Thunderstorms rattled this old house last night, followed by blasts of cold. My morning wardrobe has been transformed to include a thick red flannel shirt, some cozy socks, and a ball cap. Billowing clouds form the shapes of circus animals, and a little more color is appearing in the sea of pine trees. It’s feeling like an early fall, which of course eventually leads to freezing temps, forcing our departure till next summer. I hold out hope for more time here, as I do every fall. It’s here that I’m my happiest, though I’m happy everywhere.
Thunder and Lightning
When I was a kid I was sitting in the living room of my aunt’s farmhouse in Tennessee, looking longingly out the window, bored out of my mind because of a massive rainstorm. Thunder was shaking the house, when suddenly, ZAAAAP! Lightning hit the giant oak right outside the window, splitting it in half and setting it on fire. It all happened very fast; the light was blinding and the sound deafening, and I realized the power of lightning for the first time.
I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes
On that same trip, we were visiting family members who lived in an old cabin with a wooden boardwalk with wide slats. While standing on the boardwalk, I looked down to see a copperhead curled up and ready to strike. It sent fear through my veins, and somehow I leaped and ran to lock myself in the car, shaking with fear.
Tears for Fears
In both of these cases I came a little too close for comfort, and I became perhaps overly cautious about snakes and lightning. Fears ruled me for decades, and though I’m less afraid of lightning now, I still have a fear of snakes.
What fear is ruling you?
Lately, I’m hearing a lot of people running their lives based on fear. Fear of the price of gas, fear of the price of food, fear of inflation, fear of the government, fear of politicians.
Clearly there are a lot of people hurting and these things are impacting people, but many who are not impacted as much are responding as if they were — and being overly cautious.
Being one who tends to be fiscally conservative, I tend to be averse to too much risk, and I tend to be ready for what might come around the corner, able to make quick changes if necessary. But are those changes necessary now?
Breaking the Rules
During the last big recession, in 2008, I was deeply concerned, as we all were, but I learned that there were some people who simply refused to participate in the recession, and who came out unscathed. How is that possible? It boils down to attitude. Some decided they would succeed no matter what, while others told themselves the sky was falling, that it was falling on them, and that they had to take shelter.
In 2008, when a whole bunch of art galleries canceled their advertising with my magazines, one new gallery launched. The new gallery owner was spending like a drunken sailor. When everyone else was canceling, he was buying more and more pages of advertising. Not only did he survive the recession, he got rich, because he took business away from the competitors who shriveled up.
Your Head Matters
I asked him about this years later, and he said, “It’s all about attitude. I knew that whenever there is a recession, the natural instinct of most companies is to cut everything, including their advertising. I was advertising when no one else was, and I took the best customers away from all of those other galleries.”
Don’t Stop Fishing
He went on to say, “Of course their business was off. But instead of putting a fishing line out for more customers by advertising, they stopped putting their pole in the water. Then there was no business, so they started cutting more and more, and eventually cut themselves out of business completely. They may have only had 30%-40% of the business they would have had, because they stopped reminding people of the work available in their galleries. People instead started going to my gallery, which was advertising heavily everywhere. Eight out of 10 of those galleries went out of business. Meanwhile, we grew.”
In the Great Depression, a young upstart company called Kellogg’s started advertising — during a depression. Meanwhile, Post, which was the market leader, stopped advertising to save money. When warned about this new upstart, they ignored it: “They are a gnat. They can’t compete with us. We can crush them without ever advertising.” And Post continued to ignore Kellogg’s, which was running massive amounts of “Snap Crackle Pop” advertising on radio and in newspapers (there was no other media at the time). And Kellogg’s managed to grow. By the end of the Depression, Kellogg’s had a 90% market share, leaving Post in the dust. To this day Post has never regained its market share.
What one person sees as a tragedy, another sees as an opportunity. What one person fears, another person embraces.
I’m not one to put my head in the sand. I’m hyper aware of what is going on around me. But when someone yells “Fire” in a crowded restaurant, some people die because they all follow each other to the most visible exit. Meanwhile, others look to do the opposite of what the crowd is doing.
What others fear may be the best opportunity of your life.
There are always people who have money to spend. The ultra rich may not spend as much if times are tough, but they still spend. And the money goes to the visible. Don’t be invisible.
