When I was 13 years old I painted a horse head with a paint by numbers layout. I thought it was pretty good, but now that I’ve seen some real masterpieces I realize it was pretty amateurish. The paint was clumpy where I tried to stay inside the identified lines. It didn’t look real; it just looked like I did a good job of painting. My wife Joanne, on the other hand, has drawn some amazing pieces – always starting with a blank canvas and then allowing her imagination to direct her brush or pencil.

I realize now that life’s opportunities are presented to us in much the same way. If we paint by the numbers (take the first job, put money in CDs, buy a Ford car, purchase shirts at J.C. Penney, and have two weeks vacation every year) we will see predictable results. You know what it’s going to be – and it might be good, but it will never be amazing to you or anyone else. The only way to get a masterpiece is to start with a blank canvas. Of course, with a blank canvas you could also end up with a disaster that you decide to throw away. But the very next one may be the masterpiece that will make the world remember you.

While you may think this is about willingness to take “risk” or that it’s a reflection of “personality style” I think it’s more about dreaming, imagining and taking action. And this is not just a business or career decision – it’s more a question of the kind of life we want to live. Think of Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Bono, Oprah, Rick Warren, Howard Schultz or Billy Graham. Their personality styles cover the entire range of possibilities and no one would consider Billy Graham a risk-taker. But all of them had big dreams, started with a blank canvas and then took action to create their own unique masterpieces.

Here's what experts are telling us we will have for the remainder of 2009: uncertainty, chaos, turbulence, turmoil, confusion and insecurity. Sounds like a paint by the number life is going to be hard to find anyway.

So you get to choose what you are creating today – a horse head or the Mona Lisa?

“Success is never an accident. It typically starts as imagination, becomes a dream, stimulates a goal, grows into a plan of action – which then inevitably meets with opportunity. Don’t get stuck along the way.” Dan Miller

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Comment by Ann Musico on March 31, 2009 at 3:56am
The analogy is perfect - I never thought about it in quite that way - but I will from now on. I am hard at work on my masterpiece and loving every minute!
Comment by Robert Clinton on March 31, 2009 at 3:19am
Very beautiful story and analogy! As I mentioned to Kevin as well in another posting, I have lived a lot of my life by the numbers, but not ever wanting to actually color by the numbers so I always find myself trying to re-create the normal way of doing things.
I truly prefer the blank canvas approach to life, and strive to live each day seeking my own path even if it means coloring outside the lines.
Predictable is boring, and has no merit for discussion when I'm laying on m death bed! My life is here to serve and to contribute an overwhelming, passionate, and 'unique' difference.
Comment by Amy Papazian on March 31, 2009 at 12:11am
Just discovered a great little book to help those that need to get "unstuck" called The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph. D. It explains how taking a trivially small step can help you bypass your natural fear response and create some momentum.
Comment by Marty Sannino on March 31, 2009 at 12:06am
Sometimes I think the educational system (elementary, high school) and to some extent our general society lead us to be too careful and not believe in our own creativity. Many of us are careful not to paint "outside the lines" or to use different colors, because we're trying to comply with expectations that don't deliver us to those things that could be our dreams or personnel success. By and large I believe conformity is good for society sake, but some people who aren't agressive communicators, leaders or free-spirit types by nature, often become stuck with confidence issues and never really stretch their wings until late in life, or not at all. Fortunately,social and professional groups abound nowadays to help folks find direction and purpose. I believe 48 Days is one of those groups that will encourage us to paint outside the lines.

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