The loons are calling out with their soothing cry as they float by on the calm, glass-like waters that reflect the brilliant pink sunrise and the tall pines surrounding the lake. Baby hummingbirds the size of quarters flit about, frolicking in the air and diving from the nest as they try to pass their flying test. 

I’m once again perched on my dock on a hidden lake, deep in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. My home here, built in 1848, is only accessible by boat, and hasn’t changed much since it was built. This is my happy place. Each day here is a gift, and I know summer will fly by fast, just like this year has. 

Road Trip

The drive from Texas was long, lots of sitting, and as the passenger, my three days of travel were filled with impromptu naps from high-carb fast food along the way. It’s cathartic. I didn’t work much other than an occasional e-mail. I never “just sit.” But I didn’t even try to be efficient with my time, like every other moment in my insanely busy life. But on this trip, I don’t even listen to audiobooks, I simply stare and think as America goes by from the passenger side of the car.

The Lure of Private Jets

Driving past some airport somewhere, I gazed longingly at some parked private jets, thinking for a moment what a joy it would be to skip airports and airlines and four-day drives to transport old dogs, and be able to just walk onto our own airplane with the dogs and arrive in a couple of hours. But that’s for busy billionaires, who, like it or not, are missing out on the random encounters with kind people in the breakfast rooms of roadside hotels and at gas stations across America. Driving is my chance to see and experience this great country between Texas and New York, seeing decrepit, falling barns off back roads,  crumbling industrial brick buildings in old cities, and thousands of beautiful working farms along the way. I would not trade it for anything. It’s good for my soul and renews my faith in America.

A Highway Island

As we got on a highway near the end of our trip, I noticed something strange. Off in the distance stood an old Civil War-era cemetery. Though I could barely see it, a few hundred feet away, it was overgrown, appeared to have no access road or entry, and had a highway built all around it. Most of the grave markers were short headstones barely keeping their heads above the weeds, but there were a dozen or so taller headstones, and a few towering monuments reaching for the sky. Yet nestled between a highway and farmland, the cemetery can’t be reached even to be mowed or maintained. 

“What’s the purpose?” I remember thinking. 

Even the tallest, most impressive monument in this lost cemetery is drawing no attention. The names are not visible, which I’m sure was not the intention of the families who funded these monuments. A couple of generations saw those names before the graveyard was eventually abandoned and a highway built around it. Though I could see the towering monuments as I passed by at 75 mph, I could not read the names. Someone worked hard and spent substantial money for their loved ones to stand out and be remembered. Of course they couldn’t have anticipated an interstate highway. Yet even if the monuments were accessible, would anyone read them or know who is buried there?  

A Monument to Himself?

I watched an old friend go through this. He came from a prominent, mega-wealthy billionaire family. When his parents died, he was obsessed with building a memorial that would stand out in a cemetery of other prominent people. I remember him spending over two years working with one of the best-known and hard-to-get architects of the time. I’m guessing he spent millions on this marble monument to his family (which he now occupies as well). He attacked the project like he attacked his business, doing everything right.

But who will see it? Will it matter once a couple of generations pass? Does it matter now?

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

I recently read that most of us will never be remembered beyond two generations. Imagine all that effort to become a Kardashian, working so hard at being famous, and realizing it won’t matter 75 years from now. Two generations from now won’t even be able to read their lifetime’s worth of Instagram posts. 

I remember my great-grandparents, but barely. I have fond memories of my parents and grandparents; I know many of their stories and family legends. But I know little about my great-grandparents, and I know nothing other than the names of a few generations before them.

From Fame to Unknown

Very few of us will ever be known beyond two generations — and that’s true even for most of the great movie stars, sports figures, authors, artists, and business celebrities. The other day I mentioned someone famous from my youth and my kids had to look on Wikipedia to know who it was, yet that person was a household name when I was a kid.

Here’s to the Outliers, the Rebels

The only people whose names survive longer than two or three generations are the outliers. Steve Jobs is likely to be remembered fondly, like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, or Issac Newton, but I doubt if Apple’s Tim Cook will be remembered the same way, in spite of his genius as the new head of Apple. Hemingway is an outlier. Van Gogh and Vermeer … outliers.

I’ve stood at the graves of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo in France. Neither was famous during his lifetime; both died as unknowns. They became famous due to the lifelong efforts of Theo Van Gogh’s widow, Vincent’s sister-in-law, who made Vincent famous 40 years after his death. He never even got to know how important his work would become.  

