp. This is the only time we’ll be able to get in ever, and only because of COVID. Check out the event and join us this fall.

PS5: Making for an even busier fall, I’m taking a group of painters to tour and paint Russia. You can paint the great cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow (plus tour) and the inland villages. It’s a rare trip that is not easy to create. We have 50 seats only, and I’ve just learned that two seats are still available. Because of visas, these need to be locked up soon. 

PS 6: Wanna go with me to New Zealand next March? I’m not 100% sure it will happen, but if you want to join the list to eventually be first to get the info, go to www.paintingnewzealand.com.

Words of Wisdom2021-06-17T16:16:47-04:00
13 06, 2021

The Gift of COVID


Imagine for a moment a cathedral in the sky, filled with stained glass, backlit by the sun. This morning’s sunrise is so brilliant, so color-rich, it could not be reproduced by the greatest stained glass craftspeople, the most brilliant painters, the most skilled photographers. The great painter Thomas Cole was accused by a newspaper of having made up the colors in his Adirondack paintings because such colors “did not exist in nature.” Of course, the reporters were in New York City, which was filled with coal smoke and soot, and the Adirondacks then, as now, were pristine and unpolluted.

Ancestors Sat Here

As I sit in an authentic 1890 Adirondack chair, on the dock originally built in 1860, the sunrise I’m seeing is exactly as our forefathers would have experienced it in this place as they, like me, drank their morning coffee. We are accompanied by a symphony of loons, spring birds, and the slight sound of breezes rustling through the birch leaves above.

A Big Day

For the last three decades, I’ve described a place that is indescribable. Growing up in the Midwest, a million miles of protected state park was never on my radar, and I find few know of it even now. For this reason, I’m excited when new friends join me here. Last night I greeted a little more than 100 people, visiting for my annual painters’ retreat. In a few minutes I’ll join them for breakfast and take them to my favorite spots for outdoor painting, and we’ll repeat it all daily for a week.

Sweet Reunion

I think just about everyone here was a bit nervous after a year of isolation, yet delighted to be in the proximity of others. It may have been the sweetest family reunion ever, with this being the first contact with friends and new friends for most of us. It’s a cautious toe in the water for a return to life as it once was.

If I were to ask you to take a year off, focus on doing things you love, and spend time with your family and your thoughts, you would tell me, “It’s not possible.” Yet now that you’ve done it, I have an important question: What will you do with it?

Important Takeaways

I cannot imagine there is one thinking person on earth who has survived without important lessons from the last year, and without a sense of how they want to reinvent their lives. And it would be a crime to have been given the gift of this year without taking advantage of your new perspective.

If you’ve ever read through previous years of “Coffee,” you’ve found that I’m big on the importance of defining what you don’t want to do. Though we tend to focus on dreams, I’ve found that eliminating the drudgery goes a long way toward happiness. And though we can’t always eliminate all of it, if we identify it, we can work towards elimination.

What did you discover about yourself?

Friends have shared their ideas with me…

  • “I was wasting two hours a day commuting. Now I can work from home and be more productive and be happier.”
  • “I was addicted to shopping and getting out. Once forced to stay home, I discovered how much more I like being home and am less likely to go out on a whim.”
  • “I was flying too much. I spent too much of my life on the road. Once I stayed home, I got to know my kids on a deeper level and realized they did not know me, and I did not know them. I’ve already told my boss I’m not returning to that lifestyle.”
  • “We used to waste hours every week in meetings. Now when we Zoom, we tend to get to the point and waste less time.”
  • “When I was forced to stay home, I found myself making breakthroughs in my artwork because I spent more time painting and less time doing other things.”
  • “I realised life is too short to spend my days doing what I’ve been doing. What if I had gotten sick and died? It was all a little too close to home. I need to get busy working toward my dreams and stop stalling with things that won’t contribute to getting to my goals.”

What would be on your list?

Now how will you change your life?

If you’re happy with the way things are, you’re in a good place.
If COVID has helped you see what you don’t want to do, consider it a gift, a slap in the face, an attention-getter.

Here’s a clue…

When life throws us these little gifts that open our eyes, we need to act fast. If too much time passes, we’ll fall back into our normal habits and not make the changes we need to make.

