Whiplash. I didn’t watch it for a while as I thought it was the name of the latest Disney movie. True story.
I was watching this movie for the 6th time this week and wondered: Why did it get so much success? Sure, it’s wonderfully written, acted, shot, edited, musically incredible, [add any other superlative here].
But is that it?
Not that it’s not enough, don’t get me wrong. Most movies barely keep me awake these days, I age by 80 years every time I go to the AMC next door. But Whiplash has something more than a well-executed piece of art. It touches human feelings and deep core values that empower the audience and give us more drive. Nothing less.
Here are 10 lessons that we can learn from the movie.
1. Feelings don’t matter
Let me clarify this one:
You can’t control your emotions. You can’t predict exterior events that will upset you. But what you can control is your reaction to them. You don’t choose your feelings, but you can pick your thoughts and actions. And that gives you an inner locus of control.
Plus, the cherry on the cake:
Behaviors influence our feelings.
When Andrew starts practicing hardcore – up to the point when his hands start bleeding – did he give up to the pain and emotional distress he was feeling? I can’t even focus when I have a paper cut (but I don’t cry. I mean. Most of the time). Why didn’t he stop playing as anyone would? Because although he was feeling pain, his focus was on something else. Excellence for instance. When you can reach a state of flow, nothing can stop you.
2. Be relentless
It’s no miracle that Andrew made it to the core ensemble of the best class of the best music school in the world. The movie opening scene pictures him working late at night, harder than anyone else. And guess what, it’s getting harder and harder as the movie goes. First sweat, then blood.
Because real competition is not against others. Real competition is your past self against your future self.
When you focus on growing and improving, your drive can be limitless.
Oh, one side effect is, people will notice. And they will wonder:
How the hell did you get better like this? You must have a gift.
Because they can’t imagine you worked way harder than they did. And that’s because it brings them to their limits, fears, and lack of control of their lives. Strive for perfection. Never give up.
3. Grab every opportunity
You never know where a situation will lead you. So keep hustling in your realm, no matter the job. Always be in touch with people, keep practicing. Sometimes, you’ll feel like it’s a loss of time, there are too many people ahead of you.
It only takes one shot to go from no one to someone. The gap between you and your goals is not that big. Trust me. You have to be ready. So keep practicing. And show up. When the core drummer loses his folder, guess who knew the score by heart and could step in and have a shot? Bingo. Andrew grabbed his chance. Luck favors the bold and smiles to the prepared minds.
4. No excuses
Leave excuses at the door when entering the world of dream chasing. No one cares about the reasons why you didn’t make it. No one cares about the efforts you put in to almost make it. Only results speak for themselves.
Remember that one time when you almost made it?– No one, ever.
Only actions last.
When Andrew got into a car accident, did he complain? Sure, he was in pain, and in shock. But did he use it as a reason not to give it a shot for the concert? No. Did he get caught up in bullshit reasons why he was late? Nope. I mean, I bitch about the elevator being slow when I’m late for a meeting. When he got hazed at the beginning of the movie and showed up at 6 am – 3 hours before the class starts – did he complain? When he arrived on stage on the last scene and had to improvise as he didn’t know the music, did he give up? Did he use the situation as an excuse to leave?
No excuse. Period.
5. StAND up for yourself
When he got late to the first competition he was in, Andrew confronted his teacher Fletcher for the first time. He got into an argument and stood up for himself. Andrew was the core drummer, he owned the position, and he was going to play it. He also went and braced himself to ask his future ex-girlfriend Nicole for a date. He saw her dozens of times before and never did anything.
The only thing he was touching was his father’s hand in the popcorn bucket.
The moment he got balls, everything upended. Be bold or go home. You don’t ask; you don’t get. No one is waiting for you; no one will give you your shot. You have to take it for yourself. Take what you want. No one else will give it to you. Unless your father’s Bill Gates. Then he might give it to you. But that’s not even certain.
6. Break to rules
If you follow the rules, if you follow the ordinary path, you’ll be playing someone else’s game. You’re serving someone else’s interest too. Rules are made to be bent, and if you don’t, you will not maximize what you can be. Every industry follows a pyramid shape. The best / most acclaimed / most famous / wealthiest people on top… down to the bottom where newbies start.
Did you notice?
