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10 03, 2019

The Pathways to Excellence

2019-03-08T13:47:25-04:00

An overnight cold front swept in, taking our beautiful spring warmth to a sudden chilly, rainy, gray day. As I stare out over the porch, which is too wet and cold for writing this morning, I see subtle movements and the silhouettes of deer moving through the backwoods. I counted five this morning and have counted as many as 12 on some days. Quiet and graceful, they move through the land, alert at all times and skittish at the slightest sound, always ready in a split second to make a life-saving run. When I walk through my woods, there are paths they’ve worn, paths they typically follow, generation after generation, following the direction of their elders.

 

Which Path?

We too have pathways. In the past I’ve talked about how we tend to follow the pathways of our elders and often adopt patterns that live on for generations. It’s a rare person who invents their own pathway because that requires deliberate thought. And though the road less traveled involves more roadblocks, rougher paths, and more pioneering, it can make for a life of excitement, while the roads frequently traveled can lead to sameness and following the masses. The pathways you choose for life can be a walk through the woods, a climb up a difficult mountain, a country road, or a superhighway. Thankfully, in this country, we get to choose. It’s not that way in many other cultures, where your job or even your spouse is chosen for you.

 

Paths Art a Part of Learning

  Sunday Coffee isn’t just for painters, but the subject slips into my words from time to time, though I try to offer thoughts that appeal to everyone. If you’ve been hanging around having coffee with me for a while, you know of my passion to teach people to paint because of the benefits we get: joy, confidence, distraction and stress reduction, creative use of our brains, new challenges, etc. Recently when I was talking about our veterans’ initiative, a psychiatric professional who reads this reinforced that there is hard evidence that art-making engages other parts of the brain and tends to give people great joy and the ability to cope with their issues.

 

It’s Not About Natural Talent

Sadly, culture has a misperception about painting and drawing, with people believing these are natural-born talents and that if they don’t have them, they never will. In fact, I used to believe that too. In third grade, the kid at the desk next to me could draw amazingly well, and I could not. Little did I know he had been practicing obsessively for years.

I find it odd that we don’t expect that of brain surgeons, lawyers, judges, architects, or even musicians. We know they have to apply a lifetime of study to master their professions, yet we don’t realize that also applies to artists. It’s this reason alone that millions who want to learn to paint or draw don’t do it. Almost daily, I encounter “I don’t have any talent. I can’t even draw a stick figure.” As a result, people never give it a shot.

Giving it a shot is an important starting point, but it isn’t enough. I’ve met too many people who tried painting or drawing and quit because they got discouraged too easily.

 

Express Yourself

I started painting at the side of my mom, a painter, as a child, but gave it up for decades until in my late 30s I bought some supplies and tried to make some paintings — which were a disaster. Being self-taught isn’t the best road because it slows progress, and my wife recognized my need for lessons and bought me one for my 40th birthday. The instructor told me to “throw the paint on the canvas with big, sweeping strokes and express yourself.” When I told him I wanted to learn to paint real things, he told me, “No one does that anymore.” So I quit, discouraged.

 

A Magic Cab

Thankfully, later on I was stuck in a cab, and the driver, an artist, told me about a guy in the training lineage of the great French painter Gérôme. I walked into the class on a Saturday morning, saw the amazing work on the easels of the class members, told myself I could not do that, and turned around and walked away. But the instructor, Jack Jackson, called me back, and talked me into staying by saying I could be doing work at that level in 18 months or less. He then got me started on a project right then, and told me what the steps would be.

 

Step One, Step Two

The magic he used to get me interested and keep me interested was that he immediately engaged me in a project, teaching me how to grid a painting for copying. He then told me the path he would take me on. He told me I could go as fast as I wanted but had to master each step before he would take me to the next. He told me I’d have moments where I wanted to give up and that those moments should be embraced, because that’s where the breakthroughs come from. So instead of telling me it would be easy, he told me it would not be easy, but that I could do it, because it was in small steps I could easily master.

 

A Learning Tool

Everyone teaching anything should be doing this. Whether you’re teaching art or photography, muic, or anything else, the student needs to know it won’t be easy, but that they can master small steps at their own speed, and they will make great progress faster than they can imagine as long as they don’t give up when they get discouraged.

How many things have you given up because you had no hope?
How many things could you be doing today if someone had helped you understand the path?

 

Awkward at First

My guitar teacher, Steve, did this with my first lesson. He told me I’d feel clumsy and awkward, and that he’d felt this way too, but I could learn to play like him. He then played something amazing. He told me the path, told me how to deal with my frustration, and sure enough, he was right. At the start of last summer I was struggling, and by the end of the summer the project we worked on was flowing like hot lava. He helped me keep my eye on the future and helped me manage my expectations and my frustration.

 

Passion Isn’t Enough

Some of us, myself included, allow frustration to get in the way and we give up. Some of us, myself included, persisted in some cases, in spite of that frustration, and gained results. Part of that is driven by our level of passion. Yet passion alone isn’t enough. We need a path, and we need constant encouragement.

 

10X Better

Whatever you and I want to learn in life, we should seek out the best of the best to teach us. The best are usually not a little better than others at their craft, but 10 times better. The best will demand more from us than those who are not the best. They will work us harder, challenge us more, expect more of us, and push us to perfection. I don’t want an easy path, I want the best path. I’m willing to put in the time and get through the frustration because I now understand that when you learn from the best, you become the best. It’s also how I choose my instructors for my events and videos. They don’t get invited in unless they possess great ability to give results to my customers.

How would things change if on day one of a class, an instructor laid out the path, the expectations, the frustrations, and the value of those frustrations?

Yes, it might turn off a few who are unwilling to put in the effort. Though unfortunate, the reality is that you don’t get much if you don’t put much in.

I can think of lots of friends who told me they started to draw or paint, or play music, or play sports, who would have stuck with it — if the path had been revealed.

Where can you reveal a path? Who that is under your guidance now needs to hear about the path before they opt out in frustration?

 

Path Revealed

I’m planning to reveal the path we take people on in our own business. Though I need to define it in detail, it’s basically that I’ll teach you, the very beginner,  how to draw, how to get to the next level of drawing, then the next. Then I’ll teach you about values, then shapes, then color, then edges, then how to paint. When you get here, you graduate to the next level. Then I’ll take you to a higher level, and then higher still, then once you’re at that level, I’ll teach you how to sell your art, how to build your career, starting with the simple things and then deepening your level of sophistication. I may even then take you into a personal coaching program to take you to the level of the most famous artists in the world.

 

Whatever that path ends up being, it will be a lot more detailed and clearer than what I’ve given here. The magic is that the student then will not have this overwhelming feeling of being at one level and seeing the high level and not believing they can master it. Yet if they know the steps, know what comes in between, and know we’re there with them when they get stuck or frustrated, they are more likely to stick with it.

 

Ponder Paths

Let’s ponder the idea of paths. And if your instructor does not provide you with the path, pass this on to them and ask, “Can you show me the path?” They all have it in their minds, in their curriculums. It’s just that most never share the path.

You and I can help a lot of people by revealing the path.

Eric Rhoads

PS: When I brought this idea of pathways to my team, we had a realization that we can start building the path of expectations into everything we do. For years we’ve been teaching beginning plein air painting at our convention Basics Course, but this year we redefined it with a path in mind and more steps to make progress happen for the attendees, and then we added in mentors who will stick with the people in that course for the whole week on the days we go out painting. We think it will make a big difference. Fingers crossed. We’ll find out in April.

PPS: I’d like to do something a little unusual and honor someone today. Life is full of surprises, challenges, and special moments. We have no control. About five years ago, I announced a new event called Fall Color Week, and we held the first one in Maine. We had about 60 or 100 people, and we all made a lot of very good friends who remain close to this day. Some of us stay in touch all year through our private Facebook page and others just show up year after year, and we connect as old friends, as though we have been together all along. We paint together for a week, all day every day, we have our meals together, and we sit up at night to laugh, sing, paint portraits, or just chat. There are no lessons; it’s just a painting retreat that I host.

 

Some people drop out for a year or two, other new people come in every year, but we all become close and most everyone returns. When we had our first event, it was attended by a lady from California, probably in her mid-50s, named Theresa (Terry) Poplawski. She was a joy to be around, always had a giant smile on her face, and was a magnet to others. In fact, she and one of the other women in the group, Carolyn Carradine, became best friends, figured out they lived close together, and became painting buddies throughout the year. They always returned to Fall Color Week, and the Plein Air Convention too. A couple of weeks ago Carolyn informed me that Terry, who’d thought she was in perfect health, returned from our Fall Color trip in Banff and Lake Louise only to discover she had stage 4 cancer. As it turned out, it was her last painting trip. She passed away just last week. It all happened very quickly. She found out in November, fought like crazy to beat it, and was gone in early March.

We all become very close in these groups. I’ve made some of my best friends at these events, as have others. It’s always sad if someone can’t return for any reason. We all get busy. Sometimes it’s a health issue, a wedding or a family issue, or a financial issue. It’s sad when anyone does not return. But losing a family member like this is tough for us all. Yet, If I learned anything from Terry, it was that she embraced life and opportunity. It was not always easy for her to get to our events, because she too had a family and a life to manage, but she made it a priority to also do something for herself. She probably told herself she had plenty of time to do these things and could have said, “I’ll do it one day,” but instead she rewarded herself, and the result was rich experiences and friendships that made the last five years of her life even more special. And she made the last five years very special for the rest of us in the group. I’ll always remember that big grin of joy.

