About Eric Rhoads

This author has not yet filled in any details.
So far Eric Rhoads has created 59 blog entries.
21 07, 2018

How to Set Your Brain on Fire

2018-07-18T13:08:36+00:00

The droplets of water drizzle lightly on the tin roof of our cabin in the woods. A cozy knitted blanket is tucked tightly around my arms and legs, with just enough slack to leave my arms free to type.

Beyond the old eight-pane windows, which have never changed since this cabin was built over a hundred years ago, lies a blanket of greens. A deep forest of cascading leaves, branches, and tree trunks. Happily the birds tweet, scattered over the branches of the old-growth trees, 600 years or older with trunks the size of Volkswagens.

Red-and-Black Checks

Nestled inside are the memories of decades past. The couches from the house I grew up in, now worn and slipcovered with red-and-black “buffalo checks.” A crackled hundred-year-old canvas canoe hangs in the rafters, upside down so the beautiful wood strips on the inside are visible. I painted a local couple’s home on the lake in exchange for the canoe about a decade ago.

Brown Velvet Lace

An old stone fireplace sits before me, unlit though it’s a chilly morning. Old books and magazines fill the shelves along the wall under two paint-by-number paintings, an old violin, and a hundred-year-old Victorian lamp with brown velvet lace hanging from its shade. A pair of snow skis adorn the wall, along with an old pennant for the local college, a pair of antique ice skates, a stuffed fish, and some paintings from my early days as a painter. Though it’s clutter, it’s comforting clutter.

Beside my overstuffed old chair sits a birch bark log I drilled and made into a lamp, a little log cabin model my son Brady made a few years ago, a sketch pad, and a harmonica I just bought in hopes I’d learn it this summer.

Sacred Family Time

Summertimes are special, and we look forward to them all year, never knowing how many summers we have left. I consider it sacred time with the family and a chance to recharge my batteries. Though I still work eight- or 10-hour days from here, the view from my office is a lake and a mountain instead of the old scrub oaks of Austin. The days are long — last night it was light till about 10 — so there is time for kayaking, swimming, bike riding, or whatever I can do with my family. It usually involves leaving camp for a visit to Donnelly’s Ice Cream, the best in the Adirondacks, so creamy it’s like a flavored stick of cool butter. There are lines of people waiting to get their ice cream, usually 50 or more people every time we stop. It’s that good.

Though I’ve not yet got to learning the harmonica, which requires a very quiet spot where no one can hear you, I’ve also decided to take classical guitar lessons. I’ve been playing for about eight years, since I began accompanying my daughter to lessons so we could do something together, but I have reached the limit of my basic abilities.

Going Classical

Thankfully I found Steve, a local instructor and excellent classical guitar player, who has discovered all the bad habits I’ve developed. So I’m having to relearn everything I know. For instance, I’ve been holding my fingers wrong, and for classical guitar I have to move the instrument to my left knee, not my right. Because it’s summer, I can find a hour a day to practice.

I’m Ready to Give Up

And already I’ve suffered through those “this is too hard” moments, when I’ve said to myself, “It’s simply not worth it, I’ll just stick to what I know and stop these lessons.” Unfortunately, I’ve said that about six times this past week, pretty much every time I practice, because my fingers are in excruciating pain — I’m using different spots on the tips than I’ve used before, and having to use specific fingers on my other hand differently, with one finger assigned to each string. I keep getting it wrong.

I keep telling myself that I can do it, that every good guitar player went through this, and that the outcome will be worth the pain. But pain and frustration aren’t easy, and quitting is. Yet I know I have to pay my dues.

Comfort zones are happy yet dangerous places. Dangerous because we can get so cozy that we stop learning, and we don’t put ourselves out there to try new things.

Why bother? Why not stick with what we know and be happy with that?

Confusing My Brain

Well, that’s an option, and I think it has a lot to do with your personality. In my case I need fresh challenges at every turn; I feel as though I’m going backward if I’m not growing. But the best part is the mental rush when my brain starts to scramble. For instance, this week in my guitar lesson, the instructor was pushing my limits and I simply could not keep up — my brain was confused, and I had to just stop and think about each task, one at a time. I felt for a brief moment like my brain was exploding. Though confusing, it was invigorating, and I could feel my brain changing.

The Brain Gym

Experts say that one of the best ways to combat aging and dementia is to challenge your brain with crossword puzzles and online games. Just like your muscles need resistance to stay healthy, the same is true for your brain.

What if you asked yourself when the last time was that you were learning something new and challenging your brain? One of the things I love about painting is that it’s a continual challenge, and I’m constantly learning. Yet my brain isn’t freaking out like it was when I was asked to do a multi-string multi-finger sequence I could barely figure out. It’s those kinds of things that I think we need. Things that really push our limits and make us feel alive.

Resisting Change

If comfort is the enemy, then perhaps stimulation is our friend. Six years ago I awoke to the realization that after 20 years of running my business, I had been repeating the same practices year after year. I was doing nothing new, and it was reflected in the lack of growth in my business. But when I started attending conferences about things I knew nothing about, my brain, and my motivation, changed. It was very much like my guitar lesson. At first I was confused and overwhelmed, then as my brain started opening up new paths, I was starting to understand new concepts. When I tried doing them myself, it was hard, and I was ready to give up, but my stubborn nature made me stick with them. The end result was that they started changing the outcome of my business, and I became better than I had been.

Ask yourself…

What have I wanted to learn but have feared failure? (I know I keep telling myself I’ll never get good at this guitar thing, but I’m starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, I have to continually manage my mindset.)

What have I always wanted to learn but have never taken the time or effort?

What have I wanted to learn but have resisted because of some mental block, like “I’m too young, I’m too old, I’m too” … you get the idea.

It’s also a good idea to consider that there are things you would love that you don’t know exist. Why not visit the website of a local college or adult education center and pick something completely foreign to you? Even if it’s not something you turn out to love, you will learn something of value.

Usually our minds and our comfort are the biggest roadblocks.

How about a new mantra? “I’m curious. I want to grow. I want to keep learning. I want to keep my brain stimulated.”

Keep in mind that whatever you decide to learn will get hard, and it will be easy to find a good excuse not to continue. It is at that inflection point that the true learning begins.

Today is a good day to play with the idea and do a little self-examination. Mental stimulation keeps life more interesting, has a great impact on your brain and health, and has a huge impact on your state of mind.

Just the challenge of a few guitar lessons has really challenged me, has been mentally and physically painful (burning fingertips), and I’ve wanted to quit and not wanted to practice. But I’ve accepted the challenge and will not give up.

My wish is that you find a fresh challenge.

Eric

How to Set Your Brain on Fire 2018-07-18T13:08:36+00:00
15 07, 2018

When Change Is Hard But Good

2018-07-12T19:05:56+00:00

Walking out on the dock last night, it was pitch black. There was not so much as a ripple in the water; it was still as glass. I’ve never seen a darker sky anywhere, for here in the middle of the wilderness, we’re 25 miles from the nearest small town and hundreds of miles from light-polluted big cities. The sky was littered with stars. Not just a few, but thousands were visible, and I could see a depth to the night sky I’ve never before noticed. In the distance, just above the silhouette of the mountain, is a small bright blood-orange ball they call Mars.

Sitting here in my Adirondack chair with my head back, looking to the heavens, I heard the eerie call of the loons … not once, but three times, because each call reflects across the lake, then back, then back again.

Nowhere I’d Rather Be

Yesterday my wife was telling me about our neighbor, a lovely lady who has the means to live anywhere in the world and who has homes around the globe, yet finds this place her favorite place on earth. I feel the same, not just because it’s the closest thing we have to an old family homestead, but because it’s extraordinarily beautiful and in an area filled with traditions. In fact, Frederick Vanderbilt said this was the most beautiful lake in America and the second most beautiful in the world. Families on this lake have been here since the 1890s, and they are all deeply rooted together; everyone has known everyone’s kids, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. They gather for sailing, for barbecues, and for memorials when a lake member graduates to that great big lake in the sky.

Living In the Past

Tradition is rich in this little lake, nestled in the 6 million-acre protected Adirondack Park. Most people here resist modern things and are living in cabins built well over 100 years ago and heated by wood stoves and fireplaces when needed, and most have no road access. A trip to get groceries involves an old wooden boat, heading to a landing that is like a portal to modern times for the necessary trip back to 2018. Being here is like living in the past. It’s an escape from reality.

I’ve looked, and have found no lake in the world like this one. Though there are lots of beautiful lakes in the world, most have been modernized and are filled with the noise of Jet Skis and speedboats. Here it’s mostly wooden boats, canoes, ancient guide boats, and hundred-year-old sailboats that race weekly in August.

A Morbid Thought

My ideal last breath would be in this very place, in this very chair, looking at this very view of the mountain, someday watching my children’s kids playing on the dock, filled with laughter and squirting one another with squirt guns. Hopefully that will be a long, long time from now.

