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A Christmas Carol: How Scrooge Can

Help You Discover Second-Act Significance

Gary Schneeberger

December 20, 2022

To be a “Scrooge” during the holiday season carries the connotation of being miserly and miserable, prizing possessions and position over people. As written by Charles Dickens in his 1843 novella A Christmas Carol and brought to motion-picture life in more than a dozen movie and TV adaptations, Ebenezer Scrooge has become synonymous with “a crabby, selfish old man who hates Christmas.”

Of course, “Bah, humbug!” is not the end of Scrooge’s story… In fact, here at Beyond the Crucible, he could be the poster character for, as we often say, not letting your worst day define you, for moving beyond setback and failure. Especially this year, in fact, one in which we’ve spent a good deal of time exploring how to discover your second-act significance, there may be no better character who comes around every Christmas to study as a means of learning how we each can move from “Is this all there is?” to “This is all I’ve ever wanted.”

We devoted an entire podcast series to the stories of guests no longer willing to suffer through that frustration, who sought to make changes in what they did for a living and how they did their living. Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t come to that crisis point of his own volition, of course; he is not self-aware enough to feel stuck, dissatisfied with the direction of his life or discontented that he’s not living with a sense of purpose and calling.

But those visits he receives from the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future – what are they if not a word-for-word summary of the 3 Steps to Significance Process we’ve laid out in our first-ever e-course “Discover Your Second-Act Significance”?

  • Step 1: Learn valuable lessons from your first act.
  • Step 2: Create a vision for a life you love for your next act.
  • Step 3: Start transforming your vision into reality.

Those are the beats of any faithful filming of A Christmas Carol. Let’s examine them as they play out in the 1951 version, considered the most classic telling, to help us navigate our own journey to an authentic life and career filled with deeper meaning, purpose, fulfillment and joy.

 

  1. Learn lessons from the ghost of Christmas past. 

The first ghost takes Scrooge back to his childhood, lonely at boarding school, rejected by his father who sent him there. “Nobody has ever cared for me,” he sadly tells his beloved sister, Fan, who comes to tell him their father has relented in his disdain for the boy because their mother died while giving birth to him. The ghost also shows him scenes of the parties and dances he used to attend with friends at Christmastime as a young adult, his sweet courtship of his girlfriend Alice and the people-first priorities of his first boss, Mr. Fezziwig. “It’s not just for money we spend a lifetime building up a business,” the older man says after a Mr. Jorkin, with decidedly different thoughts about what’s most important in life, tries unsuccessfully to buy him out.

But then life gets harder, and Scrooge gets colder, in the scenes the ghost shows him. Fezziwig loses his business to Jorkin, who hires Scrooge and pairs him with the more cutthroat Jacob Marley to run the operation. Fan dies giving birth to her son Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. Jorkin embezzles funds from the company and Scrooge and Marley make it right with the board as a means of taking over the firm. Alice breaks off their engagement, saying the harshness of the world has made Ebenezer callous and fearful. As Marley lies dying, Scrooge refuses to leave work even a moment early to say a final goodbye to his partner. He misses the chance but feels no remorse; in fact, he takes the man’s money and house.

These insights from the ghost of Christmas past mirror what we urge those who take our e-course to examine: what they both enjoyed and didn’t enjoy doing when they were younger and what they can learn from those experiences to help them craft a new vision to launch them into their second act. The journey through his past reminds Scrooge he once lived life in pursuit of something more than making money. He once not only liked people but loved them. The ghost suggests it’s not too late for him to have all of that back again, to recover the earnestness and kindness he lost as he grew older and more jaded. He dejectedly says, “I’m too old and beyond hope.”

But the next ghosts prove to him that isn’t true…

 

  1. Plant seeds of a new vision from the ghost of Christmas present.

The second ghost brings Ebenezer into the lives of the people he knows, and treats shamefully, in the present day. They can’t see him, but he can see them. First his nephew Fred and his friends and family, who are having a festive holiday gathering and talking about Uncle Scrooge in kindly terms. They feel love for him, but a little pity, too. Next they visit Alice, who is caring for the poor at a shelter.

Then on to the home of Bob Crachit, Scrooge’s clerk. The Crachits have an ill and disabled son, Tiny Tim, but they are enjoying a warm Christmas together – their patriarch not saying a cross word about his boss despite the demanding, compassionless way he is treated by him.

In these moments Scrooge is allowed to see himself through the eyes of others – those whom he treats with indifference and disdain. The ghost tells him the purpose of the visits is to show him “the good in men’s hearts,” but Ebenezer sees more than that. He recognizes the same good that was once in his heart. This is the moment in A Christmas Carol that Scrooge takes stock of his life and wonders “Is this all there is?” Working long hours for money he hoards, no one to love and no one to love him? Even before the final spirit appears, Scrooge is beginning to imagine what a new vision for his life might look like.

 

  1. Transformation is possible courtesy of the ghost of Christmas future. 

When the ghost that shows Scrooge the future shows up, he has been moved enough by what his first two visitors showed him to ask a critical question: “Surely the ends will change?”

When he is shown his destitute servants showing off the meager possessions they took from him after he died, when he is given a glimpse of the Crachits after the death of Tiny Tim, he emphatically declares, “I am not the man I was!” He has come to realize it is not, indeed, too late for him to change. Not too late for him to live his life differently. Not too late for him to launch a second act of true significance.

He awakens Christmas morning “light as a feather” and “happy as a schoolboy.” Not only has his outlook changed, but his personality and even his visage has. He happily tosses a coin to a boy on the street – the kind of urchin he would have derided before – and asks him to bring the butcher’s grandest turkey anonymously to the Crachits. The next day, when Bob returns to work a bit late, Scrooge pretends for a moment to be his old taskmaster self, poised to scold his clerk. Instead, he raises the man’s salary and when his largesse is met with a befuddled look says, “I haven’t taken leave of my senses, Bob. I’ve found them!” The character and talents he lived by in his younger days have been reignited. By the end of the movie, the narrator says that Ebenezer Scrooge has not only become a man “who knew how to keep Christmas well,” but also a second father to the healed Tiny Tim. God bless them, every one, indeed.

Scrooge’s journey in A Christmas Carol may not be a common road to take to find a life of second-act significance, but as different as the details of his story might be from ours, we all can still learn from it the steps to take to find the fulfilling existence we’ve always wanted. It begins with understanding where we’ve been and what gifts and abilities got us there; then crafting a unique vision rooted in our wiring now that we are again tapped into it; and finally making that vision a reality by taking one small step at a time toward living life on purpose in service to others.

Even without the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future, that’s a recipe for banishing the “Bah, humbug!” from our lives.

Reflection:

  • As you look back on your younger days, what did you enjoy doing that you haven’t been able to do in recent years?
  • What would you do if anything were possible?
  • What’s one small step you could take today that would allow you to act on your answers to the first two questions?

Ready to create a life you love?

  • To learn more about our new e-course, Discover Your Second-Act SignificanceClick here