The Hard Things in Life


An adobe fireplace is warming me on this chilly morning as I sit in my room, smelling burning mesquite wood, hearing the crackling embers, and staring sleepy-eyed at the brown adobe walls, the dark, carved wooden doors, and photos of Native Americans in ceremonial clothing.

Quietly swinging open the doors to my balcony, I wrap a colorful Native American blanket over my cold shoulders as the brisk air slams my formerly cozy face.

As I sit with my hot, steaming coffee, distant purple mountains are barely visible through the clouds, yet a brilliant peek of reddish orange slips through a gap and suddenly splashes rays across the vast landscape. A chorus of “Hallelujah” would be appropriate to punctuate the moment.

Squinting from the bright sun that now warms my face, I’m treated to a light show of oranges, reds, greens, blues, and purples. It’s no wonder New Mexico is home to thousands of artists.

I’m in Buffalo Thunder, a massive adobe resort built on Pojoaque tribal land just outside Santa Fe for our annual convention of outdoor (plein air) painters.

Vast Desert Land

As I stare out over the vast desert before me, I’m picturing the sea that once covered this land. Perhaps those distant blue mountain peaks were small islands standing out in the sea.


I’m picturing a small green rowboat on the ocean, with one person sitting in it, drifting, no oars in the water. The waves rock the boat, and it could stay at sea for weeks, or capsize, or maybe it will be pushed to a beach at one of the islands or the mainland.

If that boat somehow managed to stay on the water for millions of years, today it would be sitting on the ocean floor, which is now a desert. The only movement would be the blowing tumbleweeds around it.

Stages of Life

I realized these images that came to mind represent momentary stages of our life, just as there have been stages for this land.

An ocean can be vast, yet we drift on top of it, wondering what direction to take, not understanding the opportunity surrounding us. Though the effort of rowing in a vast sea would seem endless and pointless, especially against the moving surf, it is motion and direction that matter.

Sun Beating Down on Us

There are also times we’re sitting in that same boat, but the ocean has become a desert. The sun is beating ruthlessly down on us, there is no shade, no water, yet we continue to sit in the boat out of fear of what might happen if we step out.

We know instinctively that if we sit there too long we will die of exposure, yet we sit, in hopes someone will come along and rescue us — when the mere act of stepping out of the boat could save us. Though we may not know the direction to go, our chances of survival may increase by our mere movement. There may be a river flowing just over the next hill.

Why Rowing Matters

A wise mentor once called me out for being a boat adrift on the ocean — no rudder, no movement, no direction, just hoping something would come along.

“A boat adrift may drift forever, or it may crash on the rocks. A boat in motion will at least take you to a different place with more momentum than a drift, and you may discover a new opportunity. You need to start rowing.”

Fear of Failure

I’ve found myself frozen with fear, like that person unwilling to step out of the boat. There were times so bad, so frightening, that it was easier to curl up into a fetal position and cry out in fear. In those times others would try to get me up, get me in motion, and try to make me face my fears. But I did not want to move.

What May Matter Most

Though it’s taken me decades of my life to discover, it is motion that matters most. Motion is the solution to the drift in a vast ocean, and it’s the way out of the desert.

The Power of Fear

I’ve also realized that fear is necessary to create motion. It’s a natural incentive, if you allow it to motivate you. The fear of dying adrift at sea or stuck in the sand has to be so great that movement happens.

Wise Parenting

When I’m talking to my kids about getting jobs so they can buy cars, I often hear, “But I don’t know what I want to do, Dad.” My reply: “You don’t have to decide the course of the rest of your life, you just need to do something, keep trying different things, and eventually you’ll discover something you’re passionate about.”

Overwhelming Decisions

I remember the pressure of being 12 and thinking I needed to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I had no idea, and it was daunting to think about, yet movement in one area accidentally led me to discover my passion for radio, where I got my first job. That has been a 49-year love affair.

And it was getting in motion that accidentally led me to painting, which has been a 23-year love affair. I would never have predicted that either. Nor would I have guessed that my passions would lead me to create magazines, conferences, etc., in both of these areas.

