Loon calls and the slosh of water are interrupted by a distant deep rumble. No, it’s not that thunder we’ve been hearing, but a classic 1930s wooden Chris-Craft jetting across the lake, its engine roaring and echoing. Though I’m not a fan of noise in the midst of silence, there is nothing quite like a classic boat, its sleek design, graceful lines, shiny high-gloss finish, and trademark rumble. Our lake is filled with wooden boats.
Somehow wooden boats in a lake surrounded by deep green forests make me feel like I’m living in another era. If someone from this lake went into a coma in 1920 and awoke today, it would be virtually the same, other than one or two newer boathouses and some ski boats. But things here are mostly unchanged, which is why we love it.
Have you seen the meme floating around social media asking, “If someone went into a coma in 1986 and awoke today, what would be the biggest shock?”
I often wonder how life would be if I were just starting out now. Was it better when I started my career, or would it be better now?
Years of Struggle
The struggle to succeed was difficult, and there were days and even months when I wanted to curl up in a ball and weep because it was so hard. When I first started I had to work like crazy to get hired by radio stations so I could live my dream of having my own radio show. I can remember putting on a suit and tie and wingtip shoes and having my mom drive me to interviews. I spent weeks editing samples of myself on the air (which I made up, since I did not have any experience) and sent them to radio stations within driving distance of my parents’ home. I wanted to be on the radio so badly, yet I was rejected by at least a hundred radio stations before I got offered a paying job.
Yet if I wanted to be in the media today, I’d just start a podcast or a YouTube show.
Stupidity and Hope
Starting my first real business was incredibly hard. Had I known how hard, I’m not sure I would have wanted to endure the struggle, but thankfully, I never believed the negative Nellies who warned me how impossible things would be.
I had no money, no experience, and no idea what I was doing. I operated on pure stupidity, energy, and hope. It took me years to get my business to make a profit. I went seven years without a paycheck, putting all my money back into my business. I suffered through at least three recessions and almost went out of business several times. One year my bookkeeper told me I had enough to survive and pay my employees for three weeks, so I had to fire them all that day so I could pay them two weeks’ severance. Then, with one week of cash left, I managed to generate enough business to survive. It was the hardest two years I can remember, but I felt accomplishment when I made it through.
If I wanted to get my business rolling today, I’d still struggle and make mistakes, but I’d have things like social media, e-mail, and messaging to communicate or promote.
As an author, I was rejected by lots of publishers, and struggled to self-publish when no one would represent me. Yet when I launched my most recent book, I posted it on Amazon and it was a best seller in two categories within one week.
Today is better.
If you want to be successful today, there is no excuse. You can do everything faster, for less money and more easily. You have more tools to help you than ever existed before in history. You have all the advantages and few of the disadvantages. You can even have training at your fingertips online.
If you can’t succeed today, you have chosen not to.
Yes, success is hard no matter what. But it’s the easiest it’s ever been.
So why are some not successful?
Maybe you actually are a success and just think you need more to be happy.
The Life of a Fisherman
There is the story of a man who approached a fisherman in Mexico. He asked the fisherman if he loved what he did.
“I get up every morning, make love to my wife, then I get to spend quiet days drifting in the ocean all day. I bring in a few fish, take them to market where I see my neighbors, make all the money I need, come home, play cards with my best friends, have a couple of drinks, and go to bed.”
The man said, “Yes, but if you work harder, you could get another boat, then a fleet of boats, and then you could sell it all and make a lot of money.”
The fisherman asked, “What do I do with all that money?”
The man said, “Then you can have a relaxing day, spend time on your boat, maybe go fishing, make love to your wife, hang out with your friends and have a couple of cocktails, and never have any worries.”
The fisherman looked at him in confusion, because he had all of that now.
How Do You Define Success?
Lots of people tell me they want to be successful. So I usually ask them to define what success means to them and how it will change their life. And why do they want that? Often people have goals and dreams without thinking about how things will change and whether that’s the life they want.
Planes and Shiny Objects
I hear a lot of people talk about wanting things like jets, helicopters, fancy cars, and multiple mansions. Our culture and media tells us those things are the measurement of success. I’m reminded of a 1980s ad from some guru standing in front of a giant house, garage doors open and several Rolls Royces inside. Growing up, it was hard not to want these things because the media told us that’s what defines success. Nothing has changed. I used to buy the lie and unhappily chased mega wealth for years.
It all looks glamorous, till you realize the responsibility that comes with the perks. You have to manage and keep and pay for all those perks.
Rich and Lonely
One billionaire “buddy” had all the stuff. A three-floor penthouse in Manhattan, a 100-foot yacht in the Caribbean where he spent half his time, a jet, a dozen or so cars, and giant homes in all the cool places, including one in Europe. He had people who traveled with him to cook his food, massage his back, work out with him, and manage his business affairs. He was surrounded by people all the time. At any time of day or night, he could request any food, and it would be made for him.
