As some of you already know, I am a huge movie fan. While I like to imagine myself as someone of refined movie tastes (i.e., as one who can claim to have seen the Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth at a cinema on opening night), I am mostly kidding myself. I regularly see Hollywood blockbusters of the kind typified by the newly released Pacific Rim — featuring more explosions and high-tech killing per minute than even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator could manage.
Thank goodness, then, that Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim are work of the same director. Whew!
It’s an excellent* film, by the way, and the source of much of today’s musings about our fascination with disaster and with heroes.
And we are fascinated. In the U.S., the saying is “if it bleeds, it leads.” It’s shorthand for the media’s awareness that the cases that draw the most viewers and readers are those that are awash in scandal, intrigue, gossip, pain, and suffering.
While it’s a sign of our morbid fascination, it’s also indicative of our search for heroes. We love their stories too. The firefighters who fought back the blazes. The teachers who pulled kids from the brink of failure. The neighbors who took a destroyed plot of land and made it a garden that all could enjoy.
The workplace is no different. And, the more that I thought about it — about the kinds of disasters we face in the office, in working with colleagues and clients, and in navigating the course of our careers — the more that I thought, well, if one has to play a role in the office, don’t we all think we’d rather play the hero?
In Pacific Rim, the year is 2020 and, as almost always in the imaginary future, Earth is on the brink of being destroyed by aliens. Not extraterrestrials of the flying-saucer, ET-phone-home variety. No, this time, they are percolating up from the deep, rising from the depth of the Pacific Ocean to land, Godzilla-style on our shores. For folks who are familiar with the genre, I’m not giving much away by saying humankind, after much sacrifice, eventually lives to fight another day.**
While not falling prey to the usual traps of the genre, director Guillermo del Toro also doesn’t shy away from the genre’s stereotypes. We’ve got bureaucrats who don’t listen. We’ve got hustlers who are just out for themselves. We’ve got scientists who are just too weird for words. And, yes, we’ve got our heroes (yes, plural). And the messages that these heroes deliver to the audience are the ones we need to hear in our workplaces too.
Failures are not forever.
As is sometimes the case in career development as well, our story begins with where the hero takes a huge misstep. In this case, he’s too full of pride and too arrogant about his own judgment. So he ignores the direction of his boss and takes a risk that, as it turns out, comes at considerable personal and organizational cost.
Who has not imagined herself as smarter than his boss? Is this not the nature of almost every young worker wanting to prove himself? As this story underscores, the setbacks, failures, and downright destruction that such presumptions and risk-taking can cause are not the end of the world. Yes, they may feel like it. And just like our hero, we may feel that the answer is to step away, far away, to completely reevaluate whether this whole career path is right for us.
Thank goodness, just like in this film, there are bosses that can acknowledge the errors while still recognizing the talent. You can get a second chance.
Lick your wounds, sure, but be ready to swallow your pride and get back in there too.
Let even your weaknesses inspire you.
As the film’s second hero shows, sometimes the losses that we suffer at work are through no fault of our own. Worse, whether out of a fair assessment of our weaknesses or because of stereotypes that stand in the way, we may find that our bosses are reluctant to hand us the projects that we really want to take on.
Don’t shy away from saying what you want. Like our hero, be persistent. Moreover, don’t ignore your weaknesses. Instead, train yourself for the role you want so that when there’s an opportunity to “save the day” your skills will be too apparent to ignore.
Appreciate everyone’s role.
Our third hero of the film is, undoubtedly, a jerk. Unlike our first hero, he continues to swagger, brag, and risk-take. He respects might, first and foremost. He scorns those who do not understand the same.
Any of you remember when the lawyer was eaten in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park? I was probably not the only one in the theater who was hoping that this guy too would end up in some monster’s belly!
To del Toro’s credit, the film does not make food of this anti-hero. Instead, just as in our translation offices, we come to understand that there’s a role for this guy in the organization too. We need the risk-takers as much as we need the ones who are carefully analyzing the situation, testing strategies, and reevaluating moves based on both wins and losses. Just like the heroic boss of this film, we too have to see that there’s room for all of us in creating a winning organization.
Just as he can see, if you’re going to be a hero, do it for the team.
* As I said to friends, I’d rate it as a 10/10 for its genre and a 7/10 overall. I mean, come on, we can’t stand this baby up to the likes of The Godfather and still call it a 10 with any credibility.
** …in Pacific Rim 2 of course, and I will be among those first in line. See you at the movies!