What about you?

If you happen to be feeling a little adrift or stuck in a desert surrounded by concerns, or maybe purely afraid, just know that pain is part of the process — though it’s not comfortable or fun, and we sometimes wonder “Why did this happen to me?”

Why me?

Sometimes we’re facing things no one should ever have to face, things that are beyond devastating. Keep in mind that this pain, this fear, this uncertainty, will lead you to what’s next, and chances are it will be better than anything you could dream up on your own. The answer to “Why?” is that there are lessons to be learned and opportunities ahead.

One Struggle

When I started my company, I didn’t make enough money to take a paycheck for seven years. My wife and I struggled to make our house payments, we did not have much to live on, and it was not fun saying no to our family needs. It seemed like it would never end. It was the desert. There were times when I was curled up in a ball, not wanting to face work. At one time I owed the IRS $250,000 because I had made a mistake and accumulated years of interest on a small debt. I did not see a way out; there was no money to pay it.

Escaping My Fear

I was devastated, depressed, frightened, and thought it would never end. I spent several days hiding in bed, until one day I awoke, dragged myself in, and started to take action. My fear turned into ideas, which turned to motivation, which turned to working harder than I ever knew I was capable of. I did not file for bankruptcy; I paid off every cent owed, even though it took me 10 years. And I learned important lessons to keep that from happening again. After I would rather have curled up and cried than face it.

Helping Others Through It

If someone you know is facing something right now, they cannot see beyond their current woes. Though you want to lessen their pain and help them, you also need to help them know that this will pass, and they will look back on it as a bump in the road, even if at the moment it feels like a massive, endless roadblock. They don’t need a lecture, they don’t need your pressure, they just need to know that with pain comes healing and resolution. There truly is light coming around the dark earth.

The Giant Weight

Though pain and fear are worse than almost anything, and trying to move may feel like you’re carrying a giant weight on your shoulders that is dragging you to the ground, it’s motion that will pull you through. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” — James 1:2

Motion always wins.

The Apple Falls

In 1692 Isaac Newton developed his Laws of Motion, and they not only apply to science, they apply to life.

“An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless a force acts upon it. An object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless a force acts upon it. An object continues to do whatever it happens to be doing unless a force is exerted upon it. If it is at rest, it continues in a state of rest. If an object is moving, it continues to move without turning or changing its speed. Changes in motion must be imposed against the tendency of an object to retain its state of motion.”  — WIkipedia

One Small Step for Man

“To those who are struggling to discern their passion in life, my suggestion is to pick just one good that you’d like to bring into the world and take a step toward it — whether donating your time, your talents, or your financial resources. Choose one, any one, and get started in some small way … you’d never make that discovery without taking a first step. Any step. Because it’s easier to find a vision or identify a passion if you are actively engaged in searching for it.” — Joshua Becker

A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest stays at rest.

“In every regard, a body in motion stays in motion. For every change or discovery we desire to see in ourselves, it begins always with putting ourselves in motion toward it. And then building on the momentum we started.”

Motion will pull you out of a drifting sea or a burning desert.

Is there an area in which you feel stuck, discouraged, frightened? Are you facing something devastating, overwhelming, even life-threatening?

A Way Out of Darkness

Is there one tiny step you can take to create movement? That one step may be tremendously difficult, it may be the hardest thing you ever do, yet if you can take it, there will soon be a second, and a third, then a walk, then a run, and soon, you’ll be out of the darkness.

I certainly don’t ever want to make light of anything you or your family may be facing. I’ve not walked in your shoes. It’s my wish today that perhaps those reading this who are feeling overwhelmed and stuck will consider movement. And I hope you’ll share your story privately with me, and I’ll get in motion by keeping you in my prayers.