Though I can dream, as in a Greek play, the good of this place has also come with tragedy. Families who have owned these properties for generations are being forced to sell by unusually high taxation, so high it’s sustainable only for the ultra-wealthy. My only hope is that when the last of us are taxed out of this lake, the new caretakers of the lake carry on the traditions.

Saying Goodbye to Home

Years ago my father announced to the family his intent to sell this lake home. It’s an old story. Families downsize and sell the old family homestead, and family members are saddened because of their memories and the comfort of the old family pictures, and the vase they bought Mom for Mother’s Day as a child. I was deeply saddened when my grandparents sold their homes, and I’ll be saddened when this home is gone.

A Flood of Memories

Recently my grandparents’ old home on West Wildwood Avenue came up for sale, probably 30 years after their passing. As I looked at the photos, my mind was flooded with great memories of my grandmother reading the Bible to us, we kids playing on the old oak stairway, my grandfather reading the paper in his favorite chair, learning to woodwork in the old garage, “Mema” baking pies in her little kitchen, and “Papa” giving us haircuts in the dining room. Though I had a chance to buy the house, and it was affordable, I realized that their absence would make the home feel empty. That house had its time for our family, and now it is time for another family to make their own memories. The same is true here.

The Seasons of Life

As I think about the possibility that we’ll leave here one day, I have in mind this somewhat comforting reminder: For every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down, a time to build up; a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to rend, a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Like most, I’m set in my ways. I like it here. I’m happy. Yet I was happy in another place and was sad to see that sold, and didn’t want to come up here. Once I was here, I fell in love.

The Value of Change

Change is good, and though it’s uncomfortable, there is also the unknown, which can be pretty exciting. My wife and I have moved every decade since we’ve been married, and we look forward to our next mystery move once the kids hit college. Though we love the comfort and stability of knowing people and places, we also love the thrill of learning a new place and meeting new people.

Is being cozy and comfortable being stuck?

I often hear, “We should have done this years ago.”

Stuck in the Mud

I’ve been stuck much of my life. Stuck in jobs. Stuck in businesses where it was easier to sit still than to move forward. Stuck in relationships. Most of the time I got unstuck it was because someone made a change against my will. Getting dumped by a girlfriend, dumped by an employer, and dumped by investors. And in every case, I ended up in a place I like better.

Change is probably the hardest thing any of us experience. But just because we’re comfortable doesn’t mean it’s good for us. I have friends who are comfortable in dead marriages because they fear being alone the rest of their lives, fear they might end up in a worse relationship, or fear they might lose their money.

Have you ever lost a job, thinking it was the end of the world, only to find out it was the best thing to happen to you? I have.

Are you stuck?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I talk about being stuck? There is a good possibility that first thing you think of is where you’re the most stuck. Admitting it is the first step to getting unstuck.

What would you change if there were no consequences?
What would you change if you knew it would be easy?
What do you know you need to change but just don’t want to?
What have others been saying to you that you refuse to hear?

My Happy Place

There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, feeling settled and secure, and being in your happy place. Frankly, I could be here on this dock the rest of my life and be thrilled. I don’t feel stuck at all, but I’m not in control, and my future here is not in my own hands. So the most logical thing for me to do is to realize it and work to get into a position to be where I am in control.

In spite of my anxiety about having to leave this special place one day, I’m also excited to know that one day in the future I’ll be on to a new adventure. A change in perspective or attitude makes it easier to take.

Though I hope you’re not stuck, it might be worth asking yourself if you are and what you could do to get you into a better place.

Today is as good as any to think about it.

Eric

When Change Is Hard But Good 2018-07-12T19:05:56+00:00
8 07, 2018

Your True Purpose

2018-07-06T08:16:36+00:00

This morning as I stepped on to the dark brown wooden dock, I jumped a bit from the heat on my bare feet and carefully tiptoed my way to my bright red Adirondack chair overlooking the lake. A warm blue color reflects the humidity in the air, like looking through layers of glass, making the distant mountain look even farther away.

Deep Wilderness

Behind that distant mountain is pure wilderness, as far as the eye can see. Untouched, unspoiled, most never even explored by man. Each summer I canoe the lakes deep into that wilderness, where one can feel what it must have been like for explorers in uncharted territories. There is no road noise, no sound of humanity, only the splash of my paddle and the calls of distant birds. It’s a silence I never experience anywhere else, and it is intensely therapeutic as my eyes focus on deep greens and blues reflecting in the still water, and I spot an occasional animal on shore and bald eagles overhead.

Soul Food

This special place on the little lake on the edge of the wilderness feeds my soul. A walk down a wooded winding road is my morning commute for three months of the year. It’s quiet time, thinking time, a chance to breathe in the feel of the forest, the scent of pine as pine cones crunch under my feet and the soft carpet of pine needles puts a spring into my walk. Every morning’s walk is a time for prayer, to show my gratitude for one more season in this place.

Trusting More and Controlling Less

As I walk the road I think about all the past discussions I’ve had with God, decisions I’ve faced, my angst over certain issues, including some that consumed me unnecessarily. Yet each day walking that road I am reminded that I’m not in control and that everything I’ve struggled with was not worth the worry. It reminds me to stop trying to control outcomes and lets me focus more on trusting that everything eventually works out with perfect timing.

The Woods

Something about the woods makes one think about one’s life and purpose. Perhaps the brain is stimulated by the air, the scents, the visual of greens and browns, and the light shining through leaves like stained glass. Sometimes I’ll just sit on a rock to ponder life.

True Purpose

Looking back on my lifetime of obsessions and things that seemed critical for months or years,  I’ve realized that I’ve only recently found my true purpose. I stumbled along for decades searching for it. A couple of times I convinced myself that I had found it, but it never felt entirely like a fit. Yet today I feel deep commitment and comfort.

If you’re like most, you have probably asked yourself, “Why was I born? What is my purpose? Why am I here?” You’ve thought, “There has to be more to life than this.”

Perhaps your purpose is clear, or perhaps your compass is drawing you in a lot of different directions.

Unanswered Prayers

If you’re feeling a little anxious about that purpose and not having discovered it yet, don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up; don’t put yourself under pressure. You’ll find it at the perfect time when you’re ready to receive it. All the pain, discomfort, stress, anger, hurt, fear, illness, sadness, uneasiness, and unanswered prayers are the seasoning that prepares us for the right moment.

Embrace Everything

And you may find the things you hate most about yourself, your circumstances, your upbringing, or your physical attributes are the very things that lead you to the clues that help find those answers. The things you’ve always perceived as negatives may be things you can use to your benefit. Embrace everything about yourself; these are the cards you were dealt, and that has everything to do with your purpose.

Also know that you may already have discovered it unknowingly. I was working within my purpose for a few years before I discovered it was my true purpose.

Protecting Your Purpose

Once you’ve discovered it and realized how it will impact the world around you, protect it with everything you have, because your mission may take years or decades to build momentum. Therefore you need to use impeccable self-care for your mind, your body, and your spirit and your attitude. You need to be tuned in to what you are receiving and transmitting, because those things will impact the outcome of your purpose.

Aligned with Purpose

Self-care means proper diet and exercise to protect the vessel of your purpose and provide you with the time and energy you need. It means being aligned with your purpose and knowing what is and is not acceptable for you to achieve that purpose. It means surrounding yourself with people who will be supportive and shedding those who are not.

Monitor Your Influences

Chances are your parents may have expressed concern over who you were hanging out with as a kid, because they knew that who you spend time with is who you become. Your purpose requires you to spend time with those who are supportive. Though you and I can have resistance to negativity, I teach in my marketing classes that repetition sells. Sadly, negative repetition also sells, and that self-doubt starts to creep in when you have the constant drone of negativity around you. Though you may feel you’re being strong, any doubt in your mind that keeps you from your purpose is cancerous, and negativity breeds negativity. That’s why it’s important to distance yourself from negative people.

I don’t believe that anything is random. Each person born has a purpose. Some will never discover it, yet may have had a huge impact on others by way of unintended consequences. Others may allow their self-doubt and lack of confidence to block them from their dreams and never take action. Still others may shoot a lot of arrows before hitting their target.

Watch for it. Listen for it. Yet be patient. Purpose will come.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Life has many chapters, many of which are about finding purpose. Yet so many who consider themselves seniors or elderly feel they have lived their purpose; they feel as though they’ve had their chance and they seek no new purpose in life.

I’m reminded of a surgeon who was changing the lives of others with his gifts. Yet in a brief moment, after a nurse noticed a shake in his hands, he had to pull himself out of the game, knowing that shaking might make the difference between life and death. Suddenly he had lost his purpose, and his dreams of another decade of surgery were shattered. It was devastating, and this great man considered suicide. Yet when all was said and done, he discovered a deeper purpose, bigger and better than anything he had done in the earlier parts of his life. He now looks at that devastating moment as the best thing that ever happened to him.

