I just came back from Pleinair magazine's 6th annual Plein Air Convention & Expo, which was held this year in San Diego. It's the world's largest gathering of plein air (outdoor) painters. The event is the brainchild of B. Eric Rhoads, who is the chairman and CEO of Streamline Publishing Inc., which produces Fine Art Connoisseur and Plein Air magazines.
At each convention, Rhoads conducts several early morning "Art Marketing Bookcamp" presentations. The sessions help artists improve their personal branding, self promotion, marketing and business success. In addition to being an artist and art lover, Rhoads is also a highly successful entreprenuer.
Rhoads' presentation this year drove home the idea that "mindset" is everything. Much of your happiness and wellbeing is tied to your self narrative. The stuff your inner voice keeps telling you.
As an example, Rhoads shared the story of a retired guy he knew who was always complaining. A guy whose cup was perennially half empty. After visiting this man, Rhoads told his wife, "I'll bet he's dead in three years."
Sadly, Rhoad's prediction came true.
What do you want and why?
People are either living or dying. By dying, I'm not referring to terminally ill patients. I'm referring to people who have lost the significance of living. People who have given up. Whose energy is low. Who settle for the couch, Dr. Phil re-runs, five o'clock cocktails and the path of least resistance. People who have run out of dreams.
For many, this slow decline starts with a poor mindset. They literally view themselves as "getting older" or "slowing down." Then they act accordingly. They become human turtles.
They groan when they get off the sofa. They talk about their medical problems with friends. They convince themselves that their best days are behind them. They become grumpy, resentful and dispassionate about living. From there, it's not a long stroll to the funeral home.
B. Eric Rhoads' antidote is to ask the question, "What do you want and why?" We have to figure out what quickens our hearts, and then go after that.
In the case of Rhoads, he knew that there was more to life than business. Particularly, he discovered outdoor (plein air) oil painting, and it became a passion. Rhoads went on to build his entire business around his love for painting and art. Now, Rhoads gets up early every day, because he's energized and excited by his work.
How about you? Do you get up early with enthusiasm, anxious to take on the day? If not, ask yourself, "What do I want and why?" Sometimes we go on autopilot and forget to check in with our hearts. We forget to take inventory of our life and figure out what's working and what's not.
Yes, there are responsibilities and commitments. Sometimes we can't just quit our jobs and go find ourselves. Sometimes change starts with small steps. But often, change is more possible than you think. And it often begins by asking yourself one very important question.
Is it true?
During the plein air convention, B. Eric Rhoads talked about the art market. He repeated the notion of "mindset," and challenged the prevailing view that full time artists can't make a good living. Some in the audience shared their tales of woe. How it's harder now to sell art. How galleries are dying off.
Rhoads countered with a powerful, three word sentence: "Is it true?" He went on to point out how useful it is to ask this question whenever your inner voice starts chattering away with negativity.
Why is it that some artists are making a killing in today's market, while others are not? Could it be that you're selling your art in the wrong venues? Rhoads went on to describe numerous examples of galleries and artists who are doing well, because they refused to buy into the narrative that selling art is too hard these days.
Think of your own life and the self defeating thoughts that run through your mind. "I'm not good enough to get that promotion," or "I'll never be able to lose the weight and look terrific." There's so much negative self talk out there, preempting dreams from coming true. If more people just stopped and asked, "Is it true?" they would realize that they've been buying into their own negative lies.
All those negative thoughts and self sabotage are what author Steven Pressfield calls "the resistance." The resistance isn't you, it's just negative energy trying its damndest to prevent you from accomplishing more.
So, how do you overcome "the resistance?" You start behaving like a professional instead of an amateur.
Professionals show up every day and do the work. When they get injured, they don't run for the bench. They play through the pain. They stay up all night to make sure the project gets done on time. They create routines rather than relying on will power.
One of the things that separates successful people from unsuccessful people is the ability to endure pain. Professional athletes endure the pain of workouts longer than amateur athletes. Professional writers endure the pain of sustained, daily writing longer than amateur writers. Professional artists endure the pain of sustained practice longer than amateur artists.
Growth requires pain
In Richard Paul Evans book, "The Walk", a kind woman who works in a diner shares this nugget of wisdom:
“I meet dead people at the diner every day. People who have given up. That’s all death requires of us, to give up living. The thing is, the only real sign of life is growth. And growth requires pain. So to choose life is to accept pain. Some people go to such lengths to avoid pain that they give up on life. They bury their hearts or they drink themselves numb until they don’t feel anything anymore. The irony is, in the end their escape becomes more painful than what they are avoiding. Ultimately we decided whether our lives are good or bad, ugly or beautiful. Some people in this world have stopped looking for beauty, then wonder why their lives are so ugly. Everyone carries divinity in them. Only through helping others can we save ourselves.”
