Creamsicle orange covers the horizon, with the mountain silhouetted against it. Billowing clouds are lit like glowing hot air balloons as the sun stretches its arms to show its brilliant color across the sky. The spooky sound of cackling crows in the twisted oak trees is unusual around here and can only be attributed to Halloween just around the corner.
In childhood I found a lot of joy in dressing up, going door-to-door through the entire neighborhood (and the one next to ours). We would make an extra effort to go to the mansions several blocks away, thinking somehow they would be handing out Ferraris instead of the standard candy, but we were always disappointed. I remember thinking, “If I were rich, I’d give kids cool stuff the other houses don’t give out.”
Cases of Candy
My best friend Stu and I would take pillowcases with the goal of filling them up each night – there were usually two nights for trick-or-treating. We were not allowed to take the candied apples, but we loved the lady who gave out dimes. We were tempted to change costumes and keep going back, but we never did. I guess we were not willing to work that hard for our money.
Pushed Down and Robbed of My Candy
One year, in the neighboring block, a bully from another school who had always seemed to target me pushed me down and took a pillowcase full of candy. I didn’t fight back … did not have the confidence or strength to do so. My only revenge is that maybe he ate it all, got sick, and missed a couple days of school.
I’m not a big fan of bullies, probably because I was the recipient of lots of bullying. I was one of the two school “fat kids” at Harrison Hill Elementary, and that made us targets. My friends at the time were the fat kids, the super-skinny kids, the nerds, and the kids who stood out as different. One thing we had in common were bullies who would mock us, beat us up, spit on us, kick us in the shins, shoot spitballs at us in class, and occasionally give us a big punch in the stomach, knocking the air out of us.
Ulcers in 6th Grade
I’d love to be able to tell you that our plan was some great “Revenge of the Nerds” way of getting back, but we simply avoided the bullies. It made me hate going to school, and it resulted in ulcers in the 6th grade, where I had to leave class a couple of days and go to the cafeteria for saltines and milk. That resulted in my being recruited to work in the cafeteria, which further reinforced my nerdism. Hairnets and aprons do not a cool dude make. But, for a fat kid, it was nirvana, because I got to eat all the extra apple crisps and mashed potatoes I wanted.
And surprisingly, that cafeteria gig built confidence, because I was learning about work ethic, I was interacting with adults who were not teachers or parents, and I was even able to offer ideas to them about making our food serving process more efficient.
I remember thinking, “I’ll show them. I’ll be super successful, and those bully losers will be stuck in some crummy life forever.” It drove me.
Though I would not wish that experience on anyone — my fear and the humiliation of having to pick myself up off the ground while all the cool kids laughed — in hindsight, it drove me to be better. It drove me to look for things to make me cool, to make me accepted, to make me stand out.
A New Direction
Soon, I was one of the nerdy AV kids. Though mocked, we had privileges no one else had, which included getting out of class for projects.
But ultimately, I was not able to overcome the stigma of being the fat boy, and when my parents started building a new house in a different school district, I managed to transfer and start commuting a year before the house was built.
Time for a Reboot
Though I didn’t have a marketing brain at the time, I was determined to remake myself and be cool at the new school. That summer I shot up, lost weight, grew my hair long, got a new wardrobe, and talked my way into becoming the school photographer for the yearbook and newspaper — which suddenly gave me power, visibility, and control over who got publicity or did not.
At the same time, I managed to talk my way into a job at a local radio station, which gave me some visibility and publicity myself.
The result was that my last two years of high school were great years. Though I was never popular like the “jocks” and football stars, I actually wanted little to do with most of them, because they were the same types who had been bullying me at the other school.
You Actually Are in Control
The lesson was a great one that would serve me well for the rest of my life. If you don’t like your circumstances, you can remake yourself and change them. The key is being deliberate about it and making a plan.
In my case, there was no formal plan, but I had repeated a “new me” scenario over and over in my head, a scenario of being popular, and it was ultimately delivered to me. I started doing things differently because of the vision in my head.
Today, I’m still deliberate. I still work to manifest things in my head the way I want them to be, which is a great tool for overcoming fear of change. If you imagine yourself where you want to be, in exact detail, and you do it enough, it can happen. But of course, you have to take action once ideas come to you. Ignoring those thoughts won’t be productive.
Real Life Monsters
Since it’s almost Halloween, be aware there are actually monsters. Bullies are monsters. And usually they bully because they are bullied themselves, or they’re trying to find significance because someone is treating them badly. Had I known that at the time, maybe I could have opened a dialogue, dug deeply into their hearts, and helped them through it.
