How to Kill a Monster
Creamsicle orange covers the horizon, with the mountain silhouetted against it. Billowing clouds are lit like glowing hot air balloons as the sun stretches its arms to show its brilliant color across the sky. The spooky sound of cackling crows in the twisted oak trees is unusual around here and can only be attributed to Halloween just around the corner.
In childhood I found a lot of joy in dressing up, going door-to-door through the entire neighborhood (and the one next to ours). We would make an extra effort to go to the mansions several blocks away, thinking somehow they would be handing out Ferraris instead of the standard candy, but we were always disappointed. I remember thinking, “If I were rich, I’d give kids cool stuff the other houses don’t give out.”
Cases of Candy
My best friend Stu and I would take pillowcases with the goal of filling them up each night – there were usually two nights for trick-or-treating. We were not allowed to take the candied apples, but we loved the lady who gave out dimes. We were tempted to change costumes and keep going back, but we never did. I guess we were not willing to work that hard for our money.
Pushed Down and Robbed of My Candy
One year, in the neighboring block, a bully from another school who had always seemed to target me pushed me down and took a pillowcase full of candy. I didn’t fight back … did not have the confidence or strength to do so. My only revenge is that maybe he ate it all, got sick, and missed a couple days of school.
I’m not a big fan of bullies, probably because I was the recipient of lots of bullying. I was one of the two school “fat kids” at Harrison Hill Elementary, and that made us targets. My friends at the time were the fat kids, the super-skinny kids, the nerds, and the kids who stood out as different. One thing we had in common were bullies who would mock us, beat us up, spit on us, kick us in the shins, shoot spitballs at us in class, and occasionally give us a big punch in the stomach, knocking the air out of us.
Ulcers in 6th Grade
I’d love to be able to tell you that our plan was some great “Revenge of the Nerds” way of getting back, but we simply avoided the bullies. It made me hate going to school, and it resulted in ulcers in the 6th grade, where I had to leave class a couple of days and go to the cafeteria for saltines and milk. That resulted in my being recruited to work in the cafeteria, which further reinforced my nerdism. Hairnets and aprons do not a cool dude make. But, for a fat kid, it was nirvana, because I got to eat all the extra apple crisps and mashed potatoes I wanted.
And surprisingly, that cafeteria gig built confidence, because I was learning about work ethic, I was interacting with adults who were not teachers or parents, and I was even able to offer ideas to them about making our food serving process more efficient.
I remember thinking, “I’ll show them. I’ll be super successful, and those bully losers will be stuck in some crummy life forever.” It drove me.
Though I would not wish that experience on anyone — my fear and the humiliation of having to pick myself up off the ground while all the cool kids laughed — in hindsight, it drove me to be better. It drove me to look for things to make me cool, to make me accepted, to make me stand out.
A New Direction
Soon, I was one of the nerdy AV kids. Though mocked, we had privileges no one else had, which included getting out of class for projects.
But ultimately, I was not able to overcome the stigma of being the fat boy, and when my parents started building a new house in a different school district, I managed to transfer and start commuting a year before the house was built.
Time for a Reboot
Though I didn’t have a marketing brain at the time, I was determined to remake myself and be cool at the new school. That summer I shot up, lost weight, grew my hair long, got a new wardrobe, and talked my way into becoming the school photographer for the yearbook and newspaper — which suddenly gave me power, visibility, and control over who got publicity or did not.
At the same time, I managed to talk my way into a job at a local radio station, which gave me some visibility and publicity myself.
The result was that my last two years of high school were great years. Though I was never popular like the “jocks” and football stars, I actually wanted little to do with most of them, because they were the same types who had been bullying me at the other school.
You Actually Are in Control
The lesson was a great one that would serve me well for the rest of my life. If you don’t like your circumstances, you can remake yourself and change them. The key is being deliberate about it and making a plan.
In my case, there was no formal plan, but I had repeated a “new me” scenario over and over in my head, a scenario of being popular, and it was ultimately delivered to me. I started doing things differently because of the vision in my head.
Today, I’m still deliberate. I still work to manifest things in my head the way I want them to be, which is a great tool for overcoming fear of change. If you imagine yourself where you want to be, in exact detail, and you do it enough, it can happen. But of course, you have to take action once ideas come to you. Ignoring those thoughts won’t be productive.
Real Life Monsters
Since it’s almost Halloween, be aware there are actually monsters. Bullies are monsters. And usually they bully because they are bullied themselves, or they’re trying to find significance because someone is treating them badly. Had I known that at the time, maybe I could have opened a dialogue, dug deeply into their hearts, and helped them through it.
The Biggest Monster of All
The biggest monster is our own self-doubt, our insecurity and our fears. And we have the power to eliminate those monsters from our lives forever.
It starts with imagining what you want to be, and with prayer for help from above.
I was afraid of public speaking. I could not stand up and talk in class in front of 20 other kids without being terrified.
Later, in the early stages of my career, I saw two speakers who were so good, I went up to them and asked them how to do what they did. It was all I could do to get up the courage to talk to them, but I knew I’d see change if I could be more like them.
Both speakers gave me the same advice: Fake it till you make it. Pretend to be confident until you are.
Now I speak in front of thousands of people, and during COVID my Art School Live show on YouTube reached millions. Now I’m totally confident. I’ve taken my clothes off onstage (not entirely, and it was related to the message). I’ve done silly things onstage. I’ve embarrassed myself intentionally. Every time, I was afraid, because I knew that if my stunts backfired, I might destroy my career. But there is nothing more invigorating than laying it on the line and having no way to back out.
