This thought hit me the other night as I was watching “A Few Good Men”. Tom Cruise’s character is a lawyer who everyone expects to take the easy route. He has a reputation for plea bargains and that’s what they expect him to do this time around. No one is waiting for him to do anything great.
Our lives are made up of moments and they stack upon one another. We get used to our particular level of performance. Whether your best is better or worse than someone else’s is largely irrelevant. People expect that you are going to show up like you. When you fall short of your normal level, the people who care about you might worry. Your enemies may chuckle but most people are too self-interested to even notice.
The thing that no one is waiting for is for you to be great. It will make your friends uncomfortable because if you do something great, then they feel inadequate. Your enemies want you to fail, not succeed and the general bystander needs more mediocrity or ineptitude from others to make them feel better about themselves. So under no circumstances is anyone waiting for you to do something great.
So it all boils down to you and what you want for yourself. The moments of your life belong to you. There will be peaks and valleys for each of us. The question becomes what level do you want to be your average? Who do you expect to show up every day when you look in the mirror? If no one else is waiting for you to be great, will you demand that of yourself? Or will you live up to the expectations that people have for you at the moment? These are questions that only you can answer. Regardless of whether you do so consciously or not, your actions will tell the story. So what are you waiting for? Make today happen and if at all possible, make it great!
Movies are a spectacular medium for telling a story and also relating a message. One of the main reasons that I believe that movies can be so transformative is that they work a lot like memories. They are not the full story because showing every small detail would be exhausting and detract from the overall point. Also they tend to be “larger than life” which is what we often do with our memories. We do not have a completely accurate recollection of the situation, often our emotion about the situation tends to give more color to them.
For these reasons and many others, movies are great teachers. They give us audience to experiences that we may have never had. It’s done in safe environment. We can have peak emotions while taking whatever information is on display and assimilate it as our own. Below is my list of movies that a high school age boy-man should see in order and what they should extract from them. They are listed in a tenuous order where the lessons build on top of each other but in the binge watching culture of today, the order may not matter as much. By the end of this list there may be an accusation that I have a “man crush” on Matt Damon but that crown belongs to Ryan Reynolds!
There are a ton of spoilers in the descriptions of each movie. So if you want to go in with a clean slate, just refer the list below to start and return to this post for the descriptions and takeaways:
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Breakfast Club
The Wizard of Oz
Dead Poet’s Society
Good Will Hunting
The Martian (2015) – This movie has probably the most overarching message that young men need to have ingrained. Each of us has exactly one job on this planet or that planet: FCO (Figure Crap Out). Throughout this great story, Matt Damon’s character keeps getting sucker punched by circumstances. Every time that he comes up with an answer, a new problem arises. Despite all of issues that he has, his determination to FCO is the key component to his success and the lesson that needs to be carried out of the movie. I use the acronym FCO because “responsibility” seems stuffy and oppressive but that’s all that I’m talking about. The ability to respond to a situation coupled with the recognition that it’s on you to do so. Thumbs are a feature that separates humans from much of the animal kingdom. Although they help with our ability to grasp things, I believe in the concept of “thumbs before fingers.” Point at yourself first with the thumb before pointing at anyone else with the finger.
The Matrix (1999) – After the Martian, the next step is to recognize that each of us has exactly one possession in this world: the mind. The body and the mind are definitively linked but “the body cannot live without the mind.” This movie can be taken to so many places philosophically. The main one that I would focus on to begin with is that of belief. While the Martian had a focus on the ability to respond, it takes belief in one’s abilities to engage with situations. Although uploading information directly to the brain through a computer program has not happened (yet), the picture painted is relatively accurate. In order to navigate successfully through life, one must acquire skills. As skills are layered one on top of the other, belief is constructed. Unlike the Matrix, this takes time and deliberate effort in the real world but it is worth it. Believing in yourself long enough to make things happen is crucial.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) – I would absolutely love for all of the philosophical concepts covered in this movie to hit home with the young men who watch it. Right down to the LIFE motto which has so much to offer. However if just one thing was to be extracted from this film, the idea of connecting your dream world to the real world would be it. Humans are special in a variety of ways but our ability to imagine things then make them happen is one of our greatest strengths. Walter’s life starts out as a collection of day dreams where he escapes his reality. In the end, he starts engaging with life and has better experiences than most of his daydreams. All of our actions start in our minds but if they stay there, then they only exist in the hypothetical. We must transpose our dreams into the real world in order to give them life.
