The annoying buzzer in my iPhone startles me, and my eyes open to the patio door overlooking the seven-story-high view from the classic Biltmore Hotel in Miami. As I look out over a mist-covered golf course, the birds are singing happy tunes and the gray billowing clouds are decorated with glowing pink edges as the sun emerges from the ocean. Shadows of palm trees seem to extend six times their length across the manicured lawn.
Coffee from the little in-room machine awakens my brain as I sit observing the distant city, lights still aglow. As I think back over my week, a smile comes to my face. A very big, very hard-to-accomplish dream has come true. The feeling, and the impact of it all, make my eyes well up in gratitude. This was a long time coming, after years of discouragement and roadblocks. It all came from daydreaming, which, I was told, was a bad thing. I start thinking back to my fourth grade daydreaming experience. It wasn’t pretty.
School with Brown Bricks, Massive Chalkboards, and an Old Clock
Sitting at my little brown oak one-piece school desk, with 40 years of names carved on it, I looked up to find Mrs. Burkett staring down at me, hands on her hips. “That’s, it Rhoads,” she said, as she grabbed me by the ear and walked me all the way down the long, locker-lined hall to the principal’s office. “I’m tired of this daydreaming. You’ve got to pay more attention, and since you’re not willing, there will be consequences.”
Frankly, this was a trip I had made many times before, in every grade. My mind was elsewhere through most of school, and I’m sure the principal rolled his eyes when I was there again for daydreaming.
Knocking Knees in the Principal’s Office
I can remember sitting nervously in the chair outside his office, knees knocking, palms sweating. In those days, if we did something wrong we got whacked with a paddle. I’d had it many times before and honestly could not understand why daydreaming was a crime so bad that someone would bend me over for a WHACK!
Worse than a spanking was a call to my parents. Thankfully, they didn’t seem to mind my daydreaming. “It’s what I do at work. It’s how things happen,” said my dad. “I’m not too concerned. You’ll be fine even if you get poor grades in school. Don’t let them get you down. Daydreaming is a good thing.”
The Luck of Great Parents
Maybe they worried secretly behind the scenes, but I got nothing but encouragement as a child. I’m thankful I won the lottery and was born to loving, encouraging parents, and I’m thankful I got the daydreaming gene that helped my dad build his business into some life-changing products.
Daydreaming may have been met with punishment in fourth grade, but it placed me into a wonderful world of ideas and a life of “What if?” curiosity. I clearly did not fit the school mold, got horrible grades, did not go to college, and though I struggled for lots of years building out my ideas in business, it’s been a grand ride so far.
Daydreaming resulted in a lot of things that are hopefully making life better for those around me, especially my artist friends, who need encouragement, process, training, and tools to help them succeed.
One of those dreams came true this week.
As a dreamer, I have learned that the best dreams are the ones that come with the most discouragement. Whenever someone tells me something is impossible, it’s like putting jet fuel in my brain. It makes me want to prove them wrong.
A Special Place for Special People
I had this dream to create an event for figurative and portrait artists. My dream was not to try to imitate or replace the Portrait Society conference, a wonderful event. It was to create an event for museum-quality artists who felt they didn’t fit into the world of commissioned portraits. An event that helped them understand the differences in how they need to proceed with their careers, and a hands-on event where artists could practice on the spot what they had learned.
Everyone told me it couldn’t be done. Everyone told me my dream team of instructors could never be put together. Everyone told me there was no need for a second conference.
Though doubts crept into my brain from time to time, I pushed them out and continued on the path. It was not easy; I got a lot of resistance. In fact, I got so much resistance I almost pulled the plug. But I didn’t.
Instead I moved forward, created FACE (the Figurative Art Convention & Expo) and brought in TRAC (The Representational Art Conference) in an effort to keep their good work alive after their own event had been shuttered.
My own team, in some cases, tried to discourage me from producing the FACE convention. “It’s too risky. If we fail, it could put the entire company out of business.” But they said the same thing when I launched the Plein Air Convention & Expo.
But frankly, that made me very nervous. My head was full of doubts. “What if they’re right? How will I feed my kids?”