It’s a pyramid-shaped hierarchy, not a rectangle one. Meaning, most of the people never make it to the top. Why is that? Well, if you play by the rules, like everybody, your competition is humongous. Conversely, if you create your opportunities and rules, you decrease your competition. By doing so, you increase your odds of success. In the last scene, Andrew stops following to the conductor. He takes the lead, which is not his role.
He comes to be under the spotlight and takes a shot at standing out among his peers and before the audience. Had he played by the rules (even if he had known the score), he would never have had a shot a shining.
7. Get the right support
Throughout the movie, Andrew surrounds himself with two types of support. First, his father, who has unconditional love for his son but doesn’t get his struggle. He is the settlement figure. His father settles for himself as an unpublished writer teaching in a high school. He settles for his son at the end of the movie when Andrew leaves off stage, and he tells him “let’s go home.” Andrew’s girlfriend is a similar type of support. Nicole has no drive herself, she’s not ambitious, and she’s lost. She doesn’t pursue anything and seems to go with the flow, being more passive than active in her own life. She doesn’t push him to become a better version of himself. And because she wasn’t supporting him or inspiring him, he decided to leave her.
His mentor – as sick as he can be – is Fletcher.
Where lies the difference?
This mentor knows deep down that Andrew can become great. He pushes him – most of the time in an extreme fashion – but he enables him to become the best version of himself. You need to find a support system that believes in you and doesn’t settle for you. You need to surround yourself with people that see you are and where you could go. Anything less than that will lead to fade your drive.
8. Get your priorities straight
What’s the first thing you did today?
Check your emails? So you want to be the best email reader in the world? If yes, good, that’s a great start. Otherwise, you don’t have your priorities straight. Do first what comes first in your priorities in life.
Andrew didn’t let a mediocre relationship cast a shadow on his first goal of becoming one of the greats in jazz. He didn’t allow a car accident and the paperwork that should ensue mess with his target. He is going to play in the competition, no matter what. Do you want to have a productive day? Do that single thing that matters to you the most, first thing in the morning.
Don’t have the time?
Sleep one less hour. That’s it. Start acting as if you need it. Otherwise, you’ll never have it.
9. ABC: Always Be Conning
Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.– Henry Ford
When the Fletcher tells Andrew: the worst two words that one could say to someone are: “Good job“. It doesn’t mean you have never to be satisfied and never appreciate the progress you’ve made. It means that there is always more to learn and to improve. You will never reach perfection, and that is great. That means you’ll still be able to learn new stuff, new skills, hone your craft, whatever it is.
And that’s where happiness lies:
In the continuous process of growth. Once you stall, you wilt.
The movie also teaches us ways to learn. When the Fletcher runs into Andrew rehearsing in the beginning, or when he asks him to play for the first time in his class, Andrew performs in public. Not by himself in his room. And that’s the fastest way to learn: practice in public.
Get your work out there. Otherwise, you don’t exist. I’m not saying that it should be perfect, or even that it should be good. Forcing yourself to expose your work will enhance your skills. It will make you accountable and will put you in a situation of a no-return point.
Also, use different learning channels. When Andrew doesn’t drum, he listens to jazz on his stereo. When he doesn’t listen to his radio, he goes to jazz clubs. Immerse yourself.
10. It’s not about the money. It’s about making a dent.
The dinner scene stunned me. Andrew is having dinner with his family. People start trashing his industry, saying that it’s hard to make a living in that realm. When Andrew talks about Charlie Parker, his father points out the fact that he died broke drunk at 34. To that, Andrew retorts:
I’d rather die drunk and broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90, and nobody remembered who I was.
As long as people remember you. As long as you leave a mark. As long as you make a dent.
No one will care about how much money you had when you were alive once you’re dead. People only remember what you left behind. What is your legacy to this world? You’re here for a short period, make it count. Don’t go unnoticed. Strive for eternity. Unless you’re the next Hitler. In that case, chill. Take a nap. Have a coconut.
Whiplash is a masterpiece to me. Awaking drive and motivation is tough, and could get very cheesy. Whiplash is real, Whiplash hurts. Whiplash can talk to anyone with a dream. Nothing’s easy. But nothing’s impossible either. Keep working. Keep trying.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.– Les Brown