How to Make the Monsters in Your Head Stop
If you’re struggling with these monsters this Halloween, you don’t have to live with them. You don’t have to be bullied. You don’t have to be lonely. You don’t have to look at others who seem to have some special something and wish that was you. Chances are, they were exactly where you are today.
You can beat the monsters. I have confidence that when the time is right, and when you get sick enough of being something you wish you were not, you will step up and orchestrate the change and become what you imagine yourself to be.
Is it easy? Nope.
Is it safe? Nope.
Will you make mistakes? Yep.
Is it worth all the risk? Absolutely.
Our world is filled with people with all the odds stacked against them, with disabilities, mental issues, fear, introversion — yet many beat the odds because they decide to make change and are willing to do what it takes to become a transformed person, often motivated by proving wrong the people who do not believe in them.
In the early ’70s my aunt asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I wanted to do radio. Rather than encouraging me, she said, “I’ve dealt with a lot of radio people in our business, and they are all horrible people. You need to stay away from them and do something respectable.”
At that moment, I decided to prove her wrong, thinking, “One day I’ll not just work on the radio, I’ll end up owning stations.” I was so driven by her negativity that I owned my first stations by age 25, and sold them for millions before I was 30.
That’s the power of being determined. And believe me, I have no special skills, no college degree, no unique gifts. I’m simply driven and determined.
YOU CAN DO THIS. Start now.
I believe in you.
PS: I’m super determined at the moment. Everyone said, “Your online conferences won’t survive after COVID.” Yet our last one was bigger than the year before, and the one we’re doing in November is bigger than the same event last year, and bigger than the event before it. Why? Because I need to prove something to myself. And because I know people will have game-changing “aha” moments if they attend.
Realism Live (online) is coming November 10-12, and includes an optional Beginner/Refresher Day. We have some of the finest artists in the world, including some who no longer teach but will be teaching at Realism Live.
You can learn to paint and draw at this event (and I guarantee your success or I give your money back).
Check it out, it’s called Realism Live. www.realismlive.com If you register before November 6 you can save up to $600.
Something incredible happened. The editor of PleinAir, Kelly Kane, came to me and said that after over a decade, it was time to freshen up the magazine — new page designs, new logo. Honestly, I resisted for a while because it was doing so well, but then I remembered the saying “If it’s not broke, break it.” So she took the reins and worked for a year on the redesign, and it’s absolutely better than anything I could have imagined. And the reviews are in, and people love it even more.
I’d be honored if you’d subscribe to the print or digital edition. Most people do both because the digital has 30% extra content, and because you can screenshot images you want to save, zoom in on them, etc.
You can subscribe at www.pleinairmagazine.com.
I loved this little pep talk. Everyone needs it!
I faced a lot of negativity when I was young. My interest in art was discouraged because my mother, who was divorced, believed a woman needed to be prepared to support herself, and you couldn’t possibly do that as an artist. So I had one semester in college and got married. Worked my whole life in the Post Office. A very good job. Now retired, I do watercolor paintings and supplement my retirement quite well selling them in my Antique and Art shop. So, a happy ending and have to pinch myself daily because I am finally doing what I always wanted to do.
Thank you for such a nice article.
Eric, that was perhaps your finest Sunday Coffee column ever.
Those of us who have been victims of bullies can get our revenge by being the kindest, most compassionate people we can be. We can do our part to counteract all the hate and nastiness in our little world. It’s simply the Golden Rule.
All the best for your continued success!
Happy Sunday Eric. I love your Sunday Coffees and always learn or am inspired. Today your message was not only inspiring and informative, it was so very needed at this juncture in my life. Thank you so very much for sharing and also for your kind words that you believe we can do it. 😊
Of all the things I erase from my email inbox- it seems i am compelled to stop and read yours. Guess that’s because they are usually right on target. Forwarding this Halloween-themed one to my three grandaughters in hopes it will help them.
Im surprised that you didnt say much about being driven to do art. I was teased by bullies as I didnt care about sports but was always driven to do art. Fortunately for me I was always very strong so they learned to leave me alone.
Great piece of writing. I have a similar “monster” to slay in what I decide to do for my gig until retirement. I am relying on God to help me with direction. He must come first. Everything else is secondary.
Eric, What you wrote about today is a wonderful thing to share with many people. I am going to print it out and keep copies to share with people who have things to overcome.
This was an amazing challenge you shared with us. You are an inciteful person to get to the nitty gritty and share.
Thank you Peggy Stokes
I feel sure that you will get a LOT of comments after writing all this for us! What an amazing story of what you went through and how you refused, finally, to let that be your life. You ‘out-created’ the situation. SO well done. Thank you very much for sharing these many things – the hard experiences as a kid, and the things that you undertook that changed it all until you had the life you wanted. It is extremely inspiring.
Have you ever considered taking this as a talk to schools? I know you are busy, but sharing this when there are always kids who are suffering from bullying, as well as the suffering bullies, could change their lives.
Thank you again for what you do to share yourself and your life.
I love that you overcame the negative experiences in your life. I was a teacher for 40 years and I always stood up for those who were bullied. You are doing a great job, but there are many people that can’t afford your conferences even online.
Keep up the helpful, encouraging, inspiring and insightful work!!!
I really look forward to your Sunday Coffee emails, Eric. You always have interesting things to say.