I’m going to honor Terry by framing a photo I took of her, and having it be on the table during Fall Color Week at Ghost Ranch this September. She is part of the family, and it won’t be the same without her. Terry Poplawski, you enriched our lives. May your path be rich and may you rest deeply in peace.

The Pathways to Excellence2019-03-08T13:47:25-04:00
3 03, 2019

When It’s OK to Be Selfish

2019-02-27T15:49:55-04:00

Warm golden sunshine streams through the windows and splashes, glowing, on the wooden floor, bouncing its color-filled rays onto the walls, the furniture, and the old stone fireplace and inviting me outside. I think that finally I can return to my porch, yet the cold air instantly tightens my skin as I realize it’s spring, but early spring here, and I may have to wait a couple more weeks for the warmth of the porch.

 

This morning I sit, bundled up in my unheated art studio, knitted afghan over my lap, space heater cranking way up to remove the chill. I’m surrounded by tens of thousands of hours of art-making projects, mostly paintings I’ve done here or on location, en plein air, in spots around the world.

 

Paintings and even printed photographs will make their way to estate sales, Goodwill, maybe even the auction block, but hard drives of memories from our phones may disappear with us, never seen by our families. Yet surrounding me here are hundreds of model sessions, talking with my fellow painters and with models I’ve just met, learning about their lives, and in some cases their unusual hobbies or habits — things I sometimes hadn’t known existed. It’s why I embrace my weekly “life” group, where a few friends come to my studio every Wednesday night to paint and draw.

 

In his video legendary painter Max Ginsburg talks about the importance of drawing and painting from life, and talks about years and years of 5 a.m. sessions before class with his friends, which gave him the drawing skills he has today. After eight or nine years of doing this every Wednesday when I’m in town, it has sharpened my drawing and painting skills, though there is much to improve. But it has provided something more … a rich time with people who have become old friends. Discussions with paintings have resulted in new ideas, things I’ve been able to implement for artists, along with laughter, jokes, puns, serious dialogue, and thankfully, no politics (our one and only rule). It’s also provided a chance to get to know about the lives of fifty to a hundred models, who we often chat with while painting. It allows me a peek into worlds I’m otherwise not exposed to. One works for the state of Texas in the accounting department, another works at an art store, while another is a hook artist, inserting hooks into her skin and hanging from the ceiling at bars. That’s one for the books! Who knew?

 

The magic of Wednesdays for me is that I’m forcing myself to invest in myself. With a busy life of family, work, and travel, I’m mostly giving of myself to others, while this is when I am fed by time with friends, a chance to talk to others about everything but work, a chance to be exposed to new people and new things, and a time to laugh and have fun painting. For me this time is a non-negotiable. If at all possible, I try to avoid scheduling trips over Wednesday nights.

 

Non-negotiables are important in our lives. I don’t have many, but I have a few. For instance, being gone on weekends is non-negotiable. I want to be home with my family. Though there are a few exceptions where there is a weekend convention or a meeting scheduled by others that I must attend, if I’m in control, I’m home.

 

What are you doing for yourself that is non-negotiable?

 

What do you do that is just for you, that recharges your batteries, that gives you something to look forward to?

 

Maybe it’s something annually. Though I have my weekly painting group, I also have things I look forward to all year. For instance, since I don’t get to do as much plein air painting as I’d like to, I look forward to my week painting with others in the Adirondacks and again at some colorful location in the fall, during what I call the Publisher’s Invitational. And when I’m going through a tough patch, it’s nice to dream about an upcoming trip like our annual behind-the-scenes Fine Art Trip. I’ve learned the importance of not scheduling everything last-minute — though I do that sometimes, I like thinking about something for a full year in advance. It helps me get through stressful moments.

 

I was raised to be a giver. Always give to others before taking care of yourself. I’m happy I was gifted these principles through the examples of my parents and grandparents, but to be a giver, you need to fuel your own engine by giving something of importance to yourself on a regular basis. Because your batteries need to be recharged.

 

We all recharge differently. I get my energy from being around others, being social, and if I had my way I’d be out to dinner with friends every night of the week. I could do events like the Plein Air Convention all day every day, because I love interacting with people. I also recharge with time at the easel and time outside painting, because I love the outdoors. For others, those things would be a drain. For you, recharging may be alone time with a good book, a walk in the mountains, time playing music, time with friends. Whatever it is, it’s important to find it and then make sure you plug in and get recharged on a regular basis. Sometimes I go weeks without my batteries being charged, and I feel it.

 

For decades I burned the candle at both ends, years and years of trying to make a living, trying to get ahead, driving in early and home at midnight, years without the money or time for a vacation. Though I gained a lot of value from doing it all, I now realize I’d have been many times more effective if I had done things to recharge.

 

A few weeks ago I was chatting with an acquaintance. I asked him how he recharges. His answer was that he loves to work. But he has nothing else. That was me: I love to work, but once I found something else, it made a difference.

 

What about you? How do you recharge?

Are you giving it enough time?

 

We all have times and seasons when our recharge isn’t easy to find time for, or maybe we don’t have the “fun tickets” (what my sister-in-law calls money). But whenever possible, don’t forget to do something for just you. It’s not selfish; in fact, it’s selfish not to, because when you’re required to be there for others, they need the best of you.

 

Eric Rhoads

 

PS: This week I had my eyes opened. For several years my wife and I have given a percentage of our profits to an organization called Mobile Loaves and Fishes, whose slogan is “Everyone eats every day.” In Austin and several other cities, they have dozens of food trucks, and volunteers drive food to areas with homeless people and hand out sandwiches, plus some key other essentials. The vision of its founder, Alan Graham, who I first met in my son’s Scout group, was to build a village of tiny houses to house homeless people to help them get on their feet, get their dignity back, and be able to live a decent life away from the streets.

 

We had never visited, so we took my son’s classmates on a field trip to tour this village. It was an experience beyond amazing, and I just want to give more. There are about 200 people living there independently, while being part of a community. It’s a village of tiny houses and RVs. They have shops on the property that people can work in — an auto repair shop, a forge and metal shop, a wood shop, a T-shirt screening shop. They also have a large art center to give people a chance to make ceramics, paintings, and other forms of art, and their art then goes into the little store on the property where visitors can buy the art and have 100 percent of the money go back to the homeless people. We met a formerly homeless man and woman who met at the property, got married, and now live there with the first child born on the property.

 

I have to admit, I tense up if a homeless person talks to me. I’m afraid. I don’t know if they are mentally unstable, on drugs, or just down on their luck. And frankly, I was a little uncomfortable about visiting. Yet after my visit, I want to go back, teach painting, and do what I can to help. I met and talked with a few residents, heard their stories. Everyone I met told stories of their lives, what they were like before and what they are like now. And I saw lots of big smiles.

 

Not only is this an example of how one person can make a difference, it’s a model that can work in every city in America as we deal with this homeless crisis. I’d encourage you to poke around on the organization’s website. Maybe you’re in a position to raise money or model something like this in your town, whether it’s food trucks or a village. I’m sure they would show you how or even do it for you. If nothing else, it’s a chance to see joy being created and lives being changed, which is good news.

 

PPS: A shout out to the Marble Falls, Texas, art association that invited me in to speak to their group recently. I was asked to come in and speak about marketing to the group of some amazing artists. Thanks, everyone, for hosting me. I’ll be judging the Marble Falls Plein Air Festival this coming April right before the convention, which is something I rarely get a chance to do these days. It’s an honor.

When It’s OK to Be Selfish2019-02-27T15:49:55-04:00
24 02, 2019

Unexpected Impact

2019-02-24T11:12:31-04:00

Early signs of spring give hope that a long winter will soon melt away. Bluebonnets have begun to spring up and will soon paint fields of blue carpet in the rolling hills surrounding us — motivation to stock up on shades of blues and purples and throw my backpack of painting gear in the back of my old Honda Element, the best painting car ever made.

 

A Sea of Blue

In a moment of brilliance, the First Lady of Texas, Lady Bird Johnson, was driven to beautify the state by arranging for free packets of seeds to be handed out at the license bureau, and encouraging Texans to scatter the seeds along the highways. Later, when she became First Lady of the United States, she fought to beautify highways by removing billboards, and her initiative stands to this day, as billboards are permitted only close to exits, and are not allowed on certain roads at all. She was in a position to make a difference. Yet you don’t have to be the First Lady, or hold a prominent position, to make a difference.

 

All Dressed in Green

Dressed up in my green Boy Scout uniform, with my red sash of merit badges, I asked my mom to drive me to the Glenbrook shopping mall. When she asked why, I said, “I have to meet with the people there for a project I came up with.” “Do you have an appointment?” she asked. Making an appointment hadn’t crossed my mind, but we went anyway, I talked my way in to see the manager of the mall, and I suggested a big idea. I told him I had recently received my fingerprinting merit badge, and that I got a fingerprinting set for Christmas. And when I was meeting with the local police to get my badge, one of the officers mentioned that they didn’t have any fingerprinting records for kids, which made things more difficult in certain investigations.

