I am no longer writing here at ArtistsSuitcase.com. I have migrated my blog to http://kentsanders.net. I’m still writing about art and creativity, but am just doing it at a new home these day.

Click here to visit my new blog

I have worked hard at putting together a BRAND NEW set of ebooks for artists, and when you subscribe to my new blog, these are yours, absolutely free. Here are the books:

  • How to Make Time for Your Art: 21 Ways to Be Productive and Make Every Day Count
  • How to Get Your Mojo Back: 7 Steps to Face Your Fear and Climb Out of Your Creative Rut
  • The Ultimate Resource Guide for Artpreneurs: 101 Tools for You & Your Business
  • The Art of Completion: Finishing the Creative Projects That Matter Most
  • The Artist’s Manifesto: A Declaration of Hope for Creative Leaders


I look forward to connecting with you at my new home! Once again, here’s the link:

Click here to visit my new blog


10 Life Lessons on My 40th Birthday (2)

When I was a kid I would sometimes calculate how old I would be when the year 2000 hit. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be 26 years old! 40 years old seemed like a lifetime away.

Yet here I am today, turning 40 years old. This has been a very reflective time as I look at where I’ve been and where my life is headed. Your 40th birthday is sort of a watershed moment, and for good reason: you’re not young, and you’re not yet old. In the span of a normal human life, it’s sort of a halfway point. They don’t call it “middle-aged” for nothing.

As an encouragement to you, my friend, and as a reminder of what I’m learning these days, I want to share 10 key lessons at the forefront of my mind these days. This is not just advice for those younger than me, but reminders for all of us about how to life a life that matters.

1. Know yourself.

The ancient philosophy Socrates famously said, “Know thyself.” But what does this mean? Knowing yourself means that you are aware of your strengths and weakness, your gifts and talents, your likes and dislikes, and you act accordingly.

At this point in my life, I know myself pretty well. I know where I’m headed and what I’m passionate about. I know my gifts and my goals. This knowledge helps me make decisions about opportunities and gives me direction for the future.

Too many people are stuck in jobs that don’t take advantage of their giftedness. I always question someone’s “calling” to a role or to work that doesn’t make them happy, or isn’t satisfying. Life is too short to be doing work that you don’t enjoy.

Know yourself well, and focus on your strengths.

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One of your biggest needs as an artist is finding constant sources of inspiration for your creative work. If you want to grow and remain relevant as an artist, you need constant fuel for your imagination. Books, the internet, podcasts and masterminds groups can be invaluable for your growth, but sometimes the best inspiration is right in your back yard.

In the next two posts I want to share 15 local places that every artist should experience periodically. You may not have all of these places close by, but nearly every town, no matter how small, has at least a few of these within reasonable driving distance.

1. Movie Theater

The movies are one of my favorite ways to be inspired. Movies have the magical ability to transport you to any time and any place for a couple of hours.

There’s nothing wrong with watching movies at home on Netflix, cable or DVD. But there’s something unique about the communal experience of watching a story unfold on a giant screen at 24 frames per second.

2. Concert Hall

It may not be a literal concert hall. It could be an auditorium, amphitheater or arena. No matter the venue, there’s nothing like the experience of hearing live music performed by great musicians.

Some of the most memorable experiences of my life have happened at concerts. The one that takes the cake, though, has to be seeing U2 (twice) on their “360” tour a few years ago. Bono is a one-of-a-kind performer who is able to take an arena of tends of thousands of fans and make it feel like an intimate gathering between friends.

Yes, concerts can be hard to attend. Between fighting the crowds, finding a babysitter, and the expense of tickets, it can be a real hassle. But the exciting thing about a concert is that the music you hear will never be performed live in exactly the same way again. Every concert is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

(Everything I’ve said about concerts also applies to stage plays and musicals. However, I tend to prefer concerts over live theatre. My wife is a huge fan of musicals, so if that’s what floats your boat, more power to you!)

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When we think of the giants in the fields of art and creative work (or any field, for that matter), it’s easy to assume they were successful all their lives. But one of the common threads in the tapestry of success is failure. That might seem contradictory, but in nearly every story of success there is also a story of failure. Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison . . . they could have all been considered “losers” at some point.

The geniuses at Delve Video Essays have put together a fascinating video essay (in two parts) called “The Long Game,” exploring the critical role that failure plays in the creative process. On their video page, they write:

All of history’s greatest figures achieved success in almost exactly the same way. But rather than celebrating this part of the creative process we ignore it.

This missing chapter in the story of success reveals the secret to doing meaningful work. But in the modern world, full of distraction, do we have what it takes to do great things?