I love that line that "growth requires pain." Not because I like pain, but because I understand it to be true. So many of the worthwhile things in life require sacrifice, discipline, effort and pain.
Ask any personal trainer. If you want to transform your body, you've got to pay your dues. If you want that promotion, you have to work harder than others. And if you want to achieve your dreams, you'll have to conquer your fears and endure the pain that effort and change require.
There's a sign hanging in my art studio that reads, "There are no short cuts to anyplace worth going." Think back to your school years. Which classes are you most proud of? The ones where the teacher handed out easy A's? Or that english literature class where the teacher made you work your butt off for a B-?
There's something profoundly rewarding about deep, sustained effort. Despite the pain and sacrifice, the gift of hard work is achievement. Reaching a new goal and/or personal growth. That's how you get to the next level. That's how you inch closer, day by day, to your dreams.
But if you want to truly help yourself, reread the quote above from "The Walk." Specifically the last line: "Only through helping others can we save ourselves.”
Do you do it for others first and yourself second?
In author Tony Hendra’s poignant book “Father Joe” we meet a kindly, stuttering, Benedictine monk who maintains a lifelong friendship with Hendra, offering pearls of wisdom throughout.
Listen here as Father Joe offers Tony Hendra some sound advice:
“Feelings are a great gift, but they’re treacherous if that’s all we live for. They drive us back into ourselves, you see. What I want. What I feel. What I need. A man and a woman pass beyond just feelings at some point, don’t they? That’s when they start to know true love. The love of another. The joy in another’s existence. The wonderful ways that the other person is not like you, nor you like them.”
Father Joe goes on with this additional gem:
“What you must ask yourself, Tony dear, is this: do you do the work you’ve chosen with joy and gratitude? Do you do it conscientiously? Do you do it for others first and yourself second?”
Here's the deal. If you change your mindset, you can learn to derail the negative self talk. If you ask yourself what you want and why, you can start zeroing in on the life you really want to live, as opposed to simply "getting by."
If you start asking "is it true" whenever people say you can't do something, you'll discover how often people are wrong. Next, you'll be ready to handle the pain of real change. You'll push past that 5am alarm clock and settle into new routines of productivity and accomplishment. In short, you'll be on your way to becoming a professional.
You'll no longer be one of the walking dead. You'll have changed your life and greet each day with energy and accomplishment. But guess what? Something will still be missing. And it has everything to do with what Father Joe was talking about:
"Do you do it for others first and yourself second?"
Six stents and the heart of a lion
I know a man who has six stents in the arteries around his heart. He earned those stents working many years as a police chief. All the shift work, stress and politics took a toll.
Today I had breakfast with him and he told me that he and his wife decided to become foster parents for his nephew. Apparently his sister is struggling with alcoholism and cannot care for her 12 year old son. "I prayed about it and just can't let that kid disappear into the system," he told me. He may have six stents in his chest, but he has the heart of a lion.
This man reached the peak of his profession. Despite the toll it took on his health, he loved his work. He took care of his employees and community. He earned a comfortable retirement in a beautiful mountain home. He is a professional.
He could easily rest on his laurels and enjoy the good life. But he's not done. He understands that the ultimate success, the ultimate self-actualization, is when you help others.
How to help dead people
What about you? I'm sure you've seen them. The dead people among us. The ones who are lost, abandoned or have given up on life. On their dreams.
Once we overcome our own flaws and self sabotage, then what? Once we achieve our dreams and reap the rewards and attention, what's next? I suspect, if we're honest with ourselves, deep down we know that the next step is to start helping the dead people among us.
In a way, even when we fulfill our dreams, there's still a tiny piece of death in our hearts. A little hole that remains unfilled. All the money, travel, booze, sex and fame won't fill that hole. The only way you can fix it is to give back. Help the less fortunate. Awaken the walking dead and show them how to live again. How do you do this?
The way you help dead people is by using your gifts and talents to uplift them.
I knew a man who used to visit folks in an assisted living center and perform free magic tricks for them. He'd spend time visiting and listening to their stories. By using his gift for magic he enlivened their days and awakened a bit of their souls.
I'm married to a hospice nurse who goes above and beyond with her patients. She takes the extra time to visit and listen to her patients. She has a gift for reaching the most difficult patients, and is able to see the deep humanity in them.
There are writers and artists who hone their craft and inspire others through their art. They reach deep inside themselves and are able to share beauty and hope with the world. One never knows which painting or book might rekindle the fire in a lost soul.
In these ways and more, we can help the dead people among us. There is no greater fulfillment than using your time and gifts to awaken a wayward soul. And when you do, you'll fill the remaining hole in your heart. Once that happens, you'll forever understand the significance of living.
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(Originally published in TheCoffeelicious.com)
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