Buckets of BBs fall over my head onto the tin metal roof. The sound is deafening as gushes of water drop from the sky and make the roof vibrate with energy. The building shakes as monumental thunder roars overhead, the kind that is so deep that the sky rumbles and the earth moves as if a missile slammed into the ground nearby. Yet I sit here on the porch, covered and dry, feeling secure in my old Texas country ranch house where I can step back and observe the storm from safety.
Watching a storm from afar, or from a place of safety, gives you a much better perspective and state of mind than being pelted with wind-driven raindrops. If only we could look at our personal storms with the same perspective.
Recently I heard someone say the difference between successful people and those who are not so successful is how they perceive and deal with their problems.
Have you ever had problems so big, so thunderous, that they become all-consuming?
I can remember problems that were so big that I could not sleep, that I was pacing the floor, all my muscles were tense and I felt pressure in my chest, and my eyes were tear-filled because of my fear.
Stress Is Death
Any doctor will tell you that stress like that is a killer. And if I had continued on the same track, it might have taken me early. But once I discovered how to deal with problems, my life changed.
One word or sentence can trigger major stress, so whoever wrote “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was a well-meaning liar.
I can remember a few choice words from my partner decades ago that threw me into a tizzy. The news completely defeated me and instantly destroyed my dreams. I had big dreams, and a big plan to achieve them, and suddenly a few words pulled the rug from under me. My hopes were gone, and there was nothing I could do. Everything suddenly changed. I thought my world had come to an end. I was depressed for weeks and fully consumed by my stress and angst. Today as I look backward, I realize it was the best thing that ever happened to me in business. But I could not see it at the time.
If you look backward, do those giant all-consuming problems still feel as big, now that they have passed?
Was all the worry and stress helpful?
Can You Read the Label?
Perspective is a wonderful thing. My close friend author Roy Williams often talks about the view from “inside the bottle” versus the view from outside. When you’re inside, you can’t see what others see. You can’t read the label.
I’ve since discovered that one key to problem-solving is to step outside the bottle. If you can gain perspective and distance yourself from the problem, you gain clarity of thought instead of confused, cloudy, frantic, “my world is ending” panic.
Our Worst Day Ever
When my son Brady had a heart attack at age 17 and nearly died, we were frantic, helpless, and of course our minds were taking us to dark places because we were given information that led us to believe he might not live through the night, and because we overheard the paramedics say, “He’s gone” (listening by phone as they tried to revive him). You can imagine our horror.
During that time, while speeding to the hospital, I remember telling myself, “Remain calm somehow.” It was clear that this was the worst that could ever happen as parents.
“Remain clear-headed,” I told myself, assuming we might have to make some very tough decisions. Knowing everyone else around me was screaming out in pain, I felt as though I could actually make things worse if I had to make rash emotional decisions. Thankfully he lived and has the prospect of a long, healthy life.
“Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.” — Robert Schuller
Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
After a lifetime of business and problems, I look back on my prayers for help, and I’m grateful that most of those prayers were not answered. Thankfully, God’s wisdom for what we need is better than our own. People ask why bad things happen to good people, and the answer is that sometimes He needs to get our attention, help us trust more in him, and help us understand that what we think is good for us isn’t.
I’ve come to look at problems as gifts, as lessons, as challenges, and in many cases as opportunities.
How are you looking at problems?
What is your biggest problem?
Take a moment to think about it.
Write it down.
How you think about problems will define how you arrive at solutions. But also, how long you think about problems is important.
My mentor Keith Cunningham has taught me to take “thinking time” on every problem, to write down a hundred solutions to every problem — and also write down what I’m doing to cause the problem. Problems are often symptoms of a bigger issue.
It’s easy to come up with five solutions to a problem. But the first five or 10 are usually the easy answers. When you dig deep and force the discipline of a longer list, that’s where major solutions are discovered.
A woman I recently met told me about coming close to death and having an out-of-body experience, looking down on her surgeons. What if you could look at problems like an out-of-body experience, where you’re looking at a problem from the outside?
Try it. It changes everything.
PS: Not only does May bring showers and flowers, it’s bringing the entire plein air painting community together for a much-needed reunion. Now that COVID has been declared officially over in the U.S., join me in Santa Fe for the Plein Air Convention & Expo, May 17-22 (or starting May 16 for those coming to the Kevin Macpherson pre-convention workshop). Can’t make it? We just added online attendance, and we have brand-new details here.
PS 2: As soon as the convention is over, Laurie and I will drive to the Adirondacks to get ready for the Publisher’s Invitational painters’ retreat. This is my 11th, and it’s loads of fun to treat yourself to someone else doing cooking and to go painting every day. Learn more here.
PS 3: If you’re looking for something really exceptional, join me on a painting trip to New Zealand in September. I’m very excited. So far, we’re a little more than half sold out. It’s limited to 50 people. Here are the details.
PS 4: Pastel Live, our online pastel conference featuring the top pastel artists in the world, is coming in August. I’ve been doing lots of pastel painting lately and I really love the gift of learning something new. Being self-taught isn’t what it’s cracked up to be — learning from top pros is such a time-saver. www.pastellive.com.
PS 5: I hope that someday people look back and say, “Eric and his team are known for providing access to the very top artists in the world and creating high-quality training with them.” The latest is a new video from the legend Michael Coleman. Check it out. It’s soon to be our best seller for the year.