So if being remembered is unlikely, what should our legacy be?

I suspect that Van Gogh did not set out to be famous. Instead he set out to paint what was in his heart, in a style that moved him, in spite of the criticism he experienced. He painted for himself. He lived the way he wanted to live, as tragic as the story seems. 

If getting famous is your thing, I think you should go for it. Being famous opens a lot of doors and gets you invited to the best parties and gets you into the best restaurants. But if you want to be remembered forever, you need to be an outlier. That means you have to do something different, be innovative, and do something no one else has tried. 

But for the rest of us, our life purpose is different — different for each one of us. It’s less about long-term fame, and more about making a difference somehow. 

I used to wonder about my purpose. I always wanted to serve my God, and my family, but when I chased money, I discovered that it was an empty chase. It was not until I realized my purpose was helping others find their purpose that everything changed for me. I’ve never been more happy, knowing that I’ve potentially helped someone discover something in their life that made them happy. And I guarantee that two generations from now, no one will care.

But one way we can all live on is by the generations we influence. If I can help pull someone out of their bad circumstances and help them live a better, happier, more fulfilling life, then I’ve served my purpose. If they then go on and help others find what they found, they will impact future generations, who will impact future generations. Maybe your name won’t live on, but your ideas could touch families for generations to come. 

I’ve come to understand that legacy isn’t about being remembered, it’s about touching others, who then carry the torch forward to others, who eventually will do the same. Whith is why it’s important to teach, and train future generations, and to help people find a better life.

What is your plan?

Eric Rhoads

PS: A giant part of my mission is to put people together, to help them make lifelong friends, and to help them discover the joys of painting outdoors. Last night about 90 of us gathered for our opening dinner and orientation at my 13th annual Publisher’s Invitational Adirondack retreat. All of us are staying at Paul Smiths College of the Adirondacks, and we’ll paint together all day every day in some of the most stunning scenery in America. We sit up at night and play music, sing, and paint portraits, and we make deep, lasting friendships. We wish you were here. But since that’s not possible this year, there are still a handful of seats available for my fall retreat, called Fall Color Week, which is in Carmel-Monterey this fall. 

PS 2: Back at the turn of the century, when people would graduate from college, wealthy families sent their young men (mostly men at that time) on the Grand Tour before they started their careers. The idea was to help them become educated in life abroad, to broaden their horizons, and to expose them to the great artists and museums so they became more interesting people. 

The one place that was considered a “must” first stop on the Grand Tour was Venice, Italy, not only because of its rich culture and beautiful architecture, but because of its incredible art experiences. It was the one place every artist wanted to visit and paint, attracting virtually every important artist throughout history. And it was not only an attraction for artists, but also those who love and appreciate art.

Each year for 12 years now, I’ve hosted a fall Fine Art Trip along with Fine Art Connoisseur Editor Peter Trippi. These trips are legendary because of the impossible access we provide our guests, with private entry to museums, private homes, and artists’ studios. Our storied past runs deep with unheard-of private visits, alone inside the Hermitage or in the Sistine Chapel. Even the wealthiest people with the biggest Rolodexes could not arrange the kind of experiences we’ve been able to provide. 

This year we decided to focus on two important aspects of the Grand Tour: the hidden treasures and secrets of Venice, as well as those of Verona, which is rich with art experiences but barely known as an art treasure city. Once again, we’ll be opening doors, trading on deep relationships, and providing an unheard of experience in this region. It promises to be life-changing.

In the past we’ve opened up these trips to a sizable group. One trip required two buses to visit some of our treasures. But we’ve since realized that large crowds are a bar to intimate experiences. Therefore we’re limiting this group to 30 people, or 15 couples (though singles are welcome and encouraged).

We’re going this fall, and it will be a great opportunity to escape all the election drama that occurs every cycle, and yet we’ll be home in time to vote. You’ll experience treasures you did not know existed, and you’ll become the most interesting person at Christmas parties this year with stories of art others will not have experienced. At this stage we’re just opening things up, and we’re already 25% sold, and there are many “regulars” who tend to come but who have not yet signed up. If you’re at all interested, this would be a good time to visit to explore. This is a very elegant trip where everything is of the finest quality, because it’s your Grand Tour.