cartoons

Everyday Hugs

The below images are part of an ongoing cartooning project called Everyday Hugs. You can find updated illustrations at http://instagram.com/everyday_hugs

A well-crafted 30-Day Challenge (set yourself a daily goal and stick to it for a month) can be a powerful life-improvement tools. They are how I started flossing daily, started making the bed every morning, stopped biting my nails, and ended the vicious alarm-snooze-alarm-snooze cycle.

The past 30 days were devoted to improving my illustration skills by drawing at least one cartoon per day. To reduce decision fatigue, they were all to be of the same subject — you guessed it!— Hugs. It seemed like an easy enough goal, but between working and parenting a toddler, the challenge lived up its name.

The above images are the uncomplicated, unsophisticated, and relatively unprofessional result. But I don’t think they are unimportant, especially in our current historical moment.

You’ll notice that I chose to omit certain things. There are no phones, no internet, no pandemic, no masks nor social distancing, no guns nor violence. Yet these people are not living in utopia. They aren’t all happy.

These thirty cartoons are a purely selfish project, which means their outward message may be limited. But I was, in fact, trying to say something. And as with any message you try to convey, the question is alway: How many times must it be repeated before it’s heard? How many more until it’s understood? How many more beyond that until it’s lost once again? For every listener there is a different voice; for every voice there is a different threshold.

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If We Were Like Clouds

Do clouds have bad days? Do you think a cloud ever wakes up, bursting at the seams, downpour-ready, when a sudden weather front prevents it? Are clear blue skies a cloud tragedy or a much needed respite? Do they have things they need to get done? Do they have deadlines?

Created through the (very official sounding) process of adiabatic cooling, clouds form from a speck of dust.1 As they grow they can become tiny wisps of cotton-candy or large torturous storms. They can bring peaceful shade or apocalyptic destruction. They are infinite in potential shape, size, and formation yet can be placed into a few broad categories.2 Whether insulating or reflecting, heating or cooling, shading or pouring, the life of a cloud is defined by the unique conditions of its birth and the interaction with its immediate surroundings. Sound familiar?

We humans share a lot with our ‘inanimate’ cousins (who are as alive and connected as any of us). Like clouds, we each play a role as one part of a greater whole. And like clouds, we play this role perfectly every minute of every day. The difference is our inward analysis and perception of how things are going. It’s the illusion of “progress” that makes us feel like we’re on the “wrong path,” “behind,” or “failing.” It is our judgement of the situation, not the situation itself, which causes dissatisfaction. Our arbitrary timelines, deadlines, and goals are part of our motivation machinery, but they do not define our purpose (which often goes hidden or unnoticed, like clouds unaware of the vital roles they play).

True, clouds have a distinct advantage in accepting their existence as is—accepting life with a stoicism afforded only by the most inanimate of nature’s living body. But we can still learn a lot from clouds, created and destroyed in harmonious balance with the rest of nature. Are we really any different?


Related essay: “If We Were Like Trees” (2017)

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  1. “The Importance of Understanding Clouds,” NASA Fact Sheets, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, http://www.nasa.gov, 2005. (Source)
  2. Jin-Yi Yu, “Chapter 6: Cloud Development and Forms,” Microsoft Power Point. Earth System Science 5: University of California, Irvine. (Source)
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cartoons

The Modern Woman

PrioritiesWhat’s do you see? What comes to mind when looking at the image above? Is it a celebration of the modern woman’s accomplishments—breaking down gender barriers while juggling life’s many tasks? Or perhaps it’s an example of mansplaining—a message from yet another male critic of the “feminist agenda”? Does the image endorse multitasking or condemn it? Liberal or conservative? Sexist or feminist? An attack on contemporary activism, consumerism, and technology or a recognition of the modern world?

Yep.

Last week the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that she was pregnant. Her first child will be born during her first year in office. News outlets had a field day. Social media immediately flooded with opinions. And I… well… I drew a cartoon.

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Merry Christmas! (from the Southern Hemisphere)

Santa Hammock

It’s warm here in New Zealand—a Christmas experience I’m certainly not accustomed. Growing up in the American Heartland, we often enjoyed a traditional white Christmas—chill in the air, snowmen on the front lawn, festive decorations with vibrant light displays. Now that we’ve moved to the other side of the world, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. But I can’t complain.

Warm weather in December has it’s benefits (outdoor barbecues, swimming at the beach, and going on hiking trips, to name a few).  That being said, living in a different country can be a mind-bending experience. Every day is Opposite Day.

There are the more obvious differences between the United States and New Zealand: The seasons are reversed so summer is winter, spring is autumn, and so on; the people drive on the left side of the road rather than the right; they speak English (or what seems to be English) with an accent; and the timezone change means it’s tomorrow, today. But there are also some less obvious distinctions.

In New Zealand, light switches flick up and down, but down is “on” and up is “off.” The moon’s surface has craters, but there’s no illusion of a man’s face from this angle. Appetizers are called entrees, and entrees are called mains. Circumcision for baby boys is the exception not the rule. Pick up a jar of “mayonnaise” from the supermarket and you might find a sweet, gloopy sauce made without eggs. And when comparing political parties to the U.S., New Zealand conservatives are liberal, and their liberals are, well, even more liberal.