Be prudent. Be smart. Be cautious. But don’t be stupid. Following the pack is rarely a good idea.
Fear is a natural reaction, an instinct. It serves a valuable purpose, but so does your brain.
Think things through carefully, and always ask yourself if your decisions are rooted in fear.
PS: When the pandemic hit, we feared we would lose our business. So we reacted by reinventing ourselves. In that case, fear helped us.
But fear can be an ugly monster. In August 2021 we launched a virtual event, Pastel Live. This year people on my team were saying, “No one will show up. There is no more pandemic, it’s August, everyone will be on vacation.” If we had responded to that fear and canceled, or not put as much effort into it, it might have become a problem. But instead, we did not believe these lies, and we ended up having the biggest online pastel conference in history. Bigger than the previous year.
We did not let fear rule us.
In November, we have Realism Live (all about different forms of realistic drawing and painting, from tight to loose style). We have the world’s leading instructors teaching, including the greatest landscape painter alive today, and the founders of two of the most important art schools in the world. And we won’t let fear rule us. This is looking like it will be the biggest realism conference in history. You should go. Even if you’re a beginner. There is a money back guarantee if you don’t love it.
Don’t let fear rule you.
I’m getting super excited. In just a few days, I’m leading a group of painters to New Zealand. This is my third trip there, and there is simply no place on earth as awesome. If you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, I’ll be posting from the trip. (You can follow me @ericrhoads) As soon as I get home, I head to Maine for Fall Color Week, my fall retreat. (Sorry, it’s sold out, but the next one, in the Adirondacks, is only 60% sold out at the moment.)
I Just posted a new podcast episode with Jill Stefani Wagner. You can see it here. Or look up PleinAir Podcast on iTunes.
The whoosh of wings overhead swoops downward as a giant bald eagle dives toward two loons, who rapidly dive to avoid his massive talons. A slight fog is beginning to lift as cool meets warm over the lake, and a tint of rust is starting to reveal itself among the trees. After a bout of overcast, gray, cloud-filled skies and constant drizzle, it’s warm, already sunny, and about to be a perfect lake day in the Adirondacks. I sit here with you in an Adirondack “Westport” chair — which has been on this dock since 1902 — iPad in hand where previous generations used pen and ink for their waterfront missives.
A Busy Day
Today the lake will be a flurry of activities. There are sailing awards, with the transfer of 120-year-old silver sailing cups that the winners display for the coming year before their return for the next recipients. The traditional Labor Day tea will bring the lake community out in its finest and will end with sadness and hugs to community members who will depart tomorrow until next summer. We are among the few who will remain, but just through the first freeze, since our only source of heat is a wood stove in the kitchen and a couple of drafty old fireplaces.
A Lifetime in One Place
We are the sixth family who has owned this old camp, which was built in 1894, and my hope is that we can keep it in our family for multiple generations going forward, so they too can enjoy the beauty, the fresh air, the flavorful water, summers of lake life, deep multi-generational friendships and community. Yet as I listen to stories of families on the lake, some have outlived their ability to maintain their property, while others sold because of family arguments over significant decisions. Others have managed to document how things are to be done and put enough away in investments to keep the upkeep and taxes paid and family traditions alive. There are people here who have spent part of every year of their lives on this lake, including people in their 80s and 90s, some of whom are part of a fifth generation to come here.
I care deeply about traditions because I find them to be important for families to connect and stay connected. When my dad first moved onto this lake in 1987, he told us that it was his goal to keep us here for generations. At the time we did not understand the importance, but after 30-plus summers here (sometimes for only a day or a week, other times for several weeks), I realize that it kept our family together. Cousins, aunts, and uncles gathering as a family whenever possible. Camping, canoeing, campfire s’mores and songs, teepee ceremonies, breakfasts cooked over a wood stove in a small cabin, picnics on islands in the lake, puzzles on the corner card table, canoe pictures in the same spot at the end of each summer for the last 20 years, hymn singing on Sunday nights, and reconnection with people you often don’t see the rest of the year.