Eric Rhoads


  1. Ruth P Weiss April 15, 2018 at 4:44 am - Reply

    You would have made (maybe are) a wonderfull a shaman, pastor, counselor, rabbi, life coach, cheerleader. Clearly you have a gift, not only of writing but of inspiring. So sorry I won’t be with you this coming week at PACE. Knee scooters are awkward, but I only have 3 more weeks. Have a wonderful convention Eric.

  2. David Berry April 15, 2018 at 4:45 am - Reply

    Wow! Talk about an email coming at the right time when you need a little lift. Thank you for this Great article! I have accumulated a lot of debt, especially in the last 6 months due to having a total shoulder replacement and not working so being dumb I charged credit cards and kept thinking I will sell couple paintings but no sells for awhile now. Family was trying to talk me into bankruptcy but decided not to and went back to a factory job that makes you die in the inside but got to pay those bills. And Not giving up on my dream to be a full time painter, so I’m trying to do new things like I decided to join daily paint works couple months ago and paint smaller paintings and even thou I haven’t sold there yet either. I hear a voice that says, Keep Painting, keep painting, get that Brush Mileage. So that’s all I can do is keep painting. Thanks again, Blessings to You…

  3. Terre K Ritchie April 15, 2018 at 5:07 am - Reply

    Thank you, Eric. All of us have our own struggles that is for sure. After my husband died suddenly I didn’t think I’d make it, but people tell me I’m one of the strongest people they know. This last six years I’ve watched my two sisters die of multiple cancers and my parents die 13 days apart. But for my faith and especially the challenges in the Book of James I’m sure I would not be here at this point in my journey. God has lifted me above the fray and moved me forward with certainty. Of that I am sure. God bless you and your family as you continue to encourage others.

  4. Barbara Davis April 15, 2018 at 6:01 am - Reply

    Another wonderful start to Sunday morning and just what I needed to hear! Many blessings for the upcoming PACE event! I wish I was there!
    I saw your Instagram post yesterday and am excited about the book!
    Thank you!! Happy Sunday!

  5. Judy Nakari April 15, 2018 at 7:49 am - Reply

    Happy Sunday, Eric. Reading this was a wonderful way to start my day, as I prepare to join PACE tomorrow!

  6. Kyna April 15, 2018 at 8:01 am - Reply

    Thank you for all your good advice. Life is always changing. I went to New Zealand on art workshop and was afraid because I had never been out of the country alone but I did it. I was felling stuck and jealous that my friends were all traveling and I was not and wanted too. I did it by myself at age 68 and so glad I did. Now I am not sitting in the middle of the ocean not rowing . I paddled!

  7. Susan Blackwood April 15, 2018 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric! You have written so many inspiring words to all of us out here in cyberspace. Thank you for all that you are doing for all of us artists. Thank you for creating PACE and thank you for always MOVING. You have moved yourself and your life and you are moving us!

  8. Joseph Murray April 15, 2018 at 8:34 am - Reply

    HI Eric !
    I love your wisdom and the philosophy of life that you espouse so accurately in your thoughts . I have a friend who recently lost his wife of over 60 years . They raised 6 kids and now he is all alone. He is certainly struggling and as a friend of his for over 30 plus years–I struggle on how to help him . He is a very private person . I have suggested several times to get going and asking him to go out to eat or do something . He does not do it . So, I have reached the point to just be there for him when he reaches out . This article might help him .

    Joseph Murray
    Wayuga Art

  9. Kathie Bugajski April 15, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Dear Eric,

    I’ve read your magazines, Coffee Emails, for over the last 4-5 years. They had always spoke to my spirit and kept me forging ahead as an artist and person. I felt I needed to meet you and be a part of the work you were doing. This past fall I inherited money from my wonderful parents and was able to attend the first FACE convention. I forced myself to introduce myself to you at that time. I just want to put down in words how much your being used by God, I believe, to help people like me who are Leo Late Bloomers.

    As with your email this morning, your words come just at the right time to spare me forward in my pursuit of art! Thank you for pushing forward yourself and passing your hard bought treasures on to us that are “on the journey”.

