18 07, 2021

Life Boiled Down


An early morning sailor takes advantage of high winds as their antique boat darts back and forth across the lake with the grace of a ballerina, changing directions suddenly as the old tea-stained sail captures the orange morning light against the purple distant mountains.

It reminds me of life, sailing gracefully in one direction till the wind runs out, and then a necessary pivot to capture the wind takes us in new directions.

The Great Cleansing

When we lose a loved one, as I did this spring, we tend to think deeply about their life and our own, in hopes of being more or less like the ones we lost. And with loss comes responsibility — in this case, clearing out his lakefront summer home, where he had accumulated things since 1987. 

Here, Bidder Bidder

Because we are putting his home up for auction on August 14, my wife and I (mostly her) have been working feverishly to getting move-out ready and getting the home ready to show, so we don’t have to sort through old boxes under pressure of a closing date. 

Yesterday, and all last weekend, I had the pleasure of going through a garage full of boxes, one box at a time, including financial records, business archives, old photos, books, and random things that had stuffed drawers and shelves over decades. 

What to Let Go Of?

The tough decisions are what to shed and what to keep, knowing of things that had great meaning to him, but no meaning to us. Though I know I’ll never need them, I could not throw out the yearbooks from Fort Wayne Bible College and South Side High School, where my dad was the portrait photographer and where his ad for photography appeared. I only hung on to them because I felt he would not want us to let that part of his history go.

Going through a hundred or more boxes, file folder by file folder, I saw a life unfold. Press clippings, press releases, photos, business plans, contracts, and documents closing out those businesses. It was as if an entire life happened in a single day.

Life in a Box

When I wrote my book Blast from the Past: A Pictorial History of Radio’s First 75 Years, I experienced the same thing. I’d go through boxes and archives. I remember finding the old files for Jack Benny, who started in Vaudeville before radio. Clippings of his entire life fit into one big box. First was the clipping from a high school newspaper of his onstage appearance in school, then his first stage appearance, then reviews, then his entry into radio, then clippings about the shows, then his entry to TV, and it went on and on until the clipping of his obituary. A whole life in a box.

As I looked through hundreds of photos, trying to determine what to save, I saw my dad’s progression in life, becoming an officer in various organizations, photos of speeches and banquets, photos with unknown people. I could see the tremendous amount of work that went into that, and could imagine how excited he must have been to receive the appointments and press coverage. Yet I wondered if it was all worthwhile. Did it matter?

The Game of Life

I often look at life like a pinball machine. The ball shoots out of the spring-loaded launcher, heads to the top, hits a barrier, bounces off, hits another, and then you try to hit a flipper to keep the ball going. Sometimes you keep it going and add points, and sometimes your ball falls into the bottom, ending the game. In our lives we launch, often not knowing where we are going, but hoping we will gain points (which might be money, recognition, doing good works). Then we get flipped in a different direction, and we keep going again, till forced into a different direction still.

Unexpected Destinations

My dad once told me, “Son, you never end up where you set out to go. Enjoy the journey.” He gave me examples of businesses he had started with a specific intent that didn’t end up going in the direction he set out. Often, they turned out better.

When I started in radio, I envisioned being the next big radio star, but I ended up writing about radio, owning a radio trade magazine, and then, by accident, discovering art and building a life in the art world. It was not predictable.

I once wrote that roadblocks serve a purpose, often making us stronger, and often making us go down a different road. No matter how good we are at goal-setting and planning, we cannot anticipate all the roadblocks. Soon, the flipper pushes us in an unexpected direction.

Are Efforts Worthwhile?

What I learned from the boxes of a life well-lived is that we cannot control our direction entirely, though we can try, but the memories are all we have. Decades of paperwork, preceded by thousands of meetings and discussions, legal work, and negotiations — it all ended up in a dumpster. What matters is the outcome in life. Did the efforts serve to make a life well lived? Did the efforts result in making life better for others, not just for ourselves?

One day my kids will be going through my boxes (and hard drives), seeing evidence of all the things I once worried about where worry wasn’t necessary. Things I craved that turned out to be fruitless or meaningless, recognition I sought that served no purpose. It makes me realize the preciousness of every hour, of every glance into the eyes of my family, of every moment with my friends. 

Your time is your own to control. Use it wisely. Use it to make life better for others, not just to enrich yourself. 

Each photo was a memory, a moment, sometimes of things that took months or years to accomplish. A photo of an award onstage was the result of decades of serving others, hundreds of meetings and phone calls, and a tremendous amount of human energy. It’s why what you agree to spend your time on matters.

