The sunrise yesterday morning, and each morning in Santa Fe, was brilliant and colorful, and back at home, this morning’s sunrise is equally beautiful but coming up over a different mountain. Santa Fe had long mountain ranges and plateaus of purples and blues; my distant mountain is socked in with fog, making it a grayish blue against a warm yellow sky.
The neighbors’ dog has been barking obsessively at the cattle or deer on their back 40, which borders our little slice of heaven. Finally, silence comes and I can again hear the birds and look at the brilliant new green growth on my scrub oaks. I’m not sure any paint can capture that brilliance.
Click Your Heels Together
The old homestead and my long wooden porch are a welcome sight, and my happy place. I arrived late last night after a week in Santa Fe and a massive celebration of plein air painting, and though I love the energy, the people, the painting, and the place, there is, as they say, no place like home. (But no ruby slippers here.)
When to Click
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy clicked her ruby red slippers and found her way home from a fantasy world. As a child I was often in trouble with my teachers for daydreaming (though I didn’t even need to click my heels to come back). But there are times when we do need to click our heels. What I mean is that we need to click into action when the time is right.
The Making of Mucha
Years ago on our Fine Art Connoisseur art trip, we visited the home of Alphonse Mucha and visited with his 90-year-old daughter-in-law, who has worked to preserve his legacy and his personal collection. She told us a great “click into action” story.
Inventing Art Nouveau
Mucha is known for being one of the originators of the Art Nouveau style and for deeply influencing Paris and the world with this style of art, but, like most, at one point he was struggling and virtually unknown. But all that changed in an instant. One event changed his life.
On Christmas Eve 1894, actress Sarah Bernhardt decided she needed a poster for her show. She went to a local print shop, which reached out to all the top artists in Paris to work on the poster, but they all said no because it was Christmas Eve. But she was determined; she needed someone working on it that day. Mucha wasn’t even on the initial list of artists contacted, yet because he was in the right place at the right time, the printer asked if he would do it.
Though Mucha had plans for Christmas Eve, he dropped everything and volunteered to design the poster because he needed the money. With Bernhardt’s fame and the success of the show, Mucha’s work was exposed heavily, and this new breakthrough design style caught everyone’s eye. Instantly he became very famous, and he was soon the top designer in Paris. Though his paintings were nothing like his posters, his posters made his career. (His painting are amazing and life-changing, especially the Slav Epic, a series of giant paintings depicting the history of the Slavic peoples. Our Fine Art Connoisseur art trip group was the last to see them before they were seized by the city of Prague in 2011; the paintings are now on tour in Asia, over the objections of the artist’s family.)
Hello, Is This Eric?
When I was a DJ back in the early 1970s in Miami, I frequently spoke to this one groupie who would phone me every night on the request line. We decided to meet one day and became fast friends. (No, we were not dating.) I soon moved stations, and when I became the music director, I needed an assistant. Because she was still calling me, I asked her if she knew of anyone, and she volunteered.
A Star Is Born
She got the job. In her spare time she asked one of the DJs to teach her how to be an air talent, but no one actually considered putting her on the air. Yet one day, I needed to fill a slot and all my extra people had the flu. So I asked her if she could think of anyone and she said, “Yeah, me.” Though I did not think she was ready, I had no choice, so we put her on the all-night show. She was an instant hit and became a big star who ended up with a full-time job on the air. She eventually became a star in Houston and built an amazing career. What if she had been shy, or didn’t step up even though she wanted to?
A Giant Change in My Life
When my partner Jerry and I had a radio consulting company, we were hired by radio station KEYY in Provo, Utah — an unusually small market for us. But we took it in hopes of getting the rights to program their new Salt Lake FM, which was coming on in a year or so.
While I was in town consulting, one day I was talking with the owner about whether we would be getting the FM contract he had promised. He said, “I’m not very convinced that you guys are going to do a good job with that station, so I think I’m just gonna put it up for sale.”
My response? “I’m so convinced that we’ll be number one in the market overnight, I’ll buy it from you. Name your price.”
Bluffing to Show Confidence
Of course I was bluffing, to show him confidence that we would succeed. But his response was unexpected: “OK. The price is $1.6 million, and I’ll give you 90 days to come up with the money.”
