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.
I did not read this “Coffee with Eric” until after returning from PAC! What a wonderful and meaningful experience.
Your ‘advice’ in your columns, your example of leadership and your true caring was exhibited repeatedly not only by you but your staff, volunteers, art instructors, vendors and attendees!
In all my many years of being in business and attending many functions I do not believe I have ever been to a more trustworthy, caring and learning experience. I have been telling all in earshot that this was not only a true learning experience but rather (an almost) nondenominal Christian aura throughout the days. It did not matter if it was in class, eating, visiting, learning, painting, on and on.
Thank you for having PAC in Colorado.
Always an inspiring read. Thanks for your time in writing about your thoughts and feelings on life and living.
Thank you so much. I always feel encouraged by your writing. I remember a slightly different experience with “expectations”. Once a retired woman took a job to be an aide in my classroom. She was not suited fro the position as she was impatient with the students, appeared to be unhappy working with a group. I spoke to her about expectations. Mine was that she be able to work with a small group. Hers was that she would prefer
to work one on one. We both came to an understanding that her expectations did not fit the job and understandings, for she left the position, we were both grateful for it, and she agreed to visit the children and share her new dog with them. She became a real friend to myself and the class. Came to visit a number of times. It’s all about relationships, and communicating expectations. It has truely worked for me and the win-win, and peace that goes with such understanding. Eric, you are a gift to thousands of artists and your constant encouragement helps us all, especially during hard times. Thank you and all the gracious people who work with you. You are my heroes.
On the job with the prayers! Praying for all of the big screens to work flawlessly. Praying for all of your sound systems to work perfectly! Praying for no drama! And praying for everyone to groove together, relate to each other, be empathetic and interested, be invigorated by all of the wonderful demos and teaching and have nothing but positive responses and experiences. And for everyone to go the extra mile for each other!
I know that you and your family will be working hard, Eric, but also having an incredible time. Enjoy to the full!!
You should give a commencement address. Young people need to hear this.
Hi Eric! I’ve been watching your videos and reading your help articles a lot, so I first want to say what a wonderful and important job your are doing for artists! Love it! As a long time artist, your publications have reminded of lessons I’ve already learned through formal education, workshops, other artists or simply working on my own. I must say your advice and guest artist’s advice has taught me many new ways to improve my art. After all my years of painting, hopefully moving forward along with inevitable setbacks, I can say it’s been a struggle, for me at least. I’m still looking for that big break, that step up to the next level… maybe it’s time to reevaluate what I can realistically expect.
Here’s the part where you come in Eric, I think there’s thousands of artists like me who have painted a lifetime, been given tons of compliments, had some successes at selling their art and yet are still unknown and unseen. What I propose to you is that you offer critiques for those of us who are on the edge of either making it or deciding to just paint for pleasure, as a hobby and nothing more. Artists like myself could find an honest opinion invaluable from people who know art, who have an eye for what is good and what is just average. You and your staff/connections have that experience and expertise to offer honest critiques that can make more of a difference to struggling artists than all the “how to” articles and videos combined. That’s not to belittle those wonderful articles and informative videos, it’s just that your experience and knowledge has earned you the respect, trust and yes, a certain responsibility that comes with that position.
The critiques don’t have to be lengthy or in depth, just a basic critique, a suggestion or two and maybe some advice as to what to expect in the future. A weekly or monthly forum that can bee added to your publications showcasing 5-10 or more of the best submissions. Who knows, maybe those chosen can catch the eye of a gallery, local publication or even a buyer. Of course you could charge a small but reasonable fee and even offer weekly or monthly rewards based on reader/viewer feedback or voting? Maybe rewards could be an article in one of your publications or an admission ticket to one of your events. Frankly, any type of exposure would and could be that “next level opportunity” for a struggling artist… oh and gallery owners might love to have another source for potential “finds”.
I hope you will consider this idea, maybe even add your own twist, it would be such an honor and a real, honest inspiration for anyone who wants to know the truth about their art from someone who knows art as well as you do. I’m not asking you to do anything for free or to pour over a mountain of mediocre to bad art (I’d guess you could have someone on your staff filter out the gawd awful ones) for nothing. Just give it some thought, I think it might be a huge boost for your publications. I’d certainly pay for a respected critique and I believe others would not only be interested in seeing this in your publications, but also participating with a vote ( Yes, No, Maybe?).
Thanks Eric and keep up the great work you do for us all.
Here with uou in Denver! Fabulous event. Thanks Eroc and Team!
You are a very wise and generous Man. Thank you.
Colorado can be fantastic to do Plein D’Air, wish I was there. Myself and another lady or two head out when we can to the outskirts of Edmonton all the way to Jasper, Alberta doing sketching and painting when we can. Just pulling over where we can, to draw up and or paint a spot that catches our eye. Recently it was so great, we happened to come on an acreage of sorts in a place called Carbondale just a little outside of Edmonton. The lady that lived there was very welcoming. We were able to set up and get some painting and sketches in of the valley hill across the way from their place. She gave us her phone number and said just give a call to make sure she was there next time we would be out that way.
Now to do your best at your job, well sometimes the situation pushes itself into making everyone there into becoming a C type of employee. And 5 years ago there was pride in what we did, now it is making us more just there for the pay-check and a lot of it is BIG company propaganda saying that everything IS great and a lot just going by numbers.
Great as usual Eric..
wish I could be with you
Excellent reading. My mother had the same advice to share, I listened.
I enjoyed this article and the viewpoint that can make someone an A player. What came to my mind is the type of job my nephew has. He works in a museum type of facility and has to be a union member. He is an employee of a major California city. From talking with him over the few years since he got this job, doing what you suggest is eroded by those who have been union employees all their working lives and most of them seem to just do the bare minimum. (They can’t be dismissed apparently.) Since he worked for himself for many years, this is abhorrent to his work ethic. I can’t imagine what you might say about this, in light of your article, but there really is a difference in such a work environment and I feel for him. He has tried repeatedly to create some change by speaking up and by writing his union rep, pretty much to no avail.
I look forward to your Sunday morning coffee email. I appreciate your insight. Your writing for that week is good timing for it is usually what I am working with in my life. This spurs me on to dig deeper and go do more work in a productive way. Thank you!
Wishing you all the BEST this week at the Plein Air Convention! I appreciate you sharing your God given wisdom with us all. You are blessed and highly favored by the Lord. I know I am as well. I’m working hard to play my “A” game. Growing as a full-time painter, pursuing my dream. I’m passionate about plein air painting. One day I’ll make it to the Convention. A coastal beach destination would really make my heart jump!
Keep playing your “A” game Eric!
Perfect Advise ! It should be each persons requirement !
Great advice this early spring morning.