“Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight…I want to look him straight in the eye and tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless…bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey sh– he is!”
Clark Griswold (Played by Chevy Chase; Christmas Vacation)
“NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.”
Ralphie Parker (Played by Peter Billingsley; A Christmas Story)
“This is my house and I have to defend it.”
Kevin McCallister (Played by Macaulay Culkin; Home Alone)
Learning a lesson is easy. Changing your behavior after learning it is much harder.
It was midnight on Christmas Eve and I still had to finish mopping the floor in the back of the Verizon cell phone store. Mopping sucks by the way. Seriously. This wasn’t some new age Swiffer I was using. It was an old school wooden mop with a web of those long disgusting grey dreadlocks attached to one end.
I was secretly working as a janitor to help pay off some medical bills I racked up after getting diagnosed with a stress-induced kidney condition during my last year of graduate school. It was a graveyard gig, which worked out well because I didn’t want any of the other graduate students to see me. I remember laughing to myself (at myself?) every time I had to spray and scrub the employee toilets. I’m months away from being a doctor and I’m cleaning toilets!
How To Stop Cleaning Toilets
I woke up the next morning at 5AM to shovel 8 different driveways. Why? Because it snowed 3 feet the night before while I was scrubbing toilets and I needed the money. It wasn’t that bad though. I liked shoveling snow. I felt a sense of pride doing it. Or maybe I just got off on the idea of other people feeling bad for me. Look! I’m up on Christmas shoveling snow because I’m a poor graduate student! Feel sorry for me!
I’m not sure why I took these odd jobs. I guess I thought working harder would solve all of my problems. But it didn’t. Sure, I made some money. Sure, I became a little more disciplined. But I didn’t get any closer to my real goals. Looking back, I realize that this kind of work was just a way for me to temporarily escape my problems. Like going to an action movie when you’re bored. Or a comedy when you feel depressed. Pure escapism.
There’s no pride in working just to work. You can’t get closer to your real goals simply by being busy. This is the business lesson I learned that Christmas. Eventually, I quit cleaning toilets and shoveling driveways and channeled all of my energy into getting my degree and starting my business. That’s when things finally started to change.
Now I Have A Machine Gun – Ho Ho Ho
Remember in the first Die Hard movie (which is technically a Christmas movie) when John McClane throws a dead body out the window of the Nakatomi Plaza onto the police car? McClane gets the attention of the police officer (the guy who played the Dad in Family Matters) and they end up developing a friendship and helping each other defeat Hans Gruber and the rest of the bad guys. There are so many lessons here!
First, McClane is an action-taker. He sees the cop car driving away and, instead of deliberating for hours or feeling sorry for himself, he acts quickly, creatively, and aggressively. He does this over and over again throughout the movie. When bad guys shoot a rocket launcher at the LAPD, McClane opens the elevator doors and throws a chair strapped with C4 plastic explosives down the shaft to wipe out the shooters. Then, at the end of the movie, when Hans Gruber is holding McClane’s wife hostage, McClane creatively tapes a handgun to his back and uses it to save her. Such innovation!
Second, McClane and the police officer, Sgt. Powell, are great friends by the end of the movie. Why? Because they went through an extremely stressful event together. The lesson here is that all strong relationships are formed through adversity. This is especially true in business. Ulysses S. Grant, the famous Civil War General said it best, “The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most.”
Third and finally, Sgt. Powell, overcomes his fear of firing his gun just in time to save McClane and McClane’s wife. The lesson here is simple—to grow, you have to face your fears.
10 Christmas Movies, 10 Business Lessons
There are business lessons in everything, even Christmas movies. These lessons are buried deep, not because they’re small, but because they are the framework that all other lessons are built on.
The question is, are you willing to look? Are you willing to see these lessons, learn from them, and grow? Or, will you deny them until they defeat you? The choice is yours to make. Here are 10 Christmas movies with 10 business lessons:
1. Christmas Vacation – Tell your boss how you really feel.
Your boss does not want you to kiss up to him. You might think he does. He might even think he does. But he doesn’t. Your boss wants honesty. He needs people to tell him exactly what they think without fearing being fired.
