Life Lessons From “La La Land”

La La Land just swept the Golden Globes. There are a lot of reasons for that which I’ll leave to actual movie critics. I did enjoy the movie, but not in the typical “I-laughed-I-cried” (although I did) sort of way. But more in an “I’m-wowed-by-its-life-lessons” sort of way. Because some of its offerings were stunningly and straightforwardly profound. Who knew that a film featuring a tap-dancing Ryan Gosling would be a tutorial of wise counsel we’d be wise to follow and pass down to our kids? (Warning: I’m not revealing a lot about the plot, but if you’re particularly sensitive to spoilers, maybe don’t read on.)

1. Follow your dreams. Even when you’re at the end of your self-confidence rope. Even when everyone around you is a naysayer. Even when you’re eating leftover toast for dinner every night. Don’t quit. Recent studies show that older folks need to push through the discomfort of learning something new to keep their brains strong and viable. And that’s an accurate metaphor for a lot of things in life. So, if you really want it — whatever “it” is — you must find a way to propel yourself through the pain, the self-doubt, the criticism, and the nagging voices in your head telling you to just give it up. (Because, really, who do you think you are to want that thing, that job, that promotion, that role?) Sound familiar?

Okay. Sure. Not everyone is going to make it to the Hollywood red carpet. But did you ever watch a movie and think, “Wow, this actor isn’t even that good — or that good-looking — but look at him doing his acting thing and making millions”? Yes, you have. Because it’s not always the best and brightest who rise to the top. Sometimes it’s just the tenacious — the someone with that extra ounce of gumption — who happens to catch a casting agent, or boss, or college admissions counselor at just the right moment. And sometimes that someone could be you.

2. Your partner should be your biggest cheerleader. The protagonists in the film —played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling — are both chasing their dreams. Their dedication to those goals despite crippling fear and anxiety (click to read about how art imitates life in Emma Stone’s case) —  is an awesome and honorable thing to behold. They’re both industrious self-starters, but they are also each other’s most avid fans. When one deviates from his/her stated goals, the other is there saying, “Wait. What? That wasn’t in your plan. And please don’t compromise. I’m here to support you.”

If you don’t have a partner who holds you accountable to your dreams, sings your praises, shares your work, or understands your vision…what, exactly, are you doing? Let me be clear: You can be the best dog-walker on the planet and be partnered with someone who hates dogs. And, really, that’s fine. What isn’t fine is being partnered with someone who doesn’t love that you love what you do. What isn’t at all fine is being married to someone who negates your goals or squashes your ambitions. Because the person who isn’t bursting with pride and enthusiasm for you — who isn’t carrying pompons with your name on them — isn’t someone who truly wants what’s best for you.

3.  You may not end up with the love of your life. And that’s okay. Maybe that person was meant to show up in your life in a specific place or time to teach you something you’ll never forget. Once a year or so, I dream of an old boyfriend. The dream is some version of this: I embrace him and say, “You know, I really did love you.” And, you know what? I did. And he did. And when I wake up, I’m happy for it. Not happy for losing him when I did, but grateful now for the gifts he brought me.

How many of us mourn the one who got away? We fantasize about what a lifetime would have looked like with that person. Here’s the reality: Maybe it would have been pretty frickin’ great or perhaps you dodged a bullet. Best case, it would have been like any other functional marriage: a combination of sweet moments, blow-ups, rising and falling passions, quiet rages, and differences of opinion that may never be reconciled.

There’s something to loving and losing that builds our love character and muscle. Certainly, we’ve been told that formula is better than never having loved at all. But it also demonstrates that we’re capable of loving and being loved — no small emotional feats. To love someone with your whole self — while allowing yourself to be loved flaws and all — is heart courage at its finest. Because there are no guarantees. Ever.

I love movies that don’t end the way we think (or hope) they should. Because — spoiler alert! — not everything in life ends the way we’d like, either. La La Land reminds us that clinging to the illusion of camera-ready endings robs us of the growing pains which guide us toward better or different choices next time. La La Land’s teachings are simple: Be true to yourself, chase your dreams, marry the right person, and accept that things don’t always go according to script.

Because, really, how else is life well-lived?

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