If you are breathing, there is more purpose. Don’t buy into this concept of “aging out.” Instead, age in. There is more to do, more purpose to find, and we must embrace every season and every challenge as opportunity.

Your True Purpose 2018-07-06T08:16:36+00:00
1 07, 2018

The First Step to Changing the World

2018-06-28T13:53:36+00:00

Today is different. Unlike so many Sunday mornings, when I awaken and visit the back porch or the dock with my steaming hot java, this morning my view is of a small room with gray walls decorated by black-and-white photographs. I’m sitting in a swivel chair, surrounded by a microwave, a phone, a television, and a little two-cup machine to make my coffee. My teen boys sleep deeply, one in one of the two double beds, one on the pull-out couch. The sound of my fingers on the keyboard does not seem to be enough to awaken them.

Today, soon after they awaken, we’ll leave this small-town motel, make our way to the Tsongas Center at UMass (University of Massachusetts) in Lowell, about an hour outside of Boston. We’re here for the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders.

A Giant Room of Brilliant Kids

Imagine, if you will, a hockey rink packed with thousands of high school students, all from different walks of life, different communities, and different schools. Yet they all have two things in common: they have some of the highest grade-point averages in their schools, and they want to be in science or technology. This annual by-invitation-only Congress was designed by the visionary Richard Rossi, head of the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists (who also designed another event held earlier in the week, for future medical professionals). It was created to keep these kids interested in science, to expose them to the greatest living scientific minds, to inspire them, and to help them learn and be exposed to high levels of thinking.

Driven to Change the World

One of the benefits of being a dad, in this case, is the chance to see who is in charge of our science and technology future — and it’s been comforting. This week I’ve watched speakers who are in or just out of high school and who have already invented things that have changed the world. Things like medical tests and robotic breakthroughs. I’m seeing thousands of kids who are driven to change the world, and I’m confident they will. And I’m able to watch some of the greatest minds in the world speaking to these kids, and have had a chance to meet most of them.

This is our third year at this event, and it’s become a bit of a family tradition for the Rhoads boys. Last year my dad came with us as well.

Great Minds

I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, so I love events like this. Great minds are so rare, and so much fun to listen to. And after listening to 30 or 40 speakers over three days, you start to see patterns emerge, and new ideas in your own mind. I first learned this concept when I would attend the early TED conferences as a sponsor, and later when Google invited me to attend a private event with 400 of the greatest minds in the world. I’m still not exactly sure how I got on the invitation list, but it was a treat to be around the most brilliant people I’ve ever encountered.

Just Like You and Me

What I learned there and am reminded of here is that these people are very rare air; they think differently, and they approach life differently. But in other ways they are just like us. They put their pants on one leg at a time. They have the same doubts, the same insecurities, the same issues and family challenges. Some of them aren’t any smarter, but they possess an incredible work ethic to pursue their dreams and ideas. These people did not have anything handed to them, but they have something in common … passion combined with determination to follow through on their big ideas, and a refusal to give up when faced with roadblocks.

Just a Kid

To help the thousands of teens in the room understand that these speakers were not born with some special advantage or gift, these people tell stories of when they were teens and the obstacles they faced. They talk about how they could not get adults to take them seriously, how they were ignored as “just a kid,” and how they struggled to get things done with their limited resources — something that of course helped them discover new and better ways to get things accomplished. These elements came up in their stories again and again.

These high school kids are fortunate to have a 3.5 grade point average and to be invited to the Congress, and the ones who attended were fortunate enough to have parents or friends or fundraisers to get them there. But what about the rest of the teens who don’t have these opportunities?

I Would Never Be Invited

As a teen I would have never been invited to this event because my grades were below average. In fact, I don’t think I ever got an A or B in anything — my averages were Cs and Ds, and I had a lot of failing grades. I was held back in the 4th grade, which was devastating to me.

I can remember being about 12 and feeling the pressure to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up, and not having a clue. I loved photography. I loved music. I’d play those K-Tel albums with shortened versions of the top hits over and over.

My Bad Grades

In our house, I was never scolded for my bad grades. I was never even given a talking-to about getting my grades up. Though I can remember those moments of terror as I watched my mom or dad open the report card, knowing it was bad. My dad always told me, “Though you should do your best, grades are not going to have a thing to do with what you want to do with your life.” Mom never seemed to be too upset either. (Of course, they may have been freaking out inside.)

In spite of my bad grades, I was filled with encouragement that I could do anything with my life that I desired. I heard it so much that I started to believe it. As a result I took my interests to a higher level and made efforts as a teen that I otherwise might not have made.

Show Me Your Fingers

For instance, when I was getting the “Fingerprinting” merit badge in Boy Scouts, I came up with an idea. So I asked my mom to take me to the local shopping mall and wait for me. I went to the office, asked to see the manager of the mall, and told him I had an idea to fingerprint kids so that their fingerprints would be available in case they were ever lost or kidnapped. He liked the idea. Keep in mind, this was the 1960s, long before anything like this had ever been done. Then I went to the manager of the Kentucky Fried Chicken store. I had discovered that their little sealed wipes were great for removing ink. I got him to donate thousands of wipes. And I got the local police department to donate the fingerprint cards. I set up for a weekend in the mall, got the mall to advertise it, and me and my friends fingerprinted hundreds of kids and gave the cards to their parents in case they ever needed them.

My First Marketing Experience

Another time, I had joined Sing Out Fort Wayne, a local group distantly affiliated with Up With People, the national singing group. At 14, I was put in charge of publicity for our upcoming show, so I went to a local bank, asked to see the president, and asked him to run full-page ads in the paper for our group. I told him it would be good to have his bank name associated with helping a group of “responsible” teens. He ran the full-page ads, and our shows were packed. It was my first real marketing experience.

I could tell more stories, but the point is that interests and passion drove my actions. Though I had some self-doubt and fear about whether I could get these things done, my passion overcame my fear. I kept thinking about what my dad and mom continually said: “You can do anything.”

But… You Can’t Be…

Skeptics will say, “Yeah, but that’s not realistic. Why teach your kids they can do anything when the reality is they can’t do just anything?” There is usually an example attached to prove their point. It’s a valid point. Yet my reply would be that I’d rather have them try and find out their limitations than not try at all, and they will learn something and may accomplish something in the process. Plus they’ll learn quickly that they can accomplish most of what they set their mind to do.

The Tragedy of Disbelief

What I find tragic is the number of people who could have changed the world but who never tried because they did not believe in their ability, or believed that you had to have special parents, special circumstances, or a lot of money. For every story of success, there are dozens who never tried.

Part of the reason this happens is because parents often don’t believe their kids can make something happen because of their own broken dreams. So dreaming gets replaced with “Do what I did. Get a good steady job and a good income. Though I don’t like it, I’ll have a good retirement one day and can do what I love then.”

Why Kids Change the World

Look, I am not being critical of anyone or their circumstances. But the best and most likely people to change the world are young people with new perspectives and big ideas. We as adults need to embrace their ideas, support them, let them know we believe in them, and help them know how to change the world.

Art Revolution

In the art world, for instance, there is a giant upset coming. Young people who grew up around the artworks loved by their parents and grandparents are rejecting that kind of art for a new form of realism, rooted in 600-year-old techniques. In fact I’ve created a convention just for these artists to help fuel this movement.

Kids see things differently because of their comfort levels with new technology and understanding of things we adults cannot relate to. And as I’m seeing at this event this week, some are not allowing anyone to tell them, “You can’t do this till you’re out of college.” They are changing the world now.

Nurture Now

This event has inspired me to create an event just like this for future artists. I’ll add it to the list. Meanwhile, it’s a reminder that kids grow into adults rapidly and will soon take control of the world. We, as adults, need to encourage them, nurture their ideas, and not allow them to limit their own thinking.

One of the benefits of aging is watching babies turn into fine adults and seeing them do big things with their lives. We may never know that the little things we said or did had unintended consequences.

Last week I discussed the idea of encouraging others, and this week it has become crystal clear that our kids or grandkids need us to let them know there are no limits, no matter what their circumstances.

Not Another Dinner Party

A friend recently told me that her parents had people from all walks of life in for dinner. The kids had to sit quietly at the table to learn about these visitors. Later in life she learned her parents did not do it for their own entertainment, they did it to expose their kids to different people and ideas. It’s the same reason some families try to expose their kids to travel so they can learn about different worldviews.

The Two Important Lessons I Learned This Week

Never treat kids like kids. Treat them like adults, encourage them, and help keep them from limited thinking. The other lesson? Expose yourself to the greatest minds you can find, because they will stimulate your own mind and show you the possibilities yet to come.

Never Stop Influencing

We are never done till the final dust is thrown in our hole. Until then, with every breath, we can learn, we can grow, we can support and encourage others, and our own tiny influence could result in someone changing the world.

