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Beating “The System”

2018-04-04T14:38:05+00:00

Tweeting took on its original meaning as I awoke to the golden orange sunshine, which places a rim of intense light around the edges of my scrub oaks this morning. The weeds, bushes, and tall grasses are glowing like fire.

The morning doves are conversing with cooing in stereo and a choir of chirping fills the air, creating a symphony of nature’s music.

Bluebonnets in full bloom, rich indigo and cobalt blue, create thick carpets of blue which can be seen for miles. The scent is heavenly. I draw air deeply into my chest for the perfumed blast to my brain.

The distant mountain is glowing with a rich purple-blue as the light is filtered by morning fog. Spring in Texas is its very best season.

Celebrating Mom

As I sit on the back porch thinking though my coming week, it starts today in celebration on mom’s 92nd, and I’m wishing she were in Austin to see the bluebonnets so we could celebrate with her. Local tradition is to take your kids out for a photo in the field of bluebonnets — I’d love to have a birthday photo of mom in the flowers. As my grandmother used to say, “Today is a red-letter day.” Mom is responsible for my passion for art and I owe so much to her. She reads every one of these, so mom, me and the 100,000 readers of this blog wish you a happy birthday.

My Biggest Week of the Year

Pondering my coming week at the PleinAir Convention in Santa Fe, where 1,100 of us will gather to celebrate outdoor painting and learning together, I feel so grateful that it’s grown into such a rich experience, especially when it almost did not happen.

Facing Bankruptcy

When I came up with the idea of the plein air convention, all my advisors and friends told me if I failed I’d be bankrupt. One advisor told me it had been tried in a different form (not plein air-specific) and after three attempts had lost over a million and a half dollars. “The concept has been tried. It won’t work. You’ll lose everything,” I was told. “Why risk your entire career on one event?”

Giving Up

I was determined to find a way to make this dream happen. When I did my homework I figured out why others had failed. I had to approach everything differently to make it work. “But those things won’t work,” I was told. Frankly, I believed my cherished advisors for a while and I gave up. I decided not to do it.

Finding Their Tribe

Yet in my heart I knew the people who are part of the plein air movement needed a place they could call home, a place to find their tribe, a place to break bread with others and feel a part of something bigger. They needed a place to refine their skills, to paint beside one another in a massive historic painting experience where all of us paint in one location. I felt that having a place we gather annually as a community would do wonders for the people attending and grow the movement, which according to art historian Jean Stern is the largest movement in the history of art.

The Movement Flickering Out

Not only did I believe it had to be done, and that without it the growing plein air movement might flicker out, I believed it would change lives, would inspire people, would give people a new outlook, and give them a “family” they could look forward to seeing every year. I had to find a way. Even though the practical side of me decided to stop, my heart said go. So I changed my mind.

When I picked up the phone and told my accountant I was going to put my entire business and my life savings on the line, she urged me not to do it. “You’ve had ideas fail before, Eric. What makes you think this time will be different. I beg you not to do it.”

“Don’t Do It, Eric. Please!”

That day I took a deep breath, spent some time in prayer, then I announced my plans to my team. Once again they urged me to reconsider, probably thinking they would all lose their jobs when I failed.

Seven Years Ago This Week

I picked up the phone and called some artist friends, many mentioned the failure of the other event, but told me they would give me their support. So, after a few months of work and finding a hotel we could afford (which wasn’t easy), we launched the first event seven years ago this week. And though it was not a giant financial win, I felt I was ok keeping it going if I could just pay the bills.

“You’re Being Irresponsible”

The reality is that I could have failed. I knew that. I did not like the idea of starting over in my mid-fifties knowing I had three kids to put through college and had to find a way to pay for life in my elder years. Some told me it was irresponsible.

But when something gets in your gut and you believe in it, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had just tried.

Preventing Disaster

Human beings want to prevent others from going through the difficult things they face, which is why they issue warnings about the foolish mistakes we’re about to make. Though there is no substitute for wisdom and experience acquired through effort, we all need to listen but follow our own inner direction. Here’s one story where this worked out.

Falling in Love with Radio

As a young boy, I used to lie under my covers at night and listen to my favorite radio deejays on my transistor radio. Bob Dell on WOWO, Chris O’Brien on WLYV, John Records Landecker on WLS, Larry Lujack on “Super CFL,” and Big Don O’Brien on CKLW all entertained me, played my favorite songs, and became friends to me, even though we had never met. I loved how radio made me feel. I wanted to be like them.