Be sure to check out the videos below. (If you can’t see them, click here. You can also watch them on Delve.tv.)

The Long Game Part 1: Why Leonardo DaVinci was no genius from Delve on Vimeo.

The Long Game Part 2: the missing chapter from Delve on Vimeo.

What role has failure played in your success?

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Note to reader: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series. Click here to read Part 1  (which deals with the challenge of maintaining my priorities), and click here to read Part 2 (which deal with the challenge of my self-confidence).

There are two things I’m not trying to do in this post. First, I’m not trying to offer a bunch of solutions. (However, I do extend an invitation at the end of the post to be part of a group to help you lose weight.) Second, I’m not trying to reflect theologically on this issue. That’s a topic for another day. This is simply an existential reflection on the struggle of being overweight. If you read this post and your thought is, “Thanks for being open and expressing some of the same things I’m going through,” then I’ve accomplished my goal.

To close out this series on “Things I’m Struggling With” (my apologies to all my former English teachers for ending a phrase with a preposition), I want to hit on a very personal topic, and one that’s relevant to many people: the issue of being overweight.

Growing up, I was never an overweight kid. I was very average. I don’t remember what I weighed as a kid, but in college I weighed around 165 lbs., which is pretty average for a guy who’s 5’10” like me.

That was my weight for a long time. And then, in my late 20’s, I began to put on the pounds. If you’ve ever been overweight, you can remember specific times when someone has made a remark about your weight, and that it makes you realize how obvious it is to others.

One day I was standing on stage at church after worship rehearsal, talking to a friend. Then out of the blue he started to pat my stomach and jokingly said, “Hey Colonel, you’re putting on some weight, aren’t you?” (He always called me Colonel because my last name is Sanders; it was a joke based on Colonel Sanders of KFC fame.)

At that point I weighed 201 lbs. It was the heaviest I had ever been, and I was appalled that I had let myself get that big. That was the first time I remember anyone commenting on the fact that I had put on some weight. It wouldn’t be the last time I was acutely aware of being overweight.

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A couple of notes to readers: 

First: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Click here to read Part 1, which deals with the challenge of maintaining my priorities.

Second: This is a very unusual series for me. I can’t think of a time when I’ve written so openly about my weaknesses and failures. I very nearly scrapped, or at least heavily revised, this post discussing my self-confidence. After writing it, I became concerned that it would, at worst, make me look like a complete loser, or at best, make me sound whiny and weak.

I decided to keep my original draft with a small amount of editing because it’s me at my most vulnerable, for better or for worse. Trying to make my weaknesses more palatable in a post about my struggles seems a little dishonest.

As always, thanks for reading.

I have been going through a very reflective period because I will turn 40 in a few weeks, on July 26. There’s something about the age 40 in Western culture that’s a marker of something significant. We call it being “over the hill” because statistically, you’re in the second half of life.

I felt very successful in my 20’s. I graduated from college as the valedictorian (albeit from a small Christian college, so there wasn’t much competition), got married and headed off to lead a full-time worship ministry. I was very fortunate to be at a healthy, supportive church with great leadership, and I had a blast.

I was also in seminary during this time, and earned two Master’s degrees (one was actually completed in my early 30’s). I felt loved, respected, educated, and successful. I was at the top of my game.

After I had been at the church for 7 years, I had the opportunity to teach full-time. I was looking for a new kind of challenge, and accepted the role of Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College when I was 29.

Going into my 30’s, I had every reason to assume my life would continue on an upward trajectory of success. I had no idea how wrong I was.

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My main goal with the Artist’s Suitcase blog is to equip and inspire you in your creative life. I talk about creativity and success, and what it means to be an artist. I give tips on how to get organized and grow in your personal and professional life. I want to make sure I’m providing content that is practical and helpful.

But one of the dangers of having a blog (or any platform, for that matter) is that it’s easy to give the impression you have it all figured out. When you visit a decent-looking website (not that mine is anything to write home about) or get a slick-looking email from a blogger, it can mask the plain truth: none of us really has this figured out.

In fact, I’m pretty much making this up as I go along.

In the next few posts, I want to pull back the curtain on my life and be unusually transparent about some struggles I’m facing. When you read someone’s blog, it can be hard to discern the real person behind the presentation. But this is the real me, and it’s important that you know I don’t have it all together, and I struggle like everyone else.

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What does it means to be successful? That’s a question addressed by countless books, conference, courses, and blogs.

Despite all the resources and expert’s advice on success, you ultimately have to decide for yourself what it means to be successful. Success is first and foremost an inside job (but it doesn’t stay there).

In this post I’ll share ten principles for pursuing success, and even though they are couched in the concept of “days,” they’re not really days. These are attitudes and actions that usually take some time to develop. In fact, most of these are daily decisions rather than one-time achievements.

