Everyone loves a good montage. Rocky runs through the streets of Philly.* The Mighty Ducks start working together as a team. Iron Man builds some stuff. Luke trains with Yoda. The climbers make their ascent.
The montage sequence is cool. It's this string of images where people work hard, solve problems, and persist. They're sweating, laughing, scratching their heads, and high-fiving. The team comes together. And the music rocks.
At the end, the transformation is nearly done. All that remains is the culmination. Soon enough the cup is won, the challenge surmounted, the enemy vanquished. Everest, once a dream, is now real as the protagonist stands atop the summit.
Here are three important things that are critical for you and me to understand as we work hard in school and in life.
First, in real life, we tend to over-fixate on the fruit of the montage and under-fixate on the montage itself. The montage is a narrative shortcut to the good part we're after — the fruit of the work.
- The teacher wins the award, or her kids have the 99% pass rate on the exam, or her efforts lead to changed policy.
- The drummer makes it onto the world tour, playing for thousands each night.
- The author's book hits the bestseller list.
- The climber summits Everest.
- The politician gets the nomination.
Second, the fruit of the montage seems way more permanent on film than it is in real life. Life's movie doesn't end at the end of the story arc. It keeps going. It's this jumble of story arcs. So in real life:
- The award-winning teacher can still list every kid he failed to reach this year. He knows that the pass rate doesn't tell the whole story. And what about next school year? These things add pressure. They create questions. What do I do next? Can I do it again?
- The drummer grows tired of playing the same songs every show. His brain is on autopilot. He's bored at the repetitive nature of doing shows, and he kind of hates himself for being bored.** He's disturbed by the fact that even fame can feel normal.
- The buzz from the author's book fades. She starts hearing from her editor. Friends begin asking, “What's next?”
- Weeks after Everest, the climber has bills to pay and the pressures of life just like everyone else. The memory is a great one, but its luster starts to fade.
None of this is to say that achievement isn't cool — it's one part of PERMA, after all. It's just that achievement isn't as cool as the montage movies make it look.
And third, the montage in real-life is long. As in, longer than a three-minute song. This is one of those “so simple that it's stupid” points. And yet I think it's probably the most important of the three. Whenever we're exerting ourselves in an area of life, working at improvement, then we're in the montage — at work, at home, in our intellectual growth. And the montage is really, really long.
We're all in the montage, and the moments of glory aren't what they seem. Best instead to learn to glory in the montage and to be ever in it: whether it is the montage of learning how to work, the montage of learning how to love, the montage of learning how to rest… you get the idea.
If this was a tough year, zoom out and see it for what it can be: part of the montage sequence in which you became a wiser, more formidable educator.
*Here's a string of every single Rocky training montage. So good.
**It was this interview with world-class drummer Dave Elitch that sparked today's post.
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