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10 Things To Learn From Walter Mitty To Propel Your Business

If you haven’t seen the Movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I not only highly recommend it, but hope that if you do watch it you will look for these life-changing secrets throughout the movie.  I will do my best to not spoil the movie, but I can’t promise there aren’t a few spoilers below.

For those of you who don’t know, the movie starts out with Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) finding out that his company, Life Magazine is going to an online format and that he will be downsized from a job he has been at for 16 years.  He is responsible for the negatives that become the well known inspirational photos on the cover of Life Magazine. It’s a big responsibility and one he takes very seriously. This is his life’s work after all (no pun intended) until he seemingly misplaces the final cover photo negative.  The story begins there.

Here are the lessons:

1 – Adventure doesn’t always wait for you to call, sometimes it comes looking for you.

Adventure has one timeline, now or never.  You either grab adventure by the horns and jump on the train or you watch it pass you by as you wave with your suitcase of “I wishes” and regrets.  At the beginning of the movie, Walter spends a lot of time daydreaming about what he would like to have happen in his life. I think we as entrepreneurs fall into that category more often than not.  It’s easy to imagine the life you want to have, but to be all in, to make that jump is much much scarier. However, you can’t ever have the adventure, look back on the accomplishments and failures, if you never take the leap.  I know I have spent so much time getting in my own way, rationalizing, walking through every possible scenario, making sure each detail was perfect to the point of nauseam. In the end, when I just said screw it and took the leap, those were the times when things shifted.  Not only inside me but inside my business. So, I’m begging you to take the leap. Someone out there is waiting for you to jump off that diving board and be who you were created to be. So take the leap, grab adventure by the horns and go all in. In the end, what do you really have to lose?


2 – Help usually comes from unusual places don’t be afraid to embrace the helpers.

On the way back from Afghanistan, Walter is held by TSA because they find some random thing on his person that they think is threatening.  17 hours later, they still can’t get any logical information out of him as to why he was in Afghanistan and no one to vouch for him in Los Angeles.  They finally ask if there is anyone who can positively ID him and he calls his buddy Andy, who he inadvertently meets when he tries to cancel his Eharmony account, and who he has subsequent conversations with throughout the movie, comes to his aid, gets him out of lockdown and even buys him a Cinnabon.  You never know who will step up to the plate to help, until you ask and are open to receiving. The same is true in business. You may wonder how will I ever find the right team, the right clients, someone to build my website, whatever the case may be. But I promise you, if you clear the runway for the universe to deliver whatever you asked for, like magic, it will appear.  A caveat to that is it may not look exactly the way your mind believes it should. Be open to what arrives, be clear about what you ask for and for the love of Pete, take the help. No need to be a martyr and try to do everything yourself. (Guiltily raises a hand and admits to being a recovering perfectionist.)

3 – There will always be assholes who show up in life, how you respond to them shows your true character

Okay, so I’m not really a big proponent of cuss words, but it’s important to know that not everyone you meet in this life time is going to be your biggest fan.  In fact, those who are not are likely here to teach you something you need to know about yourself. Those biggest pains in the side are bringing front and center that dirty little secret that you have compartmentalized and need to bring to the front of the room, whether it’s poor habits or a behavior that you need to change.  How you handle those rough around the edges characters and what you choose to learn from them (about yourself) will mold and shape you into who you want to become or who you become because you didn’t heed their warning. So beware of the “assholes” because they truly are bringing up something in you that you just don’t want to deal with.  In the end, I’ve learned it’s better to buck up, look it square in the eye and just have your peace.

4 – Cake really can be the solution to some of life’s most interesting problems.

There is a scene in the movie where Walter finds himself in Tibet trying to get to Afghanistan, he is confronted with drug lords who won’t let him pass.  He offers them some of his mom’s famous orange cake and they are pleased and the doorway to Afghanistan is opened. Moral of the story, you never know how far a little sweetie will take you.  This is true for business too. The saying you can get more bees with honey than with vinegar rings true in every interaction you have. You can’t get people to like you if you are always being a poopy head.  If they don’t like you, they don’t trust you and they won’t buy from you. Capiche? That being said, not everyone will like you because you aren’t their cup of tea. That’s okay too. Just be true to who you are, be a decent human and your people will find you.  Scout’s honor – I promise.

5 – Sometimes it takes others believing in you so that you can believe in yourself.  