So I wanted to set up a fingerprinting booth at the mall, fingerprint kids, and give the prints to the local police department. They agreed, and I did it for several weekends in a row, fingerprinting hundreds of kids. Though this was probably a couple of decades before fingerprinting kids caught on, it was an idea that would help, and it needed to be done. I’ll never really know if it ever helped the police department, or if that seed of an idea somehow spread because one cop told another. Yet what matters is that something was tried.

Though I like to think big and find ways to make helpful ideas spread wide and fast, what matters is helping a single individual in need, because that one person might become the seed that spreads.

 

A Change in Attitude

A few years ago I felt as though there was something missing in my business life. I realized that I was building a business for myself and for my family, but it somehow felt empty. So I declared that I would take at least 10 percent of the company profits and give it to my employees, and I’d take at least 10 percent of profits and give it to a charity. Because I’ve always been bothered by homelessness, and because much of my business is based on plein air (outdoor) painting, it made sense to do something for the homeless outdoors. Though I rarely talk openly about this, we give to an organization that helps people get back on their feet, provides meals daily in several cities across the U.S., and builds villages to help rehabilitate people in their own tiny houses. Each year since we’ve started doing it, we’ve provided enough to fund a new tiny house. We’re not a big company, so our impact is small, yet if it helps one person, it’s worth it.

 

Accidental Magic

Last year at the Plein Air Convention, we announced our initiative called the PleinAir Force Veterans Squad, and, upon my call for help, 200 people rose who said they were willing to teach painting in their towns to help veterans with PTSD. In the last year I’ve watched reports coming in from those teaching, sending photos of groups of veterans painting with smiles on their faces over their accomplishments. And I’ve watched people who are teaching enriching lives because they are helping. I’m thankful to Dennis Yost, a veteran and painter who is heading up this initiative, and people like Roger Rossi, a painter who is over 80 and who is teaching veterans each week in New York as part of an initiative he created for the Salmagundi Club.

 

Where Seldom Is Heard…

The spirit of giving does not have to be about charity work, church work, or helping people with a visible need. It can also manifest itself in other ways. Sometimes giving is about encouragement and helping others believe in themselves. And sometimes we never know the impact. A few years ago I got a call from a man I’d known briefly 30 years before. He worked for me as a weekend disc jockey back then, and when he called he reminded me that he’d asked me for some advice on how to be more successful as a disc jockey, and I told him that maybe he should aim higher, and he should try to become a station owner so he would have financial freedom. At the time that was a wall so high he never believed he could climb it, but because someone believed in him, that made him believe he could do it. His call was to thank me for the encouragement and to let me know he went out and found a way and now owns many radio stations.

 

Deep Cuts

Of course, the opposite is true, too. Our words can cut like a hot knife in butter and can stick in people’s minds for decades. Small things said in a moment of frustration or anger can destroy confidence. Though no one should let that happen to themselves, sadly, it happens too frequently.

 

Cutting Words

Words stick. They ring in your head. When I was probably 14, I told my aunt I was interested in radio and she told me, “You don’t want to do that. Radio people are sleazy.” That little phrase is with me to this day, and I almost let it change my direction, but instead I used it as motivation. “I’ll show her,” I thought. Not only did I build a career in radio that continues to this day, 50 years later, I soon realized she was right; there were a lot of sleazy business practices, especially by salespeople, back in the ’50s and ’60s. So I made it my career goal to help raise the level of professionalism in radio by starting a radio industry publication that trained managers and salespeople. I think it’s had a big impact.

 

On the Lookout

In every situation in our lives, our minds have to be scanning, looking for opportunities to help others, looking for opportunities to encourage others, and looking for people who need a break. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Let’s help veterans or homeless people,” I encountered something that triggered it and responded with action at that moment. Opportunities come in a split second, and we’re only able to grab them if we’re watching for them and willing to just say “what the heck” and jump in.

 

Problems? No Problem.

The other important thing I discovered is that we’re never fully ready. We have our own challenges and problems. We can’t let those get in our way. Some of the most giving people I know are people who go feed homeless people after their chemo treatments. Giving and helping is self-healing.

Giving comes in a lot of ways. Two very generous women funded about 10 scholarships so young students could attend my Figurative Art Convention & Expo, coming this November (FACE). Then, at the last convention, Casey Baugh donated half the proceeds of a painting of his that we auctioned to the scholarship fund. In another instance, a woman from the North had some friends who had always wanted to attend the Plein Air Convention & Expo but didn’t have the means, so she funded tickets for three of her friends. That may change the lives of those students or the people now attending PACE.

 

Side Benefits

We don’t have to have money to give. We just need big, open hearts. And there is a side benefit. Giving fuels growth. It’s something I never understood, but when you give, much is given back to you, which of course allows you to give more. Giving can be about time, about encouragement, about advice, about listening, or, yes, about money. I missed a lot of years of giving and can tell you that it was the one missing element in my life that makes me feel better about myself.

Who needs your encouragement or help?

How can you step up and give a little?

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).


Enjoy your day. It’s almost spring, and seeds need to be planted.

 

Eric Rhoads

 

PS: You’ve probably heard me talk about my love for art and painting, and for outdoor painting, which is called “plein air.” Art historian Jean Stern of the Irvine Museum at the University of California says the plein air movement is the largest art movement in history. It’s my goal to help people find painting and experience the plein air lifestyle, which is about being creative, being outdoors, and traveling the world. And it’s very social; we all make a lot of friends and go painting together. If that sounds appealing to you, I’d encourage you to experience it firsthand at the Plein Air Convention this April in San Francisco. We even have a pre-convention Basics Course for new painters that helps you feel comfortable being there and teaches you what you need to know to start, and you have coaches who work with you the entire week. But if you can’t come or don’t have interest, maybe you would consider funding a scholarship so I can bring in some young people and art teachers so this movement has a future. If that’s of interest, drop me a note, or use this link to donate any amount of money to help fund a scholarship.

Donate to a Scholarship

PPS: Today I’m driving to San Antonio to a giant conference of art materials makers — people who make paint, easels, panels, etc. I will probably do a live broadcast from there on Facebook. I‘ve been once before, and it’s a sight to see. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, that’s where you’ll find my broadcast if it’s of interest to you. I’m there to work on a huge project that will bring plein air painting to more people. I’ll tell you more at the convention.

Unexpected Impact2019-02-24T11:12:31-04:00
17 02, 2019

The Opposite of Pain and Problems

2019-02-14T17:12:17-04:00

Massive flocks of black birds descend to our trees as a massive sleet storm blows through overhead. I’m guessing it must hurt if you’re a bird because they are swarming like scared rats and running into the tin roof of this farmhouse, as if they are possessed. The sound of fluttering wings and crackling squeaks is almost defining. I feel like I’m living in the movie The Birds. I’m told it’s a migration. Maybe they are coming north in anticipation of spring.

These crazy birds remind me of how we all tend to act when hit with a sudden, urgent issue. We run around in all directions, moving just to avoid pain, but accomplishing nothing.

 

Panic Mode

The other night at an art opening I encountered an old friend who was in panic mode over a custody issue that had cropped up earlier that week. Her panic was because she did not want to lose custody of her son to her ex. She told me she came to the opening to get away from the problem, but instead she brought the problem to everyone who would listen. People listened patiently for a minute or two, but I watched as they found excuses to slip away to enjoy their evening.

I sat with her, listened, and asked, “What good can possibly come out of all of this?” Of course, she could see no good.

When we’re in panic mode, we can’t see anything clearly. She kept asking, “Why is this happening to me?” Frankly, it was not the time to talk to her about how it was happening for her. She just needed a listener.

 

I’ve Lost Control

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there. I’ve been so stressed, so consumed that I cannot think, cannot reason, and find myself useless for days. I look back on all the wasted days worrying about problems that seemed big at the time, but rarely were. I wish I had all those days back. But since that’s not possible, the only thing I can do is prevent myself from wasting time consumed in stress.

 

Putting It on Hold

If you allow yourself to become consumed, you actually make things worse because you can’t think clearly. You become singularly focused; you are panicked and emotional. Your brain is in fight or flight mode. So you have to prevent getting locked into panic. So the first thing I like to ask myself is, “How urgent is this, really? Is swift action required, or do I have a month or two?” Somehow, when I buy myself some time, it seems to take the urgency away from my angst. If it’s truly urgent, I move into urgent mode. Otherwise, I have time to think and tell myself I don’t need to react.

 

Talk Me Down

If I can’t pull myself out of panic, I ask myself, “Who can talk me down?” I have a couple of friends who are always honest with me, who have great perspective, and in times like these I need to talk to someone. And I need to do it fast, because it isn’t something I should be telling everyone at a party.

 

Escape

I also try to give myself distance and distraction. A therapist might call it running away from a problem, and that is exactly what it is. So I’ll cancel all my meetings and just go for a long walk, maybe take a drive, or even take a small trip. There is nothing like a hotel room with a view to give you time to think. It’s important when thinking to go through a series of thinking time questions. What am I not seeing that I should be seeing?

Next, I try to step out of the situation to see the problem from an outsider’s perspective. Usually what I realize is that it’s not nearly as big a problem as I’ve made it out to be.

