Flipping my eyes open, I was briefly disoriented. Where am I? Instead of the old oak trees behind my porch or the lake from my deck, the view is a hotel room. Nothing special. But the view out the window is illuminated with pink-orange light against tall blue mountains. I’m in Taos, New Mexico.Dinner with Legends
Last night I had dinner with Cherie McGraw and David Leffel, two world-famous artists who are dear friends and live locally. Though my intent was to drive back to Ghost Ranch, an hour and a half from here, I didn’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere in the deep dark desert. So I stayed here for the night.
A Week with Friends
Today about noon I begin to “check in” 100 of my closest friends. We will paint together in the land of Georgia O’Keeffe for a week. It will be invigorating and exhausting and worth every minute.
Over dinner part of our discussion was the necessary transition from artist to become an artist-businessperson. I told them the story of transformation I’m about to tell you.
Once a quarter I sit in a group that is my board of directors, made up of 13 business owners. We all sit on each others’ boards. They help me, I help them, we all help one another. Last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I attended these meetings.
One of the members, a man I’ll call Al, made a statement to the group about a year ago in our first meeting together.
“I’m an artist, I’m not a businessman. I don’t want to become a businessman.” Yet in the same statement he talked about this little business he had started that was billing over a million dollars a year. But it was starting to decline. When we asked why, he said it was probably because he spent eight months away surfing that year and was letting his employees run the business, which is often a bad idea.
I’ll never forget what one of the board members said that got his attention…
“Instead of looking at paying attention to your business as bad, look at it as a means of buying your freedom so you don’t have to go back to work for someone else. If you’ll look at business differently, you’ll develop the skills needed so you can buy your freedom on your own terms.”
When I met with the group last week, Al was a changed man. He had his business under control, he had made a lot of changes, and from the looks of it, he will make almost double this year.
When we talked at lunch, he told me this: “I realized that business does not define me. Art defines me. I was resistant because I did not see myself as a business guy, but now I still see myself as an artist who simply had to develop some muscles in other areas so I could continue to be an artist.”
The board stood up and applauded because after a year, he had accepted his role, embraced it, and was doing a great job. It was a total transformation.
Our lives are dominated by the stories we tell ourselves. Our stories are rooted in our past, our pain, our pleasure, and the way we live. But our stories can change.
The Truth You Need to Hear
By having a caring board of friends who told him the truth he did not want to hear, Al faced his reality. Frankly, we all expected him to choose surfing, let his business continue to decline, and drop off our board. Instead, he faced the music and stepped up.
Perspective is a wonderful gift. If you’re willing to gather the thoughts of others, find people you can trust and who have experience and have accomplished things in areas where you need help, you can find the truth if you listen carefully.
They say the truth will set you free.
But the truth in this case would have been nothing without Al making the decision to change himself and his self-perception.
Life without challenges is not life well lived. It’s the challenges that create the contrast. The bad makes the good so much sweeter.
For most … the truth sets off a series of defense reactions. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t you think I know what I’m doing? I’ve got it under control.” If you catch yourself saying those things, perhaps you should listen carefully and pay attention to those who are trying to get through to you.
Once you accept the feedback, the next step is to take action by finding out what needs to change and then finding ways to change it. Usually we can’t do it on our own, which is why learning from the mistakes of others is important. And if you can, don’t learn from just anyone’s mistakes. Learn from the best of the best who can take you to the highest possible level.
If you want to get in shape, you can’t sit on the couch and eat bon bons and expect something to change. Though I don’t want to go to the gym, when I don’t I get fat and lazy and my brain doesn’t work as well.
Life is about developing new muscles. After hearing the truth, Al needed to develop his business muscles, his discipline muscles. He had us to help him.
After a lot of years of making stupid decisions and not having much growth, I had to face my own truth. I was not as good as I told myself I was. (We’re all delusional at times.) I had to learn new things from new people who were the best, and then I had to develop muscles by learning and practice.
When I wanted to improve my skills in portraits, I went to one of the best, Joshua LaRock. And when I wanted to improve my landscape painting, I went to Joseph McGurl.
What are you not seeing that you need to see?
What are others trying to tell you?
What’s not going well because you’re not accepting that you need to deal with it?
In what areas are you telling yourself a story?
The Value of Perspective
There is wisdom in many counselors. Surround yourself with others you respect, who have done things you’ve been unable to do, and listen for their truth. Don’t take advice from people who do not have a great track record.
Then accept your challenge, make the change in your mindset, and start developing the muscles you need to develop.
A perfect game is not possible. A game with no curveballs is uninteresting. Embrace change and an opportunity to grow.
Do you know how to spell growth? L-E-A-R-N
Life can be exhilarating and exciting with lifelong learning, developing new muscles.
Waterfall or Pool?
You can choose to be a gushing waterfall or a smelly, algae-filled pool of stagnant water. Which will you be?
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake I did…
I started my business and ran it for 20 years and made about the same low amount of money every year. I got sick of it.
Then a friend woke me up by saying, “You’ve repeated the same year 20 times. The only way to make things better is to get better. The only way to get better is to learn from others who are better. Otherwise you’ll remain stuck forever.”
He was right … and though I did not have any extra money, I made some sacrifices and I started going to events to make myself better. The things I learned helped instantly.
My thinking shifted, I started doing things differently, and I got unstuck.
What about you?
Are you happy with where you are?
Are you happy with your progress?
Are you willing to stay exactly where you are for the rest of your life?
If you want to get unstuck … all you have to do is start investing in yourself.
It won’t be easy. It will require some work. It won’t happen overnight. But it will work. And you’ll be happier and more successful — and have freedom.
PS: After this week at Ghost Ranch I’m heading home, and then off to the South of France and Scotland on our annual fine art trip. Unusually this year, we actually have a couple of seats left due to weddings and illnesses. It’s usually hard to get into this group. If you are adventurous, have a passport, and are willing to make a last-minute trip, you should join us!
I’m sure I’ve already told you about the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE) and how you can see a personal transformation. But don’t listen to me. Listen to these people. Maybe you should join us in November.
“It is one of the most informative and worthwhile experiences for anyone who is an artist in training or an emerging artist. You learn so much and get to interact with like-minded people.” — Khann Mai
“It’s mind-expanding and inspirational to see top artists creating work and hear what they’re thinking.” — Margerett McDermott
“If you are interested in elevating your work, or breaking past a rut, you have to surround yourself with professionals who can elevate you. Be around the next level up, and aspire to inspire. FACE is a stepping stone to better.” — Jessica D. Perez
“The value surpasses the price to attend. The fact that I could greet supporters and collectors of my work and thank them with a handshake and develop those friendships with other artists makes the event immeasurably valuable. If I have to save all year, I’m going to attend next year.”— Brianna Lee