The Biggest Monster of All
The biggest monster is our own self-doubt, our insecurity and our fears. And we have the power to eliminate those monsters from our lives forever.
It starts with imagining what you want to be, and with prayer for help from above.
I was afraid of public speaking. I could not stand up and talk in class in front of 20 other kids without being terrified.
Later, in the early stages of my career, I saw two speakers who were so good, I went up to them and asked them how to do what they did. It was all I could do to get up the courage to talk to them, but I knew I’d see change if I could be more like them.
Both speakers gave me the same advice: Fake it till you make it. Pretend to be confident until you are.
Now I speak in front of thousands of people, and during COVID my Art School Live show on YouTube reached millions. Now I’m totally confident. I’ve taken my clothes off onstage (not entirely, and it was related to the message). I’ve done silly things onstage. I’ve embarrassed myself intentionally. Every time, I was afraid, because I knew that if my stunts backfired, I might destroy my career. But there is nothing more invigorating than laying it on the line and having no way to back out.
How to Make the Monsters in Your Head Stop
If you’re struggling with these monsters this Halloween, you don’t have to live with them. You don’t have to be bullied. You don’t have to be lonely. You don’t have to look at others who seem to have some special something and wish that was you. Chances are, they were exactly where you are today.
You can beat the monsters. I have confidence that when the time is right, and when you get sick enough of being something you wish you were not, you will step up and orchestrate the change and become what you imagine yourself to be.
Is it easy? Nope.
Is it safe? Nope.
Will you make mistakes? Yep.
Is it worth all the risk? Absolutely.
Our world is filled with people with all the odds stacked against them, with disabilities, mental issues, fear, introversion — yet many beat the odds because they decide to make change and are willing to do what it takes to become a transformed person, often motivated by proving wrong the people who do not believe in them.
In the early ’70s my aunt asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I wanted to do radio. Rather than encouraging me, she said, “I’ve dealt with a lot of radio people in our business, and they are all horrible people. You need to stay away from them and do something respectable.”
At that moment, I decided to prove her wrong, thinking, “One day I’ll not just work on the radio, I’ll end up owning stations.” I was so driven by her negativity that I owned my first stations by age 25, and sold them for millions before I was 30.
That’s the power of being determined. And believe me, I have no special skills, no college degree, no unique gifts. I’m simply driven and determined.
YOU CAN DO THIS. Start now.
I believe in you.
PS: I’m super determined at the moment. Everyone said, “Your online conferences won’t survive after COVID.” Yet our last one was bigger than the year before, and the one we’re doing in November is bigger than the same event last year, and bigger than the event before it. Why? Because I need to prove something to myself. And because I know people will have game-changing “aha” moments if they attend.
Realism Live (online) is coming November 10-12, and includes an optional Beginner/Refresher Day. We have some of the finest artists in the world, including some who no longer teach but will be teaching at Realism Live.
You can learn to paint and draw at this event (and I guarantee your success or I give your money back).
Check it out, it’s called Realism Live. www.realismlive.com If you register before November 6 you can save up to $600.
PSII: Something incredible happened. The editor of PleinAir, Kelly Kane, came to me and said that after over a decade, it was time to freshen up the magazine — new page designs, new logo. Honestly, I resisted for a while because it was doing so well, but then I remembered the saying “If it’s not broke, break it.” So she took the reins and worked for a year on the redesign, and it’s absolutely better than anything I could have imagined. And the reviews are in, and people love it even more.
I’d be honored if you’d subscribe to the print or digital edition. Most people do both because the digital has 30% extra content, and because you can screenshot images you want to save, zoom in on them, etc.
Opening my eyes today, a new scene shocks my brain. “Where am I?” I think. Only to realize I’ve awakened back in Austin after several months away. As I meander to the porch, I’m hit with a blast of cold air, realizing that, having left in June, I completely missed months of the over-100-degree furnace. Fall is in the air, but color change here is often subtle, as is the case now. Though the tree in front of my neighbors’ home will soon change to a fire red, inviting me to paint it once again, as I do each year.
Usually when I’m away, I fill in with a “best of,” but this time, away in New Zealand for a couple of weeks and then on to Maine for my Fall Color Week artists’ retreat, I completely forgot to do it, so your Sunday mailbox may have been a little emptier than normal. Hopefully absence has made your heart grow fonder. I know I’ve missed writing.
The reason for my absence was, first, a much-needed week off, then the trip to New Zealand where I hosted a group of artists for almost two weeks, and then off to Fall Color Week in Maine. Then five days driving back, which included visits to two of our three kids along the way home.
