My body was shivering uncontrollably as I stepped out at the Calgary airport last Thursday, coming from 80-degree Austin heat to 30 degrees and an unexpected winter storm.
I’m not a winter person. When I was a kid growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I recall winters with giant snow drifts that towered over our front door on the old farm out on Illinois Road. I loved making snow angels and snow forts, and heaving giant snowballs at friends and at passing cars.
Why I Developed an “Attitude” About Snow
But once I was driving age, I realized snow and ice had a downside — after getting stranded on the sides of roads, being stuck in snow drifts, and sitting in freezing weather waiting for rescue. Coming out to a dead battery on mornings I was headed to school or work was another frequent occurrence.
Looking back, I realize I developed a story about snow. I decided I did not love it and remember telling my parents that I didn’t understand why anyone would ever want to live in a climate with snow. My internal story about snow was so negative that I worked hard to get an early graduation from high school, set my eyes on a climate where I could wear shorts year round, and soon moved to Florida for my first real radio job at a new station called Y100, which we put on the air on August 3, 1973.
I Wanna Wear Shorts Every Day
When possible I strive to live in places I can wear shorts 90 percent of the time, though opportunity was often more powerful than my dislike of snow and I lived in places like Salt Lake City, where we owned our first radio stations. Learning to ski and enjoy the snow helped change my internal story. So now my story is that I’ll tolerate snow for the sake of skiing.
Here, this morning, I awaken in one of the most magnificent places on earth. The morning is cold, the fireplace is warming the room, and as I peek out the frost-covered window, the scene is like a postcard from the Canadian Tourism Bureau. Snow is weighing down the branches of giant pines, and in the distance I see a huge valley below and massive mountains towering above us, more spectacular than our own El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
It’s Time to Change My Internal Story
Here in Kananaskis Provincial Park in Canada, about 40 minutes outside of Calgary, I’m changing my internal story again, standing still outside with flakes falling heavily on my canvas as I paint plein air in some of God’s most spectacular scenery. Though I cannot do it justice, it’s sure fun trying. And I found that if I changed my attitude about snow, romanticizing that I’m following the path of artists like Hibbard and Redfield, who are known for their snow paintings, I can feel honored to take my best shot in reverence for the freezing temperatures they endured.
New Friends and Great Times
I’m here with about 80 of my closest friends. Though many of us were not close before Friday, we are rapidly getting acquainted, bonding, and having a ball, in spite of the fact that we are here for Fall Color Week to paint the orange aspens and the amazing mountain lakes surrounding Banff, Lake Louise, and Kananaskis in the Canadian Rockies. For those who are not painters, you would think that snow is white … but it’s filled with colors in the shadows and reflections of the sun and the surroundings.
Let Your Hair Down
A few minutes from now, I’ll meet my family of painters for breakfast, make my announcements for the morning, and then we’ll pack our sack lunches and head out to endure the snow for the sake of the opportunity to paint, and we’ll do that till next Friday. Tonight we’ll gather for dinner, probably sit around the fireplace and sip hot chocolate, and some will sit in the outdoor hot tub sipping glasses of warmed wine. We’ll paint portraits, and Rick Wilson will play his guitar and we’ll sing along. It’s a “let your hair down” moment of fun in an otherwise busy life for all of us.
It Was Spectacular
I have to admit, I love my life. My goal is that before my final breath, when I’m asked one last question about how my life was, I will be able to say, “It was spectacular.” And though I’m in no hurry to reach that moment, I know that “spectacular” does not come by accident. It comes by planning your life and making a point to create memories.
Another Goal Met
Last weekend I would have been returning from our paint trip to Africa, which I had to miss due to a temporary illness. But because I was in town, I grabbed the opportunity to take a four-day class on business and marketing, which I’ve been unable to do for the last couple of years due to my schedule. Though it was ridiculously expensive, it was the best money I think I ever spent. My dad always says an education is a bargain at any price. Learning empowers me, and I never want to stop.
Smart people learn from their mistakes. Brilliant people learn from other people’s mistakes. That’s why I invest in constantly learning from others. It’s why I attend workshops, it’s why I watch art training videos, it’s why I listen to podcasts. Because I hope to someday be brilliant.
The Great Lie
People think practice makes perfect. It’s a lie. Practice makes permanence. If an Olympic hopeful practices what she or he is doing wrong, it will hold them back. If you use the same bad golf swing for 20 years, it won’t get better, it will just become permanent.
Stuck in Business Mud
I spent 20 years practicing in my business, but I was not getting results because I was repeating the same stupid mistakes over and over. I had resourced my limited experience again and again until it became permanent. I did not see it or know it was happening until I hit a 20-year milestone in my business and realized I had not come anywhere close to the financial and other goals I had envisioned two decades before.