 

What Could Possibly Be Good About This?

Most important is to see how this problem could be a good thing. Maybe it’s a lesson, maybe it’s a signal of a bigger problem. I’ve been worked up about deals being delayed or not closing, and that ended up dying, only to later find out there were massive problems we would have encountered had the deal happened. I’ve learned to pay attention both when doors open and when doors close. In the past I’d chase closed doors, sometimes to my detriment. Today when doors close, I rarely try to open them.

 

How Can I Benefit?

Instead of asking WHY is this happening, how about asking HOW? How can this problem or obstacle benefit me? How can it help me in ways I’m not considering? Can I write down 10 ways this is a GOOD thing? I’ve found so many times that problems happen for a reason.

 

Opposing Forces

If you look back on your life, there is a gift with every problem or every roadblock. It’s hard to see it at the time, but even horrific events like a death bring families together that otherwise may never have gathered. For instance, my uncle’s passing was so sad, yet spending three days with my cousins, whom I had not seen in years, was a gift. In some Eastern cultures, this would be called the yin and the yang.

Another great word is WHAT. What help is this problem providing — help I didn’t even know I needed?

As hard as it is to see things when you’re in panic mode, try to see how the problem is offering you benefits that may help you in other ways and can make you better.

Did you ever mourn a lost relationship, only to find the love of your life, whom you would never have found if you hadn’t been dumped?  How about losing the best job ever, only to find one even better that you never would have found if you had not been fired?

If you and I can learn to see problems, roadblocks, or obstacles in a more balanced way, that perspective can become a part of the way we process all problems. The answers may not be evident at the moment of panic, but just knowing something good will come of it is somehow helpful.

 

The Law of Nature

Our natural human tendency is to avoid pain at all costs, yet everything we do, and every relationship we have, won’t always meet our perception of perfect or ideal. Everything we do will come with or attract problems and challenges. It’s the Law of Nature.Yet somehow we’ve been sold this idea that everything can be perfect.

Without pain, without problems, we would not experience change, we would not develop to a higher level or experience personal growth. Pain and problems help us find our true selves.

 

In the book The Values Factor, author John DeMartini writes…

“Without voids, without difficulties, without pains and challenges, we would never go on to achieve the greatness of which we are truly capable. And yet, if we are less mature or possibly unawake, we want that ease without the hardship; we want that pleasure without the pain.”

 

Just Make It Easy, Please

He continues, “We like the idea of learning what comes easily and resist the idea of struggling to achieve knowledge. In our careers, we wish for achievement without setback, an unbroken story of triumph, with no bankruptcies, lost jobs, or even periods of uncertainty. Financially speaking, we want money without effort, and when we look at our social circles, we want to be surrounded by admirers only — people who think we are wonderful, not people who doubt, question, or reject us. And physically, we expect — or at least we want — what we think of as ‘perfect’ health, not to mention a flawless appearance and endless reserves of energy, without disease, blemishes, or fatigue.”

It takes a mindshift to embrace pain, to distance yourself from problems and look inside them for benefits, but doing so is one of the most freeing gifts you can give yourself.

Ultimately, our emotions control us or we control them. We get to decide.

If you’re in pain today, or if you’re experiencing a problem or a challenge, I don’t take it lightly, and I’m sorry for your pain. Is there something good within it? Can you grow from it? Can you leverage this pain to somehow make you greater? Dig deep.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’m not suggesting that I don’t have stressful days. We all do. When I’m stressed, I’ll go out to my little art studio in the back of the property and start working on a painting. No matter how keyed up I am, the act of painting uses a different part of the brain, and within minutes I can’t think about my woes or my stress. Painting is a gift. As I’ve mentioned, I’m driven to help others find it because it offers so many positive benefits. But I can just hear some of you now… “I don’t have the talent.” “I did not get the art gene.” “I’m a klutz.” That was me. Actually, we all think that art is a natural talent, but it’s really a learned skill, and pretty much anyone can do it. It takes time and lots of practice to get really good at it, but you are having fun even when you’re learning. I’d encourage you to find an art lesson locally and stick with it past the first few frustrating weeks. You can also go to a paint party — it’s rare to find one that actually teaches quality painting, but they are out there if you look enough. Or you can go online, lots of sources there. Though there are better painters than me, I put together some free paint lessons online, which makes painting and even drawing really simple. I start by removing the color, and though color is fun, if you can learn the simple process of of the foundation, color will come much easier. It’s like the notes on the piano. If you can learn just one small scale, you can eventually play the whole piano. So I created this thing I call Paint By Note. If you’re snowed in or taking a day off tomorrow and you want to try it, check out my free lessons online at www.paintbynote.com. Thousands have taken them, and people are always sending me pictures of their progress. I love seeing it. I hope you’ll send yours.

The Opposite of Pain and Problems2019-02-14T17:12:17-04:00
10 02, 2019

How To Get Unstuck

2019-02-07T14:08:43-04:00

Light shimmers on the wood plank floor of this old porch, glistening from last night’s rain. A hint of moisture in the barely cool air isn’t enough for a sweater. I’m feeling like a prisoner released after a stint behind the bars of winter. Freedom is mine; I can once again return to my porch without bundles of winter clothes and freezing fingers on my keyboard. I’ve never been a fan of winters — even mild ones.

 

Barriers in the Snow

Winter always meant barriers. For our friends who dared not leave home during the recent polar vortex, their barrier was cold. When I was in Sun Valley, Idaho, recently to paint on TV for an upcoming national TV show, I sucked it up, layered my limbs, and stood outside in the snow painting. My host, Lori McNee, and I drove around seeking the perfect spot for them to film us, but the barrier of unplowed roads limited our options.

 

Things Seem Overwhelming

Barriers are not only a problem in winter snow. They can be a challenge in life, in our careers, keeping our goals and big plans from happening. Too often when we see barriers, we allow them to slow us down or stop us. The truth is that we could have parked the car on the road and walked in with snowshoes, even though the walk to the ideal spot may have been a couple of miles. We opted not to do so out of respect for the camera crew, who would have been forced to haul equipment. Yet most barriers offer options: We could have hiked in, or we could have found someone to plow the road, taken a four-wheel drive vehicle, or patiently waited for the snow to melt.

 

Making Extra Effort

Barriers are often about inconvenience, about what we’re willing to go through. My old photography instructor Fred Picker told our class that the best photographs often come from the biggest barriers, because few people are willing to make the long hike, get up before the sun, bear the cold or heat, or patiently await the perfect moment. He has a famous photo of Easter Island with white horses running through the fields by the giant stone heads, dark clouds with a ray of light streaking down to light the horses. He could never have planned it, but he set up a shot and waited for hours, hoping something would happen. He got one split second to capture that image — because he had overcome the barrier of inconvenience.

Barriers are often what make us stuck. When we see them, our natural instinct is to turn away, rather than using thinking time to find alternatives. And sometimes alternatives may seem overwhelming, but they may require only a fractional effort.

 

Suddenly Unstuck

If your car is stuck in the snow, you can have five strong guys on the back end pushing while you try to drive, but the wheels smoke and spin and you dig deeper into the snow. Yet if you take a quarter-inch-thick piece of cardboard and wedge it under the wheels, traction is possible and their push moves the car out in just a moment.

If you’re in a boat and you’ve run aground, you’re not going anywhere. Yet if you can get the boat just a quarter-inch off the bottom, the boat is unstuck. The tide comes in just one quarter-inch, and you’re free.

 

No More Starving Artists

You may or may not know that I’m driven to help artists overcome this silly notion that artists just have to starve, so every morning at my Plein Air Convention I do about an hour and a half of marketing training. Frequently artists tell me, “I don’t know what to do,” because it’s all very overwhelming at first, and I tell them, “You don’t need to do it all, you just need a small step or two to get your boat a quarter-inch off the bottom. Once you’re unstuck, everything else is easier.”

 

Where Are You Stuck?

I spent 20 years stuck. I was busy, I was making an income, I had lots of activity, but when I looked back, I realized my wheels were spinning and I needed to do something different. A small piece of cardboard — which was my attending a Dave Ramsey event for entrepreneurs — gave me a couple of small ideas that became my quarter-inch of cardboard.

Sometimes we are so close to something, and we try so hard, we can’t see the problem. Or the problem seems so big, so overwhelming, that we’re not realizing that all we need is to pull up the anchor, or wait for the tide, or get a sheet of cardboard.

 

Unstuck After Two Decades

I got unstuck with a tiny sheet of cardboard, which was the act of attending something new. I fought the idea when my wife suggested it, because I was arrogant and thought I could come up with the answers on my own. People have told me hundreds of times that their life changed after attending the Plein Air Convention … sometimes for the marketing sessions, but also for the painting help. But I didn’t change their lives, I just provided the cardboard. They had just gotten to the point where they decided that maybe they don’t have all the answers.

 

Repeating Bad Solutions

Our biggest mistake is that we do more of the same in order to get the car unstuck from the snow. We hit the gas harder while the wheels spin faster, smoke more, and wear down the rubber and fill the air with exhaust, and we make no progress. The result is that we wear ourselves down, we get frustrated and depressed, and we feel like we’re helplessly stuck in a snowdrift in the middle of the night, fearing we will be stranded and freeze to death. We get so frightened that we finally start praying that some help will come along. Sometimes it does, sometimes not. So we start looking around for something to give us traction. We try dirt, we try sticks, we try logs, and any of them can work.

