Five Career Lessons from Bob Ross

If you’ve ever succumbed to the black hole that is daytime television, you’ll know that—unless infomercials, bad game shows and soaps are your thing—there’s never anything good on (especially now that Bob Barker no longer hosts “The Price Is Right”).

It wasn’t always this way. Once, not so long ago, daytime television viewers could easily stumble upon the odd diamond in the rough. For many, that diamond was the smooth-talking, afro-wearing, kind-hearted, oil-painting teacher extraordinaire, Bob Ross.

My adoration of Bob Ross has several layers. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen most episodes of his instructional show, “The Joy of Painting,” and I own several seasons on DVD. Once, while browsing through an art store, I even gave serious consideration to buying a set of Bob Ross branded art supplies—and I don’t even paint!

Sadly, it’s become much more difficult to find “The Joy of Painting” on TV. Luckily, YouTube has a good selection that I’d encourage you to look up (if you’re in the mood to spend the next few hours watching someone paint while talking to himself—it’s actually a great time).

But it’s not all fun and games, is it? Fortunately, there’s some great career advice we can glean from Bob Ross. Turns out he probably would have made a great career coach! Check out these five career lessons (and check out these happy little facts too!):

1. It’s your world. You make the decisions.

One of the messages Bob stresses most frequently to his viewers is that, as a painter, you have complete control of the world you create on the canvas. I don’t know if there’s a single episode of the series in which Bob doesn’t say, “It’s your world.” As it turns out, this is great career advice. As much as we are guided by various influences, and sometimes limited by barriers, there is no one who can make decisions about your career for you. Of course, this is both a wonderful freedom and a serious responsibility!

2. There are no mistakes, just happy little accidents.

This is another one of Bob’s most popular messages. People are often so worried about making mistakes on the canvas that they’re paralyzed with doubt! Bob’s approach is to stress that there’s no such thing as a mistake. Sure, there will be times when things don’t work out the way you thought they would, but that’s the beauty of life. It’s what you do next that matters. Maybe your painting or career changes in an unexpected way, and presents a new opportunity that you would have never realized otherwise!

3. You don’t need training to be successful.

One of the hallmarks of Bob’s “wet-on-wet” method of oil painting is its shallow learning curve. When you combine that with Bob’s constant, cheerful encouragement, it’s really easy to envision yourself making beautiful paintings as easily and quickly as Bob does on screen. There’s a segment in the show where Bob displays pictures of paintings that viewers send in, with messages like, “I’d never painted before!”—and they actually looked good! Obviously, Bob had technical artistic training—not to mention a lifetime of practice—but the core of his entire teaching philosophy was that you don’t need a fancy degree to make a good-looking painting.

4. Being nice pays off.

Simply put, Bob Ross was one hell of a nice guy—and not just towards people, but animals too. It was not uncommon for Bob to bring his friendly rescued orphan forest critters to the TV studio—there’s even an episode where he keeps a squirrel in his shirt pocket for the whole half hour! When I think about TV personalities, it’s hard to come up with an example of a nicer person than Bob Ross, and who was as successful too. This is notable, especially considering the next point.

5. Volunteering is worth it.

I’ve written about volunteering before, but something I recently learned about Bob Ross affirms the value of volunteering much more poignantly—he didn’t get paid a single cent for his show! What’s more, he didn’t even sell any of his paintings! His entire living was made from selling art supplies and giving painting lessons. Of course, we have to ask the question: would anyone have bought any of his supplies if he didn’t volunteer his time to do the show?

These are only five lessons, but there’s much more to be gained from an appreciation of Bob Ross. He’s an inspiration to me, and I hope you check out his show (and maybe even try your hand at painting!). I think he would have liked these happy little career lessons, and hopefully you feel the same way.

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