Breaking the Ice

In 1968, I joined a local Up With People group called “Sing Out Fort Wayne.” The group would meet weekly and rehearse shows and do community projects. In this group I met an older kid, the sound guy, named Charlie Willer. One of our community projects, where we were breaking up ice on the St. Mary’s river to prevent flooding, I was chopping ice next to Charlie. Before we were done I remember him saying, “Well, I’ve got to go to work,” and me saying, “You can’t go yet, we’re not done.” His response was, “I’m on the radio, it’s not like I can be late.”

I was immediately mesmerized.

I was meeting someone who worked on the radio? I wanna go! So, I put down my pick and asked if I could come along and watch. We piled into his black 1938 Ford (I didn’t have my driver’s license) and went to the radio station on the campus of Indiana Tech, in the basement of Syler Hall, and watched him spin records and talk on the radio.

I knew at that moment what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

“Sorry, You’re Too Young”

Soon I was introduced to the program director, whom I asked if I too could be on the radio. Keep in mind this was college and they had trouble finding college students to get up for the unpopular early morning shifts or late nights on weekends. When he found out I was 14 he discouraged me and told me that I needed to be at least 16, because a 3rd-class FCC operator licence was required, and I’d have to wait. I was heartbroken and that two years was going to seem like an eternity.

“Hello, FCC?”

The following afternoon I was on the phone to the Federal Communications Commission field office in Chicago to find out the criteria to get my licence.

“Um, yes sir, I’d like to get my 3rd-class licence. Can you tell me how to do it?”

“Well, you simply need to read the manual, study, and take the test. We have tests every first Saturday in Chicago.”

Now, at that moment I had a choice. I could ask if I had to be 16 like I had heard or I could just show up and take the test. If I asked and he said I had to be 16 and found out I was not, he would not send the study booklets, so I did not say a word, I just gave him my mailing address.

Soon I was studying the manual and my friend Charlie was testing me, and days later I was in Chicago taking the test. I remember being very nervous, walking into this giant granite building and this massive oak-paneled room from the 1930s filled with rows of wooden desks and wooden chairs. There must have been 150 people in there taking the test. I was one of them.

On the form it asked for date of birth. Should I lie, I wondered? No, I can’t. Not only is it wrong, if they found out I may never get my license, so I put my true age on the form, took the test, turned it in, and paced the floors to see if I had passed.

To this day I don’t know if the age restriction was 16 or not, or if they simply did not catch it, but all that mattered was I had what I needed to go on the radio, and a week later I was on the air every Saturday and Sunday morning playing Jimi Hendrix and album cuts from 1969.

Practice Practice Practice

Within about a year I was working Sunday mornings at a local Top 40 station, WLYV, getting paid a dollar an hour to come in and run the Sunday morning church programming. The highlight was that I got to “open” the microphone once an hour and say, “This is WLYV Fort Wayne.” I would rehearse it all hour. And while tapes were running I got to be in the production studio practicing being a deejay.

One day I hoped to be on the air on a real station, not just a college station with no listeners. I spent as much time as possible talking to the local deejays, the icons I had grown up listening to; and though encouraging, they would tell me, “Eric, you have to pay your dues. This can’t happen overnight.”

Pay Your Dues

If I wanted to be on the radio, making a living as a radio deejay, I’d have to fight to get a good job, and I’d have to work at small crummy stations in small towns for 10 or 15 years before I could be on a station like this. Though they did not mean to discourage me, everyone kept saying, “You have to pay your dues.”

But I did not want to pay my dues. I had big dreams. I knew I could do it, I knew I was going to be a big radio star one day, but I could not imagine paying my dues for decades before I got to a big station.

Seeking a Solution

Meanwhile I just kept practicing and making tapes, working at both jobs — one paid at a dollar an hour and one paid nothing — and I told myself I was going to beat the system and not pay my dues. There had to be a way, and by the time I got my driver’s license I was going to find a way.

Early Discouragement

Though I applied for jobs in small-town stations surrounding Fort Wayne, they asked about my experience, told me I was not good enough, plus I needed to get experience in smaller stations and pay my dues. The stations in town would not even talk to me.

