The scent of concord grape soda fills the air as purple Texas mountain laurel trees are in full blossom. Bare twisted live oaks with thousands of tiny twigs are starting to sprout little brilliant green buds. Following a brisk wind, the air is fresh as I deeply fill my lungs to enjoy the arrival of spring and the sound of songbirds. I keep filling up the bird feeders to support my local bird choir (and a few dozen random squirrels). A small aircraft flies overhead — the view of the blossoms from the air must be a beautiful sight.
Any pilot will tell you that when flying a small airplane, if you get into a spiral dive, you don’t even really know it. You can’t feel it, and can only tell from your instruments. If you try to control the airplane at that point, you won’t be able to, and holding on to the controls only makes things worse. A Death Dive
When I was a child, my dad went into such a dive, and in spite of all his training, he wanted to control the aircraft. But in the back of his mind he remembered something he had read in a classic book called Stick and Rudder that said when this happens, simply let go.
Imagine spinning out of control, in a steep dive, only a few seconds to make decisions before you slam into the ground, and having to give up control. But let go he did, and the plane corrected itself just seconds before he would have crashed. Once the plane was corrected, his altitude was less than 200 feet. His life was saved by doing the opposite of instinct and letting go. And I’m thankful he did, because I had my dad my entire life until last year.
Last week while we were in church, our pastor said something that reminded me of my dad’s death dive. He was talking about things we cannot control, saying that sometimes we simply have to trust God to resolve things. He talked about how hard it is to let go, but that sometimes our attempts at control only worsen the problem.
Being a control freak, which is a natural direction when you build and own a business, letting go is the hardest thing to do. Yet people cannot grow when you “mansplain” every answer. The same is true with kids. If they don’t suffer a little, if they don’t have to figure things out, if you rescue them at every turn, they leave the house unprepared.
What are you trying to control that isn’t working?
Those of us who think we’re in control need to understand that we are not, not really. We simply cannot solve every problem. And sometimes the best solution to a problem is to let go and let it work itself out. Like letting go of the controls in a plane, this is counterintuitive, but it often provides the best possible result.
No one likes to be controlled. Especially me.
Mr. Big Shot
When I was 25, I bought my first radio station. The day we closed on the station and I took over, I walked into the big beautiful manager’s office and thought, “What have I got myself into?” I had no idea what to do or even how to behave. So I did what I had seen from some of my mentors and what I had seen from “typical bosses” on TV. I became a control freak. I started barking orders, being demanding, and trying to show who was boss. I even fired a couple of people on the spot for insubordination, humiliating them in front of others. I did not listen — I knew all the answers.
A Sad Day
One day we faced a tragedy, when a fellow employee died suddenly. It hit me and everyone hard, but because one of the managers had been engaged to this employee, and another manager had been overly demanding the day this person died, there was a lot of anger and guilt. Within 12 hours of this person’s passing, those two managers resigned and got all of their people to resign. Suddenly I had only two employees left. In hindsight, I realized I got no loyalty because I tried to control everything. It wasn’t working.
I’m lucky to have learned that lesson early. I had to learn the proper way to manage people, which is to pull and inspire, not to push and fire. There are legends about people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, who are said to be screamers. I think people will put up with more when working for a brilliant visionary. The rest of us mere mortals need to manage by inspiration, and I had to learn how to stop controlling every little thing and let go.
Perfection Is the Enemy
There is a saying I learned when running my tech company, RadioCentral, in Silicon Valley. “Perfection is the enemy of greatness.” In other words, deliver — and don’t wait till something is perfect to deliver it. You can always make adjustments and changes after you launch. My mentor Keith Cunningham disputes the idea that “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” He insists that it should be “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly” because we won’t do things if we’re waiting for perfection. We have to learn to do things, and we’re going to make mistakes along the way, which is OK. What he is talking about is letting go.
In what ways is control getting in the way of your success in your family or work?
What’s the worst that would happen if you let go?
In what ways is controlling hurting yourself, and your relationships?
How would you feel if you could just let go and wait to see what happens?
It took a lot of mistakes for me to discover this. It’s why I’m calm, why I tend not to stress or worry much, and why I believe everything will work out. Maybe it will work out now, maybe later, maybe years from now, or maybe I have to wait for eternity for correction. But things are out of my hands and in God’s hands. Knowing that gives me peace and reduces my need to control everything.
Like anyone, I play “what if” games in my head. What if this fails, what if this doesn’t work out, what if the kids don’t turn out OK?
PS: I have to admit I had a few tense moments after receiving a call from the people who run our convention hotel for the Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe. “I’m sorry, but we can’t let you have more than 750 people. We’ll be required to spread out the seats in the auditorium.”
After two years of cancellations and no income from my most important income source, I was hoping to get something coming in again. Prior to COVID we had 1,200 people attending. And though they may change their minds at the last minute, for now, I’m only allowed 750 people. So I have only about 97 seats left.
If you are planning to come to this festival-like celebration of plein air painting, the world’s largest paint-out, and four stages of lessons over four days from the top landscape artists in the world, I’d recommend you book one of those 97 seats this week. May is coming up fast.
I know you’re eager to be back with people again. I know I am. I hope to see you there.
Wanna come and paint?
Spring and fall are my busiest times of year. Soon after the Plein Air Convention I’ll head to the Adirondacks for the summer, and I’ll hold my Publisher’s Invitational artist retreat for a week up there. It’s a week of just painting, and one price includes your room, meals, and the event. It’s a blast, and all levels of painters from beginners to pros paint together. We play a lot, have music, paint portraits at night (optional), and it’s summer camp for painters of all ages. I’ve become very close to lots of people who attend. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
Let’s go paint in New Zealand
Clearly my Russia painting trip had to be canceled, so we replaced it with a 50-person trip to New Zealand. It’s a premium trip, and it will be amazing. And we hit NZ in springtime, when it’s green and flowering. Of the 50, I have 30 seats left. Come join us.
Here’s what’s happening at my company Streamline at the moment…
We’ve just launched our 12th Annual PleinAir Salon Art Competition. Head over to PleinAirSalon.com to see how you can win $15,000 for your art.
We are going to New Zealand again! Our last trip in 2017 was a huge success so we’re doing it again. Join me and 45 other artists in painting some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. PaintingNewZealand.com
Our 9th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo is quickly approaching. We’ve only got 97 seats left so sign up now to gather with your fellow artists in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico for our first in-person event in two years! Study with the plein air masters, get discounts on art supplies in the Expo Hall and paint with over 500 of your fellow plein air enthusiasts. Sign up now at PleinAirConvention.com.
Our next virtual event, Pastel Live, is happening in August. About 40% of the people who attended PleinAir Live have already signed up. It’s going to be fun, fun, fun! Check it out at PastelLive.com.