A sheen of ice covers the back deck as I let the dogs out this morning into the frigid air. The frost has coated the bushes as if they were dipped in white flour, and the dogs can’t wait to get back inside to the cozy warm fireplace. It’s the perfect morning to sit by the fire, smell the fragrant smoke, and hear the snap, crackle, and pop of the wood. Holiday music fills the air, and a big, soon-to-be-empty plate of cookies is sitting on the kitchen counter calling my name. As the song says, it’s beginning to look a lot like … well, you know.
I’m always amazed at how rapidly Christmas and then New Year’s come and go. The time between Thanksgiving and the first week of the new year is always a blur. And, once we get back in the groove, it’s February already.
Amateurs at Play
Back before I was a professional, I was an amateur goal-setter. I would wake up on January 1 after sleeping in and then, and not until then, I’d set my New Year’s resolutions. It was usually something about losing weight or getting rich. And, after thinking about it for the day, nothing ever happened until the following New Year’s Day. In fact, that’s the extent of goal-setting for most people. Gyms love it because people will sign up the first week of January, then never show up all year. But the act of paying for a gym membership makes them feel they are doing something about their health.
How the Big Boys and Girls Do Things
When I started learning about goal-setting from the pros, everything changed. I learned that in the major leagues, the people who take and achieve moon shots are the people who take this whole goal thing very seriously.
Now, what you do with your life is no business of mine. It is your choice. You may be perfectly happy as things are and you may want for nothing. If that’s you, stop reading now. If, however, you want to see how the big guns do it, stick around for a couple more minutes.
What Does Not Work
I’ve learned a lot about goals in my lifetime. And like most, I’ve read tons of books and heard lots of theories. At the end of the day, most of those books are written by people who never really accomplished anything — other than hitting financial goals by writing a book about goals. And most of their theories never worked for me.
The phases of my life to the present time have been littered with failures, an occasional success, and a lot of accidental magic.
Some of the best things that happened in my life were accidents, which brings me to my first of many thoughts on goals and life. Some of the best things that happen are never in your plans. Even the pros will tell you that no matter how much planning and goal-setting you do, something can come along that changes everything. The reality is that we all have opportunities fall in our laps. The difference between the amateurs and the pros is that the pros recognize opportunities when they appear, and they are ready to take action. They are willing to take a giant left turn, fast, without a lot of planning.
But here is the critical thing.
We all get things dropped in our laps. The pros always know where they are going and why, and if something randomly drops in their laps, they can instantly determine if it’s a fit because they know if it fits into their goals or within their guardrails.
You Want Me to Do What?
Let me give you an example of something accidental that dropped in my lap. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I was approached by someone who suggested I become the CEO of their company. They threw out some big numbers and tried to interest me in the job. Though I was already running my own company, I usually explore everything. So I asked, “What will my life look like if I take this?” They quickly said I’d be spending a lot of time on an airplane, flying back and forth to Asia. About every two weeks, back and forth. I was quickly able to say, “I’m not your guy,” because I knew my guardrails and my goals. I politely ended the call.
Keep You From Running Off the Road
Guardrails are the things that fit within your ethics or your lifestyle. When my kids were young, one of my guardrails was that I wanted to be home as much as possible and travel as little as possible. Another was that I never wanted to work FOR anyone again. So when the call came in, I quickly found out I’d be traveling and working for someone else. Neither was a fit.
It’s Not a Fit
Goals, of course, are things that fit into where you’re going and fit with the value of your time. Let’s say you told yourself you were only going to invest time or resources in something that earned you at least $100,000 a year. If something came along where you would earn only half that, you’d know it’s not a fit — unless you are convinced you can make that $50,000 double. That’s a great way to determine if a shiny object that drops in your lap is worth pursuing. Goals and guardrails.
In just about 10 days, you’ll be full steam into a new year. The pros already have their goals done and their guardrails determined. (I do mine in September.) But there is still time.
Menus Get More Attention
Most people spend more time deciding what to eat when they go out to dinner than they spend on their life goals. Carve out two hours a day for the next 10 days, and give it all some serious thought. Create three main goals, then sub-goals for each, and then work backward so you can break them out into monthly and weekly tasks toward your larger goals. That becomes your plan. Revisit it once a week, and strive to make that week’s goal happen. Add time to your calendar twice a week to THINK about your goals and challenges and ask yourself critical questions.This is how annual goals get reached.