Mom, I Wanna Go to Mars

One of my sons intends to help colonize Mars. Their mother is mortified at the idea that we would never see him again. Yet who are we to rain on his parade? He needs to do what he dreams. It’s not about us. He needs to know we believe in him.

Helping teens, kids, or anyone change the world starts with you and me. Today is a good day to start … to listen, to hear dreams, and to encourage them.

The First Step to Changing the World 2018-06-28T13:53:36+00:00
24 06, 2018

Your Unintended Influence on Others

2018-06-21T09:35:40+00:00

If you listen closely, everything has a rhythm. This morning I hear the up-and-down rub of a boat tied to a dock, the lapping of the water, the high-pitched tweeting of distant birds, and the rumble of a float plane flying over, seeking a place to land … all to the same beat.

Minutes ago, I glanced up to see a bald eagle, wings spread wide, claws down, swooping in to catch her fishy breakfast, which was flopping its tail trying to escape.

The distant mountain is mostly covered in shadow cast by the yellow ochre and Payne’s gray clouds above it, showing little spots of brightness where the sun seeps through. The island of pine trees is being blasted with pink morning light as the pines stand tall at attention.

Here at the lake, the dock I greet you from this morning is the center of activity. It’s where neighbors are greeted when they tie up their boats, it’s the first place people walk to when they arrive by car, it’s where we sit for morning coffee and evening cocktails, and it’s where all the kids play. We feel blessed to have one more summer in this special place.

Standing Under Waterfalls

Pondering my week of catching up after a week of painting at the Publisher’s Invitational paint camp, I have to admit it was hard to get back into the rhythm of work after spending those days standing before incredible scenery, climbing over giant rocks, and sitting alongside rushing waterfalls with my brush in hand. I completed 16 paintings for the week, most of which will be headed off to the galleries, though some will be framed in birch bark frames and hang in our little cabin.  

It was also a special time because my son Brady painted beside me the entire week and my other son and daughter helped with setup and registration. One attendee said to Brady, “When you get older, you’ll realize just how special it is to have time with your dad.” I hope he feels this way, I certainly do. I hope it sticks with him for his lifetime. I keep telling the kids that many of the people they are meeting are famous or soon-to-be famous artists, and that one day they may look back and realize what a great opportunity they had. Brady was out painting and joking with everyone, which I loved to see.

I often try to be very deliberate with my kids and the lessons I’m teaching, but there is so much that occurs through their own observation. Though I did not try to be different in any way when around my 83 artist friends last week, it crossed my mind that my interaction with others is unintentional training for my kids.

Yes, Your Thoughts Matter

When I was a kid my dad used to make me put on a suit, go to trade shows, shake hands and greet people, tell them about his products, and he even had me attend meetings. Instead of sending a message of “sit quietly in the meeting,” several times in every meeting he would turn to me and say, “What do you think?” Not only did it make me feel special, it made me pay attention so I did not get busted and have to say, “Uh, Dad I wasn’t listening.” And I learned a lot.

Following in Family Footsteps

The influence of those around us makes such a huge impression that we often pick things up by osmosis, it seems. Why do the daughters and sons of a police officer or firefighter often follow in Mom’s or Dad’s footsteps? First, their parents are their heros. Second, it is what their parents talk about and love. Third, they interact with their parents’ co-workers. When it comes time to make up their minds in their own lives, it’s pretty easy to choose what they know, what they’re comfortable with — as it is for all of us.

Though my brothers and I all had opportunities to follow in our father’s footsteps and go into his business, we all did our own thing, which means we’d been taught to follow our own muse, be curious about things we were interested in, and do what we loved. We all worked full-time in his company every summer, yet we each chose a different path.

No Fear

Dad’s influence trained me to have confidence in business. I probably never had as much fear as most people who have stepped out to start a business because I had been around his meetings and business calls and tough decisions my whole life. I became an entrepreneur like my dad and an artist like my mom. Her influence was equally strong.

Guess Who’s Watching

Last week, when I was with my kids around the other artists, it struck me that my behavior will become their behavior. It’s not what I say, it’s how I act. It’s the way I look someone in the eye when they are talking, the big smile and hugs when I see someone for the first time in a long time. It’s the respect and time I give others, it’s the way I react to a joke or someone saying something inappropriate. These are all signals of who I really am, knowing my kids are watching. Guess where I learned them? Like it or not, our behavior gets passed along, whether it’s good or bad.

Someone Else’s Hero

But it’s not just our own kids who learn from us. Sometimes you and I are someone else’s hero. The ways we behave with others in our jobs are often being picked up and implanted in people we are unknowingly influencing. I was often influenced by or learned from the moms or dads of friends I spent a lot of time with. What about you?

This may not work for you, but my goal in life is to help others see things in themselves that they do not see. I want to help them see their strengths, and if I’m pointing out weaknesses (which is rarely productive), I try to do it with love.

Just like the deliberate lessons for kids, we need to be deliberate about helping others see what they cannot see in themselves.

Why I’m Down on Facebook

Facebook has made me very disappointed in much of the human race because there is so much negativity. So many people will say things in a post that they wouldn’t say to your face.

What if you and I did a little experiment?

What if, instead of piling on with hurtful comments, you and I looked for opportunities to build others up? We may not agree with their stance on issues, but we can still find something good to say. Maybe they are throwing negative darts because no one ever compliments them.

What would be the impact if you, me, and the 100,000 people reading this today said three nice things to other people, in person or online, each day for a week — building up instead of tearing down?

A funny thing happens when someone says something nice. It changes our demeanor. And it feels so good that we sometimes want to pass it on.

Do the math.

Three positive comments a day to three different people: 7 days x 3 positive comments = 21 positive comments in a week. 21 x 100,000 readers = 2.1 million positive comments. That’s just one week.

What if you did it for a whole year? 21 comments x 52 weeks = 1,092 x 100,000 readers = 109 million positive comments.

And if each person reading this forwarded this to just three people who did the same thing, we would impact a group of people as large as the entire population of the United States.

And a little secret: You’ll feel better if you compliment someone sincerely three times every day.

Appreciated, Not Angered

I’m convinced more than ever that Facebook could become the downfall of society, bringing out our worst, not our best. People in our world need to be appreciated instead of angered. If we each found something positive and meaningful to say each day to three people, you and I alone could improve our world because people who feel appreciated are happier people.

I appreciate you.

Have a great Sunday.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Someone reading this has been telling a lot of people about my new book. I want to thank you. Turns out that people who own small businesses and big ones, people in all walks of life who make their living with their businesses, have been reading it and implementing it. Even though the book is about marketing art, the marketing principles apply to every business. I want to thank you for making it soar. I owe you one.

Your Unintended Influence on Others 2018-06-21T09:35:40+00:00
17 06, 2018

Perfect and Imperfect Fathers

2018-06-12T15:54:04+00:00

The morning is still. Glass-like reflections of the yellow sky, the purple clouds, and the distant gray mountain are perfect, not so much as a ripple in the water. Crisp, fresh air, so pure there is no description, fills my lungs. Coffee on the dock at this Adirondack lake is among my favorite things.

Guitars

One of my other favorite things is to take my beautiful handmade maple acoustic guitar out to the dock and quietly pluck the strings to make a soundtrack of the morning. A single strum, followed by silence, allows me to hear the sound travel across the lake and back again in a millisecond. I choose to do it this time of year, before residents visit their lake homes, so as not to disturb them.

I took up the guitar as a teen but dropped it along the way, then found it again when my daughter was too shy to take lessons on her own, so we shared a lesson each week — and it got me hooked. I even built my own guitar, with a coach, on my birthday almost four years ago.

This was one of the gifts of fatherhood. My intent was not to take up guitar, but just to be there to reassure my daughter. Yet I ended up receiving a gift of a new passion and a new way to challenge myself and stimulate my brain.

Late to the Party

Having kids was always high on my list, but it did not happen until I was 47. I vividly recall the first blood test with high levels and my sister-in-law, a medical professional, telling us that was an indicator of multiples, and probably not just twins. I had a big smile on my face because I grew up with twin cousins and always imagined myself having twins.

The first ultrasound revealed four, three of whom were large and healthy, while one, we were told, would dissipate and not be viable.

This Should Never Happen

A couple of months into the process, a doctor sat with us and strongly suggested that there was not enough nourishment for three, which could result in one being less than healthy. Termination of one was suggested, and heavy pressure was put on us that we could not fully understand. Did they know something they weren’t telling us? It sucked the joy out of an otherwise wonderful time.

“Go home and think about it, but we need to get this done soon,” we were told. “No, we already know the answer. We’re taking what we were given and we will live with the consequences, whatever they may be.” Pressure continued. Our strong resolve protected us.

Evil Purpose

Months later we learned, quite by accident, that the pressure was not for medical reasons at all. It was because the teaching hospital that provided the in vitro would lose funding if their averages showed consistent levels of multiples more than two.

