My “Aha” Moment from “Legally Blonde”

GROWTH

Elle Woods
Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods

In the movie comedy Legally Blonde, the character of Elle Woods was originally on the road to a career in fashion merchandising.  There was nothing wrong with her dream.  It’s what she wanted, it’s what she was good at, and she had the complete support of her fawning sorority sisters, jetsetter family, and old-money fiancé.  But when her fiancé, an aspiring lawyer heading to Harvard Law School, breaks up with her, Elle wants to win him back.  Much to everyone’s surprise, she is able to pass the Law School Admissions Test and is accepted at Harvard.  It is here her worldview is shaken.  She does not fit in with the culture and is considered a joke by people at every turn.  People think she is dumb, especially her ex-fiancé.

Rather than retreat, Elle takes the opinion on as a challenge and raises the bar (no pun intended) for herself.  Applying herself in her new culture, she discovers she actually understands and enjoys the law.  Applying her social skills from her old culture, she builds a support base of quirky friends around her. She begins a new journey. Eventually it is a combination of old and new skills and abilities that bring her success and a new life.  But not, of course, without the mandatory make-it-or-break-it moment along the way.  At one point Elle decides that it is more than she can handle.  She decides to give up, crying “No more trying to be something that I’m just… I’m just not.”   Her friend’s response:

What if you’re trying to be somebody you are?”

Those are brilliant words.  That was a personal “aha” moment for me.

We tend to think that our past, our present, and our future are at war with each other, and that the only way into the next one is to make a violent break with the previous one.  While there is certainly old luggage that we don’t want to carry with us that often takes ruthlessness to let go of, to totally thrash all we have ever known is usually a mistake.

When you are in the process of discovering your purpose in life, you take into account the passions you have, the talents God has given you, and the dreams you hold.  Those passions and talents and dreams didn’t just drop into your heart yesterday.  They have been building and interweaving your whole life.  Your experiences, both good and bad, have influenced them and helped direct their growth.  As you move towards your purpose, things begin to adjust.  One of your passions cools down.  You discover a different outlet for your talent.  You discover a hidden talent. The journey to your dream slows wa-a-a-y down or perhaps picks up what feels like too much speed.  This can be disconcerting, it can be hard.  It can cause you to question yourself.  It may feel like you’re trying to be something you are not.  But,

What if you’re trying to be somebody you are?”

Proverbs 25:2 tells us that God takes pleasure in concealing things and we have the privilege of discovering them.  And the verse that follows talks about the endless depth and width of our heart.

We need to recognize that there is so much more to and for us, and we need to go after it and find it.

  • Rather than look at your past as an enemy, why not use it as a resource?  Start looking through all the dirt and find the gold.
  • Rather than being in such a rush to leave the present to get into the future, why not make the most if it?  Start looking at everything you have going for you now and see what other possible applications there might be.
  • Rather than stubbornly holding onto what you insist your future must be, loosen your grip and expand your horizons.

You can be more than anybody thinks, expects, or wants you to be.  You can surprise everyone, including – just like Elle Woods did – yourself.

EXCELLENCE

“Excellence means when a man or woman asks of himself more than others do.” (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

PURPOSE

“There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission – a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment, he finds greatness. It is his finest hour.”  (Sir Winston Churchill)

Can You Fake Courage?

GROWTH

An easy way to develop yourself is to read how other people develop themselves.  My friend over at the blog Neeserisms, always has thoughtful insights about her life’s journey.  A current entry is all about how to Encourage Yourself.  Click on the link to enjoy her wisdom.

EXCELLENCE

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Anais Nin

A client (let’s call him Sam*) and I had a really good discussion about courage.  If there is one thing I could bestow upon people who are pursuing their purpose, it would be COURAGE.  Merriam Webster defines it as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”   It goes beyond faith, it goes beyond belief, it goes beyond hope.  I completely agree with C.S. Lewis’ assessment:

 “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

There have been times when I have met the meaning of the word full on, refusing to back down and advancing forward in glory.  Other times I do not.  Other times I isolate myself or run away.  Sam felt the same way.  We agreed that we could both probably withstand most of the onslaughts if we gave it half a shot.  But we don’t.  Sometimes we feel too weary, but mostly we just become fearful.

Then Sam brought up something very interesting – those times when it looks like we are being courageous, when we convince ourselves and others we are being courageous – but it’s absolutely not true.   Sometimes what appears to be moving out into something new and adventurous, is really just a way of avoiding something we need to deal with.

I thought I knew a little bit about this.  A couple of years ago, people told me I was courageous when I left my job.  I wasn’t.  It was just the last of the options available. I have absolutely no regrets about leaving – it was necessary for my mental and physical health – but it wasn’t courage.

But Sam had a different twist to it.  Sam gave up on his business after years of hard work. It was a big dream for him – something he’d been building towards for years.  Things were going really well and they were about to expand to the next level, but within just days of making their planned expansion, one of his partners dropped out.  Sam was devastated.  He had other partners who still wanted to go forward, but Sam’s pride and ego were demolished.  He could shake neither the humiliation nor the fear of losing control again.  When he made a comeback, everybody thought it was so brave of him to start again, so courageous to try it a different way.   But he says now that wasn’t true.  He was actually running from that humiliation and fear – trying to distance himself from it, protecting himself from being hurt again and trying to prove to others he could do it without help.  He told me now he wishes he had had true courage – the resourcefulness to have picked up the broken pieces and forged ahead through the pride and ego, to blaze through the humiliation and fear.  He wishes he would have stayed the course and taken his business to where he really thought it could go.  But he had given up and used doing something different and easier as an excuse.  The result was that he lost a sense of himself along the way, forgotten what his passion was, lost a sense of his purpose, lost a big chunk of his dream.

Sam’s story challenged me.  I wonder how many people have convinced themselves they are being courageous by doing something different but it’s really just an excuse to give up.  I think it can be a super fine line that moves around with the circumstances.

I’d like to hear from you about what you think (or what you’ve experienced).  How do you make the hard call?  When can you tell that you’ve crossed it?

*Story used with permission.  Name has been changed.

PURPOSE