The sun streams through the window waking me. At first I’m feeling lost, out of my routine, until my brain catches up and realizes I’m not home, but away in a strange bed. A glance out the window treats my eyes to billowing clouds, streaks of sunlight and distant snow capped mountains. I’m desperately searching for a coffee maker, and will probably have to get dressed and go to the lobby.
My family and I landed here in Colorado last night, and today is the culmination of two years of preparation by dozens of people on my team. It’s the beginning of a five day learning, painting and friendship adventure, called the plein air convention.
Yesterday was the start of a two day Lori Putnam workshop, which continues today, and today is an essential day for plein air beginners. Then at 4 pm, the big show opens and it will be my busiest week of the year.
Why I Dislike Weddings
When I was a wedding photographer, I discovered a thing I called Wedding Letdown. Brides would spend a year or more in preparation for their big day, and then in a few short hours it was all over. They are no longer the center of attention, there is nothing to plan, and the only thing between that ending day and normal life is a honeymoon. I too experience this letdown when its all over. A week of joy, friendships and wonderful people, then back to life as normal. Its something to celebrate, but also can be bitter sweet. But we’ll see how I feel next week at this time if I have the energy to get up and write.
A Big Dream That Almost Did Not Happen
I love this week for a lot of reasons. Its the result of a big dream, which everyone told me would never happen. My accountants told me that launching a convention with the return of PleinAir magazine would be the death of my business and sure bankruptcy. So everytime I show up, I remember that it almost didn’t happen.
After many decades of managing stress, I rarely ever get too stressed anymore, but I do want to make sure everyone has a wonderful experience. Yesterday I met with our team, our volunteers, and it’s in their hands now. I just have to do my part, and hope that I’ve given people the experience of a lifetime.
Earlier this week I was talking to my son Berkeley about his upcoming internship at a company in New Zealand, and I told him what my dad told me at his age. Advice I’ve Never Forgotten
Though I had “kid” businesses like lemonade sands and candle making, when I got my first job, my day drew a little chart and he said, “sit down with your boss and ask them to define their exact expectations of you. Then he drew a line and said, “this line represents their expectation.”
Always do more than expected, always over deliver. If you fall below their expectations, you’re not a good employee. If you meet expectations, they will be happy with you but you’ll be the same as every other employee who is meeting expectations. But if you always do more, take on more, ask what else you can do, you will stand out above the rest.
Of course my teenage mind said, “but I don’t want to stand out, I don’t want to be better than the other employees, otherwise I won’t make any friends.” His response was spot on. How to Stand Out
“There is a chance that people who do below expectation will eventually lose their jobs. If you spend time with them, you become them, because we become like the people we spend time with. The others will keep their jobs, and though you may feel you’re making them look bad by doing more, the reality is that if you don’t do that, you’ll never see the next opportunity.
He explained that “as a boss, I’m always looking to see who is exceptional. Some people are A players, some are B and C players. An A player thinks differently and can do 80% more than a B player without a lot of extra effort, because they think before they act. A B player can do 20% more than a C player, but both either don’t think or they simply don’t care. He went on to say “surround yourself with people who are better than you and you’ll become like them. They are all good people and no one is better than anyone else, but some are better at their jobs.
A Surprised Boss
So I did what he recommended. I sat with my new boss and asked him to define my expectations of me. “No one has ever asked me that question,” he said. Then he proceeded to tell me. Then I said, “What can I do to be a better employee?” His response, “no one has ever asked me that either. I think just do a great job and if you see something else that needs to be done, do it.
I was in a pretty crummy job at that radio station, but I managed to over perform, get everyone to like me because I was always helping them, making them look better, and before long they were recommending me for other jobs. I eventually got my break to go on the air. Then I kept trying to get better, and I ended up with better jobs at better radio stations until one day I was in a big city in a great job on the radio. That led me to station ownership by the time I was 25.