Today, three healthy and amazing 16-year-olds, each providing us with hours of entertainment, love, challenge, and laughter. What we would have missed. Which of the three would not be there for us? I cannot imagine having lived our life with these precious gifts, wondering what the third would have been like.

Non-Negotiables

A wise friend, Roy Williams, taught me an important lesson many years ago. If you define who you are, what you want, what you don’t want, what you are willing to do, and what you are not willing to do, and what is non-negotiable, no matter what hits you in life, these things will give you answers without angst. Being unsure of what we were not willing to do at a time when we were weak, fragile, confused, and frightened could have allowed us to be swayed. Because we knew our non-negotiable, we did not even have to think about it.

Being There

In my early 30s, I was convinced I could happily go through life without kids, as many of my friends have. Thankfully, my “all about me” mindset changed. It may not be right for everyone, but it’s been the best gift I’ve received. Yet I know I’m merely a caretaker. I know that though they will leave the nest before long, my duties as a dad never end. My own dad, now in his 90s, is still there for me, still coaching me, still giving me brilliant ideas, and still challenging me. Same with my mom. Thank God for great genes.

Being Deliberate

I once wrote about being deliberate with the kids, and my goal this summer is to quietly work from a list of lessons that I hope to find the right moment to entrench, to help my little birds fly. We never know which summer will be our last with the kids as a family, knowing their friends take precedence, and college and life and jobs and relationships will potentially take them away.

Attracting Visits

I learned an important lesson from my own father (Happy Father’s Day, Dad), which is to make everyone want to be with you so they’ll return naturally. It started by treating us with respect when we were young, making sure we did things that were fun, and continuing those traditions. The dock I sit on is his, not mine, and because of this family home, much of our family gathers here naturally each summer, allowing us to reconnect. Though it’s a lot of work and expense, I can think of no better investment than a place that allows family to reconnect all summer every summer, or just to be there as much time as possible. I fear that when that is gone, our summer gatherings will be replaced by each of us going our separate ways. Then it will become my job to find a new way to get the kids, and hopefully grandkids one day, to look forward to our times together, wherever they may be.

Investing in the Future

There is, in my opinion, nothing more important than the relationship with our kids and their eventual families. Time invested in making them want to come back, want to spend time, is the best time we can spend. One of my saddest moments was being estranged from a family member over something I said, and one of my happiest was allowing time to pass and wounds to be healed, allowing us to be together again. Estrangement from my kids in any way would be devastating, which is why investing in them at every moment is important. That of course does not mean letting them do things that will harm themselves or their future, so correction is part of love.

Showing Up

Today, we celebrate our dads. Being a dad has helped me understand just what a great job my dad has done for me, and how he’s given me a role model for my own kids. My goal is to keep the good things, skip the things that were not productive (though I can’t think of any at the moment), and keep showing up, as he does for me still. A father’s work is never done.

Painful Memories

I don’t mean to cause pain to those who don’t have memories of a father, or whose memories are not good. I have friends who have horrible fathers who did horrific things, selfish things. I know others who did not know their dads, who grew up without a father. Though I cannot relate to what that must be like, I can say that the only thing you can do at this point is to be the parent you wish you’d had. And for those who don’t want to have kids, just know that pain provides lessons, and have confidence that you won’t repeat the mistakes of others.

Passing It On

Evil does exist in the world, but most bad dads don’t intend to be evil. Sadly, many have been the victim of a pass-it-on game pushed from father to child for generations. I recently saw a program where a famous actor looked into his ancestors, and his research indicated that the problems he had with an abusive father stemmed from his great-great-grandfather’s losing a wife at a young age, becoming an alcoholic, and beating his kids. He beat his kids, thus his son learned to beat his kids, and so on. All because of an unresolved wound three generations before.

A Football Metaphor

Years ago I took a time management course with Charles Hobbs. In the class he had a white football and a black one. He threw the white football and encouraged us to pass it on. It passed from one person to the next to the next. Then he threw the black football, but said to ground it and not pass it on. His point, of course, was to pass on the positives and not pass the negatives. I think that is true with our parents. Pass on the positive traits, ground the negative traits. Otherwise the negatives can be passed along for generations.

Choose What to Pass On

Often we don’t even recognize our own negative traits and are unwilling to listen when others try to let us know. But once we do realize them and accept that they are not productive, it’s time to ground the football. Pass the good, ground the bad. It’s never too late — even if your kids are adults, they are passing on your habits and traits, good and bad. If you realize you’ve passed something along that you regret, it’s time to apologize and encourage them not to pass that on.

Getting Unstuck Sooner

Life is full of lessons and corrections. Thankfully, we continue to evolve, learn, and make changes. Or at least, we should. Being stuck isn’t a good place to be. I know because I get stuck a lot, and then I have an “I should have had a V8” moment when I slap my head and wonder why I didn’t realize it and get unstuck sooner.

Can You Forgive?

My guess is that most fathers mean well, even though we may be clinging to some bad decision they made years ago. Forgive if you can, and move on. Not forgiving doesn’t hurt them as much as it eats away at you.

Why let anger fester inside you for a lifetime? See someone, talk to someone, try to resolve it, and even if your dad won’t apologize, you still can forgive.

I’m Grateful for You

I’d like to say something else this morning, which is that I’m grateful that you are opening these little Sunday morning moments. Sometimes I hear from people who agree, others who disagree, some who think I’ve gone too far, others who think I’ve not gone far enough. I’m not out to be an affront, or to change anyone, or even to instill my beliefs in anyone. I write because I have to get my thoughts written down, and I happened to share them with a couple of friends who encouraged me to share with others. We are all so busy, so consumed with life, with social media, with negative thoughts about politics and celebrities, I like being able to just stop and think about something I’ve not thought about before. So I hope, in some little way, this serves that purpose for you.

Perfection

For me, every day I can pick up the phone and talk to mom or dad is a perfect day. A friend I once played golf with told me he would give up all his riches for just one more day with either of his parents. Yet busy lives, and the fact that it seems like our parents will always be there, tend to make us less attentive. Thus today is a reminder that I should call and visit more often.

Today let us rejoice in our fathers, their perfections and imperfections, knowing that we too are imperfect, and we too will make mistakes with our kids.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: In a moment I’ll leave the dock and go over to the local college, where about 83 painters who have been with me for a week at my Publisher’s Invitational will be having breakfast, followed by my farewell announcements, followed by lots of people who got close during the week saying tearful goodbyes. Like past years, some will say goodbye and never return because of health issues or worse, others just won’t come back because of circumstances, and still others will return next year as they have for the past eight. These people are like my painting family, and I cherish them. Our next time gathering will be in the Canadian Rockies and again in Africa. It’s a hard day for me because, like a wedding, I plan it all year, then it’s here and gone in a moment. I hate goodbyes, and my kids will tell you, “Dad is crying again.” But that’s just who I am. I cherish those in my painting family, and today, when everyone checks out, I get to be with all three of my kids and my bride for a perfect Father’s Day. I hope your day is perfect as well.

Perfect and Imperfect Fathers 2018-06-12T15:54:04+00:00
10 06, 2018

A Bountiful Harvest

2018-06-06T07:38:22+00:00

A deep breath fills my lungs with the smell of pine. As I sit on the dock in a bright red Adirondack chair, the water is perfectly still and reflecting the puffy pink clouds above, the distant purple mountain, and the rich greens.

The water acts like a giant reflector; sounds from across the lake are amplified perfectly. Silence is supplemented by the splash of canoe paddles from a distant couple having a morning chat as they cut across the water in the distance.

This is the moment I look forward to all year. A lake I’ve called home for summers past. And it brings instant stress reduction and recharges my batteries to 100 percent.

Red Letter Days

My grandmother Luella used to call these “red letter days.” Something to celebrate, a day packed with memories. Not only is it my first Sunday here since we left in August last, today begins one of my favorite weeks of my insanely busy year.

Play Time With Friends

Listening started this special week. My ears perked up when painter friends lamented their busy lives on the painters’ event circuit, unable to spend time with their friends at events, unable to paint side by side, because they were in competition to sell paintings. Wouldn’t it be nice if just once a year, we could paint with friends without the pressures of an event? Nothing to sell, no banquets to attend, just play, just painting, just fellowship.

Best Week of My Life

“I could arrange that,” I thought, and a year later, we held the first “Publisher’s Invitational” (so called because I make my living as a publisher and because attendance was by invitation only). Ten were invited, but 17 appeared when requests from the 10 came in to bring their friends. We painted all day, cooked our meals together, sat up late at night laughing, storytelling, and sipping adult beverages. “The best week of my life” was the common thread heard at the end of the week we did not want to end.

