You were made for changing someone’s life, bringing hope and making someone better. And I learned that from three made up dudes.
That’s right, you can learn a lot about having a great life with lessons from Logan, Luke Skywalker and Lightning McQueen. You might be asking what the baddest mutant in the history of mutants, an effeminate Jedi, and an anthropomorphic animated car can teach anyone about anything. I mean, each of these characters are in stories aimed at kids. Hold on nerds, I love X-men and Star Wars too, but let’s be clear, they are for kids. Your grandpa would be bummed if he knew you were a fanboy. So, put down the lightsaber (you realize that’s an electric penis, right?) and hear me out.
I think (hope) all of us wonder about purpose and meaning at some point. As I step, childless, firmly into middle age, I am struck by thoughts like “What about my life truly matters?”, “Is there more to this deal than paying bills and working?”, “When did I become irrelevant?”, “Why am I soft in the middle now?” If you’re on the earlier end of the timeline you may be wondering about the “How” of those questions. (How do I make sure my life matters, I don’t become irrelevant, or soft in the middle?) Regardless of where we land on the timeline, these guys can teach us something.
Note: The whole rest of this post is full of spoilers and assumes you know who these guys are. If you don’t, just skip to the end. (And get a life.)
With Logan we find a guy who’s all washed up. Just doing his best to make ends meet, to make some old crazy bastard happy and putting in work until he finally, thankfully, drops dead. (Did I just describe adulthood?) This guy is on the struggle-bus. Until, out of nowhere he finds a purpose, a raisin de ehtree, a reason to be. Actually, it found him. His life becomes radically and immediately different. It’s way harder. He isn’t super pumped about it and he really kind of resents it. But, ultimately, he embraces it and life becomes way sweeter. He learns what it means to care about something more than himself. Logan is a lesson in sacrifice. Once he puts his purpose ahead of himself, his pride and his baggage, he becomes nearly unstoppable. In the really real world our purpose rarely finds us, so we have to go looking for it. Either way, having one (even if you’re not sure it’s “the one”) is super important. So get one. You need a purpose to live a great life.
In The Last Jedi we meet up with Luke Skywalker again, only this time he’s fat and out of shape, hiding from his past in a sort of self imposed isolation. (That sentence would have been shorter if I had just said “he is middle-aged”.) Luke has a purpose (fighting evil). It’s been chasing him down since 1977. But he’s pulled away from it because he’s terrified of screwing up, again. Luke’s missed one key thing: Evil doesn’t stop because you stop fighting it. (And your purpose moves on without you.) When he finally figures out that the battle rages on without him, he decides to get back in the game. He attempts to come to grips with his mistakes and move forward confidently despite them. He leans back in to his purpose, in spite of his fear, and he’s an absolute badass when he does. He beats the snot out of Baby Vader Von Douchenozzle the Third and all his giant war machines. Just one guy, a little old and out of shape with a paunch, who might be just a bit of a dandy…defeats all the bad guys. FROM A ROCKY LEDGE IN A WHOLE OTHER STAR SYSTEM. I mentioned that this post is LOUSY with spoilers. If you haven’t seen it, sorry. Also Luke dies at the end. That’s the most badass Yoda thing ever. And this guy’s just been laid up watching Hogan’s Heroes reruns or something for the last few years. It seems that you’re meant for your purpose. Even if you don’t think you’re good enough. Even if you jack it up a couple of times. It’s yours. Own it. You have to chase your purpose even if you’re afraid you’ll eff it up.
Then, with Lightning McQueen we see a guy who’s at the top of his game. Winning at life. Seemingly at the peak of a successful career. Until the young guys come gunning for him. With their hi-tech new fangled techniques. He’s out there reading the Wall Street journal and playing golf with clients and these guys blow past him by building their own personal brand and becoming social influencers. (Ok, it’s a movie about racing and they use fancy bodywork and simulations to train, but you get it.) Regardless, he has no idea how to compete. They’re doing things that he’s never heard of and beating him at his own game. He has to ask someone for help. Someone younger. And, worse yet for some guys, a girl. Then, to make things really dismal, he has to come to terms with the fact that, even if he tries to do what they’re doing, he just doesn’t have what it takes. He’s old news. His day is done. He’s faced with admitting his days of “doing the thing”, are over. He can’t “do the thing” like he used to. (For those of us hitting that part of the deal, wow, does that suck.) Lightning has to try and reframe how he sees himself and the value he brings to the world around him. In a stroke of introspective and humble genius that I never expected coming from a cartoon car, he decides the thing he can do best is share what he knows about “doing the thing” with someone who is younger and better able to take it to the next level. He decides to do all he can to give a younger racer a chance to be the best. And he freakin’ loves it. He’s in his sweet spot. He gets to watch her take it to the next level while getting the satisfaction and joy of being a part of it. It turns out experience is way more valuable when shared and your purpose should be outside of you.
The bottom line is this, if you want a life of impact, you need a purpose. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s the right one, if you think you’re ready for it or if you’re just plain afraid of it. Make a move towards something other than your own self interest. If you’re one of those “analysis paralysis” guys, get over yourself. Pick a thing. Anything. And DO IT. Sure, it may not be the right thing but getting reps at actually doing something will prepare you for doing the actual thing you’re supposed to do. (I’ll bet you figure out the right thing in the middle of those reps.) You might just find some inspiration (and even direction) for your purpose at MAN CAMP. You certainly, absolutely, unequivocally will not find it on the couch.
See you out there.