It was not until I decided to get out of my comfort zone to attend things I was uncomfortable attending, to learn about new things, that I started to solve my problems. It changed everything. And the minute I stop doing that, I’ll go back to my old ways. That is why I try to attend four or more learning events a year, and why I join mastermind groups to be around smarter people than me. It’s why I try, when I can, to pay for some of my team members to attend learning events. Sometimes I insist, though they tell me it won’t give them any value, and usually they come back wide-eyed about all the things they learned.
Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know. My friend author Chris Lytle calls it “unconscious incompetence.”
Keith Cunningham says, “The key to mastering the art of living starts with defining your vision of excellence.” In other words, define what spectacular is for you. (Keith is author of The Road Less Stupid.)
Why Goals Fail
In my new book I talk a lot about defining your life and your goals (which goes hand-in-hand with art marketing but applies to us all). But goals alone are not enough. Most of the people I know never achieve their goals, because a goal without an execution plan is simply folly. Goals have to be broken into milestones, and each of those milestones must be broken into steps and sub-steps, the critical drivers to accomplish those steps. Though I’m big on vision and manifesting what you want, manifesting requires commitment to the steps. Things don’t just float to you. Execution is required.
A Cabin in the Woods
I remember my cousin Jim, decades ago, telling me his goal was to have a cabin in the woods and saying that if he kept thinking about it, it would happen. Though there is truth in the vision part, the focusing on dreams part, you need a plan. So you take the goal and work backward. Start with the cabin, and define it in excruciating detail. Where is it? What is the square footage? What does it need to have in it? Going into exact detail not only helps you envision what you dream about, it helps you build a plan.
The Magic Is in Execution
When do I want it? Now? Five years from now, or 20 years from now? What is the cost of building that exact cabin 20 years from now? What is the cost of the land? How much are the taxes and the cost of maintenance? Now that I have that number, I back it out. If I need $50,000 within five years, then I know I need $10,000 a year … extra. Now how do I save the money? What will I need for a down payment, and how do I get the extra money I need to make the payments? With each step come several action items. To save $10,000 a year, I need to cut other expenses, or I need to get a job that pays X a week extra. And that money, after taxes, goes into a separate account that is never touched.
I think you get the point. Start with the goal, define it in detail, then back out all the steps, the sub-steps, and the things that must happen in order to make your goal happen. That’s how goals actually get achieved.
Working on the Gap
A goal without a plan to execute is a goal that is unlikely to be realized. Understanding where you are and where you want to be helps you find the gap between those two points. What are the obstacles within that gap? We all need specific clarity about the problem to be solved, the specifics of the opportunity or obstacle, and the steps required to execute our strategy.
So this week, the gap for me is that I don’t know how to paint snow because I have never done it. I can get out there and try, or I can find someone in the group who knows how to paint snow to speed my progress. And I need to break it into the steps I need to learn, in order to fill the gap between where I am and where I want to be. And before I leave, I’ll study the great snow paintings of great snow masters. If there had been a video or book on painting snow, I would have bought it.
I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, and because of that, I’ll learn new things and make great progress.
What about you? What is the gap between where you want to be and where you are? What are the obstacles? What are the specific steps required to get past them? Who is the best person with experience that you can learn from? What are the steps and sub-steps? What happens if you don’t do it? What is the question you’re not asking but should be? What don’t you see that you should see? (Cunningham says, “It’s what you don’t see that kills you.”)
Surprisingly, the answers are in the questions you ask. You have to give thinking time to your questions.
Have a great day, and wish us all luck painting snow! And hopefully we’ll get some warmer weather and some of that fall color we hoped for.
PS: I’ll leave Canada next Friday, be home for a few hours, then board a flight to Italy for our annual art trip, seeing the art world in Italy behind the scenes as Fine Art Connoisseur Editor Peter Trippi and I lead about 50 collectors, art lovers, and artists on our Italian Art Trip.
Upon returning, I’ll be with about 350 people who are willing to put themselves out of their comfort zone to study under the best figure and portrait painters in the world at our Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE) in Miami. This was a 20-year dream that I turned into a goal, breaking it into steps for what had to happen and what obstacles I had to overcome (everyone said it would be impossible to get that many of the world’s best painters teaching at the same conference because it had never been done).Though it was not easy, and pretty much put my life savings and the health of my business at risk (which I don’t recommend, by the way), we will enter our second year of FACE. And when it’s done, we will decide if there will be a third year.