A Thousand Paintings

Though exclusivity is nice, so is inclusion, and in following years I removed the invitational aspect. Anyone who wants to come can come, and it was invitational in name only. The event grew from 10 to about 125, and evolved to a campus just a few minutes from here in the Adirondacks where we painted amazing waterfalls, stunning lakes, majestic mountains, and over a hundred shades of green. Attendees created their own traditions, including music and portraits in the evenings and bringing our paintings into a giant room for all to see — we end up with over 1,000 paintings by the end of each week.

Over time I decided more than 100 people was too many and trimmed it back to keep it manageable at about 80, because it’s an event I do all by myself, with only the help of a local painter, Sandra Hildreth, who takes half the group to different paint spots than my group.

Personal Growth

There are reasons this is a favorite week. First, I get to be with old and new friends. I love being with other people. Second, my busy life rarely lets me find time for outdoor painting, and when I do, it’s random and last-minute. But this event allows me to do two or three paintings a day every day for a week. Not only am I painting with friends, I’m painting a lot, and the result is growth as a painter. I usually start the week with my worst work and end the week with my best. Everyone seems to experience the same thing because it’s rare anyone, even pros, gets to do a week of painting all day every day.

Just Me

I also pride myself on doing the entire week by myself. Most of my other events, like the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) in April (next year it’s in San Francisco) or the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE) in Miami in November require lots of my team members to be around me. Though I love them, when they are there I’m in the role of leader or boss, and it’s hard for them or me to relax. At this event, though the workload of hosting 80 painters, feeding them three meals a day, dealing with the issues on campus and their needs can have its stress-filled moments, I still love that it’s just me.

Well, it’s not really just me, because my kids come in the day before, stuff the bags with goodies, brochures, magazines, art samples, etc., and they help with registration when people show up. Usually one of them will come along and paint with us, which makes the event friends and family. It does not get any better than that.

Now you can understand why today is a red letter day. After I leave the dock, possibly take a quick dip in the lake, today at noon I’ll greet my guests, and give them orientation tonight, dinner and drinks, and a week of 6 a.m. to midnight.

Oxygen

When you become a painter, like I did, painting is like oxygen. You have to paint to survive. Plus, there is magic in looking forward to something all year. Because I need to paint, I need to do this a few times a year in some form or another. So I’ll have an event again this fall in the Canadian Rockies, and I’ll do an international trip to Africa this fall, and I have my art collectors’ trip to Italy in autumn as well. It’s a busy time, especially because the FACE convention is also this fall, as is my radio Forecast event.

Fifteen-Hour Days

Reflecting on life as it used to be makes me realize how important it is for all of us to have things we can look forward to, something to allow us to get through stress-filled weeks and life’s issues and challenges. Too many years were spent jamming so hard that there was no time for myself or my wife. Years without vacations, summers when I could not get even a week off for a lake visit. Looking back, I probably spent my 30s and most of my 40s working 15-hour days. My life was filled with stress, I was driven to make money, and I had nothing other than work in my life. Though I’ve always loved my work, it was not till my 40th birthday that I discovered painting, and it changed the way I look at life. It’s one of the reasons I’m so driven to teach a million people to paint in the next 10 years, and it’s one of the reasons I offer free lessons to anyone who wants to try it.

Seasons

Looking back, I realize King David was right (as was Pete Seeger) when he wrote “to everything there is a season.” A time to sow, a time to reap. Life has perfect design, and there is perfect timing for everything, if we’re just willing to listen for that timing.

Had I discovered painting earlier, I may not have been ready, and I certainly would not have had the experience of starting magazines under my belt, so these events probably would never have occurred.

I used to put myself under tremendous pressure to achieve things, to make money, and to work like crazy. Though I’m busier than ever, it’s more balanced. I don’t work 15-hour days and work for years without vacations. I’m more disciplined, more measured, more patient. This is a different season.

Your Seasons

Though there is nothing wrong with putting yourself under pressure and working like a dog to make certain things happen, there is also nothing wrong with allowing God’s perfect timing to work its way in your life. That does not mean drifting, because activity is as important as quiet time. We just have to understand that if we’re frustrated or if things are not going as we wish, we’re each in a season, and there is a purpose, a lesson in it. And if we listen, and ask for help, a new season will emerge and everything will make perfect sense.

Someone recently said to me, “Eric, I want your life.” But be careful what you ask for, or you might end up with two decades of toil to prepare the soil for the harvest.

Be thankful for the life you have been given, the lessons you have had to learn, and the lessons to come. Be thankful for the hard times, which give contrast to the good times and make appreciation sweeter.

The Time to Understand

Be patient, because the less than perfect, whatever seems less than ideal, is indeed as it should be and will lead you to perfect if you listen. If you allow God’s plan to flow over you, it will prepare your mind for the steps you won’t understand until you’re ready to understand them.

When Your Seeds Grow

No matter what you are going through at this moment, be patient and know that even the most horrific and difficult time has a sunrise to follow. Look for it, listen for it, and know that each life has a grand plan you may not grasp right now. And understand that the grand plan is probably not something you’ve ever imagined, and may, at the moment, seem like something you don’t want. If you had asked me 25 years ago if I’d be publishing art magazines, doing events for artists and collectors and being a painter, I’d have told you it was insane and could never happen, yet I finally found my purpose and home. You will too.

I’m not sure there is any way to speed up the necessary process. I used to believe in shortcuts, but there are times your food needs to have nutrients of disaster added, much as a forest fire can make the soil stronger.

Silence Is Golden

Perhaps there is one thing I’ve discovered that I never took time for before, and that is quiet time. Prayer, meditation, sitting quietly on the dock or the porch just one hour a week (and more if you can), eyes closed, allowing your mind to wander. Don’t spend it asking, spend it listening. It brings peace, clarity, and sometimes ideas creep in that don’t seem to fit. Listen, take action, and don’t just follow what you want, but listen for the universal call toward something that does not seem like it fits.

Listening

Being a control freak, I believe I can control the outcome of anything. It’s taken me a lot of years to understand that I can’t control plans for my life that I don’t know exist. Finally understanding this has given me peace. Now I try to listen more, wait more, and have patience. That does not mean we stop taking action — we need movement as much as we need stillness.

Four Seasons

Your angst and frustration may seem difficult, your pain may seem unbearable. Your worry about others is natural. It may seem endless, and it may have been going on for years, but there is strength in knowing there is a season ahead that’s different from the season you’re in now. Fall and winter are always followed by spring and summer.

Somehow knowing this makes it easier. And though it’s hard to understand sometimes why bad or difficult things happen to good people, have confidence that there is a grand plan, and that fire hardens steel. It may seem overwhelming at the moment, but asking why won’t have as much impact as asking what you are supposed to learn, knowing the soil is being prepared for a bountiful harvest.

 

Eric Rhoads

A Bountiful Harvest 2018-06-06T07:38:22+00:00
3 06, 2018

How Dreams Come True

2018-05-31T13:40:58+00:00

Walking in my pajamas from the nice cool house outside to the porch, the heat unexpectedly smacks my face. The buzz of the overworked air conditioner compressor drowns out the sounds of birds, yet the bugs’ buzzing is drowning out the compressor. In the distance, the rap of a hammer — someone is up early, working on their dream home.

Building a dream home has never been high on my bucket list, yet every home, every building you pass, was at one time or another someone’s dream.

I often look at old, crumbling buildings, often near the point of being condemned or razed, and think that building was someone’s dream at one point. Someone spent their life coming up with the money, working diligently over the plans, working with the builders (or building it themselves) over months or years, spending endless amounts of time working on their dream. If walls could talk, they’d reveal what took place within those buildings and the outcome of those dreams.

Old Vs. New

Though headaches can abound with old buildings, if given a personal choice of a brand-spanking-new home or building versus something old with character and great design, I’d choose the old. Maybe I’m an old soul, mentally living in another era. I like old paintings, old buildings, old houses, old boats, and old books.

Pinch Me

Though I sometimes fantasize about living in historical times and hanging out in the cafes with painters like Monet or Van Gogh, thinking how magical it would be, in some ways I feel as though I’m living that life today, and that people will look back on these times, wishing they could have been a part of the art movement today. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize a great artist is staying in our world famous artist’s cabin.

Artists Discovered

I feel extremely blessed to spend time with the greatest painters of our day, some of whom will come to my event in the Adirondacks next week, and some of whom will be discovered there once I see them paint and end up doing articles on them. I can think of several unknown painters, now famous, whose careers were given birth by attending that event and others.

Two Special Movements

Though it’s fun looking at other times as romantic and a place we would love to be, we need to realize that the time we are living in is one of those special times in history. If you’re reading this and are not an artist, there are two movements going on at the present moment that will go down in history as two of the most important in the history of art. I feel fortunate to be able to play a small role in each of those movements.

