Thunderstorms rattled this old house last night, followed by blasts of cold. My morning wardrobe has been transformed to include a thick red flannel shirt, some cozy socks, and a ball cap. Billowing clouds form the shapes of circus animals, and a little more color is appearing in the sea of pine trees. It’s feeling like an early fall, which of course eventually leads to freezing temps, forcing our departure till next summer. I hold out hope for more time here, as I do every fall. It’s here that I’m my happiest, though I’m happy everywhere.
Thunder and Lightning
When I was a kid I was sitting in the living room of my aunt’s farmhouse in Tennessee, looking longingly out the window, bored out of my mind because of a massive rainstorm. Thunder was shaking the house, when suddenly, ZAAAAP! Lightning hit the giant oak right outside the window, splitting it in half and setting it on fire. It all happened very fast; the light was blinding and the sound deafening, and I realized the power of lightning for the first time.
I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes
On that same trip, we were visiting family members who lived in an old cabin with a wooden boardwalk with wide slats. While standing on the boardwalk, I looked down to see a copperhead curled up and ready to strike. It sent fear through my veins, and somehow I leaped and ran to lock myself in the car, shaking with fear.
Tears for Fears
In both of these cases I came a little too close for comfort, and I became perhaps overly cautious about snakes and lightning. Fears ruled me for decades, and though I’m less afraid of lightning now, I still have a fear of snakes.
What fear is ruling you?
Lately, I’m hearing a lot of people running their lives based on fear. Fear of the price of gas, fear of the price of food, fear of inflation, fear of the government, fear of politicians.
Clearly there are a lot of people hurting and these things are impacting people, but many who are not impacted as much are responding as if they were — and being overly cautious.
Being one who tends to be fiscally conservative, I tend to be averse to too much risk, and I tend to be ready for what might come around the corner, able to make quick changes if necessary. But are those changes necessary now?
Breaking the Rules
During the last big recession, in 2008, I was deeply concerned, as we all were, but I learned that there were some people who simply refused to participate in the recession, and who came out unscathed. How is that possible? It boils down to attitude. Some decided they would succeed no matter what, while others told themselves the sky was falling, that it was falling on them, and that they had to take shelter.
In 2008, when a whole bunch of art galleries canceled their advertising with my magazines, one new gallery launched. The new gallery owner was spending like a drunken sailor. When everyone else was canceling, he was buying more and more pages of advertising. Not only did he survive the recession, he got rich, because he took business away from the competitors who shriveled up.
Your Head Matters
I asked him about this years later, and he said, “It’s all about attitude. I knew that whenever there is a recession, the natural instinct of most companies is to cut everything, including their advertising. I was advertising when no one else was, and I took the best customers away from all of those other galleries.”
Don’t Stop Fishing
He went on to say, “Of course their business was off. But instead of putting a fishing line out for more customers by advertising, they stopped putting their pole in the water. Then there was no business, so they started cutting more and more, and eventually cut themselves out of business completely. They may have only had 30%-40% of the business they would have had, because they stopped reminding people of the work available in their galleries. People instead started going to my gallery, which was advertising heavily everywhere. Eight out of 10 of those galleries went out of business. Meanwhile, we grew.”
In the Great Depression, a young upstart company called Kellogg’s started advertising — during a depression. Meanwhile, Post, which was the market leader, stopped advertising to save money. When warned about this new upstart, they ignored it: “They are a gnat. They can’t compete with us. We can crush them without ever advertising.” And Post continued to ignore Kellogg’s, which was running massive amounts of “Snap Crackle Pop” advertising on radio and in newspapers (there was no other media at the time). And Kellogg’s managed to grow. By the end of the Depression, Kellogg’s had a 90% market share, leaving Post in the dust. To this day Post has never regained its market share.
What one person sees as a tragedy, another sees as an opportunity. What one person fears, another person embraces.
I’m not one to put my head in the sand. I’m hyper aware of what is going on around me. But when someone yells “Fire” in a crowded restaurant, some people die because they all follow each other to the most visible exit. Meanwhile, others look to do the opposite of what the crowd is doing.
What others fear may be the best opportunity of your life.
There are always people who have money to spend. The ultra rich may not spend as much if times are tough, but they still spend. And the money goes to the visible. Don’t be invisible.
Be prudent. Be smart. Be cautious. But don’t be stupid. Following the pack is rarely a good idea.
Fear is a natural reaction, an instinct. It serves a valuable purpose, but so does your brain.
Think things through carefully, and always ask yourself if your decisions are rooted in fear.
PS: When the pandemic hit, we feared we would lose our business. So we reacted by reinventing ourselves. In that case, fear helped us.
But fear can be an ugly monster. In August 2021 we launched a virtual event, Pastel Live. This year people on my team were saying, “No one will show up. There is no more pandemic, it’s August, everyone will be on vacation.” If we had responded to that fear and canceled, or not put as much effort into it, it might have become a problem. But instead, we did not believe these lies, and we ended up having the biggest online pastel conference in history. Bigger than the previous year.
We did not let fear rule us.
In November, we have Realism Live (all about different forms of realistic drawing and painting, from tight to loose style). We have the world’s leading instructors teaching, including the greatest landscape painter alive today, and the founders of two of the most important art schools in the world. And we won’t let fear rule us. This is looking like it will be the biggest realism conference in history. You should go. Even if you’re a beginner. There is a money back guarantee if you don’t love it.
Don’t let fear rule you.
I’m getting super excited. In just a few days, I’m leading a group of painters to New Zealand. This is my third trip there, and there is simply no place on earth as awesome. If you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, I’ll be posting from the trip. (You can follow me @ericrhoads)
As soon as I get home, I head to Maine for Fall Color Week, my fall retreat. (Sorry, it’s sold out, but the next one, in the Adirondacks, is only 60% sold out at the moment.)
I Just posted a new podcast episode with Jill Stefani Wagner. You can see it here. Or look up PleinAir Podcast on iTunes.