Opening my eyes today, a new scene shocks my brain. “Where am I?” I think. Only to realize I’ve awakened back in Austin after several months away.

As I meander to the porch, I’m hit with a blast of cold air, realizing that, having left in June, I completely missed months of the over-100-degree furnace. Fall is in the air, but color change here is often subtle, as is the case now. Though the tree in front of my neighbors’ home will soon change to a fire red, inviting me to paint it once again, as I do each year.

Usually when I’m away, I fill in with a “best of,” but this time, away in New Zealand for a couple of weeks and then on to Maine for my Fall Color Week artists’ retreat, I completely forgot to do it, so your Sunday mailbox may have been a little emptier than normal. Hopefully absence has made your heart grow fonder. I know I’ve missed writing.

The reason for my absence was, first, a much-needed week off, then the trip to New Zealand where I hosted a group of artists for almost two weeks, and then off to Fall Color Week in Maine. Then five days driving back, which included visits to two of our three kids along the way home.

A Culture Like No Other

In New Zealand, we started our trip with an art historian who helped us understand New Zealand culture. He told us of a Maori word (which escapes me now), which is THE desirable status for people in New Zealand. 

Money Money Money

Status in New Zealand is not about money or what you own. It’s about your contribution, your reputation, and the mark you make for others. That may explain why I’ve never met happier, more interested people. Interested in learning about us, and truly listening, not eagerly waiting to tell us about themselves. And not at all interested in telling us about their cars, houses, or bank accounts.

It was refreshing.

Following our travels with our artists, meeting New Zealanders along the way, my wife and I visited a friend for a weekend. He picked us up at the airport in a 20-year-old car with duct tape on the torn front seat. He made no mention or apology; it was just his transportation. 

If that had happened in the U.S., he’d likely have been making excuses. I know I probably would.

Can You Say Red Carpet?

My friend isn’t just any New Zealander. He is not only a prominent citizen (knighted by the Governor-General, having turned down being knighted by the Queen because it would have been “over the top”), he is the founder of a major motion picture studio that has created or been involved in some of the most important and famous films in the world. Annually they play a role in about 50 major films. He has hundreds of employees, can pick up the phone and call any household name in Hollywood, and he has several Oscars and is a household name himself. Yet you would never know it when meeting him. There is no arrogance, no airs about him.

More Than Autographs

While hanging out with him in a public place, he was approached by a few people who knew who he was. And instead of playing the typical “star” role, as many people I know would have done, he was gracious, curious, and interested in the people who approached him. He truly wanted to know about them and their stories. In many cases he spoke with them for 10 or 20 minutes.

That says it all.

There is no bragging about what he does, what he owns, how much money he makes, and who he knows. In fact, he’s lived quietly in the same modest home for over 30 years. 

A Tool for Better Things

To him, money is a tool to do cooler things. He puts what he earns back into the business or into new and interesting projects. His currency isn’t money, it’s people, and it’s finding new and better ways to do things.

I point this out because I find it so unusual and refreshing. And so unlike what you might experience in other parts of the world, where showing off is everything.

For that reason … I’m officially moving to New Zealand. 

(Just kidding. But I would if it were not for the distance for me to travel to my kids, meetings, and events.)  

World’s Hottest Models

Some of my best friends in America are also models of this model behavior. Which is why they are my best friends. We “nerd out” about cool things, cool books, great art, great music, and interesting innovations. We don’t nerd out about material objects and money. 

Sadly, much of our world seems to have become all about who has what, how much they have, and how to get more. We care more about fashion, cars, plastic surgery, gadgets, and social media posturing than we do about the meaning of our lives and our true contribution. 

So many are driven to get more. But to what end? What will having more bring us?

Cool Things Rule

What I love about my New Zealand friend is that he is driven by his life’s purpose to do cool things. To invent. To create. To do what hasn’t been done. And he does it while seeking ways to help everyone on his team and make the best work he can for his customers.

What if you and I were more about our mission, our passion, helping others, and less about the status of money?

I admit it, there was a time when I thought I was supposed to chase money and cool things, but something changed. Now, to me, money is a tool, something to buy freedom, something to allow experimentation and launching new ideas.

My friend Norm says, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.” Though I don’t disagree with him, if money is all you’ve got, you may not be living a rich life.

Are you living life with purpose?

Are you focused on doing things well, on building a reputation that isn’t about money, but about that purpose?

Are you alive and on fire for your passion?

Returning to America, I found people to be short with me, too busy to interact, only wanting to talk about themselves and uninterested in others. The contrast screams out loud after time in New Zealand.

I think it’s important that our kids know … it’s not all about money, shiny objects, and fame. They need to know it’s OK not to chase dollars and instead to chase what you truly love.

Eric Rhoads

PS: This trip helped me see that I need to do more cool things. I need to innovate more. I need to take more risks. I need to play more, have more fun experimenting with things, and just come up with ideas that will make things better and more fun for you.

Stay tuned.

One Very Cool Thing

Meanwhile, my next cool thing is our Realism Live online conference for a few days next month. There is already a massive audience signed up, and I guarantee it will be cool and make you more passionate about your art (or learning from scratch), or your money back. I would never ask you to do something I would not do. Check it out at Yes, you need to play more, have more fun, and add more interesting things to your life, even if you think you can’t do it. 

Another Cool Thing

Oh, and I’d like to ask you to consider subscribing to PleinAir Magazine. Even if you get it at the library or newsstands, it’s better to subscribe and have your own copy come to you. Our digital issue has 30% more content than our print issue, and they are both awesome. Visit