Cocktail Party Stories

A little piece of art history for your next cocktail party … today’s plein air painting movement (“plein air” is a French term for “outdoors,” as I explain on my podcast) is the largest movement of any kind in the history of art. There are more people going outside to paint, more events, more shows, and more participants than at any time in history. Art historian Jean Stern of the Irvine Museum says this is the largest movement in the history of art. Of course, I also call it “the new golf,” because people love the challenge, the social aspects, and the lifestyle.

A Youth Movement

The other movement is what I call the modern realism movement, which is led by droves of young people who are moving away from their parents’ and grandparents’ modernist roots and, like generations before them, shedding the old for the new. The new, in their eyes, means realistic painting practices perfected by the Old Masters 400 years before them, whose techniques were almost lost after the modern movement was launched in the early 1900s.

These artists are painting works at levels of quality that match some of the great masters of the past, though their subjects reflect modern sensibilities. Our little role in this was to start a magazine focused on this movement about 15 years ago, when we saw some early signs, and today we try to fuel that movement with a training event and convention and the magazine.

Treasures

In both cases, those who have the gift of owning paintings from these eras may end up with the high-auction pieces that fund future generations of your family, just as if you had owned a Monet or a Raphael. But what’s most important isn’t the money, it’s the pleasure of having these works on your walls, enriching your life.

One never knows how history will treat one’s own times, but I believe historians will look back on these moments as rare and special, and look upon the artists as part of a special time in history, especially when there are two major movements happening simultaneously.

Living in Special Times

Each of us is living in a special time, when special things are going on. I remember my grandmother talking about inventions created in her lifetime that she could barely believe; they seemed to her beyond science fiction. I’ve since realized that you and I will be telling our grandkids about things we’ve seen that once seemed impossible. The rate of innovation in our lives today is greater than the rate of innovation at any time in history, impacting everything around us, including our health.

I Can’t Believe I’m Here

During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, I was an outsider looking in. I heard stories about “idea people” who ended up changing the world and sometimes making billions. Some stories became legendary. One day I woke up and told myself, “I don’t want to be an outsider, I want to be an insider. I want to be one of those people trying to change the world through technology.”

So I went to Silicon Valley with an idea, raised a bunch of money, started a company, hired employees, and changed the world of Internet audio forever. The people I was encountering in my daily life were all with the young startups that had not yet changed the world. For instance, I met two young guys at a party who had just started a company called Google. I met the young man who started Napster, which changed the music world forever. I met with the founders of startups called PayPal and Ebay, and hundreds of other tech giants.

Insert Yourself Here

Though I was late to the party, once I realized there was a major movement going on, I made a decision to find a way to insert myself so I could be part of the dialogue. Rather than telling my grandkids about seeing things happen in my life, I’ll be able to tell them that I was able to play a small role in those things.

The gift of life may be brief, but why not look at that gift and try to be part of something bigger, something that will change the world, something that will allow you to influence the outcome?

Insecurities and Hangups

Though you may not feel deserving, you have things inside of you that can make a major difference in the world. Your perspective, your lifetime of wisdom, is of great value, and it’s something others need to hear. In fact, most of the people I’ve met in the world of change are no different than we are. They have their insecurities and hangups, they lack confidence in many areas, they have doubts and negative thoughts too. The only difference is that they move forward anyway because their dreams are bigger than their doubts.

No Regrets

You have something inside you right this minute. You may not even know what it is. You may be questioning what to do with your life, or you may have an idea that you’ve lacked the confidence to pursue. Do you want to go to your deathbed with regrets because you did not try? I’m not sure who said it, but it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all.

There are so many things on my bucket list that I’ll need a couple of lifetimes to get them done. Some are old, some are new, but I’m very focused on making them happen.

An Old Bucket List Item

I can only think of one thing on my old bucket list that I’ve not done yet, a dream I’ve had since I was a teen, which is to play a role as an actor in a major motion picture. I’m not sure why the dream is there or what drives it, but I fully intend to check that off my list. Knowing the itch that has to be scratched is half the battle, because you’ll tell your brain about your need and your subconscious mind will make it happen.

Building a Museum

Though this is important to me, there are new bucket list items that hold more importance. For instance, Isabella Stewart Gardner inspired me to create a modern-day museum, just as she did, to reflect the two major art movements and the great artists of our time. I want to create a museum of plein air and one of modern realism. I simply need a major donor to create an endowment. This needs to be done so these two movements are given proper recognition in a major city, so they live on for generations. It’s too important to let the moment pass.

There are many other bucket list items, like teaching a million people to paint. It’s a modest goal, and one I hope to blow past one day, but it’s important because painting changes souls and opens eyes. It remakes us so we have the eyes of an artist, and that is life-changing.

Giving Ideas Attention

I suspect you too have a bucket list. Some are just fun things you want to get done, which may involve travel. Others may be about creating memories for your family, while others may be ideas that will change the world. They are all important, and if you give them enough time and attention, you’ll overcome all the obstacles in the way, including money. I certainly don’t have the money to start an important museum, but someone out there who has the ability may share the vision to make it happen.

What are your big dreams?
What is on your bucket list?
What do you feel you need to accomplish in your lifetime?

Perfect Timing

Some people start fast, others start slowly. Most of the good things I’ve done in my life happened after 50. Don’t tell yourself there isn’t time, or that’s it’s too late, or you’re too young or too old or too poor or that your circumstances prevent it. Passion overcomes everything. It simply starts with belief.

Mind Blocking

The world has been blessed with amazing things that would not exist had some woman or man allowed their dreams to be prevented by their negative mindset. We have incredible buildings, institutions, museums, even cities that happened because of the single dream of one person. Most of those people started with no money and no special advantages, but their passion drove their minds to find a way.

Make Your List

You’ve been blessed with a great mind, great ideas, and great passion. You have what it takes. I hope that today, you’ll find some quiet time to make a list, and decide which items are at the top of the list, so you’ll remind yourself every day. Before long, what seems out of reach will start getting into your subconscious mind, which then will find a way to drive it home.

I have confidence in you, no matter what things are going on in your life that may be preventing you from living that dream. Most, if not all, of these things will pass and you’ll find God’s perfect timing. Have confidence, and don’t let go of those dreams.

How Dreams Come True 2018-05-31T13:40:58+00:00
27 05, 2018

Bring Depth to Your Life

2018-05-23T06:48:08+00:00

A blanket of fast-moving Prussian blue clouds hovers over the land, with bits of Creamsicle-colored sunlight peeking through. A soft, muted rustle of wind makes the treetops of my scrub oaks sway ever so slightly. Then there is a low, peaceful roar as wind rushes between branches. The little family of squirrels chirrups as if to say, “Take cover, rain is coming! Get OUT of those trees, kids!” Suddenly the wind picks up to a true roar, the trees bending as a raptor glides overhead, its wings spread wide. Soon my safe, covered corner of the back porch on this old house will keep me dry as storm-watching, one of my favorite porch sports, begins. Nothing quite so poetic exists in my little world as the security of my dry little corner as chaos comes from the skies above.

Countless Hours of Study

I began storm-watching as a childhood pastime, from the garage of the little brown house I grew up in. Now, as an artist, I could study clouds and the effects of wind and light forever. Few artists take the time to understand clouds and the subtle differences in the sky, yet even the untrained eye can spot a sky that feels real, clouds that have the feel of movement, edges that indicate drops of moisture blending against the distant blues. John Constable (1776-1837) in England was, perhaps, the best. Rather than being seduced only by the surroundings of country roads, distant church steeples, and rows of trees — all of which he painted beautifully — he spent his life studying clouds, and it was the skies that made his paintings come alive. He would sit at his easel, painting en plein air (outdoors) for countless hours in rain, snow, blowing winds, and every imaginable condition, to master the art of skymaking.

Constable knew his subject deeply. He was not satisfied with painting the sky well enough to get by; he wanted to be the best sky painter in the world. He wanted to understand the conditions, because he knew the sky was the key to making his paintings speak the truth.

Obsession with Depth

Recently, as I interviewed artist Jill Carver for my podcast, we discussed Constable, and his obsession with knowing his subject so well. The great artists, she said, know their subjects deeply. You can tell instantly, instinctively, when an artist has taken the time to truly know and understand his or her subject.

The great marine painter John Stobart, a dear friend and a man who will go down in history as one of the great marine painters of all time, lives the subject he paints. His obsession with historic ships requires research and study so that the rigging of each rope, each mast, is historically accurate. When I asked why it matters, when the majority of people viewing the painting would never know the difference, he said, “I would know the difference, and anyone who knows ships would know the difference. I’m painting history, so history has to be accurate.”

Living It Instead of Pretending

A conversation with the great Western painter and sculptor John Coleman that took place on this very porch led to the same subject. We talked of painters trying to break into the Western art market who are pretenders, as opposed to real cowboys who have lived the lifestyle. He said, “I know horses, I’ve spent my life around horses, and anyone who does not live it can be spotted by anyone who knows.” He said the same about Native American paintings. “I’ll see paintings with the costume of one tribe and the blanket of another tribe. Someone who knows their subject deeply would never let that happen.”

