The sun streams through the window waking me. At first I’m feeling lost, out of my routine, until my brain catches up and realizes I’m not home, but away in a strange bed. A glance out the window treats my eyes to billowing clouds, streaks of sunlight and distant snow capped mountains. I’m desperately searching for a coffee maker, and will probably have to get dressed and go to the lobby.
My family and I landed here in Colorado last night, and today is the culmination of two years of preparation by dozens of people on my team. It’s the beginning of a five day learning, painting and friendship adventure, called the plein air convention.
Yesterday was the start of a two day Lori Putnam workshop, which continues today, and today is an essential day for plein air beginners. Then at 4 pm, the big show opens and it will be my busiest week of the year.
Why I Dislike Weddings
When I was a wedding photographer, I discovered a thing I called Wedding Letdown. Brides would spend a year or more in preparation for their big day, and then in a few short hours it was all over. They are no longer the center of attention, there is nothing to plan, and the only thing between that ending day and normal life is a honeymoon. I too experience this letdown when its all over. A week of joy, friendships and wonderful people, then back to life as normal. Its something to celebrate, but also can be bitter sweet. But we’ll see how I feel next week at this time if I have the energy to get up and write.
A Big Dream That Almost Did Not Happen
I love this week for a lot of reasons. Its the result of a big dream, which everyone told me would never happen. My accountants told me that launching a convention with the return of PleinAir magazine would be the death of my business and sure bankruptcy. So everytime I show up, I remember that it almost didn’t happen.
After many decades of managing stress, I rarely ever get too stressed anymore, but I do want to make sure everyone has a wonderful experience. Yesterday I met with our team, our volunteers, and it’s in their hands now. I just have to do my part, and hope that I’ve given people the experience of a lifetime.
Earlier this week I was talking to my son Berkeley about his upcoming internship at a company in New Zealand, and I told him what my dad told me at his age.
Advice I’ve Never Forgotten
Though I had “kid” businesses like lemonade sands and candle making, when I got my first job, my day drew a little chart and he said, “sit down with your boss and ask them to define their exact expectations of you. Then he drew a line and said, “this line represents their expectation.”
Always do more than expected, always over deliver. If you fall below their expectations, you’re not a good employee. If you meet expectations, they will be happy with you but you’ll be the same as every other employee who is meeting expectations. But if you always do more, take on more, ask what else you can do, you will stand out above the rest.
Of course my teenage mind said, “but I don’t want to stand out, I don’t want to be better than the other employees, otherwise I won’t make any friends.”
His response was spot on.
How to Stand Out
“There is a chance that people who do below expectation will eventually lose their jobs. If you spend time with them, you become them, because we become like the people we spend time with. The others will keep their jobs, and though you may feel you’re making them look bad by doing more, the reality is that if you don’t do that, you’ll never see the next opportunity.
He explained that “as a boss, I’m always looking to see who is exceptional. Some people are A players, some are B and C players. An A player thinks differently and can do 80% more than a B player without a lot of extra effort, because they think before they act. A B player can do 20% more than a C player, but both either don’t think or they simply don’t care.
He went on to say “surround yourself with people who are better than you and you’ll become like them. They are all good people and no one is better than anyone else, but some are better at their jobs.
A Surprised Boss
So I did what he recommended. I sat with my new boss and asked him to define my expectations of me. “No one has ever asked me that question,” he said. Then he proceeded to tell me. Then I said, “What can I do to be a better employee?” His response, “no one has ever asked me that either. I think just do a great job and if you see something else that needs to be done, do it.
I was in a pretty crummy job at that radio station, but I managed to over perform, get everyone to like me because I was always helping them, making them look better, and before long they were recommending me for other jobs. I eventually got my break to go on the air. Then I kept trying to get better, and I ended up with better jobs at better radio stations until one day I was in a big city in a great job on the radio. That led me to station ownership by the time I was 25.
A Budding Superstar
Years ago I hired a young guy for my mail room. Tom Elmo would come in and say “Ok that’s done, what can I do now?” He kept doing it, then he just figured things out on his own. Today he is the top guy running my company and we’ve worked together for about 31 years. He gets it.
Someone said that the key to success is showing up. I agree that is half the battle. But showing up isn’t enough. Doing more makes you more valuable, and soon you become invaluable, then opportunity flows to you. I tell my kids that the bar is low. Showing up will put you ahead, but if you really want to go further, become an A player. Find out what needs to be done and how to do it faster, and better. Be like Tom.
Ask Yourself How to Improve It…
If you’re going to do anything, ask yourself. What can I do to make it better? What can I do to give people a better experience? What do they want and how do I give them more than they want?
That’s the goal this week and always. And when things get stale, it’s time to reinvent and compete against yourself to make things better than your already high standards.
Easy Advice to Those Willing to Listen
Life on TikTok and Instagram is filled with muscle bound perfect people driving Ferraris and going on luxury vacations. Many are selling the idea of extreme wealth and get rich schemes. Most are selling snake oil. But learning these foundations will do more good than most of the strategies being blurted out so you’ll give them money. The simple act of forwarding this email to someone starting their career or struggling with their career can make a difference. I had the benefit of a dad who filled my brain with little things that make a big difference. My goal is to share to help others live excellent lives. My mantra is to over deliver.
Advantages Come to You
When you focus on trying to figure out how to be the best, and when you deliver, you’ll give yourself advantages others will never receive. Some people think that they should not do more unless they are paid for it, but what they don’t understand is that you are paid for it. It may not be immediate, but instead of saying, “pay me more and I’ll do more” you’re showing what you’re worth and it will eventually be recognized. And even if you’re not, you’ll know you did your best, or you’ll reevaluate yourself and ask if you could have been better at what you do.
Life is filled with opportunity. Opportunity favors those who step up and find a way to overdeliver.
It’s my hope that my team and I over deliver this week. Keep us in your prayers.
PS: The people teaching at the plein air convention are some of the best painters on earth. If this had existed a hundred years ago, Monet and Degas would be teaching on our stages, and the people teaching on our stages may go down as being famous a hundred years from now. This is a rare opportunity, and though I hope it lives on beyond me, there is no guarantee. This is a special moment in time, something that has never happened before in history, and may never happen again. If I were you, and I lived within driving distance of Denver, I’d grab the opportunity to be here.