Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google PodcastsListen on SpotifyListen on Stitcher

Let’s get dangerous!

What comes to your mind when you hear those words? I was a child of the 80’s and entered high school in 1990. When I was in high school, my afternoons after I got out of school consisted of me coming home, turning on the TV, and for the next two to three hours, watching cartoons like Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Tailspin, Ducktails, Darkwing Duck, the Animaniacs, and Batman: The Animated Series. And I absolutely loved watching these cartoons.

I had aspirations of being a professional artist, and because of Batman: The Animated Series, my dream was to be an animator for Warner Brothers. When I watched Batman: The Animated Series, I was truly inspired by it. I had never seen a show that put together such great art style and art design, along with character voice acting, and music.

My favorite cartoon character was Darkwing Duck. Darkwing Duck kind of had a Batman feel to him. His alter ego during the day was a Drake Mallard, and at night he would patrol the city with a cape and a jacket and a big wavy flowing hat and a mask. And he was known as Darkwing Duck. He was the terror that flaps in the night and he was undaunted by any danger or any circumstance and he would rid the city of crime, fight villains like Liquidator, Bushroot, Megavolt, Quackerjack, Negaduck, and the Beagle Boys.

He embraced the phrase, let’s get dangerous. And I just loved that. I loved his attitude and I loved his quirkiness. I loved his catchphrases, I loved his puns, and I loved drawing Darkwing Duck.

Looking back on those days now, it was a great time to be alive and young. The computer age was just about to go mainstream and revolutionize the world. But not yet. Each of these cartoons that I loved so much were just like the ones my parents had grown up watching. They were meticulously drawn and colored by hand. In fact, each half hour of TV required over 30,000 hand-drawn cels.

When I watched these masterpieces each day, I didn’t just see quirky characters, hysterical puns, and world-class art. When I watched these cartoons, I saw my future. These cartoons birthed inside of me a dream. As much as I loved Darkwing, and Disney, it was Warner Brothers’ Batman: The Animated Series that inspired me the most. I wanted to be a part of a company that was creating art like that. Warner Brothers was also the studio responsible for 1989’s live-action smash hit Batman, and its 1992 sequel, Batman Returns. So my dream was to become an animator for Warner Brothers.

Here’s the rub. I lived in a town of less than 1,000 people. There were only 200 kids in my entire high school. Needless to say, the variety of classes that were offered were slim. In fact, there were zero art classes offered. This is the primary reason my kids now attend one of the largest schools in my state. Where I had 200 kids in my entire high school, my kids have over 600 in each of their respective classes. Where I had zero art classes, they get to choose from Art I II III, Drawing & Design, Painting, Ceramics I II III IV, 3-D Construction, AP 2-D Art and Design, and AP 3-D Art and Design. They also have 4 photography classes, 2 drama classes, Stagecraft, and Theater Production. My daughter has taken over half of these classes, and I’m so happy she’s had the chance to be taught these arts first hand.

So what about you? What would you do if you loved art and wanted to make a career of it, but you lived in the middle of nowhere with no art classes available. Today, you might jump on YouTube, but this was 15 years before YouTube was even a thing. Do you remember a time when you were young when you felt like the possibilities were endless and you could conquer the world? Remember the excitement of a new love and passion and how determined you were to obtain it?

That’s how I felt, so I was determined to do all I could to reach my dream. I watched cartoons, of course, but I also watched movies. Aladdin and The Lion King came out during high school and these movies only made my dream grow stronger. I found myself drawing these characters every chance I had. I gathered pictures from magazines and video tape covers so that I could practice drawing them. I begged my parents for a drawing table for Christmas, and when it showed up, it was my favorite spot in the house. There were many nights I fell asleep while using it.

But I wanted more. I knew my skills weren’t near the level needed for Warner Brothers to look my way. By the time I was a junior in high school, I’d landed an after school job. Our town was fortunate enough to sit adjacent to the turnpike that joins Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and in those days, our town had a McDonalds. So I used my burger flipping money to buy art classes. Some of you may remember seeing ads in magazines that featured a cartoon turtle, or maybe a cowboy or pirate with the words Draw Me underneath. Those ads were from Art Instruction Schools, and they would teach you to draw by mail.

