I grew up watching the classic movie by Frank Capra, "It's a Wonderful Life," and last week I watched it again, this time as an adult who helps individuals change careers. Ha! The film struck me in a very different way in 2018. And yet there is one message that is timeless...
What is not helpful about the story.
First of all, George Bailey has a codependency problem - no wonder he ends up suffering a breakdown! The entire setup, that everything will fall apart if he follows his dreams, is familiar to all of us who grew up in families or communities who perceive individual freedom and happiness as threatening to the group stability. He could have used a therapist and a coach - maybe he could not have traveled the world and made a million dollars, but he could have found a way to balance marriage, work and some traveling 😀
And yes, I am aware those were other times... 😉
Then there is the black and white choice between being like Mr. Potter - a nasty, greedy, heartless capitalist who is alone and unloved - versus being like George - poor, broke, sacrificing everything for others and having friends and family. Ugh. Luckily real life doesn't work that way and we can build businesses and careers that take care of ourselves and others, while also being loved. In other words, there is a wide spectrum of choices and ways of being between poor George Bailey and greedy Mr. Potter, and knowing where you want to be in the spectrum is one of the keys to personal fulfillment.
Yet the movie is still one of my favorites because, despite all the above, it carries a very important message.
A Timeless (Career) Message
It's a Wonderful Life shows us how even though in George's eyes everyone else is more successful than he is, with more money, more travels, more freedom, in everyone else's eyes, he, George Bailey, is the success. And when George is gripped by despair and can only remember what he did not achieve in his life, the movie reminds him (and us) that in fact he did achieve a lot - just not what he expected to.
The movie drives home the message that no matter how little you think of your life, your life is wonderful exactly as it is. It's a Wonderful Life can be seen as a metaphor for our human condition: we start with some great dream in our youth, and then life happens. We find we want conflicting things, or we have to take care of loved ones, or we make poor decisions, or have some bad luck. Then one day we realize that what we dreamed of doing did not happen, and now that we are older and have more obligations, that dream might never happen. Or maybe it doesn't even feel like we want it anymore - and we are not sure what we want - the fearless courage of youth is gone. In some cases, like George Bailey in the movie, we might even experience a life-altering crisis that plunges us into a "dark night of the soul."
Here's What You Can Do
As we near 2019 you are probably thinking of all you want to accomplish in the new year. It's great to want to grow and do bigger things - I have my own big goals for next year, and love nothing more than seeing people achieve their dreams. But there is a difference between pursuing something out of lack or desperation, versus coming from a place of self love and recognition of all we have already achieved and contributed to so far.
So as you think of what you want to achieve in 2019, how your life could become extraordinary, how to create a more fulfilling and impactful career, how to have better work/life balance, I invite you to end 2018 from a place of love for yourself and all you have already done. Take a few days to write down all you are proud of doing so far, write all the little things you habitually discount that make a difference in the lives of those around you. End 2018 with more love and appreciation for all you already are and have achieved so far, no matter how "small", and determine to grow in 2019 because of that love, not from lack of it.