The horizon in the distance looks as though bags of large and small marshmallows have been dumped out in piles, while being lit from the side by an orange-pink light. Shadows of purple, the absence of light, make up their underside. These soft, billowing clouds line the edge of the still, mirror-like ocean and make their way up to the sky, which shows a greenish-yellow glow, something only an artist truly notices. Silhouettes of palm trees pop up in the distance, and a couple of hundred mega yachts surround me in the marina that has been my home for the past 10 days during our Florida visit.
Trophies of Accomplishment
Amazingly, these trophies of accomplishment sit quietly at their docks, being attended to by their crews of one, two, or three, sometimes more. They are continually washed and polished in anticipation of an owner’s visit that rarely comes. They float there, waiting, in hopes that someone will put them to good use. Yet most sit and sit, never to be used, like a boneyard of status symbols.
Beating Myself Up
The old me might have walked though this marina telling myself “someday” I too will own one of these mega yachts. Then later in life, I’d beat myself up and go through the marina bitterly telling myself, “You haven’t done it yet, someday will never come, you’re simply never gonna make that happen. Face it.” Yet the new me has learned to manage my negative self-talk and has a whole new perspective on life.
I’m not sure how many positive self-help books I consumed as a young business guy and throughout decades of my life, hoping that someday I’d have the ability to write a check for the mega yacht, the jet, the giant house, the fancy cars. And I saw success, experienced some of those things in a small way, having built and sold a company at a young age. Foolishly I made, and spent, what seemed like a fortune at the time. No one ever told me it wouldn’t last. Then I spent a lot more years trying to make it happen again, but never quite got there. I finally had to make a difficult admission that I got what I had because of incredible luck, and because of the help I was given. I was not a wunderkind after all. Just lucky.
Designing a Life
Following my lucky period, I had to figure out how to create my own luck, how to design the life I really wanted and discover what I was really attracting. You see, the trappings are cool, but they are often merely monuments to oneself, and I came to the realization that I was not attracting them because they were not that important to me. I had the benefit of seeing, through the lives of others, what was required to get them, and most of those things were a turnoff to me.
My wife recently returned from a Tony Robbins event and said it was filled with people who had achieved great wealth and success and who were there to figure out how to get happy, because these things were not creating happiness. These people had toiled to get them, only to find out they didn’t make them any happier.
Lessons in Life?
Perspective, and just life, play wonderful roles in understanding what we do and don’t want, and what I’ve realized through the journey up to this point is that there are some important life lessons worth sharing, especially as we enter this new year.
I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions because they are all too often just party chatter and not serious goals. We come up with things we want without much thought, perhaps on the way to a party in case someone asks, but haven’t really given them a lot of thought. Yet our lives deserve deep thought and deep planning.
Define Life Exactly
In my first Art Marketing Boot Camp video, I worked to help others define their ideal life. To invent what they want it to look like — because we often set high goals and work toward those goals and are not satisfied when we get there. I see marketing as a tool to live the ideal dream life, but it has to be your dream, not simply objects we see in The Robb Report or other luxury publications that are supposed to define success.
What Billionaires Know
In my life I’ve encountered people who became billionaires. Some allowed the money to change who they are, but others never changed. One I know stayed in the same middle class house he bought 30 years before; he drives a 10-year-old Honda and never flaunts his money. Others have the jets and the big houses, but put them to good use by sharing them with friends and family and living joy-filled lives. One man I know has it all but became such a nasty person on his way to success that he cannot find people willing to spend time with him to share it all.
Money and the gifts money can buy may define success for some. For others, money is merely a tool. For instance, a private jet allows them to be home to tuck their kids into bed at night rather than having to catch a flight the next day. Because their business demands so much travel, it’s just a time-saver that reduces stress. Things like private flights may seem glamorous, but most of these people work incredibly hard to keep up their lifestyle.
Success is a personal thing, and only you can define what it is for you. But to get there, you have to spend some time truly understanding what is important.
What makes you smile? What makes you laugh? What in your life was the perfect moment when you said to yourself, “I’ve never been happier”? If you were taking your last breath, who would you want surrounding you holding your hand? What would your regrets be? What do you want to spend your time doing? When are you in your peak state of mind? If you had only three days left, what would you do with them?
What makes you sad, discouraged, miserable? A great starting point is to determine what you don’t want in your life. I talk about that here. If you design your life to avoid those things, you’ll start with a great foundation. Setting standards for what you’re unwilling to do is the first step to happiness.
Adversity Created Who I Am
In 1999 I went to Silicon Valley with a big idea, raised several million dollars, started a company, invented and perfected a form of Internet radio technology, and thought I was living my dream … and I was, kinda. After all, I love being creative, I love surrounding myself with the best minds and kindest people, I love things that change the world in their own little way.
Yet I was not fully happy because I had not thought about the strings that tied me to things I did not like doing, like the constant efforts to raise more money; answering to others, especially people who had a different vision than my own; and having pressure to succeed because I didn’t want to let others down. I loved the art of it, but I did not love all the aspects of business. That experience ended badly, but as a result of it I was able to design the next stage of my life, which has gone beautifully because I knew what I no longer wanted to do, and the things I loved.
The harsh reality is that there will always be aspects of our lives that we don’t love but still have to get done. I’ve managed to surround myself with incredible people who happen to love those aspects that I oversee but don’t enjoy doing. It’s taken me a lot of years to get to that point, but it’s helped me focus on doing what I love.
