What did you want to be when you grew up? Do you remember?
We go through many stages on our way to adulthood. Career aspirations at age five evolve significantly by age twenty. It’s not uncommon for college students to change their major a few times before graduation. For a time I was quite the tennis player, idolized Jimmy Connors and fantasized about becoming a pro.
I studied classical piano as a boy but soon turned to rock and roll. I played keyboards and sang in both a high school and college rock band. Like so many other teenagers I dreamt of becoming a rock star. There were a few other career aspirations but eventually I gravitated towards two areas. The first was artwork. I had a natural aptitude and love for drawing. School binders were filled with my sketches and much of my free time was spent drawing.
My father, an Administrative Law Judge, was also an accomplished oil painter. I loved to smell the turpentine and watch my Dad produce such intricate, beautifully rendered paintings. I became a fan of the fantasy artist Frank Frazetta and editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNelly. In short, I wanted to become an artist.
Creating drawings, cartoons and paintings was my natural aptitude and passion. The second career aspiration was law enforcement. I used to love the television show Hill Street Blues as well as programs like Columbo, Starsky & Hutch and SWAT.
In my senior year of high school a Sheriff Deputy spoke in our class. The allure of adventure, excitement and serving the public was enticing to me. I probably would have pursued art in college but my father counseled a more conservative career route. He knew that art careers can be challenging. So I “bit the bullet ” (pardon the pun) and studied criminal justice administration.
After college and graduate school I enrolled in the police academy and began my police career. While I was a police officer I also started drawing political cartoons for my hometown newspapers. At one point I applied for an editorial cartoonist position in New York. Despite my love of police work I seriously considered leaving it for my art.
Needless to say, someone else got the cartoonist position. Over the years I found many ways to infuse my artwork and creativity into my police work. I became a composite sketch artist and drew endless cartoons about my cohorts at work. The cartoons brought a lot of laughs and a release from the stressors of police work.
The local papers did a few articles about the “cartooning cop” and “renaissance man.” Our police department won a website design award due the inventive inclusion of my cartoons. That led to my first website, WeissCartoons.com, where I shared my political and police cartoons (I later, regrettably, took it down due to work conflicts.)
Just like in school, I would eventually run into trouble with my cartoons. My Chief informed me that newspaper readers knew I was cop and the police department didn’t need the grief of angry emails. So I quit drawing cartoons for the newspapers and eventually turned to fine art and landscape painting. But I still managed to produce some police cartoons for my enjoyment and that of my coworkers. S
omehow, despite my artistic diversions, I became Chief of Police in my department. Some of this was due to timing and good luck. Some of it was due to ability and education. But I also believe that some of it was due to my creative and artistic talents. My cartoons improved morale and rapport with my coworkers.
My composite sketches helped my development as a detective. Being recognized in the local media as a “renaissance man” challenged locals to think of cops as more than just law enforcers. It humanized me to the public. That in turn garnered greater trust.
I am the “accidental police chief.” When I look at photos like the one of me and Lieutenant Hohmann, I can’t believe this boy who loved to draw became the leader of a law enforcement organization. I was clearly designed for an artistic life but I managed to infuse that in my more “conservative career route.” I know I’m not alone.
There are many out there navigating two worlds. Their work life and their inner life. It would be nice to throw oneself completely into one’s passion but we also have to make a living. The good news is that it’s possible to do both and find fulfillment. Now, as retirement looms, I’ll have the luxury of a police pension. I’ll be able to immerse myself in my art and not worry so much about paying the bills.
So whatever season of life you are in, try to let go of the confliction between work and passion. It is possible to have both. Like Lt. Hohmann in the photo, I once received the medal of merit. Mine was for all the creative programs I developed as a detective. It symbolizes for me the power of incorporating ones passions into ones work. So, don’t hold back. Find ways to incorporate your passion(s) into your work. The result will be more synergy, personal fulfillment and success.