Determined, I made tapes for six hours every Sunday morning, asked the local deejays for critiques on my tapes, made changes, made more tapes. One deejay, Bill Anthony, took a liking to me, helped me a lot, and we stayed in touch when he moved away to a new job in Kalamazoo. I must have mailed him a tape once a week, and one day he called and said, “Are you willing to drive two hours each way for an air shift on Saturday and Sunday mornings from six to 10?”

My Big Break

I was in! This was my big break. So, I quit my church tape job, drove up to Kalamazoo on Friday nights, and drove home on Sundays after my shift. I did this for about a year, and I even drove home on some Saturdays so I could go on a date with my girlfriend “Corky,” then I’d drive back.

That experience was so helpful and now I had tapes of me being on the air. But how was I going to get on better time slots, get on bigger stations? I kept hearing, “You have to pay your dues. Stick with this weekend shift for a few years so you can get good enough. Don’t even bother sending your tape around to other stations, no one will hire you with no experience.” I refused to believe them.

A Different Outlook

Though I wasn’t making much money and my gas for the commute ate up most of it, I saved my money and subscribed to a radio industry newsletter for deejays called The Gavin Report. I read it every week from cover to cover and decided I needed to get to know one of the writers, Gary Taylor. I would call him every week and ask him how I could get better jobs. Though I probably pestered him, he would tell me, “Just keep practicing and sending out your tape.” He was the only one other than Bill who did not tell me I had to pay my dues.

Then, one day, I saw an ad that read, “New radio station in Miami-Fort Lauderdale going on the air soon. Send tape and resume. So I sent my stuff (there was no FedEx at the time) and called Gary and said, “This sounds like the perfect job for me.” He encouraged me, and though I don’t know this for sure, may have made a phone call on my behalf, because a couple days after my packaged arrived I got a call in the middle of a party I was having with my friends at my parents’ house.

An Important Call

“Is this Eric Rhoads? This is Ronnie Grant, and I’m the program director of a new station we’re putting on the air in Miami. Our consultant, Buzz Bennett, likes the way you say “Y” because our new station is called Y-100. I’m offering you the 10pm-2am shift, on one condition. You have to be here in 48 hours when we go on the air.”

The next morning I loaded up my VW Bug and drove by myself to Fort Lauderdale and checked in to join the air staff of this new station. The rest, as they say, is history. My parents were probably mortified, but they were only encouraging. This was the big break that made my career in radio.

Paying Your Dues

My entire life I’ve been told I needed to pay my dues. It was true in radio when I was on the air. I was told this when I wanted to break into being a program director. I was told it was impossible for me to own radio stations when I was just 25. Almost everything I’ve done has had most people telling me I had to pay my dues, that what I wanted to do was impossible, or I was too young or too inexperienced. I’ve been told product ideas I had would never work and that no one would buy them. I’ve been told magazines I wanted to start could not succeed. I’ve been told events I’ve created won’t be embraced. Why? Because you have to pay your dues first.

Painting Your Dues

As a painter, I’ve also been told you have to pay your dues, you have to get your 10,000 hours of experience. I was at a dinner party at Fred Ross’ home (founder of ArtRenewal.org) when a famous painter told me I should give up painting because there is not enough time to get good starting as late as I did. No one over 16 has a chance to be a great painter, he told me.

New Ways of Learning

I have to admit, painting was harder, and that brush time is important. Yet, by being persistent and finding the right mentors, I think I was able to overcome some of the dues. And when I heard of new research about “chunk learning” as a way of overcoming the required 10,000 hours, I produced a video with Brian Mark Taylor to help others gain an advantage so they don’t have to pay as many dues.

Overcoming Barriers

I know experience is important and never want to say it’s not. I’d not want some upstart brain surgeon working on me without experience. And though we all need experience, there are ways to speed up some of the learning process and overcome some of the barriers.

All of this starts in your own head, in your belief.

When I had a dream of developing a new way of doing radio on the Internet, I kept getting “no,” and yet after flying back and forth from West Palm Beach to San Francisco every week for 10 weeks, the “no” turned into a “yes” and my idea was funded for millions of dollars.

An Impossible Dream

Since I knew nothing about technology I hired a search firm and interviewed 20 tech people. When I told them what I wanted to do, every single one of them told me it was impossible technically and it could not be done.