A Culture Like No Other
In New Zealand, we started our trip with an art historian who helped us understand New Zealand culture. He told us of a Maori word (which escapes me now), which is THE desirable status for people in New Zealand.
Money Money Money
Status in New Zealand is not about money or what you own. It’s about your contribution, your reputation, and the mark you make for others. That may explain why I’ve never met happier, more interested people. Interested in learning about us, and truly listening, not eagerly waiting to tell us about themselves. And not at all interested in telling us about their cars, houses, or bank accounts.
It was refreshing.
Following our travels with our artists, meeting New Zealanders along the way, my wife and I visited a friend for a weekend. He picked us up at the airport in a 20-year-old car with duct tape on the torn front seat. He made no mention or apology; it was just his transportation.
If that had happened in the U.S., he’d likely have been making excuses. I know I probably would.
Can You Say Red Carpet?
My friend isn’t just any New Zealander. He is not only a prominent citizen (knighted by the Governor-General, having turned down being knighted by the Queen because it would have been “over the top”), he is the founder of a major motion picture studio that has created or been involved in some of the most important and famous films in the world. Annually they play a role in about 50 major films. He has hundreds of employees, can pick up the phone and call any household name in Hollywood, and he has several Oscars and is a household name himself. Yet you would never know it when meeting him. There is no arrogance, no airs about him.
More Than Autographs
While hanging out with him in a public place, he was approached by a few people who knew who he was. And instead of playing the typical “star” role, as many people I know would have done, he was gracious, curious, and interested in the people who approached him. He truly wanted to know about them and their stories. In many cases he spoke with them for 10 or 20 minutes.
That says it all.
There is no bragging about what he does, what he owns, how much money he makes, and who he knows. In fact, he’s lived quietly in the same modest home for over 30 years.
A Tool for Better Things
To him, money is a tool to do cooler things. He puts what he earns back into the business or into new and interesting projects. His currency isn’t money, it’s people, and it’s finding new and better ways to do things.
I point this out because I find it so unusual and refreshing. And so unlike what you might experience in other parts of the world, where showing off is everything.
For that reason … I’m officially moving to New Zealand.
(Just kidding. But I would if it were not for the distance for me to travel to my kids, meetings, and events.)
World’s Hottest Models
Some of my best friends in America are also models of this model behavior. Which is why they are my best friends. We “nerd out” about cool things, cool books, great art, great music, and interesting innovations. We don’t nerd out about material objects and money.
Sadly, much of our world seems to have become all about who has what, how much they have, and how to get more. We care more about fashion, cars, plastic surgery, gadgets, and social media posturing than we do about the meaning of our lives and our true contribution.
So many are driven to get more. But to what end? What will having more bring us?
Cool Things Rule
What I love about my New Zealand friend is that he is driven by his life’s purpose to do cool things. To invent. To create. To do what hasn’t been done. And he does it while seeking ways to help everyone on his team and make the best work he can for his customers.
What if you and I were more about our mission, our passion, helping others, and less about the status of money?
I admit it, there was a time when I thought I was supposed to chase money and cool things, but something changed. Now, to me, money is a tool, something to buy freedom, something to allow experimentation and launching new ideas.
My friend Norm says, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.” Though I don’t disagree with him, if money is all you’ve got, you may not be living a rich life.
Are you living life with purpose?
Are you focused on doing things well, on building a reputation that isn’t about money, but about that purpose?
Are you alive and on fire for your passion?
Returning to America, I found people to be short with me, too busy to interact, only wanting to talk about themselves and uninterested in others. The contrast screams out loud after time in New Zealand.
I think it’s important that our kids know … it’s not all about money, shiny objects, and fame. They need to know it’s OK not to chase dollars and instead to chase what you truly love.
PS: This trip helped me see that I need to do more cool things. I need to innovate more. I need to take more risks. I need to play more, have more fun experimenting with things, and just come up with ideas that will make things better and more fun for you. Stay tuned.
One Very Cool Thing
Meanwhile, my next cool thing is our Realism Live online conference for a few days next month. There is already a massive audience signed up, and I guarantee it will be cool and make you more passionate about your art (or learning from scratch), or your money back. I would never ask you to do something I would not do. Check it out at www.realismlive.com. Yes, you need to play more, have more fun, and add more interesting things to your life, even if you think you can’t do it.
Another Cool Thing
Oh, and I’d like to ask you to consider subscribing to PleinAir Magazine. Even if you get it at the library or newsstands, it’s better to subscribe and have your own copy come to you. Our digital issue has 30% more content than our print issue, and they are both awesome. Visit www.pleinairmagazine.com