To quote Henry David Thoreau:
All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.
Although Thoreau's words were a bit over my head when I first read them, I remember that I've always been drawn to the writings of much smarter men and women than I. So, while reading books like Walden, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins in my early teenage years, I gleaned wisdom without actually understanding what I was absorbing. It wasn't until later in my life when I first saw the movie Dead Poets Society that I began recalling the words of wisdom that Thoreau had imparted upon me several years earlier.
As a sophomore in high school, I was pretty confident that I knew what my driving force would be - I was going to be nothing special. I had no overwhelming passion for anything, so I settled for conformity – as many high school students do. I had always been smarter than my peers, or at the very least more of a smart-ass about being smart. I didn't feel that I could learn anything more so I coasted through much of my academic years. Yet, I never imagined that my whole outlook on life would be changed in my American Literature class in 2002.
When my teacher started this class, he mentioned that we were going to look at the life and work of writers such as Henry David Thoreau. My ears perked a bit, as I remembered reading Walden. Then we watched a snippet from Dead Poets Society and I heard Mr. Keating, portrayed by Robin Williams, recite words that I knew to be paraphrased from Walden when he said,
"Most men live lives of quiet desperation..."
As Mr. Keating spoke about striving to find your own voice, I could feel myself resonating with this idea – essentially because I knew that I didn't know what mine was. Through most of my childhood and early adolescence I had always conformed to whatever I supposedly needed and adapted to what I believed people wanted me to become. I never strove for a unique angle on life. So, before the end of that day, I went out and bought a copy of Dead Poets Society.
Needless to say, it was immediately launched into my list of all-time favorite films. Over the years, and after countless times of watching Dead Poets Society, the film has taught me three particularly important lessons about life and what I expect to get out of it.
1. Find A Passion, A Voice, A Purpose – And Pursue It.
What I discovered about my own life was that I had never truly sought out my passions. Much like Neil Perry discovering his love for the theater, I needed to step out of the mundane and the expected to find something that truly mattered to me.
"Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.' Don't be resigned to that. Break out!"
It was this process of finding my passions that has led me to write here on Moviepilot. I learned that I had a knack for storytelling and fell in love with the art of writing – so I started pursuing it. That's not to say that I'm an exquisite writer like Thoreau, King, Crichton, Walden, but I have found one of the things that brings me joy, and I'm going to keep pursuing it.
2. Success Is Something To Find In The Mundane, Not Just In The Finances
For so many years, I considered success as having that six figure career. Yet, it really wasn't until recently when I learned the truth – even though I first stumbled upon this insight thanks to Dead Poets Society. In the film, Mr. Keating clarifies another Walden quote by explaining what it means to be successful.
Sucking the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone.
Yes, the goal is to get the most out of life, but living too fast or recklessly isn't the point. It's the journey that matters. It's the ways in which you find success, joy and excitement. In the last 10 years, I've learned to find success in the small things, and some of it I discover through interacting with my own children – because they are ultimately my greatest success. As Mr. Keating would say,
Seize the Day boys, make your lives extraordinary.
3. Finding Acceptance Is Less Important Than Trusting Myself
This was a rather poignant lesson for me to learn, since for much of my life I sought the approval of people in my life; whether that was from my parents, my teachers, my friends or my supervisors. In Dead Poets Society, Mr. Keating explains to his students that finding your own unique spin on life is as important as living life itself.
To a point, this idea is the summation of every life lesson Dead Poets Society has taught me. There's more to it than just finding something you're passionate about or finding success in the small moments. Trusting that your beliefs are truly your own was the most pivotal lesson for me, because it helped me grow to a point where I had a faith that wasn't predicated by those who came before me. My faith in myself, as well as my spiritual faith, were inspired by the words of Mr. Keating through Dead Poets Society, because I felt as thought I could walk forward and define my own faith – as if it was a right that had belonged to me all along.
All in all, Dead Poets Society is one of those films that will never, ever get old to me. It's always refreshing to hear the film's uplifting ideas from time to time, and it's a good reminder of the lessons I learned about my own life and how I can continuously apply them still to this day.
What film changed your life? Let me know with a comment.