Christmas Vacation is another National Lampoon movie about Clark Griswold trying to be the hero family man, this time by having an old fashioned family Christmas. The only problem is everything goes wrong and everyone treats Clark like crap, including his in laws, his boss, and his kids. The climax of the movie hits when Clark realizes that his boss, Frank Shirley, cancelled his Christmas bonus. Clark snaps and in one of the best movie rants ever, tells everyone he’d like his boss delivered to him with a bow on his head.
Clark’s derelict brother-in-law takes him seriously and kidnaps Frank. This is where the business lesson happens. After kissing up to his boss the whole movie, Clark finally looks his boss Frank in the eye and tells him exactly what he thinks–that it was a horrible and selfish decision it was to cancel the bonuses last minute. In the end, Frank respectfully apologizes to Clark and reinstates Clark’s bonus with an extra 20% added on top.
You will never get your boss (or anyone) to respect you by agreeing with everything he says. This is nothing new. The Athenian historian, Thucydides once wrote, “For it is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well and look up to those who make no concessions.”
The fastest way to move your career forward is to stop letting your boss and colleagues push you around and start standing your ground. Stop changing your mind and compromising just to please the people you work with. If you know you’re right, say so. Don’t compromise yourself. Make no concessions.
2. Scrooged – Pain is a powerful motivator.
When you hide from past mistakes, you repeat them. A better strategy is to face painful experiences head on and map out a plan for avoiding them in the future.
When you’re constantly focused on yourself, it makes it hard to see how your actions are affecting other people, including your fans, followers, customers, and longterm clients. It’s also hard to see where you’re going to end up in the future.
Scrooged is a 20th century remake of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Frank Cross, played by Bill Murray, is the world’s biggest ass. He fires his employees on Christmas eve and keeps a mirror in the top drawer of his desk, just in case he needs a confidence boost. Frank believes other people are just objects to be used.
Then, late on Christmas eve, Frank gets visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. By the end of the movie, Frank effectively quits his job, reignites an old relationship, and apologizes to the world live during a television broadcast. The business lesson here is that pain is a powerful motivator. Whether it’s the memory of your parents fighting, a missed business opportunity, or getting punched in the face by the Ghost of Christmas Present, you can use this pain to your advantage.
Are you learning from your mistakes? Do you know how your actions are affecting others? When you look ahead, do you see a tombstone with your company’s name on it, or do you see something better?
3. The Family Man – It’s never too late to change course.
It’s never to late to choose “and” instead of “or.” Most people think that they have to give up certain things to advance their careers. They feel like a gun is being held to their heads and their being forced to choose between success or happiness. But, very often, this limiting choice is self-imposed. There’s no reason you can’t have both.
What if you woke up on Christmas morning in a different bed married to someone you dated over 10 years ago and with two kids? This is what happens to Jack Campbell, played by Nicholas Cage, in The Family Man. Jack goes from being a rich and powerful business executive in Manhattan to living in a typical middle class home in New Jersey. He’s supernaturally forced to live this alternate life until he learns what he’s been missing.
The business lesson doesn’t come until the very end of the movie when Jack’s former life is restored and he wakes up in his Manhattan bed back on Christmas morning. A few hours later, he cancels a trip overseas and instead meets his old girlfriend at the airport, convincing her to miss her flight to have coffee with him. Most people think the lesson here is that family is more important than business. But that’s superficial and based on a limiting premise that you can’t have both a great career and a great family.
The real lesson is that it’s never too late to change course. There’s no reason you can’t be a big time executive and a great family man. There’s no reason you can work for a big company and start a company of your own. You may have made the mistake of accepting “or” in the past, but it’s never too late to change course.
4. A Christmas Story – Be obsessed with your mission.
The business world is so competitive now that the only way to be successful is to relentlessly pursue your mission. Never give up, no matter how many obstacles come against you.
