Up

One of my most popular posts was ‘The Death of Dreams’ and if the message in that post was adapted into a film, that movie would be ‘Up’.

The ‘Dreams’ piece was written focused more on the ‘embracing failure’ theme of this blog, but actually the film ‘Up’ reflects more about ‘Leadership and Management’. Upside (so to speak) and downside. [SPOILER ALERT – some significant plot and character developments will be mentioned below].

The hero is Carl Fredricksen, a retired balloon salesman. In one of the most poignant opening sequences to a film (and a resurrection of the art and charm of the silent movie genre) you are witness to a lifetime of dreams and experiences.

Carl’s wife Ellie represents his ‘dreams’ (or their dreams), encapsulated in a childhood drawing of a colourful house atop a mystical place called ‘Paradise Falls’ in South America (leadership). A local ‘Wilderness Explorer’ (cub scout) young lad named Russell represents Carl’s responsibilities (management). In the first sequence we see a whole life of dreaming overwhelmed by the practicalities of life. But after that, the heart of the story is one big adventure which encapsulates the constant tension of balancing the two – dreams and responsibilities.

Embarking on this big adventure, Carl feels that his life has been all about practicalities as the expense of the dreams. As a result, he is now very ‘dream’ driven. After losing his wife and being pushed to despair, he finally exhibits a lot of ‘leadership’ qualities such as initiative, focus, vision, determination. And when Russell inadvertently gets swept up in the adventure, Carl is pretty begrudging and displeased as Russell represents more of the same old practicality and responsibility. Carl literally holds his leadership dream (“Paradise Falls”) close to his heart in the form of a picture in his shirt pocket. But, he belies his management responsibility when he exclaims his most assertive line of the film to Russell…“I want you safe!”

The moral of the story is sort of a converse of the classic aphorism, ‘life is what happens when you are making plans.’ ‘Adventure’ is not a plan or destination or a dream. Adventure is what happens when you are living life with all the gusto you can. The safe ‘snipe’, the safe Russell, the happy household…all turn out to be the just as much of an adventure as perching yourself at the top of an exotic waterfall.

In contrast to Russell, professional adventurer Charles Muntz portrays the broken and twisted heart of someone who won’t embrace the failure of a dream and let it die with dignity. Despite what the world saw as the most adventurous life on the planet, to Charles all was lost because a specific piece was not achieved. Forebodingly, his objective is not the ‘house on Paradise Falls’, but the ominously dubbed ‘Monster of Paradise Falls.’

‘Adventure’ is just all “Stuff I’m Going To Do” in Ellie’s words inscribed on her poignant memento. As dreams morph into memories, Russell reflects, “Sometimes, it’s the boring stuff I remember the most.” My wife and I can certainly identify with this sentiment. Now that we are empty-nesters having done our stint raising two wonderful children, our first advice to parents is ‘Capture the mundane.’ As we reflect on the twenty-plus years of joy, we have umpteen pictures and videos of birthdays, Christmases, vacations, recitals, milestones and sundry other ‘special’ occasions. But it is the simple, ordinary, day-to-day things are the ones that we reminisce about the most…the cute phrase, the bedtime ritual, the quirky habit. And the top of them all…the all consuming, squeeze-the-breath-out-of-you hugs.

The turning point for Carl, inspired the inscription from his Ellie – “Thanks for the adventure.  Now go have a new one.” – lovingly illustrates my two key messages in ‘Death of Dreams’. “Dreams don’t die…they simply morph into something nearly as inspiring – memories” and “Moving on means replacing the old dreams with new ones.”

Leaders have lofty dreams, Managers keep from losing the house. Both together have an adventure of a lifetime.

To quote from my very first post and the Dee Groberg poem ‘The Race’, “For all of life is like that race, With ups and downs and all.”

 
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