Midlifer of the Month
Ben and Jinni Konis
He Lived His Dream
by Mike Bellah
| At 44 Ben Konis decided to do what many
midlifers only dream about; he decided to live his dream. A successful
advertising executive in New York City, in 1969 Konis moved his pregnant
wife, Jinni, along with their one-year-old to Amarillo. He had wanted to
be an artist all his life. "It's now are never," he thought.
Twenty-five years later Konis is in demand both as a teacher and painter of Southwest art (View a Konis painting). His works hang in the most prestigious museums and galleries. And his week-long classes take place not only across the United States, but in Mexico, Greece, France, Spain, and Portugal. I visited with Ben and Jinni Konis to learn the secret of their successful midlife career change. What I discovered was more than I expected.
The Konises did not pack their bags without preparation. In the first place, Ben had formal training in, and already had experienced some success as an artist. And for months Jinni's parents, who lived near Amarillo, sent them copies of the local newspaper. The New Yorkers were impressed with both the low cost of living and the small number of professional artists in the area. Each of these facts would help their dream come true in the panhandle of Texas.
The Konises also developed a contingency plan. "If in three years we were starving," says Jinni, "Ben would get a regular job. If by the end of five years his job wasn't enough, I would also get a job." Neither Ben nor Jinni ever had to seek additional employment, but there were scary days. "There were times when we didn't have $25 in the bank," says Jinni. At one of these low times a couple stopped by unannounced to look at Ben's work. "We prayed, 'Oh God if they will just buy one painting,'" says Jinni. "They left with 14 paintings in their car."
The Konises planned their move to Amarillo together, something they say is essential. "If you are a married couple, you both have to agree you're going to do this and do it wholeheartedly," advises Jinni. Ben concurs: "It has to be 100 percent agreeable to both persons."
Ben and Jinni's commitment to each other goes beyond career choices. They both share in the hard work that has made their business a success: Ben with long hours in the studio and Jinni with an equal amount of effort managing and promoting the business. "I couldn't have done it without her," affirms Ben. "He's the show horse, and I'm the work horse," Jinni adds with a laugh.
Why do couples like the Konises endure the long hours and hard work to see their dream come true? "It's fun," says Jinni. "I betcha that's the thing we like. It's fun; we work hard, but it's fun." Jinni especially likes the unpredictability of their work. "Every day, there is no telling what might happen to us," she says. "This doesn't mean something exciting happens every day, but something could." Last year Ben received a request to teach a class in Saudi Arabia.
As I talk with the Konises I am struck by their energy. Their personalities are as colorful and full of life as the characters in Ben's paintings. I'm convinced that this zest for living is no accident. It is tied inseparably to the subject of my visit. It may well be the most important secret of their success.
We may not have to change careers to do so, but the pursuit of our dreams is a major key to midlife vitality and joy. Ben and Jinni Konis not only found a successful livelihood on the Texas plains; they found a successful life.