I remember in the 7th grade, getting scolded by a teacher who mocked me in front of a laughing class for drawing portraits of people when I was supposed to be listening. That moment discouraged me, yet it also made me determined to one day be able to draw and paint amazing portraits. It’s been a life goal, and though I’ve got a lot of progress yet to make, I could pinch myself because I’ll be able to sit and watch the world’s best, teaching how they do figure and portrait drawings and paintings. Though it took me 49 years to get to this point, some dreams never die. Keep in mind, I could not draw well but always wanted to. I have since learned that the majority of artists don’t have “talent,” they learned a skill that became their talent. If you’re telling yourself you can’t even draw a stick figure and that you can’t learn, it’s a lie. You can learn. If you would one day like to be able to draw or paint with great skill, make sure you take that first step, then introduce yourself to me at one of our conferences. I’ll high-five you for stepping out of your comfort zone and showing up to work on your unrealized dream.
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I loved this article, Eric – as I always love all your articles. Good luck painting snow – it can be quite rewarding when you bring out the warm lights and beautiful cool shadows. I hope you have fun and wish you much success on your upcoming trips, Italy etc … one day I hope to be among those who join you.
Thanks so much for all your wonderful writings.
Absolutely Excellent. I relate on many levels😊👍
Loved the encouragement on goals and lifelong learning. I wish you success with snow!! Light fills it with wonderful color! Can’t wait to see some of your efforts. Have a fabulous time
What a grand adventure. My favorite part – clarifying MY spectacular life. Thank you for your vim, vigor, sit & fire for art, beauty, learning, and life!
Always good!! Excited for you to paint snow!! I know of a good snow painter. Lorenzo Chavez. He is a mentor and friend of mine. Also on goals. I have learned you must be flexible. Some circumstances are out of our control. You have become a teacher friend, I loved to attend workshops and paint alongs. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity! Now I am living vicariously through you and others and so Thankful for that also. I’m painting. Hallelujah. Will I ever get in a magazine or gallery. Not so sure that is my goal. I do not have what it takes to get there. Even though we have never met, I feel we are connected as Art Spirits. Thank you Eric and continued Blessings. Can’t wait to go with you on your next adventure!
I loved this post more than usual Eric. I’m “retiring” from the practice of pathology at the end of 2018. What I am and always have been is an artist (pathology is so visual, it fit right in to what I love to do and that is see). I will have the time to really give my painting what I need to go beyond what I acheive now through practice. I love the concept of defining the goals and stepping backward to acheive them, also getting out of our comfort zone.
I just recently had to paint snow for the first time and it is an easy one; I hope that you are finding that to be the case. Mix up 3 whites with color, yellow, red, blue, still having a “white”. Mixed all together they should make the faintest gray. That’s the key; and you said it; snow is not white! Thanks again and I will hope to see you eventually at one of these wonderful painting trips.
So glad you are feeling better! Thank you for your truthful posts.
Hi Eric, I enjoy your Sunday coffee posts, not because they are always enlightening (none of us create perfect posts every time), but because they are frequently insightful, both for myself and into you. Pondering your travel, and your (almost) boasting of how frequently you are off, I wondered this morning – are you avoiding the beautiful life that is all around you. I’m not talking about your Austin scenery, but your “Life” with your family. Your kids are growing faster than you can imagine, and you are missing big parts. No matter how much you “bond” during these painting excursions, you are not with 80 of your best friends.
Snow is beautiful, inspiring and healthy. Are you running from a normal life like you have avoided snow?
I enjoyed this article and it was one I needed, BUT I need advice, I am 69, a young 69, but because of previous illness, had to take early social security & med. expenses ate up the rest of my savings. So I would probably never have the money to go on expensive plein air trips or workshops. I love plein air, do watercolors, love in Canyon Lake, Texas. Would the Austin Plein Air group be a good one to join? To travel locally would be possible & I would love the companionship of other artists.
Really enjoying these insights. Although I am kinda having to deal with a little jealousy too!
I expect the same insights and wisdom when you get around to replying to my long email. If you missed it due to your busyness I can send it again, it was over 6 weeks ago now. lol 🙂
I once had a wonderful, and very knowledgeable, teacher who ask me what my goals were. I rattled them off and his response was write them down. They are right here I said touching my head. He said write them down. The obstinate child I was asked why and he responded. Something wonderful happens and they become reality. All of my one year and two year goals were accomplished in less than six months.
That’s amazing! I have heard that simular theme story before. There’s something magical about writing them down and putting your intentions out there.
Thank you for the nice article . Will remember practicing the wrong way does not make me perfect.
Inspiring philosophy for all!
Hope to follow artistic improve-
ment, as a senior, with your
invaluable Sunday Cafe advice.
Unlike you Eric I love snow and the colors of winter! I am often asked why and I must say it goes beyond the beauty. The Lord God has promised in Isaiah 1:18 ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow!’ My imperfections are covered by Jesus! Snow is a beautiful reminder of what I have.
I want to again thank you for your blog that encourages me in my art endeavors. Two months ago I was planning an art show in my home amidst my busy life as a caregiver. One particular week it kept me from giving up. I am happy to say it was a great success. I sold twenty of my paintings!