This idea of thoroughness, mastery, and knowing one’s subject deeply certainly applies to our lives as artists — in fact, it really applies to every aspect of our lives. To be a master at one’s craft requires determination, relentless study, and deep curiosity. A true master is always learning his or her craft, whether an artist, architect, or apple grower.

I certainly would want a surgeon who is obsessed with her craft — not just understanding the basics, but mastering the highest level of competency, and feeding her curiosity with a life of learning and staying ahead of her colleagues.

Seeking Depth

I struggle with depth because of my intense curiosity. As a painter, I tend to get bored and want to try a lot of different things, play with different styles. Some weeks I’ll paint tight, others loose and brushy. There is value in experimentation, in making new discoveries and keeping things interesting. Yet I’d never make a living if I did not possess real depth as a publisher and marketer. Though I’ve done those things for almost three decades, I spend several weeks a year attending events, taking courses, reading, watching videos, and being around people who are at the top of their game because not to do so means going in reverse. The person who sits still is drifting backward. Imagine if your heart surgeon had not kept up since medical school 30 years ago. That’s not the person you want cracking your chest open.

Overused Terms

Being a master of many things is difficult because mastery requires time. I think the word “master” is thrown around too loosely these days, and even I am guilty of it, yet a master is typically someone who has obsessively spent a lifetime in study and improvement of their craft until they’ve reached a level of true perfection. At my recent Plein Air Convention, I spotted artist David A Leffel sitting in on the sessions of other artists for three solid days. When I asked him about it, he told me he had learned a new and important painting lesson from each class he had attended. David has been doing art for almost eight decades, yet he is obsessed with getting better. This is the mark of mastery.

The best always rises to the top. People want the best, and some people can afford the best and will always seek it out. Whether you’re a gardener, a candle maker, or a bricklayer, people will seek out the best and pay a premium for it. It’s the difference between a $200,000 painting and a $2,000 painting of the same size.

Why Bother, Dad?

Now that my daughter has her first job, her mom and I are coaching her on how to be an exceptional employee. “Why?” she says. “No one else works that hard. No one else goes to the extra effort, why should I?” She then answered her own question when she told the story of the store manager looking over hours of security camera footage and firing several employees because they stood around doing nothing when the manager was out of sight. Thankfully, she kept her job because she was always working.

Doing It for Yourself

Being the best, seeking depth, seeking mastery, isn’t just about being the best for others, it’s about being the best for yourself. If you’re going to live a rich, fulfilled life, it starts with your own self-esteem, from knowing that you strive to be the best in the world at what you do. Yet getting my kids to understand this isn’t always easy. I’m sure my folks struggled with my slack attitude as a teen, but the message must have seeped in with repetition over time. And though I’m not the best, not where I want to be, I’m obsessed with finding ways to get better.

I’ll leave this corner of the porch soon, pull out my easel, and see if I can learn from rapid paintings of clouds. Constable did hundreds of them, and it shows in his work. I’ve got a long way to go, but learning is half the fun.

Depth is a concept rarely discussed, and it may not be a fit for you. There is no right or wrong. No judging here, but I wanted to share what I’ve recently started to learn, and the patterns I’m seeing in common among people who are the best at their craft. Not one spoke about doing it for the money — it was simply the pride of doing things right and doing them well.

Have a great day, and whatever you do today, do it with mastery.

Eric Rhoads

Bring Depth to Your Life 2018-05-23T06:48:08+00:00
20 05, 2018

The Magic of Summer

2018-05-18T12:50:41+00:00

Heat is radiating down on me this morning, the warmth of the summer sun. Spring didn’t last long here, and it’s already almost 80, just after sunrise. I can feel the warmth on my skin as I absorb my Vitamin D in the bright red Adirondack chair here on the back patio. Squinting from the brightness, I can barely make out the screen on my iPad with all the reflections around me. I’m always grateful when winter leaves and summer arrives.

My friend Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED conferences, once told me that we should plan our lives based on how many summers we have left. Summer is, after all, the time most of us take time for ourselves and our family, take vacation, and spend our time doing the things we love. Though no one is ever sure how much time there is, he based his remaining summers on the average lifespan of a man.

A Magic Trigger

Something magical happens to trigger something inside us when we think in terms of summers. Some may have three or five left, others fewer, and still others have more. Yet even if you’re 30, you have only 48 summers left. If you’re 60, you have 19 left. Someone born in 2017 will get 79 summers. Somehow this puts things in perspective.

Busy Winters

I spend a lot of my winter “hunker down” months looking forward to summers, when Laurie and I don’t have to wake up at 6:45 to get the kids off to school, and when we can all spend our time playing. Though I work all summer, other than my painting camps and a week off with the family, admittedly, I sneak out early and go in late most of the summer.

Remember those last few weeks of school, when you could hardly wait till school got out? It seemed like the last two weeks were as long as the whole school year.

What Could Have Been

As a teen I used to look at myself in the mirror and think about what I might look like as I age, thinking I had plenty of time. And now I look in the mirror and see someone I don’t recognize, and realize that every moment counts. I wish I had taken the “every moment counts” attitude to life when I was 20. I wonder what might have been if I had understood then what I understand now, yet I can’t look back with regret. I need to accept where I am today and change what I don’t like. And, as you probably know, I am opposed to self-talk about aging, and I operate as though I’ll live forever. Who knows, some tech gurus say that is coming, with 3D-printed hearts and the ability to transfer the contents of one brain to another.

Much to Get Done

My prayer this morning included a request to help me get done what needs to get done to help the most people possible. I’m not asking for more time, but I’m extremely focused on achieving my goals. One of my goals is to teach a million people to paint because painting changes lives — and I’m working on something that, if it works, will give me a reach of 24 million people next year. And at the Plein Air Convention, I had over 200 attendees stand when I asked for volunteers to teach painting to veterans in their town. Therefore, the PleinAirForce Veterans Squadron will soon be helping hundreds of veterans, some PTSD victims, by teaching them to paint.

One of my goals was getting a new book done to help artists discover ways they can make a living and live their dreams — and if I didn’t mention it before, we already hit #1 bestseller on Amazon in two different categories.

Releasing the Brain Muscle

One of the things I love about summer is the release of the brain muscle. It’s tight all year, jammed with projects, workload, and stress, and summer provides a chance to stop squeezing that muscle at that level and allow new ideas to float in at a leisurely pace. Walks through the woods, painting by magnificent waterfalls, floating on a lake — it can all play an important role.

Time off is important work time, something most people don’t fully get. When my team members take one week off, and then a week later at another time, I don’t feel like they are fully relaxing. It takes me a full week to come down from my busy life. That second week is when the magic happens.

26 Weeks of Vacation

I once met a billionaire who told me he works 26 weeks a year and takes the other half of the year off. When I asked how he could possibly be productive, he told me he was more productive and more focused in the weeks he was working because he’d given his mind a rest. Another fellow CEO just told me the same at a recent mastermind meeting. Who knows, maybe I’ll try it one day.

In just a couple of weeks, my kids will be out for the summer, and a new chapter for the year begins.

I’m looking forward to it as a reset button in my life. Time to get grounded, time to think, time to play, to sleep, and to give my busy little brain a rest. I hope you’ll do the same.

How many summers do you have left?

What bucket list items need to get done so you can check that box? I’ve always wanted to go to Africa, so I’ll be taking a group there in the fall. The Canadian Rockies, Banff, and Lake Louise are on my bucket list, and I’m taking a group there as well. And because I can’t get enough art, I’m taking a group behind the scenes in Italy.

I think back to my friends who have dreams they keep putting off. Then, like lightning, some ailment stikes and their chance of doing those things has vaporized forever.

Where is your summer bucket list?

What do you need to get done in your remaining summers?

Throughout my life I’ve always found barriers like money, time, obligations — yet if you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to remove those barriers.

Since summer is right around the corner: What will you do? If you learned that this is your last summer, what would you get done that you’ve kept putting off? Sadly, it will be the last for some. My dear friend Sean, a stroke victim, had dreams he never fulfilled because he did not want to spend the time or the money, and now he is trapped in his body in a hospital, unable to move or speak, with very little hope of any quality of life. I think he would love me reminding you that now is the time. Never put anything off.

Here’s to making this your best summer yet.


Eric Rhoads

PS: Months ago I wrote about my kids’ desire to talk us into getting a dog. Then I wrote about how we adopted a senior dog, Tucker. This weekend we are mourning his passing from cancer. We gave him five amazing months of a great life. The house is quiet, and we miss him. We’re all pretty upset, but the kids are really having a hard time with it. We would appreciate if you keep us in your prayers. We become close to our faminals (animal family members) and losing them isn’t easy, no matter how much we knew it was coming.

The Magic of Summer 2018-05-18T12:50:41+00:00