Over the years I’ve developed a filter in a series of questions I ask myself when I’m asked to make a commitment:

  • Will it change the world or make life better for others in some way?
  • Do I want to spend my time on it? Will it take me away from things that have higher importance?
  • Is it related to my grand mission, or does it take me off focus?
  • Is it important to help someone or some organization I love or respect?
  • Will I look back in regret?
  • Will it help others?
  • Will it help my family?
  • Will it take me away from home and family?
  • Will I look back on my life and be glad I took the time and effort?
  • How much time will it take to see it through, and will it be worth it?

I tend to be a pleaser, a giver. Yet we can give all we have and leave nothing for ourselves. We have to find balance. Coming up with your own list of questions will help you determine where to spend your time. 

Remember that one split-second decision can change everything and place you at the end of the game, or on a new journey that will take another decade to accomplish. In either case, you want to guard your time.

Though I’d rather not have to sort through boxes, and I’m reminded that I must not leave a mess for my wife and kids, there were great lessons and thoughts from the cathartic effort. And whenever I’m doing something I’d rather not do, I always ask myself what lessons I’m supposed to discover.

What will be in your boxes? What will be the best time you can spend the rest of your life on?

Spend it well. Your time is the most valuable currency on earth.

Eric Rhoads

PS: When my dad became ultra-successful, he was incredibly busy, a ball of stress, and often irritable. I remember wondering if it was all worth it. I remember wishing I had the dad back who used to take us fishing and waterskiing and canoeing. But it did not seem like that was in the cards, and I resigned myself that this was who he had become. But little did I know that he too had realized what was missing from his life, and he too wanted those days back.

As I look at all the papers, all the deals, all the meetings and travel, I realize that my dad went to all that effort so he could provide his family with exceptional experiences and memories. We’d stayed at a lake before, but when he moved our family to the Adirondacks, he became a better dad because the stress melted from his busy life and we got our real dad back. We have 30-plus years of memories at his place, every summer of my kids’ lives and every summer of my niece’s and nephew’s. It was a place where the family could renew its connection and build lasting memories. By spending a weekend or a few weeks between meetings at the camp, he became better in business and became a better dad.

He built an amazing place, and it’s my hope that the auction will result in the right family that needs a special place like no other on earth, to reconnect and to lose the stress of life. There are very few places on earth with this peace and quiet, with this tradition. I know, because we have our own camp now, and intend it to carry for generations of our family.

PS2: I discovered something about myself recently. When I held my artists’ retreat in the Adirondacks in June, I discovered how much I missed being around people, and how much those events mean to me, because I make so many new friends and renew so many friendships. Dave Crowl, who attended, said it best: “I’ve come back nine years in a row because this is my art family, and for me it’s like Thanksgiving. I would not miss it for anything.”

I’m doing my next retreat this fall here in the Adirondacks. I can never get enough friends.

PS 3: One of my bucket list items was to paint in Russia, where Repin, Levitan, and Shishkin and the great Russian masters painted. I’ve done it, and now I’m bringing it to you one time. It looks like it will happen, and I have some seats because a couple of people can’t make it. I probably won’t repeat it. Hope you’ll come.

Also, Peter Trippi and I are leading a group of art lovers to the museums and art scenes of Vienna and Berlin this October. It’s happening and will be loads of fun. Join us.

PS 4: Pastel Live is gaining momentum. Last week we had a huge number of people join us. If you see yourself learning pastel painting, it’s a joy to attend (and it’s all online this August).

Life Boiled Down2021-07-16T09:48:57-04:00
11 07, 2021

The Art of Being Uncompromised


The warm colors of morning glow make the pine tree sing in orange and pink, in harmony with reflections on the water and the light show in the clouds. The air is so humid you could cut it with a chainsaw, which makes the color of light especially pleasing. Sunrise on the dock is especially wonderful as I deeply fill my lungs with fresh, pine-scented Adirondack air. Moments pondering life from the dock are my favorite.

Living is like a racetrack driver on a high-speed track, making countless subtle corrections to avoid crashes and make it to the end of the race. Which is why I find it a good idea for us to re-evaluate ourselves from time to time. 

Evil Thoughts

Have you ever caught yourself having thoughts about things that, if you were to act on them, mean you would be seriously compromised? We all have some random evil thoughts, but maturity means not acting on them. But where exactly is the line?

To be compromised has different meanings in different situations, but essentially it means you’ve caved in on your ethics. The CIA would say a spy being compromised means they have been found out.

