Career Change Lessons from the Movies

June 11th, 2008

You can learn a lot about career change from a cartoon panda and an Israeli counter-terrorism agent.  I know this because it was so hot in New York this past weekend that I could feel my brain cells melting. So we decided to escape to the multiplex for some frigid air conditioning and screenings of Kung Fu Panda and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that both films tackle the themes of career identity and career change. In Kung Fu Panda, Po the panda works in his father’s noodle shop, but  dreams of becoming a kung fu master. Zohan is an Israeli counter-terrorism badass who really just wants to cut hair (and wear sassy denim shorts).

While these films may not be cinematic masterpieces, they are definitely entertaining. And you may even find them ever-so-slightly educational on the subject of career change.  In fact, as I was finishing this post, I heard about an interesting article related to this idea in today’s Boston HeraldDarren Garnick has some great points about how Zohan can be a role model for career changers (he also quotes some of my advice from Escape from Corporate America).

Once I started thinking about it, I realized that some of my favorite flicks feature heroes struggling with discovering their true callings. So I put together a list of my Top 10 movies about career change. Keep in mind that I don’t recommend following any of the examples in these films too literally.

1. Office Space

I have to lead off the list with the best movie of all time about escaping from a crappy job.
Lesson: Don’t waste your life on TPS report covers.

2. The Godfather

War hero Michael Corleone gets pulled into the family business despite loftier intentions.
Lesson: If you want to be Godfather,  you may have to sell your soul.

 3.  Fight Club

A disgruntled office employee finds a unique way to vent his work aggression.
Lesson:  Sometimes a bad job really isn’t better than a kick in the head.

4. Jerry Maguire

Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise show us how to make a dramatic exit from a bad job and how  to start a successful business against overwhelming odds.
Lesson: Success is sweeter when it’s on your own terms.

5. American Beauty

A depressed suburban father finds happiness after quitting his job to work in a fast food restaurant and obsess over Mena Suvari.
Lesson: Stop and smell the roses.

6. The Matrix

A computer programmer discovers that his entire life is an illusion and sets out to lead his fellow humans in a rebellion agains the machines that are enslaving them.
Lesson: A virtual life is no life at all.

7. Iron Man

A billionaire defense industry mogul rejects the corrupt family business to become a superhero.
Lesson: Money can buy a pretty sweet house, but it’s more rewarding to kick terrorist butt.

8. Michael Clayton

An exceedingly good-looking "fixer" for a morally flexible law firm discovers a client’s dark secrets and tries to get out of his job alive.
Lesson: You can only stomach corporate dirty work for so long.

9. Ghostbusters

Three professors leave academia to start a ghostbusting business.
Lesson: Bustin’ makes them feel good.

10. Working Girl

A Staten Island girl finds a creative way to climb the corporate ladder.
Lesson: Fight for your ideas and you might just end up with a window office AND Harrison Ford.

Buy The Book
Serious Times

The Shawshank Redemption:
Successful banker, framed and serving life without parole – finally escapes to restore boats on a Mexican beach paradise.

Lesson: To reach your dream sometimes you’ll have to wade though a lot of cr@p. (watch the escape scene).

mark mcclure

Pamela Skillings

That’s a great one! I love it.

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Thanks! Love this post.

There is a great scene in Stranger than Fiction, in which Maggie Gyllenhaal explains to Will Ferrell why she dropped out of harvard Law to bake cookies. i wrote about it in my blog, in a series of posts called “Stranger Than Fiction” and Personal Mastery.

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[...] Career Change Lessons from the Movies at Escape from Corporate America [...]

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[...] Harris is an American film actor, far past his prime. Lost in Translation. He visits Tokyo to appear in commercials, and he meets Charlotte, the young wife of a visiting [...]

Tarun Goyal

One movie that i think really fits the bill over here is The Pursuit of Happyness…

It is more than a movie to me, with its awesome quotes and awesomer acting by Mr. Smith…

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