But he was extremely lonely. His wife left him because he was addicted to cheating with gold-digging blondes who loved men with hot cars and big bank accounts. Yet they were empty relationships. His kids would have nothing to do with him because he treated them as badly as he treated his employees. And he had no friends. In fact, he wasn’t really a buddy at all. I declined an invite to his big birthday bash with all expenses paid. Turns out no one else showed up either. They didn’t like him, they liked his money, and they only dealt with him because they had to.
Would you call him a success?
Maybe he was a financial success. Maybe he had freedom. But he was lacking what he needed most. Love and true friendships.
Don’t let others define success for you. Just because you see people with Ferraris, Gulfstream jets, helicopters, and yachts does not mean it’s right for you. Some of my friends who have accomplished these things gave up a lot to get them. Some are happy, others are not. But in most cases, those things are not about happiness.
I find it almost comical. We strive for success to get stuff because we think it gives us validation, freedom, and happiness. Yet all too often we become workaholics and don’t have time for our families and friends or for leisure travel because there is too much to be done.
Are you willing to give up happiness in the pursuit of happiness?
I also find it tragic that some people are so driven to get these things to make them happy that they steal them or they take advantage of others in business. Is that happiness, knowing you had to steal, cheat, or deceive to get it? Knowing you did not earn it on your own, or knowing you did not earn it properly? Is looking over your shoulder in fear of getting caught a state of happiness? Does knowing you destroyed others so you could look better to yourself lift your self-esteem?
The pursuit of success and happiness often leads us to want these things so much that we give up happiness and true success to get them.
The True Test
If you shed all the stuff society tells you you’re supposed to have, or supposed to want to have, what makes you happiest now?
What if you got all those trappings? Would you be happy?
Would you be happy knowing you have to work insanely hard to keep up and keep them?
Would you be happy knowing your friends might like you for what you have, not who you are?
A Sad Reality
I was with a famous actress acquaintance recently who was telling me about some of the challenges of her life as a celebrity, and how she and her kids can never really know if people are true friends. Over time, many she thought were her friends turned out to only use her to get a role or an introduction, or in hopes of money, then abandoned her. It’s heartbreaking.
Will you be happy when you lose your fame, your money, your cars, jets, and yachts? Or will you be stressed to get more when one of your friends gets a bigger boat?
If you’re not happy today, there is a big chance that getting the stuff isn’t going to make you any happier.
One podcaster I heard said he craved owning a Bentley, and he worked for years to own one. Three weeks later, it was just a car. The thrill wore off quickly.
Will you have happiness if those things never happen?
Friends who travel have told me that people deep in the jungles of Africa who have nothing, not even enough food, are the happiest and most joy-filled people they have ever met.
Chase the Right Dreams
There is nothing wrong with wanting more, or chasing your dreams, or wanting to change your circumstances, especially if they are awful. But if you’re not finding a way to be happy now, the things you crave may not change anything.
Define Your Perfect Day
Waking up alive, playing with my dogs, having my wife and family around me laughing and joking with one another, showing up at work with people I love to work on things that will make other people’s lives better, playing guitar with friends and painting outdoors with friends, and having daily conversation with my Maker … that’s a perfect day.
I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and the life I’ve provided my family, but I’m happier that I discovered that the things I thought I wanted would not make a big difference. Happiness is a state of mind, not a state of ownership.
Before you chase success, define it. With every goal, ask, Will this really make me happier? And ask yourself … What makes me happy now? And if I lose that in exchange for something else, will I be happier?
Success is wonderful, but there are always tradeoffs.
PS: One of my wealthy acquaintances recently said, “You’re a really good painter, and I’d give up a lot to be able to paint like you.” I responded, “If you give me some time, I can teach you.” He said, “I’m too busy. My time is not my own.” So in reality, he was blowing smoke. He could have made a choice to learn something he thought was cool.
Learning to paint has helped me find happiness. God made you and me to be able to create, and it opened my eyes to a new world. I see things through the eyes of an artist, I have something I love doing, I get to go outdoors and paint in my spare time, and I even sell paintings, which is kinda nice.
But I’m even happier when I see people who had no confidence, no belief in themselves, people who believed they had no talent, learn how to paint. We have literally transformed millions of lives by teaching those people to paint.
If you’re one of those people who thinks you could not possibly make a pretty picture, I challenge you to consider it. You can do this.
I have an event in August called Pastel Live. The first day is for people starting out; it’s called Essential Techniques Day. Pastel can be the easiest medium to learn to paint with because we were all used to coloring with crayons in our childhood. Pastel is a lot like that. It’s not chalk, it’s pure pigment, and you can get more brilliant color than with any other medium. And I encourage you to try it by attending Pastel Live, or just our Essential Techniques Day. If you watch the full first day and feel you did not get transformed or informed enough in some way, let us know by the end of that day and we will refund your money. There is no risk at all, but everything to gain.
And if you paint in oil, acrylic, watercolor, or other media, you’ll love trying pastel. It will get you reinvigorated and reinvested in painting, and it will teach you things about painting you can only know by trying pastel.
You can attend the first day for less than a meal out. Sign up today at PastelLive.com.
PS 2: I’m taking a small group to see the art of Madrid and Stockholm. Both cities are rich with art. Check out my new trip at www.finearttrip.com.