Rocky (1976) – You’re going to lose! This may not seem like a very positive message to take in. However at times, the odds are going to be so astronomically against you that it may seem like trying isn’t worth it. People are going to tell you that you’re crazy. In those circumstances, you need to find a version of success that is in line with who you are and stretch yourself. There are magical moments throughout this film including the 14th round knockdown. Probably the most important comes prior to the fight where Rocky admits to himself and the woman that he loves, exactly who he is and what he expects of himself. Power is not always displayed through a punch. Often power is ability to be vulnerable and defenseless to the people that matter. Although most of the movies thus far have focused on going for the prizes that are out there to be won, Rocky is a reminder that winning is not everything. There are ways to go through life as a “success” without winning every time. So be prepared to be punched in the face!
The Wizard of Oz (1939) – Like so many of the movies on this list, there are a variety of takeaways. Even though the main character is a teenage girl on an adventure to get herself home, I’ll focus on the great and powerful Oz. This is a man who has created a reputation of great prestige and power for himself. In the end, he is only a small man hiding behind a curtain who is trying to project a fearsome alter ego. Each and every one of us will have to put a version of ourselves out into the world. Many of the people that you will meet will be exactly like the Wizard of Oz, lots of theatrics to make themselves seem important. Eventually we realize that the Wizard was valuable because of what he had to offer the travelers, not his big persona. So as you project yourself into the world decide who you will be. Also be on the look out for people who are hiding behind the curtain.
The Breakfast Club (1985) – I’d like to believe that the walls of cliques in high schools have broken down slightly since this movie came out. Unfortunately I don’t know that it’s true. Even if it is, there are still valuable things to be taken from the film. Mostly it involves self-reflection and understanding your place within the social strata of your world. Ideally everyone in your school, town, etc. would get along wonderfully. Unfortunately that’s not very realistic. So recognizing how you perceive and are perceived by others is extremely important. You don’t need to live in the box that others try to put you into but knowing that you’ve been put in the box helps if you want to break out of it.
Dead Poet’s Society (1989) – Similar to The Breakfast Club, the ideas of conformity and living in a school community are on full display. Whether it is teachers, parents or peers; there will always be pressures to become what other people want you to be. There is nothing wrong with people trying to influence you. Generally it is done with a certain amount of caring for your well being. However the teenage years are a time for self-discovery. Figuring out who it is that you want to be. I’m not calling for all out revolt against the powers that are trying to influence you. But rather a recognition of the pull of the things that make you feel most alive versus the push of those in positions of power in your life. In most cases there is a balance to be struck. The death of Neil toward the end of the film is a cautionary tale about failing to communicate. The Dead Poet’s Society is all about expressing one’s self honestly. Try to find your voice.
Rounders (1998) – On a surface level this movie is absolutely about poker but it has several layers underneath that are worth exploring for a young man. First is the concept of friendships and loyalty. The movie does a good job of putting loyalty on full display while also warning against blind loyalty to people who may no longer deserve it. The reason why I truly put this movie on the list is the scene with Mike in the Russian bath house. He tells Joey Knish about an encounter with Johnny Chan. “I’m just going to outplay the guy, this hand.” So many of us get overwhelmed by how big our goals are in this world when it all comes down to this. Are you going to give it your all in this moment? Are you willing to bet on yourself? If you’re not, then who else will?
Swingers (1996) – This movie is on the list for a very specific purpose. As a young man gets into the dating world, there is bound to be rejection either external or internal. Although you may never hear the word “no” from a girl but there is still rejection because you rejected the idea of asking. The story that each of us has running inside of our own heads about who we are and what we are capable of is crucial. After years of being tentative with women in the singles world, Swingers gave me a new insight. If I approached a girl and she “rejected” me, it had very little to do with me and more to do with her perception of me and the perception I projected. This is a skill like any other that must be honed and practiced over time. The “bear” discussion between Mike and Trent in the middle of the movie is the key. There are ancillary parts about dealing with a breakup but overall this movie got me to believe in all that I had at my disposal to “kill the bunny”.