Still bluffing, I said, “You’re on.” We shook on it, and I suddenly realized I had just committed to buying a radio station. Months later I was the president of a new broadcast company that had a Provo and a Salt Lake station, and soon I put one on in New Orleans. Frankly, I was so naive, I didn’t know that should have been impossible to pull off.
My career has been filled with accidental magic, taking me to opportunities I never would have considered. Twenty-eight years ago I was in New York to complain that my ads in Pulse of Radio magazine were not working, and when I met with the owner he said, “I’m not committed to it. I think I’ll sell it. Wanna buy it?” I said yes, then had to figure out how to structure a deal to make it work. That’s how I ended up in publishing.
How I Lost $130 Million
I’ve got just as many stories of things I foolishly passed on that turned out to be amazing. In one case I would have held a small percentage of a company that later sold for $6.6 billion. But I had nothing because I turned down an opportunity that came to me. My share would have been worth about $130 million. Instead, my closed-minded answer got me nothing but a story.
The point of all this is that there are opportunities put in front of each of us. We are not looking for them, they are not anywhere close to our plans, they sometimes require fast, impulsive decisions, and the opportunities often disappear as fast as they came. Often they will seem inconvenient, difficult, or impossible.
Though I’m big on goals and planning, I’m also big on shiny objects and on listening to your gut to grab opportunities.
Listen for Opportunity in Everything
In fact, since I turned down that big opportunity, which would have cost me nothing but some ad space, I try to listen very carefully to the vision of others and not instantly think I know it all and I know it won’t work. Instead, I tend to jump on lots of opportunities.
Lots of Accidents
The best things that have happened in my life have been accidental. An accidental meeting with my wife. Accidentally meeting a guy at a state fair who had a product I remarked on, and that made both of us a lot of money. Accidentally getting into publishing. Accidentally getting into art, and accidentally stumbling into the early realism movement and the plein air painting movement. This isn’t all about business, it’s about life.
I’m not recommending drifting along and waiting for things to happen. You need movement, which is what will expose you to things you’ve never considered.
Bigger and Better Than Your Own Plans
The key to all of this is keeping an open mind, knowing that things will come along that won’t be a fit, but might be better and bigger than anything you had planned, and having confidence in yourself to know when to say yes and when to say no.
What about you?
Can you think back to things you jumped on that were unexpected and turned out well?
Can you think of things you passed on that you wish you had not?
Caution to the Wind
No matter what your position, your circumstances, your age, or your financial status, opportunities and decisions will come your way — and I believe these things are placed in our lives for a reason. In some cases it’s a temptation that is not good and only a distraction, but in other cases it’s something that you need to do. You’ll know the right ones because they will speak to you. You just have to be willing to listen and be willing to throw caution to the wind.
It Sneaks Up on You
You don’t know when or where it will come. It might be a happenstance meeting or a conversation in line at the grocery store or coffee shop. I was just given a major opportunity I’ll be announcing because I met a fellow at a cocktail party in New York and happened to asked a question about his business. It may turn out to be the biggest thing I’ve ever done.
Don’t Seek It. Just Know It When It Comes
I don’t spend a lot of time looking for those kinds of random opportunities. I find if I force it, I don’t get the same results. Yet if something comes to me randomly and hits me between the eyes, I jump on it with all my heart.
A couple of weeks ago, before the big Plein Air Convention, artist Dennis Tyson approached me about his dream to teach veterans how to paint. He knew of my goal to teach one million people to paint. So I jumped on it fast, and that very week I announced our new program as part of the Plein Air Force to enlist people to teach veterans. A year from now we will have trained hundreds and maybe thousands. This is a great example of something that will do good that has nothing to do with business.
Today is a good time to think about missed — or captured — opportunities, and to plant a seed in your mind to be on the lookout and ready to jump when opportunity strikes. And when it does, simply click your heels together and you’ll be transported to a new and exciting place.
PS: I try to remain very humble, but I cannot help but be excited about how well the launch of my new book went this past week. My writing hand is a little cramped from personalizing so many books. Thank you to everyone who picked up a copy at the convention. I am truly humbled by your embrace.