career, creativity, movie

This just in: Career lessons from Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire
Mrs. Doubtfire – career coach

I recently saw the movie Mrs. Doubtfire again. I’d forgotten how many powerful career lessons are embedded in that story. If you’re looking for a new job, or frustrated with what’s happening in your career, watching this movie might help to inspire and motivate you to embrace change. It certainly did for me.

– What seems like a step back can be a vehicle to leap forward. Daniel (Robin Williams) goes to work as a shipping clerk for an educational media company even though he was once a very successful voice over actor. That job leads him to the opportunity to bring the character of Mrs. Doubtfire to a wide audience.

– While we might feel hampered by personal obligations that make it difficult to make career changes, those obligations can be our salvation. Because Daniel had to earn a living to get visitation rights to see his children and get his own apartment, he had to work several jobs. This combination of demanding responsibilities helped him to become a better person and a better father.

– Be who you are and be prepared to contribute in a creative way, even if that’s not in your job description. Daniel could have kept his head down as a shipping clerk, but instead he voiced his creative ideas at the right time to the right person. This decision to share his ideas led him to the opportunity to get out of the shipping dock and back onto the stage where he wanted to be.

– It’s okay to be angry, frustrated, afraid, and upset. Use these emotions to your advantage by using them as fuel for change. Daniel exhibits all of these emotions, and rightly so. The key is that he felt them fully. And yes, he sometimes lashed out at others as a result. But most of the time he channeled the emotions to motivate him to learn how to cook, keep a clean and orderly house, and to work hard at his multiple jobs.

Mrs. Doubtfire has been one of my favorite movies ever since I first saw it over 20 years ago. It was only this week that I realized what wonderful lessons it holds for all of us in the midst of a career transition, or thinking about one. If Mrs. Doubtfire can do it, so can we.

animals, happiness, movie, pets

This just in: Dogs remind me of Buddy the Elf

Buddy the Elf and dogs really know what's important
Buddy the Elf and dogs really know what’s important

When Will Ferrell took to the screen to play Buddy the Elf, I’m certain he was channeling the disposition of a dog – a happy-go-lucky, life-loving dog. While we spend a lot of time wallowing in our own unique brand of self-pity (Why is this happening to ME? When is my life going to make sense? Why is the world such a MESS?), dogs acknowledge what’s happening and soldier on. We’ve much to learn from them. I’m convinced they heal faster, love more deeply, and enjoy life more because they don’t drag themselves down with self-loathing.

We obsess about our appearance. We let our worries rob us of our blessings. We let yesterday and tomorrow ruin today. Instead, a dog lives every moment. “Yeah, that scar’s pretty ugly; can we go outside and play now?” “I’m not feeling so great today; I’m going to take a nap, right after I get you to give me a belly rub.” “It’s been a tough day; how about a treat?”

Dogs are Buddy – joyful, singing, smiling, let-me-cover-everything-with-maple-syrup-to-make-life-sweeter Buddy. Someday, I hope I’m as wise, and as happy, as they are.

art, creativity, film, movie

Inspired: Life and career lessons from the movie Chef

A scene from Chef
A scene from Chef

Last week I watched the movie Chef. It’s about a restaurant chef who achieved a certain level of success, settled into the mediocrity of popular food, experienced an ugly and public fall from grace, and then dismantled everything in order to rediscover his passion for his craft. There are many lessons embedded in the movie that got my wheels turning:

  • To launch an arrow, it must first be drawn back. We can choose to make setbacks the guts of a new foundation.
  • To succeed, our work has to be rooted in love. There is no luster without light, and love is the light.
  • If we are drones, in work and in life, then a serious shake-up is required. This won’t be comfortable but it’s necessary.
  • If we say we will never do something, rest assured that is exactly the thing we eventually must do.

Our failures are the basis of some of our very best work if we allow them to be. With a steady mind and a wild spirit, anything is possible.

career, education, media, movie, story, technology

Inspired: Big Hero 6 will motivate you to take up computer science and become a maker

Big Hero 6I saw the movie Big Hero 6 yesterday. The powerful storyline is an incredible motivator for kids and adults to go into computer science and get involved in the making community. While many of the tech stories we hear today involve pricey acquisitions and the latest greatest photo sharing app, the movie shows that a career (or even just a hobby) in technology can and does yield incredible results.

We are standing on the precipice of many difficult decisions as a society—health and wellness, climate change, energy consumption, food distribution, and the list goes on. Technology won’t solve them all, but it can certainly put a hefty dent in any of them. While we can throw stats and doomsday scenarios at people in an attempt to get them to care about these issues, storytelling like that in Big Hero 6 may be the most powerful weapon we have to scare up the resource we need in greatest abundance—human care and concern for the future.

art, happiness, movie

Inspired: Figure out how to be happy and then do it – a lesson from The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

“Would you want to know when you’re going to die?”
“But if you could, what would you do with the time you had left?”
“I’d try to figure out how to be happy.”
“Then why don’t you?” ~ From The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, one of the last films staring Robin Williams

I hear a lot of people say that finding what makes us happy and doing it is easier said than done. I used to be one of those people. Now that I’m doing what makes me happy, I realize the action of deciding to do what makes me happy is easier than anything else I’ve ever done because it’s just who I am. My heart, head, and hands are all aligned toward the same goal: to be the best writer I can be and to tell stories that help people. I figured out how to be happy and then just did it. And it feels pretty darn good. I recommend it. 

art, dreams, film, movie

Inspired: Robin Williams, you were one of the great ones

“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” ~ Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

I saw Dead Poets Society in the theaters when it first opened. I went with both of my parents, a rare family outing in my house. Robin Williams won my heart that night. That story and his performance changed me from the inside out, forever. He struck a chord within me that made me a dreamer, and has kept me dreaming every day since. He inspired me to go home that night and write a poem entitled “Carpe Diem” as a way to encourage my 13-year-old self to keep striving and reaching for exactly the life I want even though my future at that point didn’t seem very bright to me. He showed me that I have a voice, a point-of-view, a verse to contribute that matters. And that realization is no small gift.