Good Will Hunting (1997) – This is another film that has layers to it. Although it could be dissected from a variety of angles. We’ll focus in on the romantic relationship. Will has put up walls and created masks to protect himself from both past and future pain. That constant state of protection keeps him from all of the possibility that is banging at his door. He is so afraid to admit who he is that he creates a fake world that he shows to other people and denies possible opportunities to move on to a better existence. His relationship with Skylar is tumultuous at best but that is a result of his protection strategy. The movie Swingers was all about how to get your foot in the door long enough to get someone interested. Once you are inside, you need to let the other person see who you are. Teenage relationships are supposed to be like chemistry experiments. They are supposed to blow up in your face from time to time but you learn and progress based on what you’ve learned. If you are always in protection mode in order to avoid being hurt, no one will see your imperfections. That may seem like a great strategy until you actually find someone who you want to let in, you’ll have no practice.
These are most definitely not the only movies available that could have an impact on a young man’s life. These are just the ones that I’ve selected at the moment. I’m sure that each person out there has at least one that could be added with good reason. So in the comments below, give me your suggestions. Even I had trouble keeping it to just ten. Below is my honorable mention. So with that film in mind as I finish this post up, don’t just be a consumer! Take these films into your life (RESPONSIBLY of course!)
Fight Club (1999) – This is a film with great possibility but it comes with a lot of distractions for the young teenage mind. So I put it on the list very tentatively realizing that many will get sidetracked by the sex, violence and mayhem; missing the point completely. Although Fight Club focuses principally on the underground club that encourages violence and eventually mass destruction, the key component to the entire story is the relationship between the “two” main characters. The two is in quotations because they are both Tyler Durden. Tyler is split in two. Each version brings something to the table but Brad Pitt’s character leads the charge into uncharted territory. He is everything that the other version of himself is not. He’s confident and capable! This is taken to the extreme of course but it is something all of us have within us.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Unless you are brought to the hospital in an ambulance, the first place that you visit is triage. It’s the station where the severity of your injury or illness is determined in order to prioritize treatment. Broken bones take precedent over upset stomachs and so on. People who can wait, often do, for long periods of time in the waiting room. However no one stays in triage for very long. Once your situation is determined, it is time to move on to get the help that you need or wait your turn. Triage is not an outcome!
This is so apparent when dealing with a medical emergency. No one would forego seeing the doctor so that they could stay with the triage nurse longer to describe their situation. However when it comes to our lives, many of us seem to desire eternal triage. Describing the horrible situation that we are in with excruciating detail to friends, family, classmates, coworkers and even strangers. Rather than doing something about the situation that we lament, we pile on more and more description. The unfortunate thing is that many people seem to want to turn their paper-cut into a shotgun wound. This situation is at the forefront today because it is Monday. A day that many people dread because it is just too far away from the weekend. Does this day carry with it any particular issue? No, it is just the story that we’ve made up in our heads.
So here we are at the door to the emergency room. What are you going to do today? Spend the entire day describing your issues to the triage nurse in order to make your headache seem like a stroke. Or check yourself for bullet holes and if you need real help, go get it. Or most likely, you can handle this on your own/with the help of those close to you. Describing the problem with more clarity is rarely the answer. Moving forward takes action, no matter how small. Clawing your way toward a destination is far better than hoping it will be attracted by the sound of your complaints!
It was an absolute revelation! Never before and not since had I ever seen a short part of a movie and instantly gone to Blockbuster to rent it (Even more difficult to do now that BB is out of business). The movie was Swingers and the scene was when Mike’s friends are trying to help him with his abilities talking to women. The scene is mildly inconsequential but the idea could be life changing.
Mike had just failed at an attempt to make conversation with a girl at a bar. He returns to his friends dejected, saying that “she didn’t like me.” His friends, Trent and Sue (a guy), explain that he’s a bigger catch than he thinks (in a much more comical way). They compare him to a bear and the girl to a bunny. Armed with this new perspective and self-image, he goes back up to the girl and is able to get her phone number. Watch the clip for the full picture.
This scene was extremely helpful from two perspectives. First, I got a clearer picture of how I was presenting myself in those situations. Second, I recognized that in those situations, the girl was not rejecting me but rather her perception of me. I could do some things to influence that perception but ultimately accepted or rejected, it was only a perception.