A Christmas Story is about the thoughts and actions of Ralphie Parker, played by Peter Billingsley, who spends the entire movie scheming to get his ideal Christmas gift, a “Red Ryder air rifle.” Similar to the Sandlot and the Wonder Years, the story is narrated by Ralphie’s older self. The best part of the movie is at the very end after Ralphie has opened all of his Christmas presents and is sitting in a pile of Christmas paper, content and somewhat accepting the fact that he failed to get the rifle. Just then, his Dad points out one last gift hidden behind a desk. Ralphie runs over and opens it. It’s a Red Ryder air rifle.
The biggest business lesson in this movie is to never give up. Like Ralphie, don’t listen to the teachers, authority figures, and fat men in red suits who tell you what you can and cannot have. Don’t ask. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t give in to negative people. Go out and take what you want.
Also, be careful what you wish for. After Ralphie opens the Red Ryder rifle, he starts shooting it in the backyard. A few minutes later, one of the rifle’s BBs ricochets off a pice of metal and hits Ralphie in the face. The lesson here is that sometimes the thing you want most isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Or it requires a much higher level of responsibility than you’re currently ready (or willing) to accept.
5. The Santa Clause – No matter where you go, there you are.
Call it your nature, call it fate—either way, you can’t escape it. You are the way you are. You’ll never be a big time business executive for a traditional corporation if you hate working in cubicles and going to meetings. You’ll never be a successful entrepreneur is you are risk averse and undisciplined.
In The Santa Clause, Scott Calvin, played by Tim Allen, is a divorced Dad who has custody of his son on Christmas Eve. Early in the movie, Scott accidentally kills a man in a Santa suit and learns that he has to now take Santa’s place. This Santa Clause (as in a legal clause) is not up for debate. Scott has to become Santa. A very memorable scene of the movie shows Scott shaving his face only to have a full white beard grow back seconds later. No matter how much Scott tries, he cannot not escape his fate. The same is true in business.
Instead of fighting you who are, accept it. Instead of constantly trying to fix your weaknesses, start leveraging your strengths. Also, accept the fact that there is a larger calling for you and your business. Like Scott, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You are part of a legacy. You can’t escape this legacy, but you can help direct it.
6. Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Your business doesn’t make you great, you make your business great.
It’s easy to think that the company you work for is what makes you great. Or it’s resources, products, and clients that make you great. But the greatest and most important thing in your business is you. If you’re a mess–if you’re unorganized, unmotivated, and absent–your business will fail. You will fail. Or, you’ll be fired.
Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville – did not. These are the famous first lines of Dr. Suess’s classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Several rhymes later we learn that the Grinch stole all of the Christmas presents, decorations, and food in Whoville only to discover that the Whos were still able to celebrate Christmas. They were able to celebrate it because the presents and goodies were not the source of Christmas joy, they were the source of Christmas joy. The same is true of you and your business or business career.
Always remember that you are the source of your own success. With so much of the world’s economy based on human attention and human connection, it’s important to realize just how much you and your relationships are worth. Greatness comes from you and other people, not from material goods being shuffled back and forth.
7. It’s A Wonderful Life – Your network is your net worth.
There will come a time when you feel demotivated or can’t figure out the answer to a problem. When this happens, the only way to move forward will be engage the positive and likeminded people you’ve surrounded yourself with.
In It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey, played by James Stewart, has a wife and four kids and is about to face scandal, bankruptcy, and jail when he wished he was never born and decides to kill himself. Just then, a 2nd class angel who has yet to get his wings is sent to Earth to make George’s wish come true, showing him how the entire town and the lives of everyone he knows would’ve turned out. Slowly George realizes how many lives he has positively changed and in some cases, literally saved, as well as how these lives would’ve be different if he was never there.
At the end of the movie George runs back to the bridge and begs to be allowed to live again. His prayer is answered and he runs home joyously where police officers are waiting to arrest him. That’s when George’s wife, Uncle, and a flood of townspeople arrive with more than enough donations to save George and his business. The business lesson here is simple–your network is your net worth.
All business is about relationships. If you want to be successful, you have to consistently invest in good people. If you make enough investments when the times are good, then others will be there to invest in you when the times are not so good.