Drifting at Sea
A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest stays at rest. A boat adrift lands wherever the wind takes it. A boat with the motor running and following a map always arrives at its destination. Movement, with a map, is the key. And a great crew helps, including mentors with decades of experience. They are more valuable than gold because they have made their own maps of success and failure, and they can save you from yourself.
Determine what you want (goals) and what you don’t want (guardrails). Develop a plan, read it and act on it weekly, spend a lot of time thinking, get some great mentors, and amazing things can happen.
PS: I was listening to a podcast where Matthew McConaughey was interviewed about his new book, Greenlights. He talked about how most people stop at the red lights life puts in the way and how you have to learn to turn them into green lights. Pros never give up or give in; they keep at it till they find a way. If you believe in something, let no one, no discouragement, and no challenge get in your way. You can defy gravity. You have vision that no one else can understand and that others will discourage. Don’t let them talk you out of the great things you can do. There are no limits, and no age limits (too young or too old). No matter what is happening in the world, it cannot stop you. The limits exist only in your mind. Make 2021 the year you take your moon shot.
Back in April, if you’d have caught me on the right day, I was ready to give in. I was at a loss. I thought I’d be out of business. I faced laying people off, and I saw my business crash. I got pretty depressed for about 24 hours. But then I told myself, “Enough pity. It’s times like these that separate the amateurs from the pros.” Either I was going to accept things as they were, and accept failure, or I was going to find a way, no matter what. Failure was not an option. So I pulled myself together, and let fear guide me to action. I talked to all my mentors, talked to my team, and launched ideas that could have failed. In fact, I almost didn’t launch them because I was convinced they would not work. But I had nothing to lose. We survived 2020 by doing two virtual events when everything else was cancelled.
Our third virtual event, Watercolor Live, is coming up in January. It’s breaking all previous attendance records so far. It’s a gathering of the world’s best watercolor master artists, teaching watercolor. People are attending from 30 countries so far. You can become an incredible artist, and this is the open door inviting you in. Don’t let this opportunity pass. You CAN do this.
Merry Christmas Eric
You continue to inspire me to be a better me. Thank you for your dedication. As we’ve watched this year pass you have taught me to keep my heart and head in the game.
Now, you encourage me to plan for the future. I can hear you say, “…in a year from now…”.
Keep on, keeping on.
Just thank you.
And I am happy, genuinely happy, to hear of your continued successes during these challenging times.
Wishing you many more years of happiness for you and your family.
Merry Christmas Sir,
enjoy your positive attitude and good suggestions…glad you are helping us all see that there are ways to get thru even in this strange year
Really enjoyed this, perfect timing!
Once again a big Thank you Eric. You are the push I need to get my art goals accomplished! Happy Christmas to you & yours. Loads of good wishes for 2021 – looking forward to W/C Live!
wonderful words, thank you
and best wishes
Great idea to focus on watercolor for a conference. I have organized 5 similar but live events in this medium in the past and they were not huge (around 50-60 students) but hugely successful. Best of luck with this one and Marry Christmas.
I always enjoy your thoughts and your vision. It’s wonderful that you have so many people following you and that you can be a positive influence for people.
Even though I don’t have that luxury, like you, I have also thought along the lines of what difference do I want to make in the world (in my own small way) and I’ve come up with a couple of ideas that I hope will work.
1) I’ve been an avid journal writer through the years and have seen the importance of it through my family. So I have compiled 250 questions in image format to share in the hopes that it might encourage someone else to write their personal history because their children or grandchildren will think they have found a treasure in it when they have left this world. ( I just realized I have more questions than I have people following my fb art page!!!)
2) I have around 16 5×5 inch paintings that I want to give away through the year. I want to make it fun and my goal is to brighten up someone’s day…that’s it…no ulterior motive. (they will pay the postage of course)
I’m not sure how it will all work with so little fans but I’m going to give it a try.
Keep writing Eric. You have a gift in your manner and your words that makes people feel at home 🙂
You will find more watercolorists take classes than any other medium. Watercolor is more technique driven. Thanks for adding watercolor live to your menu and keeping it affordable.