    Gods Blessings to you and yours!
    Kathie Bugajski
    Painting and Sculpture for Him
    Clinton Township, MI

  10. Jana Botkin April 15, 2018 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Good words, as usual, Eric–thank you.

    I recently heard Mel Robbins explain that our bodies/brains have 2 gears: auto-pilot, and E-brake. She says we must parent ourselves to do the hard stuff, to leave auto-pilot without pulling the E-brake. I also read James Clear discussing the difference between motion and action; he defines motion as moving in circles for the sake of moving, and action as moving forward. And finally, I’ve been thinking hard (is that meditation?) about Joshua 1:7-9, particularly the phrase, “Be strong and very courageous”, which is completely necessary to do anything unusual or difficult or uncomfortable (most of life!)

    Disclaimer: all these stolen/borrowed insights are my own paraphrase – go to the sources for the accurate version.

  11. Jean Requa Lubin April 15, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

    Eric, how I look forward to your Sunday email with my morning coffee — an inspiring and encouraging start to my painting day. Thank you for taking the time to write these words every week.

  12. Grace Schlesier April 15, 2018 at 9:40 am - Reply

    Good Morning
    Sunday Morning Coffee has become a ritual for Bob and I. We truly appreciate your gift of sharing your Wisdom and how well you’re able to communicate your thoughts. Thanks sooo very much.
    This week I’m thinking of you all in Santa Fe and lamenting, wishing we were there. I guess I sat in the boat too long. Bob and I want to start the momentum and be the first two, to sign up for next years PACE.

  13. Kim April 15, 2018 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Dear Eric
    I have been wanting to come to PACE for quite some time, but I am working on coming out of my own personal drifting. So, I really appreciate your kind words of encouragement this morning for those of us that did not make the trip but are there in spirit. Your example really speaks to me as I am a firm believer in “paddling your own canoe.” So – that much so that I decided I should walk my own talk, that some motion is better than none and your message this morning is my confirmation. Since I cannot be at the conference, I thought well I can at least get started watching your first boot camp dvd. Wow! What an eye-opener and so much great information. From there I got so excited, I decided to create my own DIY version of the conference. I have printed the agenda and will be following along this week from the Pennsylvania Wilderness! I have chosen which demos to “attend” and found links at the ready for my DIY week. It seems silly, but where there is a will there is a way. And while I know it will not be the glorious experience of Santa Fe and the actual synergy of the conference, but it will be moving forward and a learning experience. I have already learned so much just from this small change in my all or nothing thinking. To keep from boo-hooing about it being PA and not Sante Fe – I am adopting the famous Proust quote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” All the best to you and all the plein-air artists on their pilgrimage.

  14. lMargaret Cutter April 15, 2018 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    It is not the first time I have forwarded the “Sunday Coffee” to members of my family, but today’s “The Hard things in Life” connected with the struggle our grandson is experiencing at this moment. Bill is autistic and is seeing his classmates finish his senior year and talk of college. Bill just found out that he cannot do this. I sent this article to his Mother, our daughter Meg. Her reply to my note saying “it seems he understands Bill’s struggle at this moment. Her replay was:
    “I think you’re right…graduation has Bill rightly reflecting on what it is to be a grown-up. The mirror his extended family has created for him simply and profoundly shows a reflection of Bill…not someone with a disability label. That’s a good thing, and I’ve received high praise from educators and psychologists for helping to create this environment.
    That said, for a bunch of reasons that have mostly to do with various levels of safety, Bill needs to learn how the table is set in the “real world” – I think he senses this and is preparing himself for it. Big changes can be daunting and make you feel vulnerable – possibly my left favorite emotion. Bill has the duality of understanding, to a degree, what the “real world” requires, and understanding that sometimes those requirements make is autism become “big and temporarily uncontrollable. The fear of this can understandably be paralyzing for him.
    People know the minute they meet Bill that he’s special and he has this amazing way of inspiring a generosity of spirit in people who have that quality available. The good news, most people in the world have this quality – it’s one of the great blessings of my life to get to be with Bill to see all the different ways this generosity of spirit manifests itself.
    All any of us really need to do is the next right thing.”