The only person who knows every single: thought, action and intention of yours is you. Keep that in mind at all times. Your life is going to be filled with people who will pass judgment on their perception of you, not the real you. So choose deliberately who you will and will not allow to affect your perception of yourself. It’s the most important relationship that you have, so know yourself as best as you can. Maintain a positive relationship and know yourself well enough to be able to predict your own behavior. When someone gets the wrong idea about you, consider their perspective but only let them change your perspective on you if it’s in your interest, not particularly theirs.
Sometimes the hardest things to see are those that are right in front of you. Your nose is always front and center but most of us don’t pay it any mind. The reason why we tend to forget about it is because it is always there. Our brains tend to discard or ignore those things that can be taken for granted. Air, light, food, water, friends, opportunity, etc. are just a beginning to the list of things that we take for granted each day. This is not to say that we should be spending major amounts of time contemplating air in a recreational effort. It is simply to point out that your brain is working at all times to determine what is worth your attention and what is not. This ability to ignore the inconsequential is wonderful until it isn’t. As they say, the dose makes the poison.
Although our brains were originally designed to act in our best interest, the operating system has not been updated in a long time. So if you do not intervene on your own behalf, your brain will protect you from things that are no longer relevant. Most of the fear and anxiety that you feel is supposed to keep you from being eaten by a bear or be kicked out of the tribe. The latter is more relevant than the former but both need to oversight. On its default settings, your brain will keep you alive and partially comfortable in the modern world. If you are looking for more than that, then you need to be more deliberate about the things that you see.
The invisible nose is just a representation of the things that you’re ignoring. More important things are out there that you should be aggressively pursuing but you just don’t see them. Opportunities pass you by or better yet you pass them by regularly. The reason is that you’re not programmed to notice them. That’s not safe! Stay where it’s comfortable! Don’t stand out! Don’t fail! These are all things that your brain screams subliminally everyday. Unless you take control and look for that which is most important to you. Those things may not be as obvious as you want them to be. Although they might be directly in front of you, they may be buried under a pile of societal and personal hard-wiring. Hacking your way through that will be difficult, time consuming and totally worth it once you’re on the other side.
So I’ve give you permission. Look at the world with fresh eyes and endeavor to see everything. Hack away at the beliefs that no longer make sense. Filter your vision to look for the ideal rather than the real. Your past low expectations will be there to catch you if you fall. It starts with a moment and builds from there. Make this your first moment!
The world seems to be in a never-ending search for balance. While finding this balance is difficult it seems to come most naturally from the pull of opposing forces rather than the migration toward a middle ground. Magnetism, life cycles and so many other phenomena are based on the polarity of their systems. At a certain point human beings should be anticipating the balancing forces of nature but instead we seem to fight it at every turn. Such is the case with learning, especially in the modern world. I’ve encapsulated this concept using the fast moving but rigid rails of trains. The other part to the idea consists of trails which are more free-form. Until recently I was not able to articulate the balance inside of my own head or for outward expression.
Intuitively I know that the education system is at best flawed and at worst broken. Much like the rails of the train, it can only go to specific destinations and relies heavily on schedules and uniformity. There may be first class and express ticket options available but the destinations are largely the same. The conductors of this system scoff at those who travel by any other means because they’ve become so enamored with their efficiency that they accept its limitations.
The trailblazers on the other hand see a total lack of freedom on the rails. Despite their much slower rate of speed, they find joy in the terrain. The rocks, trees, streams and other impediments are part of the experience of doing it on your own. In the learning space, the free-form approach is looked down upon because its progress is haphazard and difficult to measure. Starting a business, project, movement, etc. and failing can be an extremely valuable experience but lacks the quantifiable data that the traditional system requires.
At no time in history has it ever been more apparent that both approaches are needed in some form of personal balance. A person who spends their entire life on the rails will be frustrated by the world that now requires them to do more than “follow directions”. Equally the person who is used to the DIY approach will become frustrated by their interactions with traditional agencies that have protocols and procedures.
So as you, personally, go into the future recognize when the rails will move you forward quicker and when the depth of trails will truly satisfy. Understand that just because you prefer one or the other does not make it the best way to travel. Learning is a lifelong pursuit that needs your oversight. Hybrid your way forward and never doubt that product that you’re working on is you!