A Budding Superstar
Years ago I hired a young guy for my mail room. Tom Elmo would come in and say “Ok that’s done, what can I do now?” He kept doing it, then he just figured things out on his own. Today he is the top guy running my company and we’ve worked together for about 31 years. He gets it.
Someone said that the key to success is showing up. I agree that is half the battle. But showing up isn’t enough. Doing more makes you more valuable, and soon you become invaluable, then opportunity flows to you. I tell my kids that the bar is low. Showing up will put you ahead, but if you really want to go further, become an A player. Find out what needs to be done and how to do it faster, and better. Be like Tom.
Ask Yourself How to Improve It…
If you’re going to do anything, ask yourself. What can I do to make it better? What can I do to give people a better experience? What do they want and how do I give them more than they want?
That’s the goal this week and always. And when things get stale, it’s time to reinvent and compete against yourself to make things better than your already high standards.
Easy Advice to Those Willing to Listen
Life on TikTok and Instagram is filled with muscle bound perfect people driving Ferraris and going on luxury vacations. Many are selling the idea of extreme wealth and get rich schemes. Most are selling snake oil. But learning these foundations will do more good than most of the strategies being blurted out so you’ll give them money. The simple act of forwarding this email to someone starting their career or struggling with their career can make a difference. I had the benefit of a dad who filled my brain with little things that make a big difference. My goal is to share to help others live excellent lives. My mantra is to over deliver.
Advantages Come to You
When you focus on trying to figure out how to be the best, and when you deliver, you’ll give yourself advantages others will never receive. Some people think that they should not do more unless they are paid for it, but what they don’t understand is that you are paid for it. It may not be immediate, but instead of saying, “pay me more and I’ll do more” you’re showing what you’re worth and it will eventually be recognized. And even if you’re not, you’ll know you did your best, or you’ll reevaluate yourself and ask if you could have been better at what you do.
Life is filled with opportunity. Opportunity favors those who step up and find a way to overdeliver.
It’s my hope that my team and I over deliver this week. Keep us in your prayers.
PS: The people teaching at the plein air convention are some of the best painters on earth. If this had existed a hundred years ago, Monet and Degas would be teaching on our stages, and the people teaching on our stages may go down as being famous a hundred years from now. This is a rare opportunity, and though I hope it lives on beyond me, there is no guarantee. This is a special moment in time, something that has never happened before in history, and may never happen again. If I were you, and I lived within driving distance of Denver, I’d grab the opportunity to be here.
The sky is glowing an iridescent blue like a Maxfield Parrish painting, with twisty silhouettes of tree branches reaching high to patches of leaves. A slight swaying in the trees draws my eye to the distant gay mountain, where a few stars glow in the still-darkened sky. Morning has broken.
In my junior year of high school, I was somewhat lost and confused. I had one interest only, being a DJ on a local college station with no listeners, populated by nerds like me who loved the idea of being on the radio even though we were talking to the wall.
Grades were never my strong suit, and college wasn’t on my radar because a career in radio was already my plan. I loved the attention, and stardom, in the form of radio, was what I was looking for.
But Carolyn Parsons had a different vision for me. She was my Humanities teacher, in a class that I struggled with. She was as hard on me as anyone ever was. “Get your act together, Rhoads, you’re better than this,” she would say. Though my star may have been shining among my friends, nothing I could do would please “Mrs. P.,” who was known to be the toughest teacher in the school.
She pushed and pushed. I felt hassled and abused, but she did not let up. I even told my parents, who did nothing. Dad would say, “Son, be the best you can be. Listen to the people around you, and try to see their perspective.”
For the end of the year, we were to have a major project, something to present to the class. We each got half of the class time over about 15 days. I needed to come up with a poem, a story, or something, but I could not. But Mrs. P. would not let up.
“Surely you can do something well, Rhoads. You need to find it.” But I had no idea what it would be. The pressure was on — I was on in a week. I had already seen many other presentations. Some were great, others not so great, and the bad ones got hammered. I did not want that embarrassment.