 

A Split-Second Difference

I discovered that all that spinning my wheels in life prepared me and made me smarter and gave me a little momentum, though I was stuck. Just like being in a car stuck in the snow, once you gun it on a piece of cardboard with some muscle pushing on the car, the car takes off, and you have to keep going full speed until you’re back to a stable place. You slide and wobble at that speed, but then you’re unstuck and free.

You’re the same. All your efforts to this point were not wasted. Once the cardboard gets you out of the rut, you’ll be driving fast, and your goals will come faster because you have readied yourself in other ways.

 

Acknowledge Where You Are

First, we have to acknowledge when we are stuck. When I’m stuck in a car, I don’t want to acknowledge it till I’ve spun my wheels in deeper. Once we acknowledge that, rather than being overwhelmed, we just have to find a quarter inch of something to give us traction. It requires thought, and some outside ideas are usually helpful. But seeing that we’re stuck is hard to do, and harder to admit.

 

A Bag of Tricks

A wise mentor once told me that when you have a problem, your tendency is to think about the problem and grab the first answer. Instead, he said, “Keep writing until you have 30, or 50, different answers. Don’t stop to judge them, just write down as many solutions as you can think of. Then before you judge, ask the question a few different ways and write down 30 more answers for each question, because the answers come from the right questions.”

Barriers can be overwhelming. Sometimes they are health barriers, people barriers, money barriers, family barriers, or things you are telling yourself are true that simply may not be.

 

Next Steps? Who Cares?

No matter what you’re facing, just remember you need a quarter-inch of cardboard, or to get a quarter-inch of water between the ground and the boat. Once you get free, the next steps will be easier. And you don’t even need to know what the next steps are yet. Just solve the quarter-inch problem and don’t sweat about what comes next.

I believe that you have a quarter-inch getting in the way of your big dreams. I believe you can figure it out. Rather than ruminating about a big problem, stop it. Just focus on one small problem, the one that will get you unstuck.

Let’s have a great quarter-inch day!

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’d like to give you an example of something that seemed like a big problem to me. I was hearing from a lot of people who were concerned about going to San Francisco for our Plein Air Convention because they were concerned about traffic and parking, and in some cases safety. It seemed like a big problem to overcome, but with the quarter-inch hiring of a traffic and parking consultant, we found ways to make sure our painting locations were properly selected to overcome that. A quarter-inch solution of creating an indoor painting arena where we project giant-screen video of the places we are painting gave us an optional approach for the people who want to stay put in the hotel and not drive, park, or feel unsafe. And a quarter-inch bus solution will also deal with those who want to go to the locations but not drive. By doing this, the boat was no longer stuck for those people.

How To Get Unstuck2019-02-07T14:08:43-04:00
3 02, 2019

Are Your Blind Spots Preventing Your Happiness?

2019-02-03T00:09:28-04:00
If the view from my back porch were a movie, at this moment you would gasp over the beauty. Fog is filling the air, and the bright sunrise is blasting through the fog, making it glow in orange pink. Streaks of light are being cast from the shadows of the old, gnarly oak trees.
If there were a soundtrack at this moment, the crescendo of the sun shining through the trees would be the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Chills run down my spine as I take this scene in from my old red Adirondack chair with coffee cup balanced on the arm. These are the moments we live for.
When we bought this rural property years ago, I pictured myself sitting here, looking out over acres of trees and cattle and being inspired, just like I am this morning. It’s a time to reflect on my week, on life, and on others.

As you and I go through our daily lives, it’s hard to put ourselves in the place of others, and it’s hard sometimes to relate to the problems others may be having. Recently a friend told me a story about having dinner with some friends, one of whom is a famous billionaire business leader. Their discussion led to how they stay healthy when they are on the road, because they all travel, eat out a lot when traveling, and find it challenging to find time for exercise.

A Billionaire Perspective

Suddenly the billionaire chimed in and said he sends his personal chef to the locations he is traveling to a day before he arrives, which gives the chef time to shop and prep for his meals. He talked about how it eliminated his bad eating on the road.

But then he said something awkward: “Do you know the problem with having a personal chef? You only eat what they know how to cook.” They all had a laugh about it. But there is truth to it for all of us.

We only eat what we know how to cook.

 

Stuck in a Kiosk

At a meeting last week a bright entrepreneur was sharing some of his ideas about growing his business. Because his dad had worked in kiosks in shopping malls, that’s where this man launched his business. As we were discussing his ideas, it became clear that he had blind spots. Most of his ideas for growth had to do with selling out of kiosks. Bigger kiosks. More kiosks in more places. New kiosk designs. No matter what he brought up, he related it back to kiosks. Though my friends and I kept throwing fresh ideas, he kept coming back to how to do them in kiosks. Kiosks were his blind spot. He could not see beyond them.

We happily live in our little worlds in the arena of life. We can see what others can’t see, but we don’t know what we can’t see ourselves. We all have filters that color our approach to life, and those filters create blind spots.

 

I’m a Magazine Guy

I’m very guilty of this. The filters that color my blind spots tend to be my areas of comfort. For instance, I think in terms of magazines, of events, of videos, of books, and in art and radio because of decades of experience in those areas. If you were to throw a challenge to me, chances are I’d try to solve that problem by proposing a magazine, an event, a video, a book, or some kind of an art solution.

How many generations of cops or firefighters carry on in the tradition of their parents and grandparents? It may be about carrying on a passion, but it may also be their blind spot. It’s what they know — it’s their comfort zone.

 

My Bias Solves All Problems. Not.

Professionals have blind spots too. My chiropractor thinks all things can be solved with chiropractic. My dentist points out how dental health impacts the whole body. Some lawyers want to solve everything with litigation. Teachers often think all problems can be solved with education. Athletes solve problems with exercise. We default to what we know.

What are your blind spots?

I am not suggesting blind spots are bad in themselves. I’m really good at putting things into my blind spots and helping people in my areas of expertise.

 

Trapped in Core Beliefs

Most of us will spend our lives trapped in our own core beliefs, yet if we can find ways to go outside those beliefs, we are no longer trapped and we can find more success in areas we never knew existed.

 

What Einstein Says

To get unstuck, you have to get out from under your core beliefs. All too often our solutions are natural things we apply to problems time and again. Yet it becomes like Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same things and expecting different results.

 

There Is Wisdom in Multiple Counselors

Though this seems simple, it took me decades to figure out. We all need a personal board of advisors who will tell us the truth from their perspective. The more experience the board has in differing areas, the more you’ll get new perspectives. I have people I call to help critique my paintings, and I have people I call to bounce ideas off of who I know will tell me when my idea is stupid.

 

I’m All Ears

My life changed when I surrounded myself with the perspectives of others and put on my listening hat. An artist I interviewed recently told me that she had been approaching painting the same way for decades and assumed it was the way things had to be done, yet after seeing several approaches at my convention, she changed to a new way and had breakthroughs in her work. It’s the idea of fresh perspectives.

 

Hey, Look at Me

We all like to think that we hung the moon and we’ve got all the answers. I used to think that, but thankfully I matured to understand that the more I know, the more I don’t know. To get beyond ourselves, our mental limits, and our blind spots, the best medicine is a fresh perspective. It’s why we need new friends, new advisors, and new approaches to problems. It’s why I attend conventions, and conventions outside my expertise — because I want different perspectives.

 

What Don’t You See?

My goal is not just to see what you and I both see. I want to see what you see that I don’t see.

I also want to see what both of us don’t see. I want to know my blind spots. The only thing you and I can’t see is the future — yet there are people who seem able to, and I try to spend more time with them.

What do I not see that I should see?

What do others see that I don’t see?
What have others been trying to tell me that I’ve failed to listen to?

Where do I continually make the same mistakes over and over because I’m making the same decisions?

Who else has the same kind of problems in a different field of interest?

In what ways am I bored and wish I could see or try something new?

 

Talk to Strangers

One of my favorite things is to strike up a conversation with someone who does something different from me. Though we find common ground, I also ask myself: What if I applied their blind spots to my problem or my situation? Their blind spots might be just what I needed to hear, which is why we all need variety in those we surround ourselves with.

We all have great abilities in our area of bias. It can be a real benefit and tool to others, and we can’t be good at everything. But we can also grow by moving into new fields for new insights.

We all tend to come up with answers to our questions way too fast. We tend to lean into our own bias, but if we apply thought, ask lots of questions, and don’t just grab whatever we think of first, we will create more choices, and that will help us break out of our blind spots.

Eric Rhoads

PS: What happens when you combine your bias with practice? We have been led to believe that practice makes perfect, but that’s a big fat stinking lie. Practice makes permanence. We’ve also been led to believe that there is good in trial and error. Wrong. If you want to DO better, you have got to GET better. Smart people learn from the mistakes of others. If, for instance, you wanted to learn painting, you could practice bad brushstrokes for 50 years, or you could keep trying different things, but if you really wanted to get better, you would find the people who best do what you want to learn and go spend time watching them. Suddenly the light will go on and the barrier to your problem will be gone. You may not be able to define the problem, but you might be able to know that someone out there is doing what you want to do, and doing it better. Go find them, and your life will change.