These are days that will truly change your life.

1. The day you start taking responsibility for your own success.

My wife and I have a running joke at home. Sometimes when things go wrong and we’re not sure whom to blame, we’ll say, “It’s the President’s fault!” It’s our way of poking fun at the people who, no matter what the national problem is, will always blame the President.

There are people who look at the problems and lack of success in their lives and always want someone else to blame. You and I must never become one of them.

When it comes to your own success, there’s only one person who is ultimately responsible, and that’s you. Waiting for others to change is terrible strategy for success. (Click to tweet.)

The only person you can control is yourself, and that’s the person you should focus on changing.

2. The day you start hanging around people more successful than yourself.

When you start connecting with people who are more successful than you, you’ll find that instead of being intimidating, they are usually very kind and generous. Those are the kind of qualities that made them successful in the first place.

You will also find that just because of who they are, they lift you up to a higher level. This was my experience recently when I received business coaching from my friend Kimanzi Constable. I was able to benefit from his success because I asked questions and opened myself to his constructive criticism and advice.

I’ve heard it said that you are the average of your five closest friends. If you aren’t experiencing the kind of success you’d like, perhaps it’s time to “increase your average” by rubbing shoulders with those who can help you learn and be more successful.

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A couple of months ago I joined the Dollar Shave Club (DSC), which offers inexpensive shaving products for men. I liked DSC’s funny and irreverent marketing and assumed I would enjoy their products. I was smack dab in the middle of their target market (basically, guys who hate shaving and don’t like to spend money). (Note: If you check out their site, be warned that their promo video has some implied language in the title.)

When I placed my first order, I chose the middle tier 4x blades and purchased a tube of shave butter as well. The package arrived a few days later and I was looking forward to a great shave the next morning.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed.

I didn’t care for the shave butter at all. (My friend who first recommended DSC raved about the shave butter, so to each his own.) I also wasn’t that impressed with the blades, which didn’t seem any better than what I was already using (Gillette Fusion blades, if you’re interested).

But I stuck with it, wanting to give myself a chance to really like the products.

A few weeks after I joined, I received an email from DSC with a link to a survey. I sent my thoughts on their products and was still deciding whether I would continue my subscription.

Then, a week or two after completing the survey, I received this email from DSC:

Hey Kent,

Thanks for taking our survey! You mentioned in your comments that the 4x blades do not meet your shaving needs, so sorry to hear you aren’t loving your blades. Everyone’s shaving needs are different and I’d love to help you find a razor that is a better fit for you.

I’d be happy to send you out a free trial of our Executive razor if you’d like to give it a try. It is a 6 blade razor and has a trimmer blade on the back for precision areas. Please let me know if you are interested, and thanks again for the feedback!

Shave On,

I was surprised and happy to receive this personal message from someone at DSC. I mean, how many times do you get a personal response back from a company whose products you don’t initially love?

But DSC has decided to do things differently, which is fantastic. I replied to Carlos’ message, thanking him for contacting me and taking him up on the offer for a sample of the upgraded blades.

Based on this experience, I’m taking away three lessons about customer service that apply to anyone who has an audience, customers, a platform, or fans of any type. (Because let’s face it: anyone who reads, enjoys, hears or otherwise consumes your creative work is a customer on some level.)

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shareasimage (9)For the past ten years I’ve had the privilege of teaching at St. Louis Christian College, a small Bible college in the northern suburbs of the Gateway City. It has been a great experience on many levels.

I’ve been able to expand my knowledge and experience in worship, ministry, education, working with people, marketing, and technology. I’ve also been able to expand my leadership experience and abilities in this academic setting.

In this post I’d like to share the top four lessons on creative leadership I’ve learned in the past decade as a professor. Whether you have experience as a college or grad student, a teacher, or even none at all, these lessons will apply to you.

1. The value of assessment

“Assessment” isn’t a word that we use in everyday language much, but it’s used all the time in academia.

Assessment is a general term for the overall process of setting goals, getting feedback, and determining whether you are doing what you said you would do. It’s not a process that is necessarily “fun” but it’s incredibly helpful.

We just finished two full days of assessment activities at my school. We meet in large and small groups to go through a detailed process to determine if we are achieving our mission. Despite a potentially boring slate of events, our administrators worked to ensure that it was an enjoyable process with lots of fellowship and celebration of the previous year’s successes (and honest evaluation of shortcomings).

Application for artists: We often think the creative process is opposed to the planning or goal-setting process, but nothing could be further from the truth. When you plan your work and evaluate whether you are achieving your goals, you will be much more effective.

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