One day it came to me … what do I really love? I love audio, I love music, and I love photography. So I decided to come up with a multimedia slideshow. Simply put, a slideshow set to music.
I worked feverishly to take photographs that were artsy, that told a story, and set them to the Cat Stevens tune “Morning Has Broken.” Shots of sunrises, sunsets, graveyards, sad people and happy people. Everything had a yellow theme to it, as if silhouetted before glowing yellow skies.
I fine-tuned, practiced — and I was scared. But at presentation time, I pulled it off. The lights were low, and I looked up to find Mrs. P. standing and clapping, with tears in her eyes. I had broken through.
Her tears were probably not about the quality of my presentation; they were a celebration that her toughest, hardest-to-deal-with student had come through.
She changed my life forever by finding something within me I didn’t know I had.
I dedicated a book to her many years later, and I sent it to her with a note about her impact. I never saw her again, but she lives in my heart as the woman who cared enough to badger me to live to a high standard.
Carolyn Parsons wasn’t my mom. But she played a significant role, seeing things in me others did not see.
In today’s culture, where everyone needs a trophy, her methods might be frowned upon. But there is value in pushing people to some breaking point where they find themselves. Otherwise they may never get there.
Today, as we honor moms everywhere, we need to remember that we all have different styles and approaches. My mom never pushed me, but she nurtured me. My dad encouraged me. But others in my life stood up to play roles that they saw needed to be played in my life. It’s a community effort to raise children. I think we sometimes forget that.
I would have turned out OK, but Mrs. Parsons challenged me, and pulled out a creative side. I’m sure it would have been easier to let me fail. Instead, she cared enough to push me.
Motherhood isn’t always about nurturing. A great mom (or dad) always sees things we can’t see in ourselves. Sometimes they nag and push and tell us to brush our teeth. But it’s not about clean teeth or clean clothes, it’s about self-discipline that impacts every detail of our lives.
Being a dad isn’t easy, either; we have our own role to play. And I have huge respect for those who juggle the job of being both mom and dad. I often lose respect for those who bail out and leave their kids to figure it out on their own. No kid deserves that. There is no room for selfishness when raising children; one hangs in there, no matter what. But that’s an unpopular opinion today. Anything goes.
Today, as a tribute to your mom, think back to the times she annoyed you, pushed you, and held you to higher standards … and be grateful. Being a mom isn’t easy, and being tough isn’t popular, especially when you’re on the receiving end. But it’s so necessary.
Happy Mother’s Day.
P.S. My mom died three years ago this week.I miss her and my dad daily. Embrace the ones you still have, no matter how much fault you can find with them. One day they’ll be gone.
Next week I’m off to host the Plein Air Convention in Denver. People ask if I’m excited, and the answer is, “Absolutely!” Can’t wait. See you there?
Massive thunderstorms pounded our metal farmhouse roof. The rattling sound was overwhelming, but this morning the sky is clearer than usual, the birds are happy after their bath, and it’s a stunning day filled with wildflowers and the scent of beauty in the air. There is a big debate in my mind whether spring is my favorite season. What I love about spring is the rejuvenation, the beauty that comes after the harsh cold. And I love spring fever, when we’re all eager to wear shorts, flip flops, and sunscreen.
I flash back to winters in Indiana that I thought would never end, times when we struggled with the ice, the cold, the dark gray days, dead car batteries, cars sliding off the road and getting stuck in snowdrifts. I could never get warm, and we couldn’t wait for spring to appear.
Recently I’ve watched friends and family experience their own personal winter. Tough times of fighting disease, unexpected tragedy, family trials, addictions, financial or legal troubles, and losing cherished family members. I often feel guilty that I’m experiencing spring when they are suffering. But we all tend to cycle in and out of good and tough times. I too have gone through my own endless emotionally gray days, wishing for them to be over but so consumed I could not see the sun breaking through the clouds in the distance.