Walter’s love interest Cheryl shows her support of him when she tells him Major Tom isn’t a lame song but that it’s about adventure and courage. When he needs some courage, he imagines Cheryl singing the song to him and takes the leap (literally) to do the most courageous things he had ever done in his life.  No one is ever harder on us than we are on ourselves. So cut yourself some slack already. You are here, you are breathing, you made it another day and that’s just the beginning of the 3 things you already did right today. You have a purpose, a reason for being here. If you don’t know what that is yet, don’t panic about it, just give it some time and space to show up and keep taking steps every day to bring you closer.  One last thing to note, that purpose will likely change as you evolve, I kind of think it’s the universe’s way of keeping us on our toes. So relax, you got this and here’s a heads up – you my friend are already a rockstar because you’re here.

6 – The universe always provides a way if you pay attention.  

At one point Walter is looking at his bank account balance and wonders how is going to afford to travel to find the negative that is perilously hanging between him and the final issue of the magazine.  He decides to just go for it and doesn’t let the power of that number control his decisions. He sees the amount, decides he’s doing it anyway and it all works out in the end.

Sometimes you have to take that leap of faith.  Believe that destiny will take care of the rest because truly, your greatest dreams are just on the other side of fear.  Letting money, worry, fear or angst get in your way is stopping you from doing incredible things. There are people who wake up every single day waiting for you.  For what you bring to the table and if you give the universe half a chance (by getting out of your own way) those people will show up. So do your thing, show up and let the rest go.

7 – Moms really do have the answers most of the time and always have your best interests at heart.

There are several scenes when Walter’s mom inadvertently saves the day.  The first when she tells him where to find Sean the photographer to ask where the negative might have been misplaced and the last when she hands him the wallet he inadvertently threw away in a mad tizzy.  

I’ve been in both the mom role and the child role and I’m not sure which is more difficult.  There is a fine balance with each just as in business between you and your clients. Riding that fine line of encouragement to take action, yet standing back to see if the action is actually taken is one of the hardest roles to be in.  You can’t make them do the work, just like you can’t really make your kids clean their room. But you can provide a roadmap, some instruction and a safe space for them to do the work, as well as, the results and expectations once the work is done.

8 – You can do anything you put your mind to, sometimes you just need to be brave (or stupid) enough to take the leap.

There is a scene in the movie where Walter hops on a skateboard in Iceland to try and catch up with the photographer, unbeknownst to him, a volcano is about to erupt.  He is literally racing time to catch up with Shawn the photographer before he boards yet another plane and the volcanic eruption. He didn’t have time to talk himself out of being the best darn skateboarder he could be in that moment, he just did it.  Hopped on the board and rode (all the way trying to outrun a volcano eruption, but that’s another story).

As business owners, we get in our own way — a lot.  Sometimes you just need to say thanks to your mind and do it anyway.  Leap in front of the fear and just keep riding that board until you reach your destination.  Reread number six if you need some more clarification.

9 – Your purpose is waiting for you just outside of your comfort zone.

Walter didn’t know that his purpose wasn’t managing, filing, editing and caring for photo negatives.  It’s just what he did for a very long time and he was comfortable doing it. Until he was confronted with something else, salvaging the final issue, he was just wandering and daydreaming through life and waiting to see what happened next.  Once he jumped outside of his comfort zone, he found his purpose. and wouldn’t let anything get in the way of him achieving that purpose.

Your purpose as an entrepreneur is simple to define, really.  Don’t ever give up. You have this dream inside of you (and if you think you don’t, it’s probably just lost at the moment).  To dare greatly as Brene Brown would say (and Teddy Roosevelt) is the mission of an entrepreneur. To tread where others haven’t tread before.  That my friend is your purpose – to create and deliver something to the world – to make it a better place for someone. How you do that is up to you, but hurry it up already, people are waiting on you.

10 – Surprise is one of life’s best gifts.

The final scene of the movie was a gift from the photographer to Walter.  He never knew what the final negative/image was going to be. In the end, it didn’t really matter, the gift he had truly been given wasn’t the image, it was the adventure along the way.  

The lesson here, if we are open to what life presents to us, asks of us, we just might find the best gifts.  (We totally will, but I put might just in case you are on the fence). Those gifts are often things we never expected or saw coming.  Open your arms and embrace surprise and what the universe has up her sleeve and don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

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