It’s a world of small differences—differences that add up to create a largely different experience. This holiday season, as families celebrate Christmas across the globe, they do so in different ways. We may agree on the name for this season, but the details can get a bit a hazy.

Does Santa get milk and cookies or biscuits and bourbon? Is it Santa, Saint Nicholas, or actually an old witch named Befana? Real tree, synthetic tree, or no tree at all? Stockings or shoes? Christmas ham, lamb, or deep-fried caterpillar?

Whether celebrating at home, traveling to visit friends and family, or moving halfway around the world, I hope you enjoy what makes your Christmas different—what makes it special to you. Happy Holidays!

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Being A Follower Is Hard Work

follow the leader

Most organizations assume that leadership has to be taught but that everyone knows how to follow. This assumption is based on three faulty premises:
(1) that leaders are more important than followers,
(2) that following is simply doing what you are told to do, and
(3) that followers inevitably draw their energy and aims, even their talent, from the leader.

—Robert Kelly, “In Praise of Followers” (1988)

Life is a balance between doing and observing. Leaders generally preoccupy themselves with the former, while followers tend to err on the side of the latter. But whichever role we find ourselves, both taking action and stopping to listen are required for success. That being said, being a follower is hard work. Despite the common misconception that following is a passive, submissive process, effective following is an active and demanding challenge. In fact, being a good follower is arguably more difficult than being a good leader for at least three reasons:

1.) There is far less glory in the role of a follower. Take movie awards for instance: Each year the Academy Awards honors the best and brightest of film with twenty-four categories. An overwhelming emphasis is placed on individual participants—actors, directors, composers. And even second tier awards (categories like “Best Visual Effects”) are received by only a few people representing a team of hundreds. This is not to mention the financial disparity between follower roles like special effect teams and leader roles like individual directors.

Our culture celebrates the individual, the star, the hero, relegating the many hands behind the scenes to tiny, scrolling names after the audience has already left the theatre. However true the phrase, “Behind every great leader you will find a great team,” followers are not adequately recognized for their efforts. We must instead take pride in what was accomplish overall, not the acclaim we received in the process.

2.) Also, being an effective follower may require more energy than being a leader. In the world of unmanned flight, drone aircraft often fly in groups with one drone leading the rest. These unmanned aerial vehicles expend various amount of fuel (energy) depending on their position within the group. A problem with managing these groups is that follower drones burn more fuel, especially during quick maneuvering, than the aircraft they follow.

Not only do followers have to spend time and energy performing their own duties, they must be constantly monitoring their team and proactively assess what’s next. As followers, we must preempt and adapt to the changes our leaders make. The more influence someone else has on our lives, the more likely our efforts will be duplicated, changed mid-project, or scrapped altogether.

3.) Followers also run the risk of becoming overly dependent. Unlike leaders who often act independently, followers have the dangerous opportunity to abdicate responsibility and opinion. This can lead to unhealthy dependence on outside leadership. Unfortunately, lack of agency can cause feelings of apathy, resentment, powerlessness, and depression, which followers must mange accordingly.

Over-dependence can also leave us directionless in times of change—aimlessly wandering when we are without something to follow. There are times when who or what we follow (be it our children, spouse, career, religious leaders, etc.) disappear suddenly (empty nesters, widows, retirement, scandals, and so on). Some of these drastic changes are inevitable patterns of life, but some changes are unexpected. And whether we’re anticipating a change or taken by surprise, we need to have a plan. We need an opinion and a direction we’d like to take.

Followers must constantly fight the urge to defer our opinions and decisions to whoever’s in charge. Simply due to the nature of the role, it is more difficult as followers to take responsibility and decide the direction of our lives than it is for the leaders who influence them.

So why would anyone be a follower? If being a follower provides fewer rewards for our efforts, requires more energy, and puts us at risk of apathy, resentment, and aimlessness, then why would we choose to follow? Why not look to lead instead?

Well for one, we do it for love. We allow our children, our spouses, our desire to change the world outweigh our personal gain. We follow because we must, because there’s no other choice. No person has the capacity to lead every moment of every aspect of his life (nor would it be healthy). And most important, we follow, because when it comes down to it, there’s really no such thing as followers and leaders; there are only arbitrary labels and titles that we assign one another.

Each of us vacillates between following and leading, sometimes switching from one role to the next in an instant. A dirty diaper leads us to the changing table, after which we lead an infant to the park or the grocer or a bike ride. A boss gives us an assignment, in which hours later, we find ourselves “managing up”— guiding them through a proposal.

Every relationship we have, every goal we’re trying to accomplish, is a constant give and take. We must find a balance between totalitarian rule and total apathy, between doing and observing. We may not be the lead dancer at any given moment, but we also cannot go limp—dead weight for our partner to lug around the dance floor. No matter which role we find ourselves—whether leading or following—life is not a passive process.

Kelley, Robert E. “In Praise of Followers.” Harvard Business Review. (November 1988) 142-148. (Source 1) (Source 2)

Dubner, Stephen J. “No Hollywood Ending for the Visual-Effects Industry.” Audio podcast. Freakanomics Radio. freakanomics.com, 22 February 2017. (Source)

Choi, Jongug, and Yudan Kim. “Fuel efficient three dimensional controller for leader-follower UAV formation flight.” International Conference on Control, Automation and Systems, Seoul, Korea, 2007. (Source)

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