This morning as I sit here on the back porch, I’m watching a mama sparrow bringing food to her babies in a nest tucked into the rafters of our porch. The little birds are learning to fly. I’m watching them hop from the nest to the blades of our ceiling fan and then on to the branches of the stately oaks in the back yard. As they jump, they first fall before they engage their wings, which then propel them to the next branch. If they forget to use their wings, which they do from time to time, they hit the ground, then shake it off, hop to a branch, and start over. Birds learn like we all learn. Trial and error.

Young Sparrows Floundering

Watching these young sparrows, I think back to my own jumping from the nest, forgetting to use my wings, and crashing to the ground. My mistakes were often catastrophic, and there were times when I didn’t think I could get up again and shake it off. Yet, once the feeling of being stunned by failure faded, I found new energy somewhere deep inside and got the guts to try flying once again.

Decades to Learn Important Lessons

Unlike sparrows, we humans often take decades to learn important lessons. For me, it took that long to learn the most important principle of business and life, which completely changed how I do everything. It involves four little words, which, if sought out, will transform you.

What if I told you that four words could make a difference in your life, your career, and how you approach the ways you offer your product or service? What if I told you that it’s something you’ve probably heard, but ignored?

Looking back, I’d also heard this. It seemed too easy, and it never really gelled for decades. But since I started doing it, I’ve seen my life completely changed.

A Rude Awakening

It started exactly five years ago, when my radio magazine, Radio Ink, celebrated its 20th anniversary. It was bittersweet. I loved that we had survived 20 years, but looking back, I had not achieved what I had wanted to achieve. I had not hit my goals. I felt as though I had only gotten one year of experience — 20 times.

I was faced with a decision. Keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing and risk the next 20 years being equally unproductive, or make some changes in my life and my approach.
The easy thing would have been to remain comfortable and not mess with the status quo. But I knew in my heart that something had to change. I was not someone who wanted to “coast.”

Misplaced Arrogance

My wife suggested I attend a Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership course she had heard about on the radio. My first reaction: “What can they teach me? After all, I’ve been a CEO for more than two decades.” Then I realized how arrogant that statement was. So I attended.

At the event I learned a lot of new things, and I was reminded of some core principles I had forgotten.

A Spirit of Generosity

But the most important thing I took home was when Dave Ramsey said, “Operate your business with a spirit of generosity. Don’t be the kind of business that only takes. Instead, find out how generous you can be, and live it with everything you do.”

When I made this switch in my head and communicated it to my team, everything started to change.

Additionally, over the last five years I’ve attended probably a dozen or more training events, and I’ve joined two different mastermind groups with other business owners where we share information. The common theme among them all? Everything you do should be about changing the world and making people’s lives better.

Changing Lives

So we started making everything we do about changing lives and making lives better. It gave us a much bigger mission and something we could all get excited about.

We also picked a charity and started giving a part of our profits to that charity every year, which helped us have a common purpose beyond what we were doing for our readers, advertisers, and clients. I’m not one who wants to flaunt charitable giving to enhance our corporate image, but I will say that our giving has helped a lot of people less fortunate than ourselves.

Our entire focus has been on giving generously.

Recently, at the Plein Air Convention in San Diego, I encountered hundreds of people who told us that we’ve changed their lives because of the things we’ve done to help people discover painting, help them learn to be better painters, and help them market their paintings.

When you hear the words “You’ve changed my life,” you know your mission is on the right road.

Those are the four words to live by … and live for.

Living to Hear “You Changed My Life”

I live to hear those words, and I strive to make everything I do change lives, whether it’s education through our magazines, or opportunity through our painting retreats, or helping people discover painting and refine their skills through our videos or conventions.

If everything you do can impact others in a positive way and they tell you, “You’ve changed my life,” you’ve done more than create a business or an enterprise or an ideal life. You’ve had an impact that can be lasting.

The principle works. When you put the needs of others first, and you generously live to serve others, you will hear these golden words that are a sign that you’re on the right path.

Thanks for sharing coffee with me this morning. Your mission for this week? Stop and think about what you do that can change lives. Stop and think about the feedback you’ve received and the moments people have said, “You changed my life.”

Healing Paintings

My friend Charles H. White once told me of a woman who bought a painting of his to look at all day from bed while she was dealing with chemo treatments. She told him that his painting got her through it, gave her hope, and helped her see a better tomorrow.

Your paintings, too, can change lives, whether brightening a day or transporting the viewer to a special place or memory. Or you can teach others to do it. After all, learning to paint reduces stress and allows us to forget the rough spots in our lives for the hours we’re at the easel.

I hope you have a great Sunday and a fabulous week. Remember to try making everything about others this week.