Are Your Blind Spots Preventing Your Happiness?2019-02-03T00:09:28-04:00
27 01, 2019

The Call You Never Want to Receive

2019-01-25T19:37:17-04:00

Awakening before sunrise, the darkness and quiet surrounding me, no sound other than the slow and steady breathing of my wife, sleeping beside me. Quietly I tiptoe into the bathroom, carefully closing the door so you can’t hear so much as the sound of the latch. There is a chill in the air, raising goosebumps on my skin, which are immediately soothed by the comfort of a hot shower. Then, making my way to the closet, I put on my most comfortable jeans and a dress shirt, then sneak out to the kitchen, brew my coffee, grab my suitcase as it rolls behind me to the car, and then again to the airport shuttle bus, through security, and on to the gate.

The Smell of Jet Fuel

My much anticipated break from business travel is over, and as I stand on the jet bridge behind others, I smell the jet fuel and hear the sounds of an airport. Making my way to my seat, I notice no one looks anyone in the eye. They are each in their own world, off to their next adventure.

I’ll Answer Later

My adventure led me last week to San Francisco, to do some prep work for our upcoming artist convention in April. Just as I started the engine of my rental car in the parking garage, my vibrating phone got my attention. If I answer now, I’ll be off schedule, I’m thinking, so I’ll call later. But a premonition I’d had about my mother while I was on the airplane made me glance at the phone, and the word “Mom” was on the screen. So I turned the car off to answer.

My brother is on the phone, sounding panicked — something’s wrong with Mom, she’s fumbling and appears disoriented. “Hang up and call 911 right now.” Click.

Call 911 Now!

The story sounded too familiar. Two years ago my wife had noticed the same fumbling and disorientation in a family friend she was visiting, and her instantly calling 911 ended up saving the woman’s life. A brain tumor was discovered and immediate surgery was needed. And after losing my friend Sean to a stroke, my mind was reeling. After waiting a few minutes to give my brother time to call, I tried and tried to get through but got only a busy signal. That went on for a few hours. All I could think was that 911 told him not to hang up the phone and he left it off the hook.

Feeling Helpless

Panicked, I phoned family members in the area, not entirely sure 911 had been called, and needing feet on the ground immediately to step in and help. Feeling helpless — there was no one else I could call, no information coming in, and yet I had to drive to meetings in San Francisco and try to keep my cool.

Unable to Concentrate

Arriving at the De Young Museum to explore some possibilities and painting locations, I see my colleagues Tom and Ali and a traffic/parking consultant who is helping us determine the best times to visit our chosen locations. I alert them to the fact we might be interrupted at any time, and we go about our business. But my mind isn’t on work, which suddenly seems meaningless. I can’t focus, I can’t concentrate, and I’m wondering how I’m going to get from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale in a split second.

Hiding Tears

Of course, my mind is thinking the worst. It’s not going to be good news, knowing my wonderful mom is 92, frail, and dealing with some other health issues. If it’s a stroke, this could be the end. Tears well up in my eyes, and I turn around to wipe them, trying not to let others notice I’m tearing up.

My Worst Fears Confirmed

While we’re discussing parking, my phone rings in mid-sentence. It’s my brother, saying Mom has had a stroke, the MRI shows a giant clot in her brain, and she is in surgery now. “Say your prayers,” he says, and I utter them quietly after he hangs up.

Now that my fears are confirmed, I flash back to New Year’s week, when we were together. Every goodbye brings the thought that maybe this is the last time we see one another. Perhaps this time it may be true. I keep praying quietly to myself while trying to stay engaged in the meeting.

Beauty and Fear at the Same Moment

We drive through Lands End, right by the Legion of Honor art museum, where the giant cedar trees line a view of the ocean, with a distant view of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is one of the most beautiful spots I could ever imagine painting in my life, and I painted there many times when I lived in San Francisco. Here I am again, trying to enjoy the view and determine if it’s a painting spot for the convention. Again, the phone rings.

An Unexpected Surprise

My brother tells me Mom is out of surgery, that they went in through her veins and pulled the clot out, and he hands the phone to Mom. And though she’s groggy, she starts talking to me as if nothing happened. She doesn’t remember a thing, and, typical grandma fashion, she is asking me about my son, who had just had a minor surgery. We talk, we hang up. All is well.

Act Fast, Don’t Wait

As it turns out, there is about a two-hour window for stroke victims, and, thanks to my brother being there at the right time, taking swift action, and EMS getting her to the right hospital when the surgeon who does this procedure happened to be there (he lives 30 minutes away), they got the clot out before it had done any noticeable damage.

My mom had just experienced a miracle. Miracle of medicine, miracle of timing, miracle of the right hospital that happens to do this procedure, and miracle of prayer.

It’s amazing to me how in a single instant, the mind compresses to focus on what’s important, and pushes out all the little things that don’t matter.

Annoying Parents

As a parent, my kids roll their eyes at me, sometimes think I’m stupid, give me grief for things that bother them, and there are moments when I can feel their disgust. And I have to admit that as an adult child of aging parents, I’m often frustrated by their decisions, and it’s easy to be critical, to get upset, and to be bothered or annoyed.

Yet a single phone call in a split second pushed all of that aside and distilled what is truly important.

Estrangement Why?

I can understand estrangement in some cases because parents or family members have done horrific things, making avoidance the best policy. Yet estrangement because of differing opinions, anger over the way you were raised, anger over little things that become amplified and become big things over years of repetition is hard for me to understand.

Doing the Best We Can

As a parent, I do what I know and I try to do the best that I can. Yet I tell my kids to save their money for therapy, because I’m sure something will bug them when they are adults. The fact that I dragged them to art museums, or made them do their homework, or made them get jobs when their friends didn’t have to work.

Instant Clarity

And in spite of all the things my brothers and I could find wrong with our own parents and their decisions at the time they were raising us, all those rolled eyes and moments of annoyance disappear when that phone call comes in. I know in my heart they did the best they knew how to do, and though we all may think other families are perfect, my guess is that few are.

Move On

I suppose my point in all of this is to just say that I’m grateful I could talk to my mom one more time when I thought I never would, and that I don’t know how many more hours, days, weeks, years, or decades I’ll have my parents and my family members. I need to move on beyond the wounds, be forgiving, accept them for who they are, and give them as much time and attention as I can. Whatever the issues: Move on, get over it.

The Last Thing I See

When I’m on my own deathbed, I don’t need my big screen TV or my favorite painting or some physical object. I need the hands of my family touching my hands, and I want their faces to be the last thing I see before seeing the face of God.

My friend Skip once told me, “I’d give up my entire bank account, my home, my car, and everything I own just to have one more half hour with my mom or dad. You’re lucky to have them. Make sure you spend time with them while you can.”

I Wish…

I’ve been to too many funerals where sobbing family members have uttered the words “I wish I’d … spent more time, talked to them more, listened more, visited more.”

Today is the day to reach out … touch base … visit … hug … listen … because tomorrow you may get a call.

Get It Done Today

It’s also a reminder to us all that we may, in an unexpected instant, become the victim of a health problem. Not only do we need to connect with those we love, we need to boldly not allow anything to get in the way of our joy, and do the things we want to do, even if there is some fear attached. Someday may never come, so do those things today. Take some risks to enrich your life, and don’t let anything get in the way. Tomorrow may not come.

Eric Rhoads

PS: My friend Tony Bennett made a San Francisco song famous, and, though the city is getting some negative publicity and facing some challenges — some of which I saw — it remains a magical place. I left my heart there, too. I lived there for 10 years, and visiting recently filled my heart with memories of why I love that place so much. It may be one of the most amazing places an artist can visit, and I’d live there again, even now. I’ll return in April for our Plein Air Convention and am excited to do so, because it will be a magical event in a magical place. By the way, the De Young Museum will have a Monet: The Late Years exhibition while we are there, and it’s sure to sell out. So if you’re going, and want to see it, as I do, order your tickets early.

The Call You Never Want to Receive2019-01-25T19:37:17-04:00
20 01, 2019

How to Convince Anyone to Do Anything

2019-01-16T17:02:10-04:00

Days before my 10-year wedding anniversary, I was sweating bullets about what kind of gift I could buy that would be more special than anything. I found myself flipping through catalogs, driving to the mall, and going into random stores, but nothing I found seemed special enough to celebrate a decade of marriage.


Zero Art Knowledge

At the time I was deep into my career as a radio trade magazine publisher, and I knew nothing about art. As I was walking down the street, I wandered by an art gallery. Frankly, I’m not sure I had ever been inside one, and as I glanced in the window, I saw a lot of beautiful paintings and some elegant old furniture, none of which I could relate to. But, because I was desperate to find something, I went in.

 

A Bit Snooty?

A well-dressed woman approached me, and looked me up and down with what I felt was a sense of disapproval. After all, I was probably wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and probably a lot younger than her typical customer.  

Without her lips even moving, she said, “May I be of service to you, sir?” Probably thinking I was there to steal something.

“Um, just looking,” which of course did not get her to walk away. It was clear I was around millions of dollars’ worth of stuff, and she was going to shadow me.

