Fuel Stop: The Artful Pivot Of Bob Ross From Drill Sergeant To Happy Painter

stout fuel stop quick takeaways  Stout Fuel Stop: 3 min read

An inspiring journey from Air Force to airwaves to internet sensation

Bob Ross made waves in 1983 debuting the “Joy of Painting” on PBS with a mission to debunk the notion that only highly-trained artists could paint. He invited us to believe in ourselves, paint along with him, and find “the artist hidden in the bottom of every single one of us”.

STOUT Takeaways:
Painting A Purposeful Pivot  

▸ Start With Basics
Ross often started with basic tree shapes-ease into a pivot by sketching the bones of your plan and the rest of the picture will get easier to see.
▸ Make It Right For You
“This is your world, your creation.” Like Ross, you can choose to let go of what isn’t working (even if you’re good at it) and turn in a more fulfilling, purposeful direction.
▸ Use The Tools You Have
Inventory what’s in your toolbox and see how you can “bend those brushes” to take what you already have in a new direction.
▸ Don’t Give Up
Like Bob’s trees “hiding in the brush”, find what’s inside you and push through fear to bring it out.

A Forceful Beginning

Before he was bit by the painting bug, Bob Ross had a successful career in the U.S. Air Force as a Master Drill Sergeant. That’s right-the soft spoken, permed haired experiential painter, beloved by generations of fans and a passionate million+ internet following, was once someone’s worst nightmare. As Bob described it: “I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person.”

Turned To Soothing Success

Ross’s pivot came about when, inspired by the beautiful landscapes surrounding him at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, he took a painting class at the nearby USO. The constant state of conflict, yelling and anger required in his military position created a need for calm, which he found in painting landscapes in his off hours. When he discovered he could earn more more selling his work than his military salary, he retired and vowed he “would never yell again.”

With A Lasting Legacy

That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it.

That vow was the foundation for the serene persona that turned Bob from a struggling seminar paint instructor to a public television star. Far beyond his easy-to-follow painting technique, his legacy for generations to come is found in his upbeat encouragement, delivered in that trademark soothing tone, which unlocks a bravery to explore what’s within us and not let lack of formal training stop our pursuit of something in which we find joy and fulfillment. With his call to us to make “happy little trees” with a push and a bend of a brush, Bob Ross encouraged and inspired everyone watching to create a world on their terms and not be afraid of “happy accidents” along the way.

Inspired to make your own pivot?

For more #Stout advice and real-life inspiration on making career pivots, check out our Stout round-up on course corrections and pivots.