As a family we had been spending our summers on a lake in Indiana for three generations (four including my brothers and me), and I remember my dad saying that when his grandfather used to take him fishing on the lake, there were no speedboats, no noisy Jet Skis, and almost no homes on the lake. But that all changed, and my dad began to realize that the only reason our family was still on this lake was because he’d grown up there. We were there for tradition. His grandfather had been there because it was a beautiful and peaceful place at the time.
About that time the movie On Golden Pond came out, and the scenes were of a lake in New Hampshire, with deep pine trees, aging log homes with squeaky screen doors, the smell of pine needles, and lazy days spent fishing, running, and jumping off a dock.
“This is what our lake used to be like,” said my dad, “but it’s not that way anymore.”
While most would come to the realization and accept it, my father took immediate action by calling around to find out where the movie had been filmed. Two days later he was on that lake in New Hampshire, looking for a place to relocate for the summers.
Because of the popularity of the movie and the lake, the prices were way out of his range, plus there were things he wanted that he could not find near that lake.
More than Gas
Being the friendly guy he is, he wandered into a gas station and struck up a conversation with the attendant. “Do you know any other lakes like this one? I like it, but I’d love to have some islands in my view, and then a distant mountain. I want something quiet, no Jet Skis, and I’d love a lake that is mostly old wooden boats and old cabins. But I don’t want to pay these kinds of prices.”
Others probably would have kept this vision to themselves or assumed that the attendant wouldn’t know, but this attendant did know.
“I know just the place, but it’s not around here, it’s near the Canadian border in upstate New York. I used to date a girl who lived on the lake I’m thinking about, and I heard the house was for sale because her dad is dying.”
A Life-Changing Phone Call
My dad walked over to the pay phone, gave the man some change, and said, “Do you mind calling them right now?” The conversation went like this:
Gas Guy: Hello, you may not remember me, my name is Jimmy, and I used to date your daughter.
Lady at House: Of course I remember you, Jimmy. We always liked you. My daughter ended up marrying a bad guy, and it’s been nothing but problems.
Gas Guy: I’m sorry to hear that. We can talk about that at another time. I’ve got a friend here with me, and I was telling him I heard a rumor that your husband was ill and that you might have the house on the lake for sale.
Lady: Well, that’s true, but we just sold the house yesterday.
Gas Guy: Oh, that’s too bad. I’ll tell him.
Dad: Let me talk to her, please. I’d like to meet her.
Gas Guy: He wants to talk to you and meet you anyway.
After a brief introduction, Dad says…
Dad: So, you say you sold the house. Have you closed on it?
Lady: Well, no. We’re fighting over the china and the piano. We can’t close until that is resolved.
Dad: I’ll tell you what, I’ll solve that problem for you. I’ll buy the house, and you can keep the china and the piano and anything else you want to keep. Do you think you can cancel the other sale?
Lady: Well, I can check on that. But don’t you want to know the price of the house? Don’t you want to see it first? What if you don’t like it?
Dad: I’m sure the price is fair, and if I don’t like it, you’ll never know. I’ll phone you tomorrow to see if you can get out of the sale and I’ll overnight you a check.
Welcome to Shangri-La
Less than a week later, he had closed on a house he had never seen. Once they had moved out and he saw the property, it was the most beautiful view on the lake, just as he had envisioned. Quiet, peaceful, old cabins, lots of wooden boats, no Jet Skis, and lots of creaky screen doors. It was much better than he ever expected.
I tell you this story of spontaneity this Sunday morning because his willingness to be spontaneous changed a lot of lives, including mine. Several hundred painters have been guests at this special place as part of my annual Adirondacks paint camp.
Resistant to Change
Though I resisted giving up my friends and our lake place in Indiana, and though I did not want to like this new place in the Adirondack Mountains — which I had never heard of — it turned out to become my muse for photography, and then painting. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen and has inspired some of the best painters on earth.
In fact, I loved it so much that I created an event here called the Publisher’s Invitational, where I host a group of painters each year to paint this magnificent 10,000-square-mile state park, which is bigger than most national parks and equally beautiful and pristine.
I learned the art of spontaneity from my dad long before this moment in time, and it has served me well.