Only one engineer, Rich Sadowsky, said, “What you want to do is not physically possible. It’s against the laws of physics. But I’ll find a way.” The result was that we perfected new technology, got some patents, and paved the way for standards being used online today. It took us less than a year. The only difference between Rich and the other 19 people I interviewed was his attitude.

“I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

Life has introduced me to a lot of amazing people, from fellow artists, fellow business people, writers, filmmakers, musicians, celebrities, radio and tv personalities, and film actors, and I’ve realized that the ones at the top of their game all have one thing in common.

  • When they hear of barriers they ignore them.
  • When they are told they have to pay their dues, they seek ways to get around paying them.
  • When others try to discourage them, they keep going.
  • While others stop trying after two or three attempts, they keep going even after 30 or 40 attempts, or more.
  • Though they too get discouraged, once they get something in their head they don’t give up, even when it seems giving up is the only option.

These are not people with some special advantage or gift. Most of them started with no advantages. They worked hard, they used their brains, they persisted, and though they experienced hurt, pain, adversity, they did not let that stop them.

Road Blockers

I’m a firm believer that people who discourage us along the way don’t do it to hurt us, they are simply trying to keep us from getting hurt. Perhaps they tried and failed and went through pain. They don’t want you to struggle.

Following Your Own Muse

We should always listen. We can learn a lot, save ourselves a lot of headaches, and often people are right. But it does not mean we should always do what others say. I’ve had many experiences where others have tried what I wanted to do, but sometimes one or two little different approaches will make your approach work where others have failed.

“Never settle for being a character in someone else’s story when you are meant to be the author of your own.” — Unknown

If your dream is big enough, if you know in your heart that you can and will make something happen, even if it’s impossible, you will find a way.

“If something is important enough, you should try, even if the probable outcome is failure.” — Elon Musk

Perspective is a wonderful gift, and it’s true that the experiences of others can be beneficial. Take it in, but know that you might succeed where others failed.

The longer I’m alive, the more clearly I see how much our attitude and our belief systems impact the quality of our lives and our ability to live our dreams, including impossible dreams.

What about you?
Where are others throwing roadblocks in your life?
What do you believe that others are trying to tell you won’t work, can’t be done, isn’t right for you?

I spend my life around a lot of artists and most were told by their parents that the artist’s life would be filled with struggle, pain, and no income. Most did it anyway. Most had pain, struggle, and no income — until it changed. Most did not stop when the roadblocks were placed in their way. One can never stop. Some endure years of ridicule, keep painting, and one day hit gold. Gold hunter Mel FIsher persisted for decades with no success until he found $450 million in lost gold.

“Never settle for less than you deserve, because once you start to settle you always will.” — Unknown

Perhaps today you might want to stop and ponder your dreams.

Don’t tell yourself they can’t happen, and listen respectfully when others tell you of their impossibility.

Life is about following your dreams, finding your own unique way of contributing to the world and changing it.

Don’t tell yourself there is no time left.

Don’t “try,” because trying is an excuse that lets you off the hook if you fail. Just do. Don’t let yourself off the hook.

“When you accept the fact that your true identity includes being an overcomer, you will never settle for less than a miracle.” — Craig Groeschel

Most of us have paid dues through the road of hard knocks. But don’t assume that just because someone else had to pay their dues means that you have to.

Be an overcomer.

Try more times.

When you fail, try even more.

Engage your mind and find ways to overcome what others have not figured out.

Start by believing that you have what it takes, your own unique ideas and perspective, which no one else on earth has. Use it to your advantage.

Eric Rhoads


PS: I’m looking forward to seeing some of you in Santa Fe at the plein air convention! I’ll be doing an art marketing boot camp with all new material three mornings in a row. Also, if you live in Santa Fe, we might have a ticket or two available if you show up and someone has cancelled. And the art show and expo hall are open to the public. I’ll be recording the new podcasts live at the show, too, and releasing my new book. See you there.

18 Comments

  1. Rosalie F. Barrie April 8, 2018 at 4:37 am - Reply

    Congrats to b. Eric Rhoads, Art Publisher, the Team. Plein Air movement lives!🎨

  2. Vimala April 8, 2018 at 5:26 am - Reply

    Thank you for the advice on overcome and the encouragement. Will keep that in mind.

