Gray-blue silhouettes of mountains and trees fill my vast view, as fog accumulates like piles of snow, cresting layer after layer of mountains against the pink sky in the distance. The morning is silent, and the mighty scrub oaks are completely still, paused like a dancer at rest once the winds of music stop. 

Being in this empty Texas house alone for a week is a gift. Not because I don’t miss my wife and family, I do, but because silence truly is golden.

I’d returned to Austin a week ago to host my most recent virtual learning event for artists, leaving my wife and daughter to go off on their own for spring break, providing another gift … Mommy-daughter time. 

Pumped Up

I’m feeling invigorated, not only from the high of having helped tens of thousands learn to paint and gain new confidence in themselves, but from thinking time alone with no clanging pots and pans, no barking dogs or barking newscasters. 

How did I choose to fill my free evenings after long, exhausting days?

Play Like No One Is Watching

I played my guitar and sang out loud at the top of my voice, as if no one was watching, because no one was. I then played my grand piano as loudly as I wanted, without fear of disturbing others who couldn’t escape it.

I took an online course on a marketing topic to sharpen my skills so I can offer fresh marketing ideas for artists when teaching at my convention. Then I did the planning homework required.

I read through a few bound editions of The Studio art magazine, published in the 19th century, from my collection of every issue ever produced. 

I painted in my studio, finishing a giant birch tree painting that may be one of the best I’ve ever done, and then debating whether to keep it in my family collection or send it off to one of my galleries. 

I wasted Super Tuesday evening watching the news like a horse race where I already knew which horse would win.

But the best part was thinking time, which is otherwise hard to come by because of my calendar, which tends to move me every few minutes like a chess piece in the game of business. 

Thinking allows me to see into the future, to play out what happens next, to think about where I am versus where I want to be, and how to fill the gap. 

When I Become King

If I were king of the world, I’d require thinking vacations for every person on earth, away from their work and busy work, away from their chores and obligations, and cast into a quiet spot uninterrupted for a week once a year, with no partying, no sleeping in, no going out. Isolated, alone, nothing to fill the time, no internet or media available. Complete disconnection, not filling even an hour a day doom scrolling or e-mail trolling.

It would not matter if they were retired, working, or just starting out. Most of us spend less time thinking about our future and our quality of life than we do on social media every day. 

Within a year of my new world of thinkers, the world would become a better place. People would be happier because they’d be focused on happiness first, which would make them kinder and less self-centered. Their work would be more fulfilling, because they would abandon what doesn’t make them happy in exchange for something that does. And they would be less likely to make money-centric decisions, because money is what people think will buy them happiness, but once you have it, you just want more. 

King Solomon, the richest man who ever lived, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes (which is filled with incredible practical life and business advice) and said the more you get, the more you want, but it never brings happiness because happiness isn’t defined by things. 

How much time are you spending on yourself, planning your life?

How much time are you wasting on social media?

This week I learned I can place a limit on my social media use on my phone, after realizing I wasted four hours scrolling the other day when I could have been productive. So now I have a 15-minute limit.

What if, for today only, for just one hour, you go somewhere quiet. No media, no phone, no music. Just a quiet spot. And ask yourself…

Am I as happy as I could be? If not, what would change that?

What have I not yet done that I’ve always wanted to do?

Start asking a lot of questions. Make a list of questions before you head to that quiet space, and then don’t just rely on the first three answers you get. Dig deep for 10 answers. Don’t operate on autopilot, use your brain.

If you do it right, that one hour will make you want to spend more time, until you figure it out. It might take a lot of time.

We are creatures of habit. We often run like robots acting out a computer program. But how much original thought do we have when it comes to the quality of our life experience?

Life is like a rocket. A massive amount of thrust pushes you into the air at 4,000 miles an hour. The flight is short, then it’s over. Time escapes like air from the Titanic. Then time runs out.

Ask yourself, if I died tomorrow, what are the things I’ve been meaning to get around to doing that I never got done?

Why have you not done them? Chances are it’s time, money, or fear. 

Why are those things still on your list? Do you really want them, or are you clinging to something from your past you THOUGHT you wanted to do but no longer really want? Of course, if these things are still important to you, why wait one more day? 

Life Is Over Fast

Sometimes life seems meaningless. It’s here and gone. What you do with it might not matter to anyone but you and your family. Why bother at all? I think we were given this rocket ride, and our responsibility is to spend that time creating experiences. 

What is your main purpose in life?

Will you feel OK if you never check that box?

In business I learned an important lesson the hard way. Do your homework up front. Study and be prepared. Yet in life we just kinda show up and don’t really prepare for it, and it’s the most important thing we will ever do … living well, living with purpose.

I used to spend more time reading the instructions to put an Ikea table together than I spent on my life, and the result wasn’t very good. No one taught us this important lesson, to think about and implement a life plan. Yeah, maybe we went to college to become a professional something, but how is that working out for you? 

Are you living your dream, or working to help someone else live theirs?

Give it some thought.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Giant thanks to all the people who joined me from 20 countries and 48 states this week. I love serving you. I’ll see you all next year or at the next event, which is our Plein Air Convention.

PS2: Soon I’ll be blasting off for Japan. I probably will run some repeats while I’m gone, but I’ll be posting pictures. If you do not already follow me on Instagram, please do @ericrhoads.