Planning to Death
You see, most of us plan everything to death. Though I love to plan things and to have things to look forward to (I always try to plan a trip to someplace exotic at least a year in advance, and I love having events to look forward to like the Adirondacks, Fall Color Week in Acadia National Park, the Plein Air Convention, or my African Art Safari trip), I also know that my heart will follow something not on the plan.
The Best Is Rarely on a Plan
I have to admit that the best things that have ever happened in my life have been the result of being spontaneous. For instance, my trip to Russia was the best trip I’ve ever taken in my entire life, and it occurred spontaneously (read about my new trip here). My first instinct was to tell myself there were a thousand reasons I could not go (and there were), but I just said, “What the heck,” and went for it because I knew I would always regret not going.
In fact, I turned down an all-expenses-paid three-week painting trip to China because I had lots of reasons I could not go. To this day I regret it. Though I told myself there would always be a next time, the reality is that there isn’t always a next time. None of those reasons would have mattered.
Spontaneity isn’t always about travel or trips. I’ve met people, talked about ideas, and cut deals on the spot that have turned out to be wonderful opportunities to boost my business or help others. I’ve been in meetings when someone will come up with an idea and I’ll react by saying, “Let’s do it,” without researching it to death and finding all the reasons that “it won’t work.”
In fact, I bought my first radio station spontaneously. I had been a consultant for this company, and it was renewal time. They told me they were not going to renew and were not going to give me the new station they had been planning to put on the air. Spontaneously, I said, “I’m so convinced that this will work, I’ll buy the stations from you. Name your price.” They called my bluff, and I ended up buying my first AM/FM station.
I’m sitting here on the dock, writing this on my iPad, coffee resting on the arm of a big deep-green Adirondack chair, because of spontaneity. I’ve been able to spend my summers here for the last 15 years so my kids can experience this place every summer of their lives because I spontaneously decided I would work from here each summer, even before we could get Internet up here.
I looked up the word and I got this: “voluntary or undetermined action or movement.”
But I think it’s more than that. Something within us that stimulates spontaneity.
Following Your Gut Instincts
Years ago I attended a decisionmaking course, and they told us that nine out of 10 times, when a decision has to be made fast, without thinking, we make the right decision because of something that occurs in our subconscious mind. They told us to learn to listen to our gut, because it was usually right.
In testing at school, my teachers used to say, “Write the first thing that comes to mind,” and often when I’m asking someone’s opinion about something, I ask them what the first thing to come to mind was. I value that first thing as the “gut” that is telling us what we really want.
Spontaneity is a reaction of the heart. Thought is a reaction of the mind. Both are important, but I like to think that our lives are better when we lead with the heart.
(Now I’m really sounding like an artist.)
When I interview prominent artists in my podcast, they often talk about painting and responding to the initial reaction we have when we see something we feel we need to paint. That too is spontaneous, and a reaction of the heart.
Myers-Briggs Corporation tells us there are four personality types, two of which are prone to leading with the heart, while the other two lead from the head.
This Is Insane!! I Can’t Just Do This!
Half the people reading this are having a strong reaction and maybe a sick feeling in their stomachs because the idea of doing anything spontaneous is just wrong. These same people make wonderful accountants and lawyers and doctors, because those are professions where shooting from the hip will get you in trouble.
I think I have a nice balance. I lead from the heart, but I’ve trained myself to listen to my left brain, too.
Why am I telling you this?
Simply because there could be some wonderful opportunities you’re missing because you’re trying to rationalize everything with the left brain. Logical and practical is good, but it’s not always as entertaining. You could be missing out on the best things in life because you need all the pieces to fit perfectly into your plan.
Naked in the Streets
I’m not suggesting you throw caution to the wind and go running through the streets without your clothes while trying psychoactive drugs. I am suggesting that you might feel a sense of freedom if you’re willing to take a chance, listen to your heart, shed all the reasons it seems like a bad idea, and just try something spontaneous.
Give it some thought. This week, try to listen to what your heart wants to do and take a shot at doing something your left brain thinks is totally impractical. It will be difficult at first, but you’ll find you’re happy you tried it. And keep an eye open for a chance to be spontaneous this week.