So here’s how it worked: They sent me some art supplies and books. I’d go through the lessons in the book, and then I’d try to recreate a picture from the book that would show how well I’d mastered the technique. After I’d finished my drawing, I mailed it off to their headquarters in Minneapolis. Once it arrived there, one of the instructors would take my drawing and critique it. They’d write notes on it to show how I could improve and what I’d done well. Then they put it back in the mail to me. Once I received it, I would take their feedback and move on to the next lesson.

In today’s world, this sounds ridiculous. Today we not only have resources like YouTube, but we have email, FaceTime, Zoom, and many other ways to receive instant or near-instant feedback from others. Geographic location is no longer a hindrance to educational opportunities.

But in those days, mailing drawings back and forth was the only way to do it. And AIS was the only option I had. So that’s what I did. I was certainly frustrated by the turtle’s pace of the process, but I was hungry to learn more about art, and willing to do whatever it took to grow.

Regardless of our station in life, I believe that God has given each of us innate talents and interests. It’s clear that some are athletic and some are artistic. Some have a brain for math or science and others have a brain for problem solving. Those are the easy things to see. Look deeper. Some have a natural inclination to sympathize or empathize. Some are good listeners and others can see the direction society or technology are headed. Each of us, in some way, has something like that.

As I’m writing this, my dad comes to mind. For most people, when they think of my dad and his talents, music is what comes to mind first. And that’s totally understandable. My dad grew up with the music of Hank Williams Sr. To say my dad is a Hank Williams fan is an understatement. My dad not only loves listening to Hank’s music, my dad loves performing it. Ask anyone who has ever heard my dad perform and they will tell you he’s one of the best. He knows nearly every Hank song by heart and he has a country twang in his voice that hearkens back to Hank. He’s a crowd favorite every time I performs at the annual Hank Williams festival, and everywhere he performs for that matter.

But I’d argue that music might not be my dad’s greatest gift. I was totally blind to his other gifts until I was well into adulthood. I don’t recall the specific events of the day, but one day probably 15 years ago, I spent the day with my dad. We made several stops throughout the day to get coffee or gas or food or other things. Everywhere we went, people knew him by name. And he knew them. Each person was greeted with a smile and a thank you. Each person was told that he looked forward to seeing them again next time. I don’t think we met a stranger that entire day. My dad’s other talent is connecting with people. It comes from his genuine spirit and his humble heart. He’s not afraid to talk to strangers, and I suspect that’s why we never found one that day.

My point is, It’s easy to look at those standing on a stage or at the top of companies and see their talent or gifts. Maybe you can’t draw or sing, maybe you’re not athletic or academic. If so, don’t look at yourself and fail to see other talents. Look deeper, and find what it is that brings you joy. What is it that you do that brings joy to others? What are your passions, what do you spend your time thinking about? God has given each of us gifts, and let’s not overlook the ones that comprise the sinew of our communities and stand as the most foundational of relationships.

And maybe you’re like me and you find yourself on the short end of opportunity when it comes to being able to develop your talent. Now, more than ever, opportunity abounds. Inspiration is everywhere. Maybe you don’t have all of the opportunity around you as others, but focusing on that will not be of benefit. Instead, look to find what opportunities you DO have and make the most of those. Take every opportunity you have to learn, and develop the talent you have. More opportunities will typically come, and taking advantage of all you have today, will without question, make you better prepared for the opportunities of tomorrow.

I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday episode 563, “Birth of a Dream.” Next week I’ll be continuing this story and introducing you to a very special guest. Stuff I Learned Yesterday is part of the Golden Spiral Media podcast network. Join me on Twitter at GSMPodcasts, or Facebook.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google PodcastsListen on SpotifyListen on Stitcher