I recently experienced the uncomfortable situation of being forced to watch a below-average romantic comedy with a girl who had an above-average love and enthusiasm for below-average romantic comedies. (I stress, it was not a date.) As the credits rolled, she shouted, “Ah! I wish my life were like a movie!” Maybe it was because I’m slowly turning into an elitist movie snob, or maybe it’s because I had just been subjected to watching the art of cinema be viciously tortured onscreen for the last 96 minutes, but my first thought was, “No, you absolutely do not.” That brings me to today’s advice…
DO: Live life like a movie.
DOO-DOO: Live life like a Lifetime movie…
Everyone wants the happy movie ending, but everyone seems to selectively forget the hour or two of hard work and pain and failure that the character endures leading up to the resolution. For the girl to get to make out with Ryan Gosling in the rain (or whatever actor doing whatever action in whatever manifestation of weather is hot stuff right now), she has to go through the pain of being left at the altar or cheated on by her fiancé with her mother (I swear, I could write 50 romantic comedies in a week.)
We want the success without the failures, the excitement without heartbreak, results without time or effort, self-awareness without honesty, redemption without humility, adventure without commitment, discovery without having to forget what we know, glory without being the underdog, intimacy without vulnerability and fundamental change without admitting our failure or relinquishing control.
But how many movies do you know of in which the protagonist is always happy and behaves well and never gets in above his or her head? Or where the team that wins the championship doesn’t have to work hard or overcome any obstacles? Or the guy gets the girl and the movie is just watching them live happily ever after?
None. (Because those movies would suck and never get made.) And that’s because the value of the resolution is wrapped up in the failures. It’s the passion and perseverance that we admire, and that ultimately leads to fulfillment. It’s when the stakes get raised from mere comfort to ultimate survival that we truly invest in the character; when their reward becomes our reward; when it becomes worthwhile.
I believe our life would be more exciting and fulfilling if it were lived more like a movie. But it requires us to be willing to risk everything. There’s a scene at the beginning of the iconic 80s movie “Say Anything” (it’s the guy-in-a-trenchcoat-holding-up-a-boombox movie) when John Cusack’s lovable character responds to a friend deterring him from chasing after a girl for fear he’ll get hurt by shouting, “I want to get hurt!” There’s “Inception,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is willing to risk everything for what he values as most worthy — reunion with his children. He is willing to enter into an adventure knowing he is fully committed and can never opt out.
There are huge lessons we can learn from the silver screen. We need to embrace vulnerability, take bold risks and be brutally honest with ourselves and others. It’s a strange paradox that fictional characters can be more real and honest with other fictional characters than we can be with each other. This is not just a Stanford thing or a college thing; it’s an everyone thing.
I think if we understood the value in failure, we wouldn’t kill ourselves so much to avoid it. Not to mention, there’s a value in true perseverance that would never be learned without failure. (“What do we do when we fall off the horse? We get back on!” “Sorry, Maury. I’m not a gymnast.” Name the Movie!) Movie characters are able to undergo fundamental changes when they are willing to admit their failure and humbly start anew. They find adventure when they don’t just accept, but embrace their situation. They find forgiveness and redemption when they are willing to admit their faults, and they find glory when they acknowledge their faults, yet continue fighting.
The best characters don’t make decisions based on what is safe. They become so enamored by a person or goal or ideal that they are willing to let go of everything they have to pursue it. Nothing worth loving is safe to love.
A truly captivating, influential and worthwhile life story requires risks and failures — in careers, in relationships and in conception of the self — and the higher the stakes, the better the story.
Have you seen the romantic comedy in which the newspaper columnist gets a date with a beautiful girl when she responds to a piece he wrote? Chase hasn’t either. You can change that with an email to ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.