  15. Debra April 15, 2018 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    I love your heart Eric Rhoads. Thank you for sharing each week.

  16. Sheryl Knight April 15, 2018 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    Thank you Eric for your inspiring words, and also for your transparency. You are so generous with your time in helping other artists and it is much appreciated. I read most of your Sunday Morning blogs and always enjoy them. I wrote a comment last week but somehow I wasn’t able to post it. Hopefully that won’t happen today! For some reason it won’t take the website so I will just leave that blank..
    I also appreciated your verse you used from James….very appropriate. And we will keep you in our prayers also. Thank you.
    I am sorry to miss the convention this week. I had a conflict with a family wedding. I have enjoyed the conventions the years I was able to attend and hope to next year. I know it will be wonderful again for all those there. Have a great week!

  17. Mary Ulm Mayhew April 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your words. I’ll admit I rarely read e mail articles all the way through., this one caught me.
    My feet have been mired , I have a great studio, but haven’t been able to “start” I know I am at a junction late in life, but your words gave me permission and confidence to take that first step, I need to show my partner that I deserve all he put into building this place for me, but this is all so solitary, I lose momentum. I am hoping to earn enough to be able to afford a trip to next years convention. In the meantime, keep writing and I add a big “Congrats” to you for overcoming all that you have. Now go and enjoy New Mexicoand”’
    I have to go now and put a canvas on the easel.

  18. Sandy Carter April 15, 2018 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    I wish I was in Santa Fe! Next year, wherever, I’ll be there!

  19. Beverly Scott April 15, 2018 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    I love reading your posts, Eric, very uplifting. Not getting into my past, but a person must, “create movement,” a person MUST keep moving forward in their journey through life. April 30th of this year 2018, is a celebration for me. As of a year ago (April 30th, 2017), it was a dark time for me, I almost committed suicide. Through counseling, A LOT of prayer and most of all, “thank you, Jesus”, I made it. I tell people, “DO NOT judge my path if you haven’t walked my journey,” people know nothing about me and what I’ve endured. At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to make it, it’s like drowning and not knowing which way was up, I was so traumatized. For me, it was not taking one day at a time, it was one hour, at times..even less. Honestly, at the time I did not know how I was going to make it. Now, I finally found that bridge and made it to the other side of the river. Yes, I have a ways to go but I made it. I fully understand why people want or have committed suicide, I’ve been there. So, at the age of 67, I’m moving forward and plan on making the rest of my years the very best they can be. For you see, Jesus already has my life and my journey planned out for me, my path has already been established and yes, He knows my end results. I’m moving forward.

  20. Kenneth Drasser April 15, 2018 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Thank you Eric, i needed to hear this. Keep up the great work that you are doing.
    Ken Drasser

  21. Tari Harris April 15, 2018 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    That was very moving, Mr. Rhoads. You gave me a great deal to ponder. I am wring a biography and having difficulty with “The sin of omission”, Self analysis and clarity of recall is a gift you have indeed manifested in that article. You have, in your deeply touching words, helped me to cross a river of fear.


  22. Aleada Aine Siragusa April 18, 2018 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Willpower is the force that make this motion happen and it is by our will and the Grace of God we move forward. Thank you Eric for this insightful post. A blessing is what people say about you, my brother told me that I was a” Force of Nature” I keep this in mind as I feel it is true and my path may be different because I have illnesses that take me out of some of the way forward for artists, I have Hashimoto’s Disease with several issues that make my path different like; slow mornings, pain and fatigue issues. But my husband and I are working towards setting up a home studio-gallery and I paint just about everyday and paint out when I can. I am moving forward and if feels great!

