Monday, May 17, 2010

Having the Time of Your Life in Business: 6 Tips from the Film We Can't Forget

Over the weekend, I happened to catch one of my favorite movies, "Dirty Dancing," which is all the more poignant in light of  the still fairly recent death of actor Patrick Swayze. Although I've seen the movie many times, I was struck in this most recent viewing by the intensity with which Johnny teaches Baby the infamous dance routine that she performs to replace Penny. In a heated few days (I read up on this - the film was shot in Virginia under such high heat that several cast members apparently passed out), he teaches baby about balance, how to do lifts, feel from the heart, take flying leaps, and how not to look down.  She struggles, but in the end accomplishes the moves well enough to pull off the performance, and do even better in the grand finale "Time of My Life," sequence that has become a hallmark of the film.

So maybe you see where I'm going with this. I got to thinking about how not only that sequence, but so much of this movie surprisingly is a great metaphor for life and business. Here's my breakdown:

1. Don't freak out if you have to learn fast.
In the film, Baby only has a few days to get her routine together. While at times frantic, she maintains her composure pretty well, and actually enjoys herself. So if you have something suddenly fall into your lap that you have to master pretty quickly, concentrate, take a deep breath, practice over and over again, and don't beat yourself up if you're not perfect. The main thing is to get through it and try. Others can tell when you're genuine and make the effort. It counts for a lot. If you make a mistake, learn from it, and fix it for the next time.

2. Don't let anyone put you in a corner, and while you're at it, dazzle the audience:
OK, it's a corny line, but it works. There's no greater moment then when Johnny issues that famous line, "no one puts Baby in a corner," and then whisks her onto the stage, which she certainly seems to own once she's up there.  So, take the spotlight if you feel it's yours, and don't let anyone take it away from you. That means: make that speech, presentation, or pitch. Move if you have to, stay up all night if you have to, make 50 phone calls or send 500 e-mails if that's what you need to find your place in the sun. After all, if you don't claim your space, someone else will take it. And while you're at it, you might as well be dazzling.

3. Realize that things are often not what they seem:
Much of the plot of the movie and its twists and turns (no pun intended) has to do with false perceptions.  Baby's father (Jerry Orbach) thinks mistakenly that Johnny has gotten Penny pregnant, when in fact it was Robbie. Johnny is mistaken for a thief, until Baby clears up that it could not have been him, as they were together all night. Johnny thinks of Baby as fearless, when in fact she admits, "I'm afraid of everything."  Baby's father at one point tells her, "you're not who I thought you were."
In business and in life, we need to be super aware of everything. Do your peers and associates meet deadlines, be where they say they are going to be, produce what they are accountable for? Do you? Beware of agendas, and be ready to straighten out misconceptions before they get out of hand. 

4. Stand up for what you believe in, and believe in change:
One of the themes of the film is standing up for your beliefs. Johnny is so impressed and moved that Baby admitted to their relationship to everyone, that he returns to Kellerman's for the final dance of the season, newly invigorated.  Baby sees herself as a bridge between cultures and people, and wants to be a part of both the working class world of the Kellerman's staff, as well as someone who uses her economic advantage to do what she considers the right thing. We end up routing for her because she seems classy even in her flawed moments, such as failing to do the infamous "lift" in the first dance show, and running to get her father in emergencies.
The lessons in this movie ring true - evil gets punished, and change is inevitable.  The terrible Robbie finally gets exposed for being rotten, and the thieving couple get put in prison, and those who resist change and the new way of covering the dance floor, will surely  "sink like a stone." Watch the last scene of the movie --there isn't a single person who isn't dancing "the new way."
So if you're not sure what you believe in, do some soul searching, and start speaking out. The right people will follow.

5. Keep your sense of humor:
The movie has more then its share of tongue-in-cheek moments. There are great scenes when Baby and Johnny are mimicking the voices on the soundtrack and are playful with each other. And who can forget Lisa, Baby's sister, rehearsing her goofy "Hoola Hana" song for the big end of season guest show.
When times get tough, let loose a little and try to laugh...things will seem better in the morning. 

6. The actors' lives beyond the film - you're only as good as now:
Paradoxically, the huge popularity of the film (it's been deemed one of the most watched movies ever), had a somewhat dooming effect on the actor'  lives, and seemed to typecast them for years later.  While Swayze went on to gain popularity with "Ghost" and other films, Grey changed the way she looked and became so unrecognizable, her roles seemed few and far between. Many other characters retired early, or disappeared completely.
This is itself is the lesson of carpe diem. Place the greatest importance on what you are doing now, because tomorrow, or the next day, you may show up at Kellerman's only to find the place has shut down.

And now, for those of us like me who can't resist, here's a clip from the infamous final scene, which by the way, has  a whopping 194,676 views. Enjoy!


Unknown said...

Hi Carrie - great article and thank you so much for sharing. I might just have to watch it one more time!! Great lessons for life and business. Is there a quick way to share your post with Twitter? Thanks Carrie!

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, if you would like to share on social networks and Twitter, just click on the Bookmark icon at the end of the post and you can select Twitter from the choices listed there. Thanks again, and also feel free to subscribe.