Oh, and if it’s uncomfortable, you’re on the right track. Discomfort is the magic dust that makes dreams come true.

Conditions will never, ever be perfect, the timing will never be right, there will never be enough time or money. Do it anyway.

Oh, and you won’t know how to do it. Just jump in. Find a way.

In Honor of Those Who Can’t

Think of all the people who never realized their dreams, who would give anything for another chance, who were taken away in the last year. We owe it to them to live our dreams, and to take advantage of the time we’ve got.

I know something you may not know … or believe.
You have it in you. You can do this. Only you can make it happen.

Go do it now. Don’t delay another day.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’ve had friends tell me, “It’s different for you.” 

It’s not true. I get cold feet, I get scared, I get negative, I usually don’t have a clue how I’m going to accomplish something. And I’ve held back on opportunities because I did not feel worthy. I regret those lost opportunities. 

I too have to reinvent. I too will be a different person after COVID. I too will use my time differently. I’m working on my plan now, and I’ll reveal it when the time is right. I encourage you to do the same.

PS2: Because our kids are in college and we no longer had to return to Texas for an August school start, we experienced the fall color here this past fall. It was more beautiful than I had ever remembered. So I decided to hold my Fall Color Week here this year only, in a new location, a camp called Saranac Village. It’s a classic old Adirondack great camp that has been converted to a kids’ camp. This is the only time we’ll be able to get in ever, and it’s only because of COVID. Though it’s too late to sign up for my Adirondack painting event this week, you should check out the event and join us this fall.

PS3: I’m taking a group of art lovers, art collectors, and artists on a European Art Tour. Fine Art Connoisseur editor Peter Trippi and I lead the tour, and this year we’re going to Vienna and Berlin. You’ll experience art like never before. It’s not a painters’ trip (though some do paint in their spare time). Check it out.

PS4: Making for an even busier fall, I’m taking a group of painters to tour and paint Russia. You can paint (and tour) the great cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow and the inland villages. It’s a rare trip that is not easy to create. We have 50 seats only, and I’ve just learned that two seats are still available. Because of visas, these need to be locked up soon. 

PS5: I’ve discovered that paintings with the most vibrant colors are pastel. And if you want to learn pastel as a beginner, or want to improve by learning from the world’s leading pastel artists, explore our August Pastel Live event, which will be held online.

The Gift of COVID2021-06-10T13:03:54-04:00
6 06, 2021

When Struggle Meets Comfort


Deep silence and heavy fog engulf this historic Adirondack lake. The lonesome and eerie call of the loons echoes off the distant shore, creating a beautiful harmony. The skin on my bare feet meets the moisture of the fog surrounding the dock, and my arms are covered with goosebumps from the brisk morning air.

I’m in my happy spot, and these happy moments with loons, fog, distant purple mountains, and the gentle slosh of water nudging the old wooden dock are the reason I have gone to the trouble to be here each summer, without skipping a single one, for 30 years.

The Adirondacks are my muse, a place I started out not wanting to love because it meant accepting change and giving up a three-generation family home on a lake in Indiana. Now our presence here is three generations, and hopefully more to come.

The Long Trip

The journey was an unusual one this year. My boys and I left Austin on Monday, flying to Florida to assist in the cathartic process of purging my dad’s home of his belongings. We loaded his car with a truckload of old family heirlooms, like the 1890s-era camera he used to start his photography career and his favorite etching of Abraham Lincoln, along with some practical items and a few little memory jewels. Then we spent three days driving to New York, making only one impractical stop … a visit to the battlefields of Gettysburg. A must with teen boys who need to learn the sobering facts of thousands of boys their age who died there. We arrived here, in paradise,on Friday.

Grime and Dirt

In the past I’ve talked about the value of looking backward so you can see how far forward you’ve come. I was reminded of this on our trip when one late night, about 1 a.m., we pulled off I-95 at a small chain motel in hopes of a few hours’ rest. As we entered the hotel, the smell of mold violated our nostrils, and the layers of grime and dirt in the carpet made us want to sleep with our shoes on.

Life Lessons

One son spoke up. “Dad, we can’t stay here. We can’t sleep in this.” And though I knew he was right, I also knew this was the last remaining room, with no prospects of any other. And instead of instantly giving into this moment of being spoiled or entitled (or perhaps just good practical taste), I decided to make it a learning moment.