  23. Jeff Markowsky April 22, 2018 at 4:53 am - Reply


    Your Sunday emails are always a treasure to read. This one in particular resonated with me as I was just having a conversation on a similar topic with a dear friend and mentor of mine while I was driving in my truck from Savannah here to the convention in Sante Fe. My friend’s name is Frank. Frank is a successful entrepeneur and business man. He runs a company called American Backcountry. Frank’s success has been an inspiration to me over the 20 years we have known each other. Frank’s message to me over the years has always been, “The Universe Rewards Action”. That message seemed to be congruent with your message today of ‘Rowing and Movement versus Drifting’. As an artist, I have struggled with the business side of art, so Frank has been a valuable friend to know and I am grateful for our relationship. That is one of the reasons that I was led to the Convention for the first time back in Monterrey in 2014. Your continued teachings on the topic have been inspirational, informative and useful. Thank you for that.

    One thing about having a supportive friend for 20 years is that I have learned to give and receive the support through life’s struggles. Every time I have faced adversity in life, whether it be my divorce, being diagnosed with prostate cancer 2 years ago or just the daily challenges of life, the solution has always been to ‘just keep rowing’ by taking the next right action. When I first drove across country to Monterrey four years ago, I had just learned that my then 15 year old son was diagnosed with a rare mitochondria disease of which the outcome could be fatal. I am happy to say that he is now 19, still alive and healthy, but that year was one of much grief and internal hardship, while I grappled with my creator for answers.

    What got me through that time and all times was staying in the creative process and painting outdoors. Painting outdoors I found my strength and my spiritual connection. In the creative action of making something and doing something I earned another moment of faith and commitment to get closer to the truth, to love and to accept each moment as it is. Unconditionally.

    Not an easy task sometimes. The universe does reward action. For that, I am grateful.

    Thank you for all that you do. I am excited to be here and looking forward to another amazing experience at the convention!

  24. Sandy Bennett April 22, 2018 at 5:51 am - Reply

    I so admire how you put words together. I am not good with words. Perhaps that is why I paint. Thank you for sharing with us. I was at Pace 18 in Santa Fe and it was amazing.

  25. Cookie Falcone April 22, 2018 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    Thank you for that! I will be 71 next week, and I think to myself that there isn’t enough time left for me to make a difference in my life, to get to the level I want in my army work. Prior to PACE I would go into my studio, but would organize rather than paint!
    I however got inspired enough from watching all the demos that I am committed to painting or sketching everyday (Urban Sketchers) and a goal of mine is to submit some of my work to your magazine.
    Cookie Falcone

    I better do it, because I spent the money for PACE, rather than my original plan to go to my second urban sketching symposium in Porto Portugal this July! ( I had attended last years symposium in Chicago, which without doubt was the most encouraging, sharing, and caring event I had ever attended, with 34 nations represented. It was so inspiring. The venders were so generous I had to buy an extra suitcase to bring everything back home.

    Eric, have you or any of your staff covered that event? There were 500 Sketchers/artists, if not, someone should. It may be he start of a new magazine for you! At the very least go to urban Sketchers.org, see the art work and the monthly newsletter.
    Our local group from Syracuse was featured on NBC Lester Holt Saturday evening on Jan 30 this year.

    Happy painting!
    Fondly, Cookie Falcone

  26. Frances Pampeyan April 24, 2018 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    I just love your Sunday morning letters. Such good advice and encouragement. Thanks, Eric.

  27. Don Ryan May 23, 2018 at 5:59 am - Reply

    Hi Eric, thank you for the Sunday blogs, they’re encouraging. February 19th my son and his wife were in a car accident that took her life. Our hearts break for our son who was just married for 1.5 yrs. For the past 6 weeks I have been back to MN helping him in his house they just got 2 months ago. Please uphold him in your prayers to the Lord. I know we have a good and gracious God, and as Psalm 23 states, “though I walk through the valley of death”, my wife and I are walking through this with our Lord. My son is not; He walked away from the Lord when he went to college. Please pray for healing and our sons return to our God.
    Thank you,

  28. Monroe Hetsler May 29, 2018 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    That sure is one pretty site you have there. Can I ask you a very simple question? What kind of fertilizer do you use to make it grow so wonderfully?

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