This appeared out of the blue. Think I will give it a shot
Dear Eric, Your column did two things. First, it made me write down a rough list of my goals. Second, it sent me to fetch a December ’05 issue of Plein Air Magazine, which I’d saved because on page 31 are photos of The Brothers of the Brush. As I write this I’m looking at 4 Bob Duffy’s that we bought in the ’90’s, which he’d painted not far from where we lived in MA. And last year while house hunting, we came across Stapleton Kearns out painting in our new town!
I won’t bore you with my whole story. (“Writing my memoirs ” is on my list..) Painting became a big part of my life in 1999, when I found myself living in NYC because of my husband’s job. With all 3 kids off to college, I did a bit of job hunting, but l finally left my career as a French teacher behind, when I “discovered” the Art Students League. Then I had the good fortune of being able to split time between there and Bridgehampton, where I got the necessary gear, and just went out and painted. Oddly enough, I never saw anyone else painting out there. Now there are a few groups, which just proves your point about plein air painting being such a large movement.
Painting gave me new friends, new challenges and new joy. so, thank you for continuing to remind me that I’ve got everything I need to “Make Art.” As they say, “Just Do It!” Caroline
In my opinion you are an artist not only in painting but also in writing!
Love your Sunday report!
Good advice, well explained and always honest in sharing your experience in feelings , love of nature and your paintings.
Your philosophy is a painting of your life.
Stay happy and safe.
Merry Christmas and wishing you a prosperous 2021 in health and wealth.
I remember the day. time and place when , at 40 years old, I made the decision to become a serious artist. I took classes and workshops and began painting in earnest Now, 42 years later, I can look back on gallery representation in four provinces, giving classes to many students, and the many friendships made. It’s been a great trip and a great decision.
Your timing, for me, is uncanny. I needed to read your article it seems. I agree with Beth’s comment, you are inspiring and I wish you, your family and the whole creative community, a restful holiday season in preparation for a productive 2021.
I always look forward to reading your inspirational viewpoints!
Thank you, Eric. Just sold my beloved sailboat yesterday, a necessary loss due to life turns this year. Now, I am without the entire lifestyle that surrounded her, the sheer beauty and peace of being out on the water under sail, the exposure to friends on the dock, the opportunity to paint at the marina, etc. etc.. And I am grieving. What now? Your many stories of pivoting are giving me inspiration and hope. I will start with a prayer for guidance in trying to chart a new course. and will be rereading your excellent input on goals and guardrails. I will need it. Thanks again.
…and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours. May it be blessed by God, safe and prosperous.
Yours is the gift of encouragement. Thank you.
I guess I am at those crossroads now Eric. I have not a clue at present as to what my goals will be, where to begin or how even to get there. From what I have read before I know that the answers to this must come from within and I must take responsibility for making them happen. This I understand. I could do with some good mentors though to challenge me and force me to think for myself with challenging questions and maybe some encouragement. .
I made a start – I have a travel journal, which before today was unchristened. It is now with your action plan for making a plan! Ironically the cover is called “Our Adventure Book” This brought a rye smile to my face – Maybe! Anyway let this be a new beginning, a new adventure!
Two thumbs up, Eric! I always enjoy reading your Sunday Coffee writing, and this is no exception. I took a chance on your PleinAir Live virtual convention last summer. I learned a lot, and really enjoyed it. It was my summer vacation, and yes, fit right in with my goals!
I was 47 when my husband of 25 years died suddenly. I just started a new job and we also had our own business and our daughter in college. After a few weeks, days if you please, I will had major decisions to make . One was to keep my new job which i loved, continue the business my husband had started or sit and cry! I did the last, but soon realized that that was NOT an option. My moto from that day forward was, IF IT IS TO BE, ITS UP TO ME! It has not been easy, but it worked. 30 yrs has passed, and I’m still standing. Retired, substantial pension, and took up painting 25 years ago! My salvation. I’m in my golden years now and look forward every day to what I’m going to paint . Love life!
Great up lifting take on things in general.In my case I want to be a watercolor artist not a pro but a good painter. I have a limited amount of time because I have Parkinson’s so I’m working very hard to get there. I don’t want pity so you’re talk was more than up lifting thank you so much.
Great clear goals. Much like my own, but it helps me reinforce my own positions in life. Thank you so much. I have learned a great deal from your daily videos. Ramat Yishai, Israel
I am not sure how I was linked to you and your daily videos. Perhaps it was a lucky accident for me.
When I have time, I enjoy listening to you and your guests.
I am inspired by you and all of the 🎨 artist!
Thank you for everyone’s commitment!