The roof on the old octagon-shaped screen porch overlooking the lake is being slammed with massive raindrops, making things very loud. The normally cheery, bright skies have been hijacked by dark billowing clouds, an occasional flash of light and a rumble in the distance, and a stirring wind. I tell myself it’s why I love the Adirondack Mountains, and the rich green forests that need to be watered regularly. Plus, the pressure to spend a sunny day on the water has been replaced by the prospect of snuggling up on the couch with a blanket and a good book. And though I try to read every day before bed, a large chunk of time to catch up is welcome. It’s in books that I stimulate new ideas, and I learn the secrets and shortcuts of people who have already done great things.
A Lot of Work!
One of my dirty little secrets is that I hate to prepare for speeches. Few realize what it takes to do it well, which is why, when I spent years doing a series of speeches, I had one or two I repeated at different venues. A great talk or speech takes time. For instance, when I prepare for my three mornings of Art Marketing Boot Camp at the annual Plein Air Convention, it takes me about five full days of prep for every hour. That’s 15 days and 120 hours for three hours of content. Then I rehearse each hour about three times, so there is another nine hours of preparation. But of course the goal is to make it look effortless and have it flow off the tongue as if it’s off the top of my head.
Years ago I was invited to speak to an entrepreneur class at Santa Clara University by my friend Professor Mary Furlong. The young, impressionable minds, mostly with visions of business ownership, would be looking for easy fixes, for answers that would pave their way sooner and more smoothly.
I took this assignment very seriously. What should I prepare? What should I tell them? Do they need a dose of reality? Should I challenge them, inspire them, or impart jewels of wisdom?
Give ’Em What They Want
The challenge I faced is that I was running a tech company in Silicon Valley, and my time was precious. I wanted to do a favor for my friend, but I did not have the time for prep. So I offered to do it as a Q&A session. Ask me anything. This allowed me to do it based on my experience, with no prep other than anticipating questions on my long drive to the school. Plus, I’m not sure a room of 20-year-olds wants to hear someone pondering life. Answering questions gives them what they want.
I usually start out with a few comments, and I want to get their attention fast. So I started with this. “Fifty percent of you in this class are here because your parents want you to be, because your mom or dad owns a business and they want you to become an entrepreneur like them. If that’s you, leave the room now. Don’t waste a minute more of your life doing what your parents want. Only do what you want. Being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest, most complicated things anyone can pick, but it’s also the most rewarding. But if it’s not ‘in you,’ you can’t force it. So leave now.” No one left, of course, but afterward a few came up to me and told me they were there because of their parents’ wishes and that no adult had ever said to them them what I’d said. They thanked me because I gave them permission to pursue their dreams. I’m sure there were some unhappy parents.
Money = Failure
I then told the class that the reason to become an entrepreneur is that you have no choice but to chase your dreams. “It’s never about money,” I told them. “If money is your primary driver, you’ll either fail or you’ll be miserable.”
“Now, I’m a bit of an outcast,” I said. “I was bullied and never popular in school, I got horrible grades, and I barely graduated. And here I am teaching you, and I never went to college. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat — my way isn’t the right way, it’s just one way.” I went on to answer their questions, and I told them my version of the truth. I did not sugarcoat anything; I told them they would have to work harder than any person they know working for someone else, and I told them that I went seven years without a paycheck, scratching to get by, and I barely made it. And I told them that 50 percent of entrepreneurs fail in the first year and only 2 percent survive more than 10. “But if you don’t go for it, don’t go for your dreams, you’ll live your life in regret. And when you fail, you have to dust off and try again.” I told them I failed several times, and they probably would too. But the rewards on the other side can be worth it because you get to do things your way. I said to them, “I’m not employable. I can’t work under someone else’s rules.”
At the end of the class, I had 20 people gathered around me wanting to talk, to tell me their stories, and many suggested I was the only guest speaker who had told it like it is. And most of them loved it.
So how do you inspire greatness in others?
My goal is to be real, to have a pure heart, to make everyone around me better. I want to help others live their dream, even if it’s a dream I don’t agree with. My job isn’t to judge them or sway them, though I can ask some pointed questions to help them think things through.
I Can’t Stand the Pressure!
Social media places pressure on us to perform. We see our friends in exotic places, and we want to be like them. The media tells us what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to be, and yet we chase dreams and feel empty — or we get burned out, or we lose important parts of our life and time with family, or we define our self-worth based on how much money or how many toys we have.