Advice for Artists
For my artist friends who want to just paint or sculpt and don’t want to be businesspeople, the goal is to find ways to either learn to love the business aspects by finding tools and guides to help you through, or eventually, to find others willing to play those roles for you. In my case, I had to do many things myself, and I got good at them by changing my attitude toward them, telling myself I was going to be the best. Once I got to a point where I could afford to have someone help take them on, I passed the torch, yet because I know the different functions well, I’m better at guiding the overall process.
I Was Stuck and Didn’t Know It
We also can’t look backward at the things that hurt and make them our story. We all tend to get stuck. I know I did. I had set out for Silicon Valley to make billions, and I failed. I repeated that story in my head for at least 10 years, rather than looking at it as a time that helped me define who I am, helped me learn important lessons about myself and others, and gave me tremendous experiences. I allowed myself to feel wounded, fall into a deep depression, and stop taking chances. As a result I probably burned 10 valuable years until I pulled myself out of the funk I did not realize I was in. I got stuck in my story. Finally, I had to decide what my new story would be and how I was going to rewrite it. That’s how you design a life.
How Will Your Story Change?
We get stuck in our stories. We blame others who wronged us — and often it’s some pretty awful stuff. We blame our parents, our exes, our teachers, our friends who betrayed us, and we keep blaming and living out the story. Often, though we don’t know it, we like having a story that provides us an excuse to not move forward. But why would we want that? Instead we need to brush the old story off and realize it helped mold us into who we are today. Then we need to move forward.
It took me a lot of years to realize I was stuck and not moving forward because I was afraid I’d have another failure. We’ve got to stop giving ourselves excuses, stop blaming others, stop telling ourselves others have what they have because they had some advantage.
Now Is the Best Time
It’s time, right now, tonight at the stroke of midnight, to plant your flag in the ground and declare that this is your time, that this is your year, and that nothing will get in the way of your living the ideal life. Not other people, not past wounds, not fear, not restrictions, not money. It took me a lot of years to understand that I always got what I wanted most, though often those things had been hidden deep in my subconscious.
Stop the Insanity
The most important thing I can share on this eve of a new year is that you have to manage what you put in your head, because what you put in is what you’ll get out. Stop listening to the negative spewing of others about things you can’t control. Stop telling yourself those things make it impossible for you to succeed. Stop making excuses about why success isn’t possible. Stop beating yourself up.
Instead, focus on what puts a smile on your face. Spend your time around people who lift you up and avoid those who bring you down.
Action Matters Most
Focus on believing you can accomplish your big dreams, and understand it starts with belief but happens because of a focused action plan, and doing something every day toward that goal. Positive thinking is nice, but without a plan, it’s folly. I have a friend whose dream is a cabin in the woods by a lake, and he keeps thinking positively about it happening. Thirty years has passed, and he is still dreaming.
When I asked about his plan, his answer was, “It will happen because I wish it to happen.” Though I applaud his focus on having a goal, there has to be action toward that goal. It might be saving, it might be changing his circumstances, it might be making a commitment, putting a down payment on it, and forcing himself to move ahead. I don’t think he really believes in it, because if he did, he would be taking action.
Opening the Floodgates
My life changed once I realized that I was on this earth to use the gifts I’ve been given to help others live their dreams. Once I focused on that every day, the floodgates opened. It was like a light switch … the light came on when I stopped making things about me and started making everything about others. Once I set my goal to change the world in my little way, once I started to realize that I needed to be more generous with others, I saw a change in my attitude and my performance.
My Wish for You
As we enter this new year together, I want you to know that I have a wish for you … and that is that you realize your big dreams. That you live a rich and full life, with a big smile on your face, and that you are able to avoid most of the things and people that bring you down. I know that you may be lost, may have pain, may have anger or fear, but I want you to know that there really is light at the end of the tunnel and that you can pull yourself through the most difficult things you face. But you need to understand that no one else will pull you through; it lies on your shoulders. You can do this, no matter how daunting it may seem. It may happen slowly, it may happen fast, but it happens when you’re willing to make up your mind to make a change. We’ve all heard Einstein’s definition of insanity, which is expecting different results without changing what you’re doing.
If you’re stuck, if you’re lost, find a mentor who has managed to get through their issue to succeed on the other side. You may have it on your shoulders, but you need not do it alone.
And if your story isn’t working for you, write a new story. Write your obituary — figure out the things that you want to have happen in your life from this point forward, so you know what you have to get done in the time you have left.
Last, don’t let society dictate what is and is not possible. If you’re older, don’t let anyone tell you that you should slow down or stop because of your age. If you’re younger, don’t let anyone tell you that what you want to do requires more wisdom or time. You can “beat the system” because there is no system.
Do what brings you joy.
In 2018 may you be blessed with miles of smiles, surrounded by people you love and want to be around, filled with realized dreams and the ability to help others change their lives and the joy of knowing you did it on your own.
PS: Don’t forget to reward yourself. Remember to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. If you’re all give, and not doing something special to recharge your own batteries, you can’t be as effective. You deserve rewards. I like to start my year looking forward to a trip or an event so I have something think about, to plan, and to get me through rough patches. You can find lots of excuses not to do it, but you don’t need an excuse to pamper yourself.