Sometimes the most insignificant moment can change the whole trajectory of your life. That’s what happened to Rick Howell.
Rick used to manage a stock brokerage firm, but his true passion was landscape painting. Late one afternoon, Rick was driving home after a long day at the office.
Free and happy.
Two things that Rick, at that moment, realized he wanted for himself. Managing a stock brokerage firm paid well, but it didn’t ignite the flames in his heart.
Rick decided then and there that he would quit the stock brokerage and pursue his passion for landscape painting, full-time. It may have been a leap of faith, but sometimes the pain of where you are is worse than the pain of leaving.
We often are so scared of taking that leap of faith either to connect with people, or to allow ourselves to be ourselves without judging, that we stay where we are and feel trapped there. — Jodi Aman
Renowned painter Kevin Macpherson, in the introduction to Rick Howell’s book, “Chasing Shadows: The Art and Philosophy of Rick Howell,” wrote:
Rick had a successful career as a manager of a stock brokerage firm, but once the art spirit took hold in his heart, there was always a void if not fed. I have had many art students of all ages and from all walks of life who enjoyed art as children, but because of societal pressures, pursued a more likely path to a secure lifestyle. But so often the art life gets in the way until they could no longer suppress the desire to return to the creative world. This was the same for Rick; he listened to his inner voice and left the business world behind.
Rick spent many years as a full-time, professional painter. He immersed himself in the great outdoors.
He lived simply in a restored, 150-year-old Adobe home that was once the town’s general store and trading post in the 1850s. Rick was a kind, gentle man who took in stray animals that meandered onto his property.
In the ensuing years, Rick led painting workshops, traveled, and painted with abandon. And then one day, Rick’s heart gave out.
Most would say Rick died too young, but what he did with his life matters more than the length of it. Rick chased the thing that ignited flames of passion in his heart.
The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. — Henry David Thoreau
All it took was a scruffy guy with a dog in a jeep to open Rick’s eyes. Imagine if Rick never changed course to pursue his passion for painting. The high- stress world of managing a brokerage firm might have claimed Rick’s life sooner.
Thankfully, Rick chose the path less traveled, the one that stoked the flames of his creative passion.
Fear masquerading as prudence
Your dreams don’t want you to get ready, they want you now. The key is to dive in. Endless talking, planning, and waiting for perfect conditions are mostly delay tactics.
Fear masquerading as prudence.
For nearly a year I’ve delayed creating a cartooning course on my website. I have tons of excuses. “I don’t know how to professionally edit video footage,” and “what if there are computer glitches,” are among my many concerns.
I shared all this with a friend, and he had two words for me: “Just start.” He said I was overthinking everything, and he was right.
The key is to just start, and mostly you figure it out along the way. You can always refine things later. As the saying goes, “Done trumps perfect.”
We are getting ready to live, but never really living. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
My father was a successful administrative law judge who didn’t retire until he was 79-years-old. He liked the intellectual stimulation of his work, but the stress cost him a heart attack mid-career.
After Dad’s recuperation, he went back to work. He stuck with it for many more years to maximize his pension.
Dad sacrificed for the financial security of our family, which is admirable, but his retirement was cut short. At age 83 his health deteriorated, he descended into the fog of dementia, and eventually succumbed to renal failure.
Dad was an accomplished writer and oil painter. He was an intellectual, well- read, talented man.
I often wondered what an earlier retirement might have afforded my father. What books he might have written and fine paintings he could have produced. But sadly, advanced years and poor health extinguished his beautiful flame.
Just before the sparks of life are extinguished from a candle, the flame dances. It sends a wistful, thin smoke line up into the air, where it circles and pirouettes before it vanishes toward the sky. Light a candle and watch that dance, learn about life and its last breaths. -Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, from “Small Miracles of Love and Friendship”
My father’s not alone. There are many people who put things off until it’s too late. Their sparks of life are extinguished.
Don’t wait until your flame is sending its wistful, thin line of smoke up into the air.
When we can’t dream any longer we die
Free-agent Shaquem Alphonso Griffin (formerly with the Seattle Seahawks) was born with amniotic band syndrome affecting his left hand. Due to the painful condition, his left hand was amputated.
Shaquem’s dream was to play football, just like his brother Shaquill Griffin (currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars). Shaquem and his brother both received football scholarships at the University of Central Florida.
The brothers both went on to play for the Seattle Seahawks. Shaquill has since moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Shaquem is expected to sign with the Jaguars as well.
Shaquem kept the candle flame of his life burning bright. With only one hand, he became a professional football player.
Shaquem’s lesson is to not give up. Keep pursuing your dreams. Find a path that works. It may take time and sacrifices, but it’s possible.
When we can’t dream any longer we die. — Emma Goldman
Yes, there are big decisions you shouldn’t be too impetuous about. Choosing a career and life partner, for example. But even then, you can’t wait forever.
There will always be people, situations, and circumstances conspiring to set you back. Give in, and before you know it, that candle flame of your life is flickering near extinction.
Terrified by this dark thing
Many things hold people back from pursuing their dreams. Some grapple with fear, or they are forever imprisoned by the expectations of others.
For some people, it’s depression that snuffs out their flames. The poet Slyvia Plath, in her poem Elm, achingly captured the pain of depression:
I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.
The good news is that it’s possible to overcome these hurdles. Fear can be beaten with education and effort.
The expectations of others hold no sway once you proclaim that it’s your life to live, not theirs. And depression can be managed and even overcome with therapy and lifestyle changes.
Our passions will save us in the end. Immersed in our artwork, creative pursuits, and passions, the candle flame of our lives will burn bright.
Your dreams don’t want you to get ready, they want you now. So what are you waiting for?
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life lessons. To follow along, sign up for my free Saturday Newsletter here.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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