And though I never welcome those times, I anticipate there will be more of them. Starting two years ago last week, we experienced a season of winter, losing my dad, my mom, my cousin, my aunt, and my uncle. It was a brutal winter.
Please Don’t Die
When I was a child, I was so enamored with my dad that I constantly worried that he would die. I could not imagine life without him. I don’t know why I thought about it so much, but every stage of my life, I worried, and I told myself I could never get through it if he did die. It was a little boy’s obsession that continued into much of my adult life. It was totally unfounded and illogical, and I don’t understand why it had such power over me for so many years.
Yet when my dad did die, it was horrible, but not as horrible as I had imagined it would be. Maybe because he was ready, and he had lived a full and valuable life up to age 94. I had spent years worrying about a winter that was not as awful as I had anticipated.
Wasted Days and Wasted Nights
Perspective is a wonderful thing. Time and experience allow us to look back and see our mistakes, and our wins and losses. I regret having spent countless hours worried about things that never happened, preoccupied by what might happen. And though there is value in being prepared for worst-case scenarios, there is no value in worry whatsoever.
So I decided to remove worry from my life. I rarely worry even at times I probably should. My attitude is that I’ll deal with the bad things when they happen, not before. Time is too precious for worry. I’m trying to trust God more.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
A Painful Lesson
After horrible winters that seemed endless, the sun always began shining again, and I look back on how I managed to get through the winter and came out stronger in the end. Looking at trials as important lessons also reduces worry, and I no longer cling to things. In fact, I crave change, because whenever I am stressed about change, things always end up better once the change is made.
Worry less. Stress less. Accept change. Know that trials and tough times all come with important lessons that make us better.
What would you change?
If I had to change anything, as I reminisce about the past, I’d let go more, control less, realize that it’s important to allow others to make mistakes, and my preventing them from making mistakes does not make them stronger people. And I’d look for more ways to build confidence in others and help them overcome their fears. We all need to know that others believe in us, even when we don’t believe in ourselves.
Growth does not happen without running the race, struggling to get to the finish line, and experiencing pain.
The Sun Always Rises
I don’t mean to make light of any terrible thing you’re experiencing at the moment, but know that there is sunshine on the other side of winter and that you’re strong enough to weather the biggest challenges. You need to know that someone believes in you, and that we’ve got your back. Sometimes we have to step on the carnage of pain and loss to get to a higher mountain. It may not be pretty, but the view is better at the top.
Growing Up the Hard Way
My dad once said to me, “Son, you never really grow up until you lose your father.” My dad was in his mid-60s when my grandfather passed, and my dad seemed pretty grown-up to me. But now I know he was right. There is a freedom that comes with knowing you have no one to rely upon but yourself and your Maker, and it sets a path for a whole new you.
Whatever you’re going through at this moment: You’ve got this.
PS: This may sound silly, knowing that Sunday Coffee is widely distributed. But I’m truly there for you. I know you won’t reach out frivolously, but if you need help and I can offer it in some way, please ask. I know what it’s like to have no one to turn to.
PS2: I’ve grown to really love Carl Bretzke, a painter friend I interviewed for the Plein Air Podcast last week. I like him because he is real; there isn’t a phony or insincere bone in his body, not a mean thought in his mind. I wish I lived closer by; I’d wanna hang out all the time. I learn so much from his wisdom.
When we were talking, he brought up that he had attended nine of 10 Plein Air Conventions, and he was eager to attend the one coming up in May in Denver. I was surprised he had attended that many times, and I asked him why he keeps coming back. After all, he is a highly accomplished and successful artist. His answer was unexpected, but just demonstrates how the best always want to get better. He said, “I come back primarily to see my friends, most of whom I met at the convention originally. But I attend every demonstration, because I always learn new things about painting from every one of them.” Having a curious mind serves him well. The best never rest; they always strive to learn more. Who knows, maybe we’ll see you there. (www.pleinairconvention,com) And if pastel is your thing, Pastel Live is coming up this summer in August. This is the best we’ve ever done. www.pastellive.com.