Unheard Lectures

“Boys, your mom and I have taken you to some pretty wonderful places, and when I’m with her or you kids, I’ve spent the extra money, when I could, to give you a really nice place to stay. But you should know that for 30 years, building my business, I’ve stayed in hundreds of rooms worse than this, in some very sketchy neighborhoods, because I could afford nothing more.”


Though I expected some sympathy, it kind of fell on deaf ears, but I’m hopeful it will sink in at some point.

Driving down the highway for long stretches of time, with the boys sleeping or playing on their phones, my mind wandered back over decades of memories of making sacrifices, and I realized just how special those memories are.

A Necessary Evil

One year I hired a sales guy named Dick Downes to fix my sales problems at my one and only magazine, The Pulse of Radio. He said, “Eric, you and I need to go on the road for two months straight. We need to go visit every potential advertiser, entertain them, share our vision, let them get to know you, and hope they buy something.”

The Big Road Trip

I immediately responded that we couldn’t possibly afford to do it. “You can’t afford not to do it,” he said. So we set off on a two-month trip, with a couple of visits home in between. I took my last $20,000 for the two of us to live on the road for two months. (Do the math: That’s $333 a day for two people, including meals, airfare, rental car, and 30 cities.) We called it the road trip from hell. We made an agreement that we would not invite any clients to meals, and we would not tell clients we were staying in horrible cockroach-ridden hotels and driving rent-a-wreck rental cars. We saw hundreds of people over two months.

How Did That Happen?

Toward the end of our tour, no business booked yet, knowing we were playing a long game, we needed to crack this one big client who was spending big money elsewhere. They insisted we meet for dinner, and they picked the most expensive restaurant in Washington, D.C. And they ordered the most expensive wine on the menu. The bill came to $600. Gulp.

Lost Pride

When my credit card would not go through, the waiter tactfully approached the table and said, “Mr. Rhoads, you have a phone call.” (Remember, there were no cell phones.) I had to cut a deal to leave my watch there until I could send them the money (which I did). The client never had any idea. We said our goodbyes, went back to our room, and cut our trip short. I had to call my dad to borrow enough money for us to get home. Oh, and that client never spent a dime with us for years.

The good news is that the trip worked, and our business was eventually thriving. No one at the time knew we were faking it till we made it. We were not rolling in dough, but we had enough to survive.

More Pain, Please

One of the things I realized is that my boys need to have more experiences like this, and it’s important that they know that all my years away on business trips were not at some luxury hotel sipping martinis by the pool.

Sumptuous Struggle

As I look back on the memories, it’s the struggle that makes me the most fulfilled. It’s hundreds of nights of not sleeping for fear someone was breaking into the motel room or car. It’s eating cans of tuna between meetings because we couldn’t afford lunch out. It’s not being able to pay the bills, and almost not making payrolls.

Though these don’t sound very wonderful (and they weren’t), it makes looking backward so much sweeter.

What would we have to look back at if everything had been perfect? Some of the best memories come from adversity, and all the best lessons come from the hardest moments.

What about your struggles? Which ones do you fondly cherish? (I’d love to hear about them in the comments.)

It seems there is a lot of focus on “the good life” and living well. And though it’s nice to eventually get there, life is sweeter when we struggle.

Many of my friends don’t want their kids to go through what they had to go through. Though I can appreciate that, and though I love my kids, I pray that they will have struggles (but live through them). They make for great memories, they build great character, and they keep us humble. How can that be a bad thing?

Eric Rhoads

PS: In the pre-COVID era, I was out on 40 trips a year by air. It was too much, and now that I’ve mostly been home for a year, I’m not going to become addicted to travel again. My plan … fewer trips, but more meaningful trips.

One of my favorite weeks of the year, my Adirondack painters’ retreat, starts on June 12 as we celebrate our 10th year. It’s a fun week of painting. Everyone wants to get out now; we’re all ready to return to life again. There are still a few seats. Maybe you should join us. If not now, I’m doing it again this fall

In August, join our worldwide pastel conference online. No travel required.

In September I have one seat left for my Russia trip. And about 20 left for my annual European art trip (collectors and art lovers).

It will be fun to get out again.

When Struggle Meets Comfort2021-06-04T14:42:31-04:00