Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Star Wars

Seeing Star Wars for the first time was a seminal moment in my young life.  Not only did it open my eyes to what a movie could be, but it taught important lessons that have served me well all the way into adulthood.  Here are a few of the things that I learned from watching Star Wars and its two sequels, because those are the only ones that were ever made.

(By the way, here's the appropriate soundtrack for reading this post)

Trust your feelings.

It's easy to overthink things, especially if you're one of those "hard to reach" logical types like me.  But sometimes, you face a problem that can't be dissected, diagnosed, and solved.  Whether it's because the problem is too complex or because (gasp) people are involved, you might find your logic failing you.  Or it may be that the logical solution isn't exactly the right one.  At those times, you need to trust something other than your conscious thought processes.  Whether you call it your gut, your feelings, or your intuition, there's something built into each one of us that processes information far faster than our conscious mind can and often comes up with the perfect solution in seconds.  We just spend the next 10 minutes (or 10 months) trying to find the justification for that answer, even when we somehow know it's right.  When you don't have time for that kind of processing, or when you've already tried all of the usual tricks and they've failed you, then maybe it's time to make like Luke in the Death Star trench and "trust your feelings."

Of course is your feelings have a track record of getting you into terrible trouble, then you might want to look for other sources of guidance.

Scruffy and noble aren't mutually exclusive.

We often judge people by appearances, and while that first impression may actually be quite correct -- the guy asking for change on the mall will almost always turn out to be a bad financial advisor -- it can also miss something important.  Sometimes, the scruffy nerf herder (whatever that is) turns out to be a noble hero, even when he has to go against his best instincts to do so.  In the same way, that surprisingly awkward IT guy at your office might turn out to be a genius, or at least an entertaining gaming companion.  When we look below the surface and allow our opinions to change as we learn more about people, we open ourselves up to wonderful possibilities.  This takes time, a willingness to defer judgment until all the evidence is in, and the ability to admit when you got it wrong the first time.  The best leaders are able to do this, as are the best friends.  And who knows?  That scoundrel could save your life some day.

Be careful who you kiss: she could be your sister.

I don't know if this is really a life lesson, but it scarred me emotionally for years.  I was so rooting for Luke and Leia to get together that when we all found out she was Luke's sister, it felt like we all committed incest together.  I'm telling you, that made me very cautious in my relationships for a while: checking eye color, asking about blood types, demanding a detailed genealogy by the third date... it wasn't pretty.

Do... or do not.  There is no try.

I spoke about this at Ignite Boulder a few years ago, but this is a quote you can live by.  When we "try," we hold back, saving a little bit for the recovery in case we fail.  Like a distance runner who saves too much for the final kick and loses by a stride, we never know if going all in would have made the difference between success and failure.  I have seen many people "try" at life, whether it was a new career, pursuing a dream, or reaching a personal goal like riding a bike for 100 miles.  More often than not, those triers quit before they reached the goal.  They weren't committed, and when things got tough -- as they always do in life -- it was easier to go back to the old rut than to push through the challenge.  No successful entrepreneur sums up his story with, "so I decided to do this thing part-time without taking any risks, and now I'm a millionaire!"  No one achieves their dreams by working on them only when they feel like it.  Life is a long-term gamble with a finite number of chips.  Sometimes you have to go all in, or else watch slack-jawed while someone else succeeds where you failed.

Let the Wookie win.

There are times when you have to deal with people who are simply unreasonable: they can't admit when they're wrong, they have to be the center of attention, or every good idea has to come from them.  You've tried reasoning, you've tried cajoling, you've probably even tried yelling.  The problem with unreasonable people is that they're so, well, unreasonable, which leaves the rest of us at a loss when trying to reasonably work through a conflict.  When you try to use logic or persuasion with an unreasonable person, it's like bringing a giraffe to a gun fight.  If you don't know the rules, you can't win.

So when all else fails, just let the Wookie win.  It will shut him up for a while and you can walk away knowing that you were the bigger droid -- er, person.  The best part is that everyone else will probably know it, too.

Hokey religions and ancient weapons actually are a match for a good blaster at your side, but bring the blaster anyway.

It never hurts to be prepared.  Sure, you could use some Jedi mind trickery to convince the client to buy your product or get that pretty girl to go out with you, but why not bring some facts and a good presentation along, too?  We all have one or two tricks that have worked well for us in the past, but flexibility and preparedness are the precursors to success.  Then, when your favorite line doesn't work, you'll have a backup ready.  I love to wing it in conversations, partly because I like the thrill of improvising, the way that it requires you to be completely in the moment in order to succeed.  I like solving problems live with a group of people rather than presenting a fait accompli for them to go along with, and I'm actually pretty good at it.  But I've also learned that a little bit of structure can actually make that process work even better, and a little bit of preparation can ensure that we meet our goals more quickly.  Other people prefer a much more structured approach, but they can find themselves at a loss if things don't go exactly according to plan.  They have to find a way to act spontaneously in those moments until they can get back on course.  Finding the balance between the blaster of preparation and the spontaneity of the Force is the path to becoming a true Jedi.

And if all else fails, run at them screaming.

Don't mess with a good thing: significant is better than perfect.

George Lucas showed us all how to dream on a massive scale, and how to stick to your dreams when no one else believes in them.  He also showed us what happens when you don't know how to let go of your dreams and share them with others.  Whether it's inserting an inane conversation between Han and Jabba in the remastered version of Star Wars Episode IV or making Greedo shoot first just because he didn't want Han to have a dark side, Lucas couldn't leave well enough alone.  He failed to recognize that his dreams were now our dreams, and those moments, imperfect though they might have been, had shaped our lives.  The ambiguity actually made the story better, and when he tried to "clarify it" for us, he took something away from us.  Sometimes, we need things to be imperfect.  We need room to debate, to challenge, to interpret.  We need to make things our own.

Whether you're working on a project at work or making Play-Doh sculptures with your kids, there's a point where you need to let go and let someone else share the vision.  They may not do it the way you would -- your daughter might decide that the little man needs a third arm so that he can hold his drink while he eats -- but they'll make it their own, which means you aren't alone in your vision anymore.  When you do that, you enable more people to participate, which means that you can do more together than you ever could have done alone.  And sometimes, you'll accomplish something that's greater, stranger, and more wonderful than you could have ever imagined.  That's the power of collective imagination, and that's what the movies have always been about.

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