A few months ago I found myself sitting in the movie theater wowed by the flash of color and fantastical musical numbers dancing across the screen before my eyes as I watched 2017’s The Greatest Showman for the first time. It wasn’t until my second (and third and fourth) viewings of the film, though, that I was struck by the tremendous lessons its plotline could lend to all of us, regardless of where we are at in our lives or what we are facing.
So, Grammy-worthy soundtrack aside, here are 5 lessons we can learn from The Greatest Showman:
Shame Can Only Hold Us Back If We Let It
As human beings, experiencing shame at one point or another is nearly inevitable. In the third song of the film, we see Phineas Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, cast the limelight on his band of “nomads”, most of who feel ashamed of their outward appearance. As the musical number finishes off, we see their transformation from people who once hid in the shadows to confident performers filling the stands with applauding crowds.
Their transformation is catalyzed by the belief of Phineas in their ability and worth. With someone finally able to find the beauty in their differences, they are empowered to “be all that they can be”.
The lesson here for all of us, as illustrated throughout the film, is that shame is the enemy of progress. It is a lie that we tell ourselves or are told by those around us, yet one that can be overcome through courage, belief in oneself and in recognizing the beauty in those circumstances and qualities which make us unique.
“You Don’t Need Everyone To Love You, Just A Few Good People”
This direct quote spoken by Charity Barnum to her fame-crazed husband in the middle of the film holds a wise reminder for all of us, particularly in a day and age where there is mounting pressure to be “liked” and “followed” on every platform of social media. It’s easy to become concerned with the opinion of others, to the point that we even become obsessed with gaining affirmation and acceptance from as many people as we can. In reality, chasing this type of popularity can actually become a burden that pulls away from what matters most, as happens to Phineas in the film.
We are reminded from his mistakes that it’s actually okay to be not be adored by everyone. What matters most is finding and acknowledging the support offered by those closest to us:—those family and friends who have proven their authentic loyalty and who are willing to stand by us no matter what we find ourselves facing.
Where You Come From Doesn’t Define Who You Are Or Where You Are Going
Perhaps one of the most inspiring messages in the film is brought through witnessing Phineas’ journey from a destitute young orphan to the successful showman he becomes. Despite growing up with virtually nothing, his passion for creating, refusal to give up, and leaning into the support of close family ultimately leads him to fulfill and even exceed his wildest dreams.
Though it sounds cliché, the same is true for each of us. We don’t have to be defined by where we’ve been. We have the power and ability to write joy, goodness and change into our stories, no matter what mistakes we have made or hardships we have faced.
The Joy Of Others Is A Worthy Pursuit
Real-life P.T. Barnum, on whom the movie is based, is quoted as saying, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” While the film depicts those who hold to their critique of Phineas’ show, we are reminded that using our talents, gifts and opportunities to try to bring joy to others is an absolutely worthy pursuit, and one which will likely bring us as much happiness as it brings to others.
Dream Big & Take (Calculated) Risks
We should never be afraid to dream big and aim high, and while there will likely always be some element of risk to the big decisions we make in life, fear should not be a factor in deciding whether or not to move forward. At the same time, we can also learn from Phineas’ mistakes that our risks should still be kept in the check of logic and are best vetted by others who can give us clear and unbiased advice.
In many ways, these same lessons are ones which we work to impart to our clients on a daily basis. We help empower them to overcome feelings of negativity to realize the beauty that lies within each of them; provide holistic care to minister to all aspects of who they are, including the reminder that the totality of who they are cannot be defined by one chapter in their life; and finally, to help them see that their current circumstances do not have to keep them from achieving their dreams and accomplishing their goals.