Testing Our Ethics

As humans, we are always facing tests of our ethics, tests of who we think we are. We tend to allow ourselves excuses to make what we’re doing justifiable. And sometimes the things we do are justified. Other times, they may be unethical, illegal, downright nasty, immoral, or worse. 

There is a line in the sand. We have to decide if we cross the line. Sometimes we cross the line, realize our stupidity, and try hard to unwind our mistakes.

Sometimes the line is well-defined, and we still have no issue crossing it. Going 65 miles per hour in a 55 zone is a great example. Though there will be consequences, most of us are willing to pay that ticket should we get busted. 

Breaking the Law

The law is one line most believe should never be crossed — though we tell ourselves it’s okay to speed. Or maybe fish without a license, or forget a seat belt. Yet most of us would never consider sticking up a convenience store, or even slipping a candy bar into our pocket. Most of us never face crossing the line of the law. But we do find ourselves crossing lines we should never cross.

When one of my boys was young, we realized the grocery store had given him three dollars too much in change. To make a point (at great inconvenience), we made a trip back to the store to give them their three dollars. They were shocked, but I needed my son to know it wasn’t ours to keep. We worked very hard while raising the kids to show them which lines never get crossed.

But when is crossing the line acceptable?

Is Stealing OK?

Is finding a photo on the Internet and using it without permission acceptable? Is downloading songs or movies from an illegal site acceptable? Is copying another person’s idea or artwork acceptable? Most young people today consider those things to be normal, even though the creators of the content aren’t getting paid. They often justify it with “Everyone does it” or “They have enough money and don’t need more.” Neither is a very good excuse for stealing. And even though it’s not stealing a physical item from a store, it’s still stealing, right?

Someone once told me that lines are there for a reason, and if you cross them, you will eventually cross other lines and get deeper into the dark side. Each time, we rationalize it. Prisons are filled with people who crossed lines, after which they tried worse things, then crossed lines beyond the point of no return. I’m told it’s rare to find someone in prison who believes they deserve to be there. 

Tiny Steps

Most of us don’t face crossing big lines, but little tiny lines. 

Is it okay to slam someone on social media and say things you wouldn’t say to their face? Is it okay to hide out behind your computer and watch things you would never want people to know you watched? Is it okay to talk behind someone’s back? 

Lying to an Advertiser

I can remember a time when a frame company asked my advice about advertising. I stood to make several thousand dollars over a year, but they asked me about a competitor. I could have easily told them all the reasons not to buy the competitor’s ad space, but I had to tell them the truth. The competitor was good, and, in that case, it was a better place for the advertiser to be. I never did get any of that ad money, and they spent tens of thousands over years with my competitor. But if I had crossed that line, would the lie be deeper next time? 

What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? — Mark 8:36

Highlighting a Competitor

Once, at my magazine Radio Ink, we were publishing a “Most Influential Women” issue, and the name of my biggest competitor came up as someone my editors thought should be on the list. But they quickly discounted the idea of awarding her the prize — because she was a competitor. It was a moment when I had to ask myself if I should cross the line. After all, no one would ever know other than my editors, and no one would ever expect me to highlight a competitor. But my heart said she deserved it, and I wanted to show my employees that we always have to do the right thing, no matter what. So my competitor appeared as number one on the list and was on the cover of my magazine. I had to take a deep breath to do it, but it was the right thing to do. 

Stealing Ideas

I’m often tempted to copy an idea, but I don’t — and it can be frustrating when I see my own ideas copied by competitors. It’s tempting to say something derogatory when I’m asked about it, but in reality, when people are doing good things, they deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments. If what they are doing is helping others, and it’s a good product, then the right thing for me to do is to be willing to say so. Will I go out of my way to promote a competitor? I have in the past, because I believe in abundance. There is room for us all. Plus being challenged makes me work to stay three steps ahead at all times, and it gives me some pride knowing that my ideas are spreading. 

What about the lines you are crossing in your life?

Growing Spots

Most of them are just little lines, but they can easily destroy you. There have been moments in my life when I’ve said something bad about a competitor and later felt awful for doing it. And as I look back over my long career, the things I worried about never turned out to be problems. There are dozens of competitors I don’t even care about anymore, and what I feared most never came true. In reality, I’ll win some and lose some, and so will you.

There was a time in my life when I loved gossip. That stopped when I almost lost a friendship because something I shared “confidentially” with someone got shared with that friend. Since that time, many years ago, gossip stopped. I now avoid trash talk because it’s crossing the line, and because it always bites you.

