From literature and cinema we learn that momentous changes can net larger-than-life results. We love it when the protagonist finally quits her dead-end job, decides to start over or abandons everything she has to pursue her dream. And then, of course, she becomes wildly successful. The formula is actually pretty simple:
Bold, life-altering decision = Uplifting, emotionally charged denouement.
Characters make heroic decisions, no-turning-back-now changes that in real life might seem impossible but always work out in a novel or movie.
Or do they?
A lot of books and movies are populated with change agents, but it’s not clear whether they’re committed to executing change. That’s because the story ends before reality sets in. Either it’s a “happily-ever-after” ending, or we just don’t know what becomes of the characters.
One of the all-time best films from the ’60s is “The Graduate.” Great acting by Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, great music by Simon and Garfunkel, great lines (“You’re trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson”) and an ending that makes you wonder.
The ending is what stays with you. It’s the part where Benjamin stops Elaine’s wedding, and they bolt out of the church and jump on a bus. In the final scene, though, you see the excitement of their elopement start to turn into “what the heck did we just do?” It’s at that moment the film ends.
Benjamin has rejected the world of “plastics,” but just what is the next step for him? And are he and Elaine willing to do the work required to make their new life a meaningful one?
We all know deep down inside that change is hard work, but often we long for a fairy-tale ending where life is an effortless walk in the park. Maybe we’ll win the lottery, or maybe that new job will just magically fall into place.
“The Graduate” is a great movie, but it only takes us halfway there. It’s that second part (actually living the change) that can trip us up and cause disappointment and heartache if we’re not fully committed. Climbing on the bus is a start, but at some point you have to start driving it.
Despite all of the self-help advice out there, there really aren’t any magic tricks to change. It’s just plain work. To me, the keys are commitment, daily practice, perseverance and almost certainly some pain and setbacks along the way.
Maybe a better movie to study is “Rocky” and Sylvester Stallone’s training regimen. If you want to sprint up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art with Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” theme in the background, then you better start doing one-handed pushups and drinking that raw-egg concoction!