Instead of striving for success, greatness is inspired by striving for significance. What are you going to do that will give YOU a meaningful life? What are you going to do to change the world?
My sister-in-law refers to money as “fun tickets,” which I think puts it all in perspective. It’s there to purchase experiences, to enjoy life. Accumulation without using money for fun — well, it’s not fun.
Do It Now
Twenty years ago someone asked me what I wanted to do when I retired. I told them “nothing different,” because I don’t intend to retire, I’m doing all the things I want to do now. After all, what if I don’t live to retirement age? That’s why I take two international trips with friends annually, and why I do painting retreats in beautiful places. Why wait?
Nothing to Do with Money
Greatness isn’t about getting rich. I’m friends with some very rich people. Some are joyful and happy, while others are miserable. Money hasn’t changed much for them. Greatness, in my opinion, is being selfless, finding ways to inspire and help others. Encouraging them, leading them, giving them tools to help them get to where they want to be. It’s why I declared I wanted to teach a million people to paint, and after doing that, I added another million to the goal. People light up and gain joy and confidence when they learn to paint, yet they are wrongly telling themselves it’s not possible, they don’t have talent. My goal is to dispel that idea and help them see that anyone can do it by learning a system, and then providing that system.
Where to Start
Greatness starts by inspiring your kids, your family members and friends. Helping them see possibilities. (Believe me, it’s not easy, because people don’t see things in themselves.) My dad said to me when I was a small child, “I see you doing big things in your future.” Those words rang in my head my entire life. In the year before he died, he said, “You’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed I could, and I know you’re going to do even more amazing things.”
How can you go wrong when people believe in you?
Stacks of Money
A bank full of dollars, a wall full of awards — they’re nice, but a world filled with changed lives is better.
Our media portrays successful people as greedy, self-centered, me-focused rule-breakers whose purpose is to take. I used to be like that. Then, with the help of Dave Ramsey, the radio talk host, I changed from being me-focused to being you-focused. Everything changed. And I’ve never been happier.
It’s Not About You
If you help others instead of yourself, you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been. They always say that if you’re depressed or sad, go help out at a homeless shelter or charity. Suddenly you feel good about yourself for helping others.
Success has a price. Selflessness pays volumes in happiness.
I lack perfection. I make lots of mistakes. I mess up a lot. I’m so passionate to help others that I sometimes push too often or too hard. Yet if I don’t, people don’t pay attention and don’t get the benefit of the things we try to offer that can truly be life-changing.
After last year’s Pastel Live online art conference, I had people thank me for pushing them into it. Numerous people told me they resisted it because they were not pastel painters, and they discovered the exact right thing for them. Others told me it informed their painting in new ways, making them better at their medium of choice. I say that if they watch the first day, but don’t feel they got their entire investment’s worth of growth and transformation that day, I’ll refund all their money. And I say that because I know that people need to be nudged to try new things and are usually grateful on the other side.
When I did my first New Zealand trip, people told me they ignored most of my messages, but then one spoke to them and they decided to bite the bullet and go. It turned out, in one case, it was the last big thing she would be able to do, but she did not know that at the time.
A few years back, a very sweet lady came to Fall Color Week, and she told me that she had heard about it for many years but always had an excuse not to come. Then one e-mail got her attention. She came, made some of her best friends ever, and came back again. Little did she know, when we all hugged goodbye, she would be gone three months later. I’m so grateful I nudged a little more.
We have a few people who are very generous. They get it. They send people to our events, paying their way, knowing those folks can’t afford it and knowing they can. That is being selfless and encouraging.
I could tell several more stories, but I think you got the point.
Here are some things happening at my company, Streamline, this week….
Pastel Live is coming up August 18-20. The price is going up in two weeks. There is still time to attend. www.pastellive.com
Fall Color Week is sold out, but we have a waitlist and are trying to get more rooms elsewhere. www.fallcolorweek.com
We had a cancellation this week due to a family illness, so we have a couple of seats left for our September Paint New Zealand trip. www.paintingnewzealand.com
Our 50% off Christmas in July promotion on art instruction videos is continuing through midnight on Sunday, July 24. You can learn more here.
We just released a killer new video from Douglas Fryer. I was excited about this because he does not follow normal conventional practices when he paints. We documented his entire rare process. It’s called Painting with Intuition and available here.