Avoiding Evil Corporations

In my younger years, I worked for a big evil corporation that asked many of their employees to do things that were evil. But they were “little” things. For instance, when doing radio contests and picking the 10th caller, they asked us to keep answering the phone till we got someone who didn’t sound like a small child, because their audience was adult women. We waited for the right-sounding voice, even if it was the 20th call. It seemed harmless and practical, but it was flat out wrong. I did it because I was told to do it, but I didn’t like it, and in hindsight, I should have resigned when asked to do it. When it went to court, I was instructed to lie about it, but when on the stand, I told the truth, because I had already crossed one line too many. They lost all of their broadcast licenses because their little black spot had grown and grown, and their practices destroyed a billion-dollar business.

Since I started my own business, I’ve tried very hard not to become a big evil corporation like the one I worked for, though I can see how the temptation to cross a line is something we face daily. Recently, an attorney told me I could get out of a contract if I stretched the truth just a little. Though the consequences would be expensive, I refused. I could not have lived with myself. Life is too short. But I face decisions every day where lines could be crossed. Chances are you do too.

Little things don’t seem to matter, yet they ultimately do because they place a little tiny black spot of negativity into the soul. Then these black spots grow and grow until the whole self is polluted and line-crossing becomes part of who we are. 

When Is It OK?

Would I cross the line for my family? Would I lie to keep my kid out of jail? Would I lie to keep myself out of jail? I won’t know till I face those things, but I tell myself I’d have to be truthful no matter what. But that’s just me.

A Tax Bill

I once had a chance to lie to the IRS and get out of a massive fine, but I chose not to, and it took me a decade to pay it off. Though I hurt myself, I felt it was the right thing to do. Most line-crossers would justify themselves, saying the government has too much money and this won’t hurt them a bit.

Life is ever-changing, and our goal in life should be to shed the bad and embrace the good. I hope to be always making corrections. I don’t like hiding anything because I don’t want any little black spots growing inside me. But I do have to admit I’ll sometimes not tell my wife if I ate a brownie when she wasn’t around when I’m on a diet. But I probably should. 🙂

Perfection for humans is impossible. Growth and improvement are possible. We all do stupid things we regret; I have too many to list here. But the goal is to not repeat mistakes, and to learn lessons so fewer lines are crossed in the future. 

Remember the old Bugs Bunny cartoons with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other? The little red devil can be pretty creative to make us cross the line. It’s human nature to be seduced “just this one time.” But when you give in, the little dark spot grows inside of you, until it consumes you. 

What about you? 

Have you crossed lines you regret?

Do you find yourself up against little ethical decisions every day?

We’ve all done it, in some form. I’ve lived to regret things I can never repair. I’ve lost friendships and business relationships. All of it could have been prevented if I had just been more thoughtful about the consequences of crossing the line.

I’m not high or mighty. I’m a broken man, I make stupid mistakes, but my goal in life is to not repeat the mistakes I make, and to stop crossing the line. 

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’m pretty excited about pastel painting and learning all about it. I love the brilliance of color and the control, and to learn, I’ll be attending (and hosting) Pastel Live this August. It’s an online conference featuring the very best pastel artists on earth as instructors and mentors. Tonight is when the early-bird price goes up. I hope to see you there.

If you want to go to Russia with me, we still plan to go, and a couple of seats have opened up. There isn’t much time to get a visa, but there is time. It’s the painting trip of a lifetime (with some touring), and we won’t be repeating it. Come have some fun with us.

This fall I’m leading a group through Vienna and Berlin for a behind-the-scenes art tour on our annual Fine Art Trip. We still have some slots open if you’re eager to get away!

And my Fall Color Week retreat occurs this fall in the Adirondacks. A week of painting brilliant color is good for the soul!

Last, we’re starting to talk up Realism Live, our virtual conference on realism that replaces our in-person Fine Art Convention & Expo this year only. Hope to see you there.

The Art of Being Uncompromised2021-07-09T15:45:28-04:00
4 07, 2021

A Moment of Clarity


Breathe … that’s what I tell myself as I take in the fresh Adirondack air as I do my yoga stretches on the dock to the sound of the loons and the quiet rustle of leaves. It’s the perfect July morning, and a day that will be filled with the smells of grilled burgers and exploding fireworks. Happy 4th. I truly appreciate our independence and freedom. 

Have you ever had a moment when you wake up to complete clarity?

Ever carried the weight of something on your shoulders for years, and suddenly found it released?

The true purpose of life is about lessons that strengthen us, make us better, make us more well rounded and experienced. But sometimes those lessons knock us on our butts.

Living a Dream

A few years ago I was telling a story to a friend about my experience with a company I had founded in Silicon Valley. When I started the company, I was living the dream. I was mingling with superstars in the midst of the dot-com boom, people who today are household names. I was in the middle of the action, living the dream.