8. Elf – Not fitting in is your biggest advantage.
The goal of many businesses is to turn you into a replaceable cog. The pattern for this is always the same–big company has money to burn and hires individual because he’s uniquely talented, big company beats down talented individual and forces him to fit, big company has to cut costs and fires individual because he is now replaceable.
Elf is about a–wait for it–elf named Buddy, played by Will Ferrell, who grows up to be a human adult in the North Pole. Everyone is aware of the fact that Buddy is a human, not a real elf, except for buddy. Since the North Pole is an environment designed for real elves, Buddy lives a very uncomfortable life. He also sucks at his job. Buddy’s toy making skills are comparatively horrible to the other elves and he is unable to keep up with their high quotas. Buddy is demoted to a demeaning job testing the toys the elves make and symbolically has to wind up a Jack in a Box that springs a pop-up clown that keeps laughing at him.
Buddy eventually finds happiness by quitting his job, leaving the North Pole, and going to New York to find his real Dad and make a better life for himself. By the end of the movie, Buddy is a husband, father, and famous children’s author. The business lesson here is that fitting in is often one of the worst things you can do for your career. You will never rise above middle manager by fitting in. You will never climb to the top of the ladder by becoming another rung in the ladder. This is something you have to acknowledge and fight against every single day.
Whether you work for yourself or someone else, the pressure to conform is always intense. You will always feel a need to copy your colleagues or copy your competitors. But copying is always a mistake. Always. Do the smart thing, focus on yourself, your mission, and your customers. Do everything you can to differentiate yourself and your business. Work to stand out, not fit in.
9. Home Alone – Rely on yourself.
You can’t stay a baby forever. Sooner or later, no matter what position you’re in, you’re going to be left alone to fend for yourself. When that happens, you’ll only have two options–succeed on your own, or go down.
Home Alone is a film about a boy named Kevin McCallister, played by Macaulay Culkin, who is mistakenly left behind when his family flies to Paris for their Christmas vacation. Kevin, once he realizes he’s alone, experiences a range of emotions. He goes from being scared to enjoying his freedom. Then he gets sloppy–crushing buckets of ice cream before bed and stealing his family’s stuff. Over time, Kevin learns to take care of himself. He shops for food on his own and cooks his own meals. At the end of the movie, when burglars try to break into his house, Kevin stands his ground. Instead of running away scared he decides to stand his ground.
In business, your primary goal should be to stay as independent as possible. The more dependent you become–on managers, colleagues, investors, or even customers–the more danger you put yourself in. Practice the art of self-reliance by either learning to do something entirely on your own, or teaching someone else to do it and giving them full autonomy to execute it without you.
10. Miracle On 34th Street –Believe in something bigger than yourself.
Most people will not believe in you or your business at first. That’s okay. Keep believing. Some people might try to bring you down. Your own mind might try to convince you that what you’re doing doesn’t matter. That’s okay. Keep believing. And keep taking action in line with your beliefs.
In the original Miracle On 34th Street, Kris Kringle, played by Edmund Gwenn, discovers that the guy assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is drunk. Kris tells the event director, Doris, about it and she persuades Kris to act as Santa instead. Kris does such a great job that he’s hired as the Santa for Macy’s flagship New York City store on 34th Street. Eventually, people find out that Kris actually thinks he is the real Santa Claus. Kris is labeled mentally ill and has to go to court to defend himself from being committed into an insane asylum.
At the end of the movie, the lawyer representing Kris gives the Judge of the case three letters that were addressed to “Santa Claus” and delivered to Kris. The lawyer’s argument is that the U.S. Post Office (and therefore the Federal Government) has acknowledged that Kris is the Santa Claus. When the Judge demands “further exhibits”, mailmen bring in 21 bags full of letters address to Santa Claus and sent to Kris. That’s when the judge dismisses the case and everyone who believes that Kris is really Santa starts to celebrate.
The business lesson in Miracle On 34th Street is that you have to believe in something bigger than yourself to be successful. You and your business have to have a larger mission–a purpose that drives everything you do. The stronger you believe in this purpose and more consistently you act in line with it, the faster and larger your business will grow.
What business lessons did I miss? Can you think of another Christmas Movie that has a business lesson hidden in it?
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