I used to be an editorial cartoonist for my local newspaper. It was a hoot lampooning local, national and international politicians. But I had a problem. I was also a cop in my home town. As I rose in rank at the police department, so did my public profile.
One time I did a cartoon about internal strife and backstabbing at the district attorney’s office. I was rather pleased with the cartoon. The police chief in my department was not.
I got called into the police chief’s office, at which point a rather spirited lecture followed. It went something like this.
Chief: “Weiss, let me walk you through this. If you or one of our guys gets into a shooting, who do you think will investigate it?”
Me: “Uh, the district attorney’s office?”
Chief: “That’s right, smart guy, the district attorney’s office. Except you just made fun of them. For a guy with a master’s degree, that’s not very smart!”
Me: “But’s it’s satire. Surely they understand that?”
Chief: “Satire? Pissing off the district attorney? You call that satire?!”
Me (lip quivering): “Well, yeah, because…”
Chief: “Committing career suicide is not satire. It’s just plain stupid!”
I seem to recall some other choice words during the dress down, but you get the drift. If you work in a police department in a small county and draw inflammatory cartoons in the newspaper, you’re gonna cause the police chief some angina.
Feeding my family took priority over a budding political cartoonist career. I tried to draw less controversial cartoons. Following an aviation mishap I drew the one below about air traffic safety.
The problem was that great political cartoons stir up debate. Funny cartoons are fine but the best editorial cartoons fetch letters to the editor.
I didn’t enjoy “playing it safe” with my cartoons. Up to that point, I had a cool website displaying my cartoons and was selling some police cartoons to magazines. But if I couldn’t draw the hard hitting political cartoons that drew a big reader response, then I wouldn’t be able to grow my audience.
So I hung it up. Right at the height of my growing popularity as an editorial cartoonist, I walked away from it. It was hard to do.
How safe is your passion from your career?
What do you do if your favorite pastime is at odds with your work life? Amazingly, this comes up more often than you would think. For cops, there are a lot of jobs our employers forbid us from doing. Mostly because it could be a conflict of interest or bring liability upon the city.
I ended up turning my attention to landscape painting. I sought the instruction of one of the best landscape painters in the country (Scott L. Christensen).
I discovered great satisfaction in oil painting and continue to enjoy it immensely. But still. I miss the thrill of producing a great editorial cartoon. And generating some great letters to the editor. My political cartooning passion became a casualty of my police career.
Fortunately, the advance of technology and blogging provide a new platform through which I can share my cartoon art. Sure, it may not be those hard hitting political cartoons in the newspaper. But I have found happiness in marrying my cartoon art to my writing. And comments from readers are always encouraging.
For me, my police career and immediate livelihood were more important than becoming a full time editorial cartoonist. As much as I loved it, I knew newspapers were shrinking and cartoonist positions were evaporating. I found another way, through landscape painting and on-line cartooning, to satisfy my artistic muse.
The decision to heed the police chief’s advice wasn’t all bad. I was privileged to have several more promotions over the years and eventually became Chief of Police myself.
Every now and then employees submit permission requests to me for outside employment. I think long and hard before I deny such requests. Partly because I know some cops need to bring in a few extra bucks for their families. But also because I don’t want to stifle their outside passions and pursuits.
So, how safe is your passion from your career? Often you can find a way to juggle both. Sometimes you’ll be forced to make a choice. I don’t have an easy answer for you. I do know that you have to get up and face each day. If it’s a drudgery absent any passion, then you need to find a path to change.
Life is too short to ignore or abandon your passion. If your work is stifling you and life has lost its luster, find a way to transition. Sometimes moving to a more affordable environ can free you. Other times it’ll mean doing the hard work of changing careers. Some folks select an alternative career that may not be their ultimate passion but allows more freedom to pursue that which makes their hearts quicken.
I read of a survey once involving the elderly. They were asked one question. What would you do differently if you could do it all over again? The resounding answer? They would have risked more.
Not imprudent, reckless risk taking. But well thought out, calculated risk taking that allows for positive change and more personal happiness.
I know a man who made a handsome living in a very responsible job. But he was always flying around the country away from his family. The money was nice and provided a fine quality of life.
But it’s hard to enjoy nice things if we’re unfulfilled inside. He ended up leaving his position and becoming a police officer. He makes less money now. But he sees his kids every day. He’s home every night. There’s a light in his eyes. It’s called happiness.