Fog and mist fill the bright, colorless morning sky and soften the edges of treetops in the distance. Softness in the air even covers the trunks of gnarled and twisted scrub oaks. The weeds and grass are glistening with water droplets, and the long deck that runs the length of the house is wet where the roof offers no cover. The red Adirondack chairs placed in a circle around the fire pit are reflecting the light from above and are glowing. As I let the dogs out this morning, they sniff in circles, tracking bustling creatures from last night.
It’s Cozy Time
Sometimes a cozy morning like this calls for a couch, a blanket, the sounds of silence, and a good book. I begin my morning routine before I dip my fingers into the cesspool of social media. A daily chapter of the old family Bible has proven to offer perspective and to impact every daily decision. Almost every day it feels like it was written just for me, addressing today’s specific issues or concerns. It eliminates my fears and anxiety and gives me wisdom.
The past five days were 12-hour work days away from my office, prepping and hosting our annual online watercolor conference out of our Austin soundstage. It’s a massive effort involving about 30 people on my team and a full year of preparation. It’s like planning a four-day live tV show like the old Jerry Lewis telethon, combined with a four-day wedding with thousands of guests from 31 countries. I’m so proud of my team and their incredible sensitivity to our guests’ needs.
Feeling Pretty Awesome
Though I am a little worn out, I’m not exhausted — instead, I’m exhilarated. I had the pleasure of serving people who relied on us to deliver art instruction at a high level for a total of 24 hours over four days. And from what I can tell, we delivered, because the majority are returning next year.
Oh God, Please…
My prayer each night after the event? “Lord, with all this attention and praise, keep me humble and not prideful. Help me to serve these people with true humility.” Because I get more attention and feedback at my events than at any other time, and I don’t want it to go to my head. I don’t want to ever start thinking I’m special or better in any way. Having experienced an ego-driven life in my radio days, I know how seductive it can be, and how dangerous it is to lose a sense of reality.
The World’s Greatest Gig
Like a cat, I’ve lived multiple lives and careers, and none ever felt like the perfect fit till I landed here, starting art magazines, teaching and inspiring artists, and focusing on transforming lives. It took me decades to discover it’s not about me, it’s not about wealth, and that a great life is about giving and serving.
The Cure for Depression
You can’t be depressed or think about yourself when you are a servant helping others. The world has it backwards; it’s not about getting rich so others will serve you, it’s about serving others to help them live rich lives. I don’t have most of the cool stuff I once owned because I got tired of it, or its life was over. But I never forget the people who served me decades ago.
When people are giving you praise for pulling them up, encouraging them, inspiring them, teaching them so they can lift themselves up, you have reached true success, especially if you don’t take their praise as if you’re something special. When they look at you with tear-filled eyes, knowing you gave them the launch they could not see how to give themselves, you’ve reached the pinnacle. Then you can live life wearing a confident smile with a twinkle in your eye. Enjoy the moment, don’t get prideful, and move on to help others in some way.
This isn’t about feeding the needy, though that is necessary and important, and we should all do what we can. It’s about turning what you do into a serving and giving machine.
It’s not even about giving everything away, which isn’t usually practical or possible. You deserve a handsome living from your toil. But life is about taking what you do every day, being the best at it, and focusing on the needs of those who need to be served, whether you are teaching school, working in a plant, driving an Uber, working on heating systems, being a student or running a business.
It’s about delighting others at a higher level and never making it about you. And when this occurs, rewards always follow.
A Word of Caution
Biblical stories talk about the benefits that come back to you for tithing and giving of your time. But they also talk about doing your good works in private, about not letting one hand know what the other is doing. Though I don’t want to be critical of anyone doing good works, I get turned off when ads tell me a company is giving some percentage of its profits to some charity. The only reason to tell people about it is to look good or to get them to buy more. Why not just do it quietly?
For a brief moment I was public about what we do with the profits of our company, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed the only reason to tell people about it was to look good to others. I decided that doing so no longer works for me. I tell our employees, because they need to know where our profits go, but we are no longer public about our giving. Being quiet keeps intent pure. If you are only giving to increase your rewards, people see through it and you’ll appear insincere.
Yesterday a friend was telling me about a company that wants to work with him, and he said, “They pretend to care about me, but really, they only care about money. Life is too short to deal with people like that.” Don’t get me wrong, I also care about making a fair living and being able to provide for my family and their future. But I don’t do what I do for that reason. I strive to do what I do because it’s what I can do well for others.
When everything you do is all about making as much money as you can, shortcuts follow, service gets reduced, quality diminishes, and people get hurt.
The magic of having a servant’s heart is that your joy no longer comes from things, it comes from service to others.
Where are you serving others?
Where are you finding your joy?
Is what you are doing truly satisfying?
Are you making a difference in the lives of others?
Are you pretending to care, or do you really care?
Would you still do it even if you could not make another dime?
What do you think about most?
I struggled for years, working crazy hours, trying to build something that was about me, and about money. But when I flipped that, everything changed. My acquaintance Dave Ramsey (radio and tV financial host) once told me that the minute you focus on service, everything changes. I fought it. But once I finally flipped the switch, my life changed, my success changed, my interest in serving changed.
Seek to serve. Others need what you have to offer.
PS: This may sound strange but sometimes selling is serving. If you have something people need that will truly make their life better but that they are resisting, they will benefit from your passion to sell them something you know will help. I sometimes promote heavily and sell hard, because I hear the stories about the things we’re doing that change lives and change the direction of people’s lives — things that build confidence, things that can build careers. For instance, I know that if I push an artist to buy my marketing book, it will help them if they take the action I suggest. If they don’t, they may struggle for decades, as most do.
A woman attending our Watercolor Online conference this week told me that she was reluctant to sign up because she did not think she deserved it. Because she encountered something that convinced her, she told me it was 10 times better than she expected and it was just what she needed to put her on the right track. If I didn’t push, she and thousands of others might have missed out.
I have lots of artists who read this. Your art can change lives. You can cheer people up, or place them in a certain state of mind when your work hangs in their home. My friend Charles H. White tells me the story of a cancer patient who bought his painting to transport her to a better place while recovering from chemo. She said she stared at his painting every day, and it got her through her pain. What if he had not bothered to do the work and show up at an art show where she discovered that painting? What if he had not helped her make the decision to spend a little extra to get something of quality? His painting changed her life. Your paintings can change lives too, but if you lay back and hope someone buys something, others are missing out on what you have to offer.
Our next event is coming up in March. It’s called PleinAir Live, and it’s about teaching landscape painting online, with top landscape artists teaching. My life changed when I started going outdoors to paint, spending time in nature, and making lots of new friends. It made me a better painter — but it would never have happened had I not been motivated by someone who nudged me. I hope you’ll join us. (www.pleinairlive.com)
Note about my team: I realized something really important this week. You can’t do it alone. You need help. You need a good team. If your team is failing you, it’s not their fault, it’s your fault. You picked them, and if they’re not working out, it means you didn’t train, encourage, and nurture them. I feel like the luckiest man alive because my team at Streamline is beyond amazing. We hire slowly and carefully and work to get a cultural match in our team members, and then we get glowing reviews from the way they serve others. They truly have the spirit of serving, and they do it with grace, with love, joyfully and with excellence. In moments like this, when they have worked a year or more on planning and a couple of solid weeks on execution, including 12-hour days, long nights, and weekends, I realize just how blessed I am to have them.