  3. Yorgos April 8, 2018 at 5:39 am - Reply

    Dear Eric, you know, I have a special saving folder in my email account which I’ve named “Inspirational” and most of the emails that I save there, if not all of them, are your Sunday Coffee emails. Especially this email, mmm…
    there’s nothing else to say…thank you 😀

  4. Rita Cirillo April 8, 2018 at 5:53 am - Reply

    Thanks. I needed that! I’ll be saving this one to read again, when my inspiration starts to bog down.

  5. Ruth Palombo Weiss April 8, 2018 at 5:56 am - Reply

    You make GRIT, the highlight and star of your Sunday Coffee this week Eric. Grit is what pushes us through when we want to stop. Glad you have it Eric. So sorry I won’t be able to join you this coming week – foot surgery.

  6. Cate Wagoner April 8, 2018 at 6:08 am - Reply

    OOPS!!! Because I am not attending and illness, I have let the dates of Eric’s being in Santa Fe catch me off guard. I have a short graphic novel painted by a Kentucky artist that I would like to send to him while he is there. The artist grew up there and it includes historical and meaningful info for all attendees. Is there any chance someone could send me an address for overnight shipping? If impossible, at least the best normal address to be sure this gets to him in person. Thank you very much. Cate Wagoner……a FACE attendee.

  7. Margaret Cutteer April 8, 2018 at 7:20 am - Reply

    To be able to write with so much wisdom, you had to have experienced many barricades in your life. Thank you for hitting the nail on the head again and again.

    Margaret Cutter

  8. Margaret Cutteer April 8, 2018 at 7:20 am - Reply

    To be able to write with so much wisdom, you had to have experienced many barricades in your life. Thank you for hitting the nail on the head again and again.

  9. Nancy Kempf April 8, 2018 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Happy bday Eric’s Mom!! And thank you Eric for another incredible kick towards my goals. Good luck with your upcoming plein air convention. I’m a studio artist but will look forward to convention photos and stories.

  10. Rosalyn Seglem April 8, 2018 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Happy Birthday Mom! I am on my way too 86 last birthday! How very proud you must be at the man your son has become.

    Eric, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your writing, you make me believe I can and will do it! Whatever it is. You are a true inspiration
    to all of us artists. I only wish I could be there in Santa Fe for the Plein aire gathering. I do know a few that are attending so I will
    hear after the fact. I wish you all the blessings of God and mine too, Rosie

  11. Maxine Howard April 8, 2018 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Thanks for today’s encouragement. You really ought to gather your Sunday Coffees into a book so your readers can refer back to the ones that are meaningful in a specific situation. I really like it that in today’s piece you said you prayed about the situation before you started–THAT is inspiring.

  12. Margo Geyer April 8, 2018 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    As someone else said, I too save you articles in a file. Many great words of wisdom here. I so look forward to meeting you in SF, I am attending your bootcamps. Thank you for all you do.

  13. Linda Mutti April 8, 2018 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    So inspirational, thank you for believing in your dream which helps us believe in ours! See you in Santa Fe!

  14. Sue April 8, 2018 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    Happy Birthday, Mom!

    Passion fuels persistence, making hard work a joy. I must say, that 10,000 hours theory never really resonated with me. We all grow at different rates and develop skills with varying levels of efficiency.

    What a wonderful Sunday read.

  15. Frances Pampeyan April 8, 2018 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    More good advice. Your letter is so enocuraging. I’ll see you soon at PACE.
    Happy and Blessed Birthday to your mom!

  16. Frances Pampeyan April 8, 2018 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    More good advice. Your letter is so encouraging. I’ll see you soon at PACE.
    Happy and Blessed Birthday to your mom!

  17. Schlesier Grace April 8, 2018 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    Another winner. I’m passing it on to my grandkids.
    I’m living my dream with many more challenges ahead. It’s all good.
    Happy Birthday to your Mom.
    We’ll miss PACE and all our special artists and friends in Santa Fe. 😢
    I’m excited to find out where we meeting in 2019!
    We’ll be there

  18. Lisa Matheson (Elisabeth) April 9, 2018 at 10:12 am - Reply

    Thank you for the inspiring words. Just what I needed to hear. I’m looking forward to the conference next week!!!

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