It was with a heavy heart and tear-filled eyes that I heard about his passing yesterday, another brilliant artist taken down by his own demons. I hope from the other side he can now see just how much light he brought to so many of us who needed his humor during our own dark times. Rest in peace.

art, books, movie

Inspired: The Monuments Men and Why Art Matters

Scene from The Monuments Men
Scene from The Monuments Men

“What hope there is for us lies in our nascent arts, for if we are to be remembered as more than a mass of people who lived and fought wars and died, it is for our arts that we will be remembered. The captains and the kinds depart; the great fortunes wither, leaving no trace; inherited morals dissipate as rapidly as inherited wealth; the multitudes blow away like locusts; the record and barriers go down. The rulers, too, are forgotten unless they have had the forethought to surround themselves with singers and makers, poets and artificers in things of the mind.” ~ Maxwell Anderson, “Whatever Hope We Have” from Michael Eisner’s book Work in Progress

I finally saw the movie The Monuments Men, the story of 7 brave men who recovered 5 million works of priceless art that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The movie passionately and astutely raises the questions, “Does art matter, and if so, why? And is it worth dying for?” At one point an answer is clearly articulated:  if we lose our art, then we lose our culture and history; and if we lose that then it’s as if we never existed. As someone who started a career in the arts, had a career in business, and now is determined to combine the two, I couldn’t agree more. Art matters because it holds our essence, the very seed of who are and what we care about. It is us. Creating art is the only thing we can do that lets us connect across the generations, long after we’re gone. It’s the only mark we can truly leave with the world.

creativity, film, movie, music

Inspired: Are You 20 Feet from Stardom?

20 Feet From Stardom
20 Feet From Stardom

If you haven’t seen the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom about the history of backup singers, you must. Their stories of passion, music, persistence, and dedication will make you cry, laugh, and reflect on your own life and talents. Here’s the best thing I learned from it: you must shine your own light on your talent. You can’t wait for nor expect someone else to do it.

comedy, creativity, film, health, movie

Inspired: Bill Murray and Comedy Changed How I See Mental Illness

Bill Murray in What About Bob?
Bill Murray in What About Bob?

This is the power of comedy: it opens up our minds by first making us laugh and then making us think long and hard about the truth underneath that laughter. Over the weekend, I made some additional edits to my play, Sing After Storms. There’s only one pop culture reference in the play and it refers to Bill Murray’s performance in the film What About Bob?. While we often think of What About Bob? as a comedy, and it certainly is, that movie had a different long-term effect on me that only rose into my consciousness as I was writing Sing After Storms. Clinical OCD (Bob’s illness) is a debilitating, terrifying condition. It keeps people confined and isolated by an intense fear of death. It deeply affected how I think about mental illness and it’s impact on an individual’s potential in a way that a dramatic film wouldn’t have done. If we can make people laugh, we can also move them to action. It’s a lesson I’m trying to bring into my writing and it’s perhaps the toughest artistic challenge I have today. Comedy isn’t easy but I’ve seen that its rewards are so rich.

art, change, courage, film, inspiration, movie, work

Inspired: The Un-branding of Matthew McConaughey Built Dallas Buyers Club

An unglamorous Matthew McConaughey in The Dallas Buyers Club
An unglamorous Matthew McConaughey in The Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey was on CBS Sunday Morning to talk about his un-branding. In a world where branding in all its many forms seem inescapable, it was refreshing to hear someone talk about chucking it all out the window and what’s come of his efforts. Known as a guy’s guy / romantic lead, McConaughey is nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Dallas Buyers Club in which he plays a homophobic rodeo cowboy who is diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. He meets, befriends, and starts an illegal business with a transsexual who also has HIV. In Texas. Based on a true story. What?!

While Dallas Buyers Club is now a contender for several Oscars, for a long time it seemed destined to never see the light of day. 137 potential producers turned it down over several years before it found the funding, and the week before shooting was set to begin, they still didn’t have all the money they needed. They pushed on anyway. They just wouldn’t give up.

McConaughey was committed to the making of this film and the remaking of his own career in the process. For two years he turned down everything that fit the image that made him famous because he wanted to send a clear and persistent message that he would only take challenging roles that scared him. He wanted a complete career shake-up. While that was a personal choice, he certainly didn’t want to be largely unemployed for two years. Yet, that’s what it took. Two years of no work to prove that he was serious about taking his career in a new direction.

When I first heard this I thought, “Big deal. He’s probably got so much money that if he never works again he and his family will be just fine. Was he really taking such a big risk?”

And then I thought about what a shark tank the world of work can be, to say nothing of the world of work in Hollywood. He could have kept right on doing what worked, what he was good at, and raking in the money in the process. No one would have batted an eye at that and he would have gotten plenty of pats on the back for a job well done. Instead, he risked failing in a big way and throwing away an image and a career that have served him well that couldn’t have been recovered. They just didn’t feel good to him anymore, so he tossed them in favor of the unknown, something that made him feel alive again. Dallas Buyers Club is the result of that work. Was it worth it? All signs point to yes.