Well, in spite of it all, yesterday we wrapped up the first FACE event, and I’m proud to say it was well attended and well received. (You can read all about it in Fine Art Connoisseur’s next issue.)
The most satisfying part was the gratitude of those in attendance, many of whom were not in a position to move to a big city and attend an atelier. They threw around words like “life-changing,” “historically important,” and “unlike anything else.”
A Redheaded Encounter
One young man — I can’t recall his name, but he had crazy red hair — came up to me to talk and asked, “Why you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why did you decide to do this convention? What made you do it?”
I hadn’t thought about that. I knew why I did it, but I had not stopped to think about why me.
I’ll tell you what I told him…
Sometimes ideas come to me that are so important, I know they need to be done. I look around and try to find out if anyone else is doing them, and if nobody is, I feel so driven by the need and importance of the idea that I have to go ahead. I figure that if I don’t do it, it may never get done at all.
Driven by Need and Passion
I told him that I was passionate about two kinds of painting, plein air landscape painting and figure/portrait painting, and that I felt the museum-quality artists — and those who want to be — were not being served, that there was a need for unity in our type of painting so we can build a bright future, and there was a need for a training event to train our brains in technique, tools, philosophy, and ways to see it all grow and blossom into something bigger.
Though I never stopped to think “Why me?” I kind of take the attitude of “Why not me?” If I’ve been blessed with the tools, or an idea or a vision, and if it needs to be done, why not me?
I say this with complete humility, and don’t want for a second to send the signal that I think I’m special or important. I just feel as though an idea was laid in my lap because it needed to be done.
Though I’m a little more established than I was when I started this wild journey, I’m not a wealthy man, and what money I make, I tend to put back into the business to do more cool things to help people grow as painters, as collectors, and as professionals or hobbyists. A conference like this put hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk, and if it failed, I’d be almost on the streets, painting full-time for a living and trying to pay off my debts and feed my family. It’s a little scary, which is why I was relieved when we sold enough seats to almost cover my costs.
Little Voices with Big Ideas
But when that little voice in my head sends me ideas, I feel as though I have to act on them, and it’s irresponsible to the cause not to act on them — even if it’s scary, even if I don’t have the money. I figure if something is truly worthy, I’ll find a way to do it.
With that, I ask you the same thing: Why not you?
Each of us has ideas, burning desires, and those dreams need to be acted on. You don’t want to wake up in old age wishing you had done something important.
I find that ideas come, probably several a day. If one idea keeps coming up and gains more and more importance in my mind, I’ll persist, run it up the flagpole with my team, and see how they react. Then I’ll do what I want anyway. Sometimes I listen to their wisdom, sometimes I change the direction of an idea based on their input, sometimes I put it aside till the timing is right. The problem is that some ideas have a time, and if they don’t get done in that time, they won’t serve their special purpose.
Listen, Can You Hear Your Heart?
I’d like to encourage you to listen to your ideas, listen to your heart, and follow your passion. Yes, it’s frightening. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it may take months or years. Yet if you don’t follow your passion, you’ll always regret it. No matter what the obstacles, you will find a way to get around them because your passion to change the world in your way will drive you.
Conditions will never be perfect. People will always tell you why your ideas won’t work. Don’t wait. Go for it anyway. I’ve launched many ideas that people said wouldn’t work. Some failed, but some succeeded.
If you fail at first, don’t give up. Keep finding a way. Keep failing. Just like painting, you have to do a lot of bad paintings before you can do good ones. Failure is growth. So if you’re asking yourself “What if I fail?” just know that if you don’t fail, you don’t grow.
I recommend you write down your ideas, pick the one that will help others and will change the world, and run with it. Don’t walk. RUN! Run through roadblocks. Run past negative people. Run to the goal, and if you do, lives will change and you will have made a difference in your own life.
Don’t think that doing life-changing things is for special people with special skills or talents. It’s not true. People who change the world in their little way are just people with passion that is so strong that it overcomes their fears.
I wish you well in your journey and ask you to consider today: What has been in my head and my heart that needs to be done? Then ask yourself, “Why not me?”