Each remaining day here at this Adirondack lake is precious. Now that the “summer that never was” (all rain, all the time) has passed and peeks of fall color are starting to reveal themselves around the lake, I’m melancholy that our time here will soon be over. Yet I’m grateful for each call of the loons, the sound of eagle wings whooshing overhead, the splash of water against the dock, and the rumble of old wooden boats. 

My choices are endless. Should I go out in my own wooden boat to do some plein air painting today? Shall I take a walk in the vast forest behind our little camp, go into my woodshop to work on a project, paddle about in a canoe, or just sit on the dock in an Adirondack chair and stare endlessly at the water? 

My First Love

I first fell deeply in love with nature when I became a Boy Scout. Troop 57 would meet at the local Lutheran church across from the McDonald’s every Friday night. After Scout meetings, I walked across the street to make burgers and fries — my first actual job, working there at age 11, making $2 an hour. My mom would drop me at Scouts and then pick me up after work. Though I loved Scout meetings, and some of the dear friendships I made there are active to this day, I cherished those special weekends when our troop would go to a Camporee or set up in a nearby woods. It’s where I learned to whittle, make knots, shoot a bow and arrow, and how to survive with sticks and plants. But Scouting taught me so much more than survival skills.

“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty … and to obey the Scout Law.”

I still remember memorizing that, and that a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. It was reinforced at every meeting, every campout, and in every interaction with the other Scouts. It became more than a motto, it became my life. 

If I were asked to define the motto for my life today, these are the words I’d use. But if I were to ask my kids, I wonder what they would say.

A Well Thought-Out Idea

This past week I received an e-mail from Richard Wilson, an acquaintance in the financial world. He and his wife had come up with a family motto, and his daughter recited it on video. “Healthy, clean, brave, kind, responsible, and respectful,” she said. Short enough for a child to remember, big enough to have an impact. Richard pointed out that we often have company values, so why don’t we have family values, like Scouts, that we get our kids to memorize and that we post inside our homes? I thought it was an idea worth sharing.

What would your family values be?

The act of memorization in Scouts was helpful because I began to notice opportunities to use those values. I think the same would be true for our kids. But values are more than a line we memorize. Our kids will see what we really value by our behavior.

A Kick in the Teeth

Case in point, my daughter and I drove into town together last week. I overheard her telling her mom that she learned a lot more about me in that couple of hours than she had known before. When asked why that was, my daughter said, “Because Dad was driving and was not on his phone.” It was a kick-in-the-teeth reality moment. I’d not been talking to my daughter and engaging her in conversation and talking about life moments and important lessons because I was always on my phone. It was an important reminder to put my phone down and be more engaged.

What Would Your Family Say?

If I were to ask your family what your values are, what would they tell me?

My daughter would probably say “phone” as a high value, yet I would say “time with family” is a value. My actions speak louder than any motto.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Our behavior is the true signal of our values. If you’re saying family values are about giving and being generous but you’re not actually demonstrating those values, it won’t stick. If honesty or integrity is a value and your kids see you telling a little white lie, they’ll soon model your bad behavior, not what you pretend to be. If you say you care about your family but you sacrifice time “for their good” by working all the time, how will they remember you?

I’ll Learn Something

Sometimes mottos are shared through different methods. For decades my dad’s prayer at every meal was: “Help us to change our plans according to your plans for us.” It was a way of sharing what he felt was important. It might be communicated through a family prayer, through a routine each night over dinner, or through some other creative endeavor. But if we are not deliberate about the messages and lessons we want to be absorbed, our kids will absorb what they see online.

I’ve thought lots about my values, but never stopped to think about what family values I want to communicate. I’m going to give it some thought and start communicating them — even though my kids are young adults, it’s never too late. And some of the most important lessons learned came from grandparents and aunts and uncles.

What about you?

Is it time to define your family values? Should you create a motto, or a few words that best represent how you want your family to be?

Today might be a good day to start having that discussion.

Eric Rhoads

PS: One of my values is quality of life. After a near-death experience, I made a commitment to spend more time with my family, but also to do the things I want to do now, not on a “someday” that may never come. From that moment on I laid out a design for my life, a plan. What am I not willing to do? What will I not compromise? What do I want my life to look like?

One of the things this prompted was the start of two artist retreats a year, because I wanted to spend two different weeks painting all week, and painting with friends. This time next week I’ll be with a group of 100 artists at my sold-out Fall Color Week artists’ retreat here in the Adirondacks.

Another goal from that moment is to spend more time on exotic travel, seeing the world, seeing the great art of the world, and having rich experiences with others with a common interest. As a result I started an annual Fine Art Trip. In October we will hold our 11th, this time in Stockholm and Madrid, where we go behind the scenes at art museums and have rich art experiences. There is room for two more if you’re an adventurous last-minute traveler.

In March I’ll lead a group of artists to tour and paint the cherry blossom season in Japan. PleinAir Japan is sold out, but I think we’ll be able to accommodate one or two more people. 

People often tell me I have a blessed life. I agree. But not much of it is accidental. We need to be deliberate about what we want out of life and build things into our lives. There is never a good time, it’s never convenient, we can never really afford the investment or time away. But I have friends who always talked about the things they were going to do, but they never got to do them before time ran out. They always had an excuse. Make a plan and be deliberate.

In November I’ll get home just in time to host our international art training experience, Realism Live online. It’s a brilliant way to speed up your art-making education.

I’ll do my best to stay in touch and I’ll be continually posting on my Instagram (@ereicrhoads) if you’re curious. 

Oh, and this week, at 2pm ET Wednesday, I’m holding a free webinar with two top European artists called 12 Steps to REVOLUTIONIZE Your Art.
If you wish to join, sign up here today.