Some can cite chapter and verse from the (in the) beginning of Genesis to the (seventh and) final sign of Revelation, not to mention every single psalm and beatitude in between. Others still have memorized each and every element on the periodic table, and there has to be, what, at least a dozen of them? And then there are those among us—modern-major-generals, mostly—that know the kings of England and quote the fights historical, from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical.
But for every one of those, you’ll find a thousand of these: People who can lip-sync all three Godfather films and every episode of Seinfeld.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Because many of life’s lessons lay outside the Good Book or the hard sciences or the high art of musical theater. The screen, be it big or small, has served its share of gospel truths over the years, quotes and quips that offer insight and direction to your own life and your own career.
You know, like these:
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” —Chief Brody, Jaws
Yeppers, we’ve all had this feeling. Maybe not of coming near nose-to-nose with a Carcharodon carcharias—it’s a great white—but of realizing in the clap of an instant we are woefully outgunned. Could be a board meeting where the person speaking is a cross between Chris Rock and Steve Jobs… and you’re on deck. Could be a job interview where everyone else is an MBA from Penn State and you’re a GED from the state pen.
Or could be at a trade show in Las Vegas about 20 years ago when you wander into a competitor’s booth and realize your new slot isn’t as hot to trot as you had thought.
There’s only one way to deal with this situation, and that’s to avoid it altogether. Conduct your diligence ahead of time and learn exactly what you are getting yourself into before you get into it. Or step into it. As Charlie Sheen said in Wall Street—speaking of movies—quoting Sun Tzu: “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
“Change calls the tune we dance to.” —Al Swearengen, Deadwood
As fans of this HBO show would know, it wasn’t easy finding a quote from this particular character that didn’t include a 10-letter word ending with –ucker (think about it). But this simple message, delivered stoically, calmly, matter-of-factly while pouring himself a coffee, rings louder than any daisy chain of polysyllabic vulgarities ever could.
Change simply does not care what you need or what you want. It does what it does when it wants to do it. You? You’re just along for the ride. Look no further back than the last two years. Like, who saw this $#%@ coming? But just because something can’t be predicted—pandemic, economic shutdown, supply-chain chaos—doesn’t mean it can’t be negotiated. See it early. Don’t wait for it to overwhelm you. React and attack.
“I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” —Jessica Rabbit, Who Framed Roger Rabbit
It’s hard not to judge a book by its cover. How else are you going to judge it, by actually reading it? Well duh, who has time for that? As author Malcolm Gladwell—he of the 10,000 hours fame and the Garfunkel hairdo infamy—pointed out in his best-seller, Blink: Humans are biologically conditioned to make impressions in an instant, and those impression are unlikely to change.
And they tend to be right.
Master the art of the first impression. Present yourself in a way that’s approachable, likeable, positive and enthusiastic.
“You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself?” —Clarice Starling, The Silence of the Lambs
This is for all the vampires out there. You know, the ones that cannot see their own reflections in the mirror. Of course, irony being what it is, it seems those folks least capable of identifying their own inadequacies are expert at finding them in others, no matter how microscopic.
If you take something as the North Star for your career, take this. Always look inward. Become the toughest critic of your flaws and your blind spots. Let’s be honest: pretty much everyone is talking a little smack behind your back. Better you see your own weaknesses and shore them up before others crucify you for them.
“I am the one who knocks.” —Walter White, Breaking Bad
Yeah, well sometimes you’ve just gotta kick a little ass. Leadership indeed comes in many flavors, from democratic to autocratic to every cratic in between, but wishy-washy-cratic sure as hell ain’t on the menu.
Be decisive and be bold. And if you’re wrong? Brush it off and jump back into the breech. People respect that. They want to be part of it. Yes, even in crisis. Nobody, or at least nobody you’d choose for your team, wants to curl up in the fetal position and hope whatever menace they’re facing passes them by. Rather, they want steer directly into it and duke it out.
And as true leaders, you can’t be afraid to get your hands a little dirty—or a little bloody—along the way.