“Are you here for a specific purpose? Do you need to decorate a home, perhaps purchase a gift?”

I was totally intimidated, did not feel welcome, but said, “Well, I’m looking for a 10th-anniversary gift for my wife, but I don’t know anything about art. I was just walking down the street and decided to wander in.”

“Very good, sir, but I should probably make you aware, these are rare antique paintings and furniture, and, well, I don’t mean to be rude, but they are quite expensive. Is it possible that you might be looking in the wrong place?”

 

Sizing Me Up

Clearly, I did not belong, or so she thought, but little did she know I had just sold a business and could probably have afforded anything in the store. So I simply said, “I don’t think that will be an issue. Can you show me some things?”

I don’t think she believed me for a minute, but there was no one else in the store, so she played along, showed me some paintings, asked what my wife liked, and then pointed me to some really beautiful paintings that were, to my mind, very expensive.

 

Industry Jargon

I liked the paintings very much, but then she started spewing a bunch of gobbledygook I did not understand. She talked about the era of art the paintings were from, talked about the movement the artist had been part of, and threw out technical jargon that totally turned me off. This went on for about 10 minutes, and as my eyes glazed over, I decided I needed to get away.

Politely I told her that I did not understand a thing she had just said, and that it all seemed very important, but it did not matter to me.

 

Catching Me Off-Guard

Then she did something that totally caught me off-guard. She said, “The things I just told you may not matter to you now, but as you get to know more about art, they will be meaningful, because you will have paintings that are among the best of the best. You see, one of these paintings will not only be the perfect anniversary gift — it will make your wife cry when she sees it — there is a strong chance that it could put your kids through college 10 or 20 years down the road, or build quite a nice nest egg for when you decide to retire. And if you ever decide you don’t want it, bring it here, and I will always pay you what you paid me for it.”

She had me with “this will make your wife cry,” and it didn’t hurt to know that something I was buying might be worth money in the future, and that if I got into a pinch, I could get my money back. She was good.

I ended up buying one of the paintings, and it made my wife cry. And in fact, I later learned that the artist was very important, and that painting should be a nice nest egg for my ex-wife in her future.

 

This dealer helped me grasp the advantage.

The ability to help others grasp the advantage is one trait that all successful people possess.

All too often we speak in abstract terms that mean something to us but mean nothing to others. Yet all of us have to convince others of things in our lives from time to time.

 

Steve Jobs Could Sell Anything

One day Steve Jobs walked up to the top engineer at Apple and told him, “We need to make the boot-up time on the Mac 10 seconds faster.” The engineer told him it was not technically possible.

Then Jobs said, “Let me ask you this. If someone’s life depended on it, could you do it?”

The engineer said, “I guess I would have to find a way.”

Jobs then said, “10 seconds times the millions of users that use our products is equivalent to 72 years wasted. That’s someone’s life.”

The engineer not only figured out how to cut 10 seconds, he cut 20, because Steve had made him relate to the challenge in a different way to grasp the importance of that 10 seconds.

 

Guilty as Charged

Most trial lawyers will stand in front of a jury and say, “The plaintiff is sick. His employer is responsible, and they need to pay up.”

Trial lawyer Gerry Spence will stand in front of a jury and say, “Ol’ Bill over there got up at sunrise every day of his life for the past 40 years. He loved his job, he was devoted to his company, and he needed that job to support his six kids, who he put through college on his low salary, sacrificing what he and his wife wanted so they didn’t have to work in the coal mines. His back would hurt from shoveling coal, and he would breathe that awful black coal dust every day for 40 years. He was coughing and hacking while he worked, his skin was covered with coal dust, and the dust was always getting in his eyes. There was no fresh air to breathe, and workers were not allowed to wear masks. Now that he has cancer, his company is unwilling to pay for his care. Does that sound right to you?”

Gerry Spence helps the jury grasp the situation.

 

What if you and I spent more time helping people grasp the problem, the situation, the need?

We all get caught up in our own worlds. My doctor will use terms I can’t understand, and he loses me every time — until he sees my eyes glaze over and puts it into terms I can understand.

 

Speak in Actions, not Abstractions

Instead of industry jargon and terms others don’t understand, try to make a movie play in their heads. See your own movie, and describe what you see while weaving a story they can relate to.

 

Like Pac-Man

It’s also helpful to use things people already know to help them relate to what you’re trying to tell them. “There are these little creatures inside your bloodstream that are like Pac-Man, eating up everything in their path” is a lot more effective than talking about antibodies.

 

The Woodstock of…

It’s why I say the Plein Air Convention & Expo is like the Woodstock of plein air painting. People instantly grasp that it’s a giant, fun gathering with all the top artists, and a rare and special moment in history.

 

Oh, I Get It Now

Helping others grasp the right perspective is something few people do, but something that all successful people tend to do, knowingly or not. Doing so will help you in every part of your life … whether it’s convincing your kids of something, trying to sell your husband or wife on an idea, communicating with others, writing, or even selling something.

Translate everything to a story others can relate to. Find things that matter to the listener. Doing so will make a huge difference in everything you do.

Can you think of a time where you have failed to communicate with someone?

Is there something important you need to accomplish that you’ve been unable to convince others about?

Can you find an example of something else people already understand that could help others relate to it?

Help others grasp your perspective. It will do you a world of good.


Eric Rhoads

PS: Friday night late, I got back from San Francisco, where we spent some time exploring the places we’re going to paint in Wine Country and around San Francisco for the April Plein Air Convention. I’m really excited. We also decided to create a new indoor painting arena, so people who don’t want to go out of the hotel the whole week can stay inside and have a plein air-like experience with moving clouds, light, and sound, when others go out to paint. (Ironic, isn’t it? Indoor plein air painting!) It will be like looking out the window, and painting the outdoors from indoors.

How to Convince Anyone to Do Anything2019-01-16T17:02:10-04:00
13 01, 2019

Roadblocks That Get in the Way of Your Dreams

2019-01-13T12:21:18-04:00

I did a double take this morning as I glanced out the window. Our backyard looked like the scene of a horror movie, with twisted and gnarled oak silhouettes against the purple-white fog. This was the just the solitude I needed after returning from a holiday away to a to-do list the size of Texas.

I’m focused this morning on my year — not so much the planning, because that’s been done for a while, but my intentions, my beliefs in what I can really accomplish. I’m driven to help people find painting because I know how much it changed my heart, brought out my creative side, and made my life so rich. I want others to experience that soul-enriching feeling so they too can have the heart of an artist, even those who don’t believe they can do it.

Amplify Your Efforts

As I was thinking about how to appropriately amplify my efforts to draw others to the gift of painting, I had to admit that if it’s truly my life’s mission, I cannot allow anything to get in the way. I must drive it with smarter thinking, more time, more passion, fresh ideas, the willingness to do whatever it takes, and relentless, nonstop efforts.

This is how we all must approach our passions. When roadblocks get in the way, we have to find a way around, over, or under them. And if we’re unwilling, if we allow something to stop us, then our passion and drive aren’t strong enough.

Trading Your Life

We have to ask ourselves what we’re trading our life for. If I’m trading my life to help people discover and develop their passion for art, then life is too important to waste on petty little time-wasting things that don’t bring me closer to the goal. We each have to have a burning desire that is fueled into an all-consuming obsession.

But desire isn’t enough. If it were, we would all have endless money, perfect abs, and look like fashion models.

One of the problems with goal-setting is that we can’t just wish our way to our goals. Though mindset is crucial, mindset alone also is not enough.

A Glass Ceiling

A few years ago I realized I was not hitting my goals. It was as if I had a glass ceiling I could never get beyond, and though I had big dreams, I kept failing. Year after year, I set goals and missed them, and after two decades of doing that, I told myself I had reached my limit. I was unable to get beyond it, and I started to give up and accept my place in life.

Have you ever been there? Thinking you could accomplish something, but after getting beaten down time and again, finally accepting that it was never going to happen?

Though I thought I wanted to be successful, being successful beyond a certain limit triggered fears inside of me, and those fears held me back. And honestly, I had no idea it was happening.

If you and I were to be totally, painfully honest with ourselves, we would often discover that we’re continually missing out on our biggest dreams because we are subconsciously embracing the lies we tell ourselves and the lies others have told us.

Sometimes they are well-meaning, well-intentioned lies like …

  • “People are starving in China. Make sure you clean your plate.”
  • “We’re not cut out to be doctors or lawyers. We work with our hands.”
  • “Rich people are nasty and mean.”
  • “You’re not smart enough.”
  • “You have to retire at 65.”
  • “It takes talent to be a great artist.”
  • “You can’t make a living as an artist — artists starve.”
  • “Only losers do that.”
  • “You’re not good with money.”
  • “You’ll never be as good and successful as I am.”
  • “God doesn’t want you to be rich.”
  • “Men who drive fancy sports cars are compensating for their lack of manhood.”
  • “A woman’s place is in the home.”
  • “You should never be showy.”
  • “You’re big-boned.”
  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “You’re a bad student.”
  • “God’s going to strike you down for doing that.”
  • “Seven out out of 10 doctors smoke Lucky Strikes.”