Dream Destroyed

So what could possibly go wrong? As I was telling the story, I caught myself telling another story I had been telling myself, to soothe my personal pain. It was a story of blame, of circumstances that were caused by other things, like 9/11. But suddenly, I was thinking of the story in a new way. I had told this story of failure time and again, yet this time it was different. And this time the story ended differently. I finally admitted to myself that I screwed up, that I owned the failure, that it was not someone else’s fault, it was mine. 

Later the same day, I had a huge moment of clarity. I had been telling this story to myself for two decades, and I had stopped trying big things, taking big risks, because I did not want to relive that pain.


Twenty years of opportunity wasted. 

My friend Michelle Abraham recently shared a powerful quote from her dad, the great Jay Abraham.

“Defeat is not permanent.” —  Jay Abraham

How would my life have changed if I had not cowered in the corner, if I had jumped right back in?

In our conversation Michelle said, “It doesn’t matter if you fail. But if you give up, your life is over.”

Gun Shy

Though I moved on to other things, other ideas and dreams, I realized I had not accomplished one big dream because I had become gun shy. I was telling myself I would never again subject myself to harsh, sometimes mean investors, or to overly aggressive boards of directors.

I was throwing myself a pity party, no longer taking chances on big ideas. And for years I had blamed others. But I was the problem. My perception was the problem. My fear got in my way.

What about you?

What are you telling yourself that isn’t really true?

What are you avoiding because it was painful? Would it be painful again? Would a change of perspective make a difference?

Looking back, I think I’d be completely different today, able to deal with any adversity thrown my way. Even if I had jumped back in soon after, I’d have figured it out, as long as I was willing to stop blaming others.

Hit Me Again!

Accepting the blame for your own failures is one of the most empowering things you can do.

Like a fighter who has been wounded, you know what to expect and are willing to take more hits. The key is knowing there will be hits, knowing they will be painful, but having the tenacity and courage to remain standing. 

And … if you do fail, it’s not permanent.

Avoiding Love

I have a friend who had a bad marriage that ended. So, instead of getting back out there, he never dated again. Though there is a normal grieving period or recovery time, “never again” is too long. And the marriage’s failure was 50 percent his own fault. Accept it and move on so you don’t destroy what’s left of your life. 

I look back on my life of failures, of things I thought I’d love, and realize my fear got in my way.

I got thrown off a horse, slammed into the wall of an inside ring during a competition. I stopped riding. I crashed an airplane. I stopped flying.

Fear of repeating failures was dominating my life — yet, having failed, I’d be more experienced and less likely to fail.

How much time have you and I wasted because of our fear of hurt or failure?

It’s not permanent.

I wish I had learned this as a kid. And I remembered “try, try again” from my parents, but somewhere in the midst of life, I lost my courage. Thankfully, I regained it by admitting that I was the problem.

Next time, I’ll heal faster, and get up and take another hit, and another, and another.

Ridicule Can Be Good?

I was watching a documentary about David Icke, a controversial subject. He had reached a point in his career where he was ridiculed on national TV, leading to a decade of ridicule for him and his family. And though it was a miserable and difficult period of his life, he looked back and realized it was the most important thing that ever happened to him because he no longer had to be worried about being ridiculed. He had already experienced it. Now nothing could stop him.

What’s stopping you?

Pain makes your muscles stronger. Fire makes steel stronger. The most empowering thing you can do is admit your mistakes, your failures, and realize where you’re avoiding pain. Then, with that clarity, you no longer have to avoid the pain.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Your mindset controls the outcome of your life. If you fear the next punch, you’ll duck. But if you tell yourself, “Bring it on,” you’re conditioned and ready.

I caught myself being fearful of getting back out after COVID. But finally, I had to ask myself, do I want to live in fear?

If you want to get out … I have some things coming up that will be grand celebrations.

  • In August, my global art conference called Pastel Live, where we’ve brought the world’s top pastel painters to teach you.
  • In September my Fall Color Week artists’ retreat. A week of painting with friends, even if you’re new to painting outdoors.
  • In October my Fine Art Trip to Germany and Austria, to tour the art world behind the scenes.
  • In November, no in-person FACE convention this year, but we’re doing Realism Live online, which is all about realistic painting of portraits, figures, still life, landscape, and more.
  • December, my annual Forecast conference at the Harvard Club in New York for my friends in the broadcast industry.

Plenty to keep you busy and get you out for the year.

A Moment of Clarity2021-07-02T12:20:48-04:00