My kids are starting to see the value of tradition, as one family member was unable to spend time with us this year, and it wasn’t the same. When cousins, aunts, and uncles can’t make it up because of new babies, busy work life, or health issues, things never feel quite the same. That’s why I want my kids to embrace tradition and keep it alive for their kids, grandkids, and beyond. The cost of not doing it is much greater than the cost of doing it, because of the deep importance of consistent family gatherings.
What are your family traditions?
Creating traditions is hard. Keeping old ones alive is a chore, and making new ones stick is even harder. In our house the annual trip for a Christmas tree is coveted, which we realized when our adult kids reminded us that we all need to go get a tree together, then decorate it together with Christmas music. Traditions involve meals, certain foods, family outings, vacations together, Friday night movies, and so much more. My kids even love the tradition of stuffing bags and registering people at my spring Adirondack painters’ retreat, and a new tradition of working at the Plein Air Convention. I hope they will keep the tradition of these events alive when I’m long gone. In my work life, there are traditions at our events, like portrait nights, playing and singing music, even “Lobster Night” when we do Fall Color Week in Maine. The goal of tradition is to be the glue that keeps people together, gives people something to look forward to, and creates a reason to gather.
My goal this year is to create more traditions for family, friends, and even painter friends at my events because I want to create memories.
What are the traditions from your childhood that you remember, maybe with your parents, grandparents, or siblings? Can you recreate any of those memories for your family or friends? Were there traditions lost or discontinued because of the last couple of crazy years?
Seek tradition. It makes for a richer life.
PS: Happy Labor Day. Seems like summer went by fast!! It never lasts long enough.
A dirty little secret I probably should not admit. There are times when an event is coming up and I tell myself I’m not looking forward to it because I have to get on an airplane or drive a long distance. But once I show up, I’m immediately re-energized and excited to be with my friends and new acquaintances. There have been times when I’ve told myself that maybe I should stop doing so many, but once I get to an event, I hate for it to end and cannot wait for the next one to begin.
I think this happens to all of us. One older woman told me that she had been to the Plein Air Convention almost every year and always looks forward to seeing her friends and making new ones, but she had decided not to sign up this year. She was busy, worried about viruses, telling herself there were better things to do with the money, not wanting to travel, etc. Yet at the last minute she came, and told me that she couldn’t imagine not being there. She didn’t know what she was thinking by not signing up originally.
We all tend to be enthusiastic when we are present, but when we return to our busy lives, our enthusiasm dies down a little more with each passing day. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of just how much fun we had.
We all live insane lives where we have to balance a lot of things like family, work, caregiving, and more. When we’re in that swamp filled with alligators, we forget that our objective is to drain the swamp. When we live busy lives, we forget that we’re happier when we’ve allocated some rewards or trips or special things for ourselves. I always say it’s like what they say on the airplanes: “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” You and I need things to fulfill our lives, to give us energy, to give us a better outlook. When you do something for yourself a couple of times a year (minimum), even when you have to care for someone, if you can find someone to step in for a week or two here and there, that much-needed break gives you hope.
Moms need a break from dads and kids. Caregivers need a break from the person they are caring for. And though we often feel guilty for doing it, we should realize that rewarding ourselves puts fuel back in our tanks, and that makes us better at taking care of others.
I like to suggest that my team members take two-week vacations when possible, and I tell them not to check email or do any work. Because it takes a week to relax, and then you need a week to heal and play. We all need time for ourselves, and if we don’t take it, stress will take us away or make us sick. Find some way to reward yourself, give yourself something to look forward to. I’ve been looking forward to my New Zealand painting trip for months, and on hard days, when I think about my upcoming time away, it somehow makes things better.
Here are some things happening at my company, Streamline, you might like to know about.
Fall Color Week Maine is happening in October. It’s been sold out, but we just had a cancellation that might mean one room for two is open.
Our next online conference, Realism Live, is coming in November. It covers all painting styles that are realistic, from academic realism to impressionism, and it covers all subjects, like portraits, figures, still life, landscapes, animals, and more. We have the very top artists in the world teaching, and we have a Beginner/Refresher Day to bring you up to speed before the event. If you’ve ever thought you might like to try painting or drawing, one attendee last year said it was like a four-year art school course crammed into four days. Yes, even you can do this. Sign up now.
Watercolor Live is much like Realism, but all watercolor, with the top artists teaching all different approaches and styles. It’s coming in January and would be a great holiday gift.