August 19, 2022
This month we’re wrapping up our special BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE summer podcast series Lights, Camera, Crucibles: What Our Favorite Movie Heroes Can Teach Us About Overcoming Setbacks and Failure. It’s been a fun and insightful ride, packed with critical takeaways from some of my and Warwick’s favorite superhero, action hero and sports hero films that can help all of us – even those without secret identities – move beyond challenges and chart a course to lives of significance.
Here are five of the lessons we can apply to our own lives from the stories of these beloved characters:
- Develop perseverance
Captain America tells the story of Steve Rogers, a slight, sickly young man at the outset of World War II who wants desperately to fight for America because he can’t stand bullies – and he sees the Nazis as just that. After getting turned away several times at enlistment offices, he is selected for a top-secret super-soldier project by the doctor who developed the drug. Steve is chosen over more “qualified” candidates because the doctor sees in the Brooklyn kid kindness and humility and a never-say die attitude. Steve refuses, for instance, to take the military’s “no’s” for an answer. Often bullied, he tells his attackers, “I could do this all day” – and that’s exactly the kind of perseverance he will need after receiving the serum and becoming Captain America.
Perhaps even more than his chemically enhanced strength and agility, Steve’s spirit to keep meeting challenges head-on – in or out of costume – is what makes him a hero. As we encounter our own crucibles, adopting that mindset of “I could do this all day” as we move beyond them is a key element to achieving a life of significance.
- Find a team of fellow travelers
A key truth in Crucible Leadership is the importance of having a team of advisers who don’t just tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Early on in Iron Man, such people aren’t the ones Tony Stark surrounds himself with. The billionaire industrialist playboy only has time for admirers – until he is attacked overseas by a foe using missiles his company made.
He only recovers in captivity because another prisoner, a fellow scientist named Ho Yinsen, inserts a magnet in his chest to keep his heart from being pierced by shrapnel. But Yinsen doesn’t just save Tony’s life – he makes it worth saving. Yinsen’s admonishment that Tony stop wasting his life, and his sacrifice in laying down his own life to save Stark’s, inspires the businessman to make other people his business. He improves upon the suit of iron he builds to escape his captors — to defend the world from earthly and cosmic threats.
We similarly need a team of fellow travelers who will speak truth to us as we pursue lives of significance.
- Live life on purpose, dedicated to serving others
Peter Parker is a brainy high school kid picked on and labeled as nerdy by classmates. But when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider during a field trip, he develops the proportional powers of an arachnid. The new abilities come with new crucibles for Peter, though. His me-first attitude, focused on trying to earn money with his strength to buy a car to impress the girl he secretly loves, leads to his beloved Uncle Ben, who raised him like a son after Peter’s parents died, to be murdered.
Peter learns the lessons of that crucible, and of his uncle’s last words to him – “With great power comes great responsibility” – to become Spider-Man and protect New York from those who would prey on the city and its inhabitants. Spider-Man’s commitment to putting others ahead of himself makes it impossible for him to be with Mary Jane, the girl he loves, reasoning his enemies will always try to attack those close to him. But he continues to live a life of significance spurred on by Uncle Ben’s exhortation.
Using our gifts and talents in a responsible way that is others-focused, not self-focused, is what a life of significance looks like.
- Don’t lose sight of your mission … or the values that undergird it
In The Natural, Roy Hobbs is an otherworldly talented baseball player whose aspirations to be “the best who ever played the game” are sidetracked when he is shot as a teenager by a woman he didn’t recognize as a threat. He beats the odds, though, and finds his way to the majors many years later to become his era’s top player, even as an unscrupulous owner and a wily gambler try to keep him down.
His blind spot for alluring women almost is his undoing again when he falls for a moll in the gambler’s employ who distracts him from his vision to be baseball’s greatest star. He goes into a terrible slump that almost costs his team a playoff berth – but is pulled back from the precipice by the love of a truly good woman, the high school sweetheart that reenters his life.
The relationship redeems Roy by setting him back on the course he carved out that aligned with his passions and talents. The same discipline in keeping our eyes on our goals is critical for us, especially in the wake of crucibles.
- Keep your sense of humor
We’ve all heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”; this is true even/especially when the sickness we’re fighting is moving beyond a crucible. In Die Hard, cop John McClane finds himself doing solo battle with a group of terrorists that seize the office building where his wife, Holly, works. Even as life-threatening crucibles pile up, he does not take himself too seriously.
He finds the humor in his plight, as deadly serious as it is. Like the gag he pulls after killing the first henchman: Sending him a down in the elevator to where the terrorist leader, Hans, is holding their hostages, having plopped a Santa hat on the dead man’s head and written on his sweatshirt: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.” Later, while crawling through the building’s air ducts to evade his pursuers, he flips on a Zippo lighter he took from one of the other terrorists he neutralized and quips as he tries to navigate his way forward, channeling Holly: “Come out to the coast. We’ll get together, have a few laughs.”
Lines and actions like these serve to cushion the blow of the crucibles McClane keeps suffering. He teaches us the most tragic circumstances can be met with an attitude of hopeful optimism. We don’t laugh because what we’re going through is funny, but because it helps stabilize our spirits to meet the challenges – emotional and otherwise – we’ll encounter on our path to significance.
Learn the lessons of these movie heroes and you’ll be ready for your close-up – even in the midst of a crucible.
- How would you rate your perseverance skills? What can you do to be even better at meeting challenges with an “I could do this all day” attitude?
- How do you deal with distractions that threaten to pull you away from pursuing your vision?
- In what ways can you bring a humorous perspective to your crucible? Remember, it’s not about making light of what you’re going through but lightening the load of its impact on you.
Get The Whole Story
- To listen to our summer podcast series Lights, Camera, Crucibles – Click here