I have often wondered what history lessons are like in Germany about the period between 1900-1950. From an outside perspective it is easy to characterize Germany as the villain of that epoch. Is it viewed as period of shame? Or glossed over as unfortunate past events? Often people and nations have a hard time seeing themselves as others would see them. When looking at others, it is easier to make judgment that we believe is right. We can see their faults, shortcomings, idiosyncrasies and failures. Or we laud their beauty, strength, courage or “perfection”. Self-reflection is usually skewed in either a positive or negative direction. People, just like nations, have a history that they must reconcile in order to move forward. Recently upon thinking of Germany’s past and looking in the mirror, I reflected on what nation I represent.
At first I though Switzerland, a neutral state that is willing to keep the currency of others in secrecy. It had some possibility but fell short. Then I considered my ancestral homeland of Poland. It has been overrun by many others and despite almost disappearing at certain points, it keeps coming back with resilience. This would be nice and comfortable for me but unfortunately it’s not true.
Unfortunately I’m France. Man, it pisses me off to write that! There are many things to love about me but I give off an air of aloofness that puts people off. At times, I’ve let my enemies take parts of me without much of a fight and needed the support of close friends to make me whole again. I can be characterized as lazy but generally I work to live, not the other way around. My reputation for being standoffish is justifiable but also location based. If you truly want to get to know me, don’t do it where the crowds are. I’m much better off the beaten path and rich in areas that you didn’t know were there.
What country are you? Please don’t search Facebook for a quiz that tells! Figure out that story for yourself. If you don’t like what you’ve found (as I don’t), then make the necessary adjustment. Despite being France, I can change my actions and therefore my story about who I am. You can too. Just because you were beaten, trampled, torn apart and considered unworthy in the past, does not mean that your history needs to continue on that path. Your history cannot predict your future, unless you let it!
Don Quixote is a fictional character famous for fighting windmills and doing other absurd things. His basic story is one of taking a fantasy world and trying to imprint it onto the real world. The results are comedic for the outsider but almost tragic for Quixote himself. As I was reading his story in college, I always pictured him sitting Indian style in his armor with a child’s toy box trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole. It is easy to label Don Quixote as a “fool” but personally I identified strongly with the character and his trials. Around the time that I read the book, I was on my own Quixotic adventure that put my mental image of the world into question.
I am Peter Huryk III, named after both my father and grandfather. Due to my name, I have always identified very closely with my father. My parents met when my mother was going through a divorce and leading life as a single parent to my older brother. My father became the answer to her prayers. Within a short time, he was a husband to my mother and a father to my brother. This narrative was inside of my subconscious in college when the world offered me the perfect Quixotic situation.
At the time, I was taking a full course load in college, had a full time job and renting a townhouse with two friends. It was then that the universe served up a perfectly ridiculous challenge to my self-image. A young girl with two sons (2 & 1 years old) started working at the sub delivery place where I was employed. In short order, we ended up in a relationship. Unfortunately, the script was far more complicated than my father’s.
The custody of her children was being contested because she didn’t have a stable place for them to live. They had been nomads between different family members’ homes. So I took it upon myself to pay for an apartment for them. Every problem that the world and the situation served up, I responded with my knight in shining armor script. It made no sense but I pressed ahead anyway. At 21 years old, I was a full time student, full time employee, renting two apartments, caring for two kids and handling it all. Luckily the ridiculousness of the situation knew no bounds and she broke up with me. I remember the older boy balling the day that I left. He’d never done that before. It was as if he knew I wasn’t coming back. Getting into this situation was probably the worst decision of my life. It was foolish on so many levels and could have been long term disastrous. So it still feels odd to say that it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
In those few months, I figured out exactly who I was and what I was capable of. The script of my father was not my own. I needed to follow my own path for my own sake. It also let me know that I could handle almost anything. At 21 I had handled more weight from the world than I thought was possible. Although it was reckless and stupid to heap it upon myself, it didn’t crush me.
The stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves are extremely important. They, rather than conscious thought, will often make the decisions about what we will or will not do. So my suggestion is that you get your story straight. Who are you really? Or better yet, who are you ideally? If you are creating yourself (and you are), why not decide what it is that you want, need, value, love, without the interference of the world. Then when you see your round peg, you’ll put it in the right spot and leave the square ones for someone else.