SPOILER ALERT: If you have yet to see Gravity, please drop whatever you are doing and go watch it now. Otherwise, please feel free to proceed reading.
Unexpectedly, this movie blew me away. I went in so skeptical as I couldn’t separate Sandra Bullock’s voice from something disastrously funny like the movie title: Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. While the visual and 3D effects were arresting, my heart bleeds for this movie because of how it inspires and challenges me. Here, I would like to share with you the lessons I learned from Gravity applied to life and work.
1. Bad Things Happen: Bad things happen often and often for no reason. In the movie, the story is set into motion when a series of large debris hits Dr. Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) space shuttle and sends her tumbling through space. After this catastrophe, a series of unfortunate events continue to challenge our protagonist as she struggles to survive in the most inhospitable environment for humans.
Accept what you cannot control
While we’re not all astronauts spiraling through space, we’re all familiar with days or weeks or months when the little black rainy cloud keeps pouring on our heads. You get a bad performance review; the coffee machine breaks down; you get rejected from your dream grad school; you have to fire someone; the love of your life doesn’t love you. So much of this movie reminds me that we must recognize and accept that there are certain things we cannot control.
Put bad things in perspective
This movie also helps me put things in perspective. The next time I get a Monday morning deadline on a Friday evening, I should think: “Hey! At least, I am not tumbling uncontrollably into the deep dark space utterly alone. It could be worse…”
2. Mindset Shift is Powerful: My favorite scene was the pivot point, when Stone transforms from the victim to a fighter. One minute, she is in the darkest place in the movie where she has given up all hope and begins committing suicide. But she reaches deep within and garners the last bits of strength, giving her the motivation to survive and return to earth.
On the surface it seems that nothing changed. Stone is still Stone with the same body, environment, and equipment. However, everything had changed.
We’ve all been in situation when there’s nothing but you and despair. During the recent recession, many of my friends and colleagues were mercilessly laid off. While some were very depressed, others saw it as an opportunity to work on a start-up or travel the world.
I think this pivotal scene beautifully illustrates how we can pull ourselves out of dark situations with nothing but the power of our minds.
3. Rebuilding is painful: Whether it’s a death of a close one, career set back, or relationship break-up, rebuilding is hard. In the movie, we learn that prior to her space mission, Stone suffered the most painful experience a parent could have — the untimely death of her young daughter. Somehow, she never rebuilt her life on earth and spent years doing nothing but working and mourning. When she decided to fight for her survival in space, she had to go through hell and more to return to earth. (The fireball space shuttle seemed pretty hellish.)
Stone’s extremely challenging journey back reminds me that it’s so much easier to fall into a dark place than to climb out of it. It also reminds me how strong we are as humans. Someone once told me that his grandmother, who survived the holocaust, had lost her eye sight because she lived underground in complete darkness for 7+ years. Since I heard that story, I’ve wondered what her first experiences were like when she stepped outside: Did the sunlight hurt her eyes? Did the open air irritate her skin?
Setbacks are inevitable in life, so we just need to remind ourselves that we need to fight so much harder to come back up.
I hope this beautiful and powerful movie can remind you how to approach challenges in work and life as much as it has reminded me.