“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.”
“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
Phil Connors (Bill Murray; Groundhog Day)
At some point in your life you are going to have to make the decision to either bloom or wither where you are planted.
Most people have seen the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a sour and disgruntled Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during a hated assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, finds himself repeating the same day over and over again.
If you haven’t seen the movie, watch the following preview and you’ll get the gist:
Groundhog Day has been out for almost 20 years, yet it is still entertaining and insightful. Everyone likes imagining how to enjoy life while living the same day over and over again. How cool would it be to spend all of your money, quit a bad job, tell off the people you don’t like, and live totally without consequence?
During Graduate school, I came to a point where I felt like I was reliving the same day and it completely changed my perspective. I realized that feeling trapped in your own personal Groundhog Day is not fun.
Sooner or later, everyone feels like they are reliving the same day. This point might come after the freshness of a new job fades and you find yourself doing the same repetitive tasks, waiting on a promotion. Or it might come after the excitement of a new relationship wears off and you start feeling trapped or bored, wishing for something more.
Though you might feel tied down physically, there are several things you can do to move forward mentally. And where the mind goes, the body follows. Here are 6 lessons that will help you bloom where you are planted and break free from life’s sticking points:
1. You are the only person responsible for where you are.
Once Phil, played by Murray, realizes that he is living the same day over and over, he tries to rationalize his way out of the situation. First, he tries to leave Punxsutawney but is stopped by an incoming blizzard that has already shut down the only road out of town. He argues with the highway patrol officer and blames the officer for not letting him leave. Next, he tries to book an outbound flight but finds out that everything has been grounded due to the same storm, so he yells at his travel agent.
Phil’s physical confinement is symbolic of his mental confinement. He hates his life and he hold’s other people responsible. Likewise, too many people lock themselves into a particular lifestyle and forget that they have the key. When you feel stuck, it’s tempting to blame other people and struggle against the situation itself. Instead of complaining, realize that you are where you are because of the decisions you’ve made.
Life has a way of convincing us that we are held in certain situations. However, we are rarely held anywhere. In Graduate school, I felt completely trapped. But the truth is, I could have left any time I wanted. I was there by choice.
No matter how unfair the situation, you can change it or leave at any time. Whether you feel confined by a mortgage, a relationship, a business contract, or any other personal or professional commitment, no one is forcing you keep the commitment. Most importantly, no one forced you to commit in the first place.
2. Sex, money, power and pie won’t satisfy you.
Once Phil accepts that fact that he’s stuck in Groundhog Day and there’s nothing he can do to change it, he starts to living carelessly. He goes out drinking, gets in a high-speed chase with the police, and gets arrested. Then he starts smoking, eating 10,000 calories a day in pastries and pies, stealing money, and sleeping with the hottest women in Punxsutawney.
At first this seems cool, like Phil is “living for today”. The problem is that everything he does leaves him feeling empty on the inside.
When you feel stuck in a situation, it may be tempting to take hedonistic turn and start doing everything you can to temporarily increase happiness. However, what you are really doing is distracting yourself from the larger problem, a lack of deep fulfillment and lasting enjoyment. Instead of asking yourself how to increase happiness, ask how to enjoy life.
3. You can’t fake who you are and trying to do so will destroy you.
After Phil tries to increase happiness by indulging in every short-term pleasure he can think of, he sets his sights on dating his coworker Rita, played by Andie MacDowell. Phil finds a way to take Rita on the “same” date over and over again. Each time he learns more about her and then uses that information to manufacture a false connection between them.
The entire time Phil is pretending to be someone he’s not. On the surface, it seems like Phil is merely trying to convince Rita that he is her ideal match. But really, Phil is trying to escape himself. He thinks that dissociating, or removing his true self, will remove his problems.
After some success, all the dates start ending the same way with Rita slapping Phil in the face. Dejected, empty, and hopeless, Phil kills himself in a dozen different ways but is unable to escape Groundhog Day.
You can’t escape a situation by hiding your true self. I tried to hide who I was in Graduate school because I thought it would help me graduate faster. I pretended I wanted to be an academic professor, like my committee members, so that they would identify with me better and let me graduate. I toned myself down and tried to be less outspoken, less humorous, and less good-looking (an extremely difficult task) but it only made the situation worse.
Do not lose the most important thing you have going for you – yourself. Moving forward and achieving your goal, no matter what it is, requires authenticity and vulnerability.
Regardless of where you are stuck in life, hiding your true self or dissociating will not help you get unstuck. It is better to be bold and to show your true colors. Openly display your strengths. Expose yourself.
4. The first step to changing a situation is to change your perspective.
One morning, after failing to kill himself a dozen times, Phil decides to change his perspective. The audience is not privy to it but somehow Phil uses his pain as leverage to make a positive change. This change is best seen in the interactions between Phil and Ned Ryerson, played by Stephen Tobolowsky. Watch how one person’s perspective can change the entire course of an interaction.
Phil goes from thinking of himself as a lens through which Punxsutawney should be looking, to thinking of Punxsutawney as a lens through which he can look to learn more about himself.
He stops asking how to increase happiness and he starts finding ways to enjoy life more. This simple shift in perspective changes Phil’s entire Groundhog Day experience. Suddenly, Phil sees the value in each individual. He starts being present and connecting with other people. He starts learning from them, acknowledging their ideas, and helping them achieve their dreams.
The key to changing any aspect of your lifestyle is changing your perspective. Most often this change in perspective has to do with how you are seeing the outside world, specifically, other people. Instead of seeing a person as merely a nuisance, or a barrier between you and your future, try taking a genuine interest in her. Ask her about her goals, her regrets, what she’s most proud of, and so on. You might be surprised what you learn, about both her and yourself.
5. Bloom where you are planted.
The last 30 minutes of the movie are incredibly inspiring. Instead of withering and dying, Phil starts blooming where he is planted. He makes the best of what he has, right where he is, by investing in himself. Phil starts taking piano lessons and reading classical literature, he joins the motor club and learns first aid, and he volunteers all around town. This is when Phil truly starts “living for today”.
Focusing on what you can do to make yourself better right where you are, and doing it, will move you forward faster than obsessing on where you want to be. I finally realized this truth during my last six months in Graduate school. I stopped focusing on where I was trying to get to and who was holding me back, and I started putting energy into who I was, where I was.
I launched a passion project called Interview With A Wrestler, a venture that I later turned into a donation-based fund to help raise money for high school wrestlers, and I started designing this blog. These projects helped me connect with others, build my skills, and bloom where I was planted.
6. No matter where you go, there you are.
What differentiates Groundhog Day from the majority of other films that follow the personal growth of one person, is that Phil changes his life for the better without losing his personality. He alters his perspective and behavior, not his essence. Phil remains witty, sarcastic and a bit of an ass.
Your essence is who you are and what makes you unique, and thankfully, its almost impossible to change. Most movies, especially romantic comedies, show the main character developing into a better person by losing a piece of himself. The character becomes a little soft, emasculated, docile, or neutral.
You don’t need to lose your fire or your edge in order to move forward. Spend your time and energy changing your perspective, adjusting your behavior for the better, and looking for opportunities around you. Invest in yourself and find ways to enjoy life more right where you are.