If You Repeat Something Enough, You’ll Eventually Believe It

Our beliefs are created by repetition, by hearing something over and over again. Repetition of messages from our parents, our family and friends, our clergy, our subconscious mind, our bosses and co-workers and the media. We repeat our fears — often fears of success.

We and others have unintentionally programmed us to believe what we can and cannot do, what’s right and wrong, what’s acceptable and unacceptable, what’s possible and not possible, and this programming tends to get in the way of our goals. Worst of all, we don’t even know we’re doing it.

Changing Your Behavior

The first step in overcoming the lies we keep telling ourselves is to find out what they are. Start by listening to your thoughts and asking yourself, “Is that really true? Or is it a lie I’ve been told and have been repeating?” You have to challenge everything you catch yourself saying.

What’s Whispering in Your Ear?

You can learn about yourself and your limitations by discovering the little voices inside that have been holding you back. Do it by reading books, by attending events like Tony Robbins talks, by taking online courses and webinars, by seeing a therapist or a hypnotist, or trying EMDR therapy or neuro-linguistic programming. You will be amazed at how many things could be keeping you from your dreams. Once you’ve discovered your limits, you can reprogram your brain to overcome these roadblocks.

What are the things you’ve believed your whole life that may be holding you back?
What thoughts are keeping you from your dreams?
What’s buried deep in your subconscious that hurts you?
What do you find painful to talk about?

If you can devote 2019 to discovering what’s inside, you’ll make your dreams a reality.

I believe in you — I know you are capable of anything you desire.

Eric Rhoads

Roadblocks That Get in the Way of Your Dreams2019-01-13T12:21:18-04:00
30 12, 2018

12 Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever

2018-12-28T09:01:59-04:00

As I’m snuggled in with a blanket draped over my lap, the chill outside prevents my normal porch visit. Instead, the sun gleams in and the ornaments of the Christmas tree sparkle with light, while a perfectly focused shadow of the tree is projected on the side wall by the sun’s powerful rays.

Like a wedding that is planned all year and over with a quick “I do,” Christmas is over. It seems as though we spend weeks, and sometimes months, in anticipation and preparation, then packages are ripped rapidly open and Christmas too is over, and we’re moments away from the hope of a new year.

Looking Backward

With the beginning of a fresh 12-month cycle, we evaluate the last cycle and ask ourselves what worked, what failed, and what needs to change. We set new resolutions — but we later forget them, and we repeat our same routines yet another year.

Finding Yourself

Here I sit with a list of questions I should have addressed weeks ago, yet life, work, and Christmas got in the way. But a couple of days to think them through will set the tone for my coming year. It’s not really fair to myself to spend just two days planning the next 365, but something, I suppose, is better than nothing.

What should I celebrate?

Looking over a year that has been as much a blur as scenery out the window of a bullet train, I ask myself what worked, what I am most proud of, what accomplishments I should celebrate.

What should I not repeat?

That high-speed view requires that I devote even more time to my mistakes. What went wrong? Why? If I had to do it all over again, would I still want to do it? And if so, what would I do differently the next time around?

What do I regret?

Regret is an emotion reflecting something I’m not feeling good about. How did I treat others that was not the best of me? What behavior or attitude do I feel badly about? What opportunity did I take that I should have avoided? What opportunity did I pass up?

What should I have been doing?

There are also things I should have done that I did not. For instance, I should have gotten more exercise, but I allowed some excuses to get in my way. What was I too lazy to do that would have made things better for my family, or for my surroundings?

What did I mean to do that I never got to?

This is a giant one for me — projects or actions that have been put off yet one more year. They loom over me, causing stress every time I think of them. These are not necessarily high-priority, but they do eat away at my energy, knowing they need to be done. It might be a great idea I need to consider at work, or something at home, kind of like that loose banister knob on the stairs in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Where do I want to go that I’ve never been before?

Though this sounds like, and could be, a travel question, it’s really a question about pushing ourselves into a new experience, a new world, about doing or trying something new.

What have I always wanted to do that I’ve never done?

Will this be the year? Which dream did I, or you, cast off with some poor excuse for not pursuing it?

What’s my updated bucket list?

What are the places and experiences I want to get to before I die?

What do I keep talking about but never doing?

Talk is cheap. Excuses get in the way.

What do others need of me that I need to make sure happens? It’s not all about me, and that’s a good thing. How can I be there better than last year? It what ways do I need to make sure I show up?

Who do I need to spend more time with?

There are people I love who I want to be around more, even though they may be far away. If not now, when?

What superpower or gift do I need to share with the world?

I have gifts I need to share — and so do you. You know things others don’t. You possess superpowers in some areas. Will you share that? Don’t tell yourself others don’t want or need to hear from you. I used to have a lady contact me often and tell me about her troubled life. She could not keep a job, she was miserable, her life was filled with problems. She suffered depression and was even feeling suicidal. She asked me what she should do, and I told her she should become a life coach and a public speaker. She laughed and said, “No, seriously.” And I said I was dead serious. All she needed was for someone to believe in her. She took immediate action, got a chance to speak in front of a small group, then another, then another, and now she is speaking in front of big crowds and telling her story. I’m sure the book will come. Her life changed in one second when someone told her they believed in her and held her feet to the fire to go out and do something tomorrow. Had she not done it at that moment, she might have slipped back into her old life. I didn’t do that, she did it. That’s what we all need to do. The instant you decide you need to do something, take action that second before doubt demons keep you from your dream.

Questions Are the Way to Find Answers

The better the question, the better the answer. Ask yourself a question and give an answer, then deepen it with another question based on that answer, and then another one. Ask yourself “How else might I accomplish that? What else would make that even better?”

How might I _____, so that I can ______?
How did things get this way?
Why do things stay this way?
How can I improve things?
What are the possible reasons I’m noticing this gap (a symptom of an issue)?
What isn’t happening that if I did it, would cause the gap to shrink or disappear?
What is happening that if it stopped happening, would cause the gap to shrink or disappear?
What don’t I see?
How much money would I have right now if I could unwind any three financial decisions I have ever made?

“What sabotages our dreams and causes most of our problems is our excessive optimism and emotional belief in magic pills, secret formulas, and financial tooth fairies.” —  Keith Cunningham, The Road Less Stupid (which contains these and other great questions)

Most of us, myself included, spend more time thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner that we spend thinking about our lives, our problems, and solutions to our problems.

A Powerful Tool

What if, before New Year’s, you locked yourself in a quiet room — no phone, no computer, no music, no distractions — and you made a list of every dream, of every problem, of everything you want to accomplish? If you just started writing down everything that comes to mind? Don’t judge, put everything down, and keep asking more questions about each.

If you did this for an hour or two, you’d be spending more time on your plans than 99.999 percent of the world, and if you do it a few more times, not only now, but a couple of times a month, you will see things change and worlds open to you.

Keep It Visible

If you and I looked at our list of goals, actions, and dreams once a day or even once a week, it would be more top-of-mind and not forgotten, so we wouldn’t get to next New Year’s Eve with the same list of unrealized dreams.

Manifest with a Plan

There is a mistaken belief in our culture that if you dream something, or manifest it, it will come. Though I’m very much a believer in this, the missing element is typically a plan, some action items, and making sure what you want is continually on your radar.

If Not Now, Never?

If it’s important to you, you’ll do it. And if not now, when? You may think conditions are not right and that things one day will be better, but that’s rarely true.

Roadblocks to Dreams

Don’t let excuses keep you from your dreams. Don’t tell yourself you’re too old, too young, too poor, too rich, too busy, too sick, too healthy, too reliant on others, too consumed with other responsibilities. Don’t wait on others to solve your problems, or you’ll wait a lifetime with no results. You are the only one responsible for you.

Poof, You’re Gone

You and I could be gone one second from now. Each breath is an opportunity to not waste the rest of our breaths and live the dreams we were placed on this earth to accomplish. Our dreams are not just random ideas that came into our heads, they are gifts we need to embrace and on which we need to take action.

Dream.
Live.
Ask questions.
Make plans.
Take action.
Measure action.
Adjust.
Make new plans.
Keep taking action.
Live the joy of knowing your dreams became a reality.

Yes, it actually can be a happy new year.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: One of my action items, based on encouragement from many of my readers, is to help others find these Sunday messages. Maybe, if one day this gains some steam and gets some national recognition or notoriety, it could change more lives, maybe become a book or a few, and do what I was put on this earth to do.

If you, and each person who opens these e-mails, would do just three things, it would help tremendously. Because if I’m going to continue doing this, I need to do it right and amplify.

  1. Forward this e-mail with a note about why you find it meaningful (assuming you do) to three or more people.
  2. If you happen to know an influencer … someone in media, a blogger, a TV or radio person, a celebrity, a change agent, a book publisher, or anyone who, if they wrote about it, would bring in more readers, it could make a huge difference. Again, send a personal note.
  3. If you would copy the website link to this today and put it out on social media for others to discover it, I’d appreciate it.

My number one goal for 2019 is “Amplify to Cause Change.”

I want to say that I’m so grateful. I hear from a lot of folks every week by e-mail, in the comments below, and in person. It’s gratifying to hear your stories and how, on occasion, a thought helped you in some way. I truly, sincerely, and graciously wish you a year of abundance, of joy, and of great depth.

12 Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever2018-12-28T09:01:59-04:00