Christmas decorating is not something I particularly enjoy doing every year. Not that I’m the Grinch who stole Christmas. I love the Holidays because it’s a time to be with friends and family, most of whom you probably have seen since the previous year. Putting up a tree and decorating it with ornaments and lights is just not something that brings me ever-lasting happiness.
So when my wife and I started a new tradition during decorating time, it made this tedious work go by a lot quicker. We started watching Elf every year while putting up our tree. For those of you who live a hole, Elf, the character (and also the movie name), is played by Will Ferrell, one of the funniest humans alive. The movie is a mixture of love, laughter, and wholesomeness. It’s the funniest Christmas movie you’ll ever see, but it also teaches some valuable lessons.
And one of these lessons that it teaches wasn’t so apparent to me up until recently (recently meaning when we were decorating over the weekend). On a basic level, it’s pretty obvious, but you really have to look at the whole story to get a better appreciation for what this lesson means and how it can impact your life tremendously. And before we go into the magical world of Elf, let’s jump back into reality and get an idea of what forms our personalities as individuals.
When we are born, are minds and bodies are a clean slate. Sort of like a new computer hard drive that hasn’t been filled with downloads and documents and pictures and videos, our minds have no expectations of the world because it has had no interaction with it so far.
As we grow and learn, we start to understand what is and what isn’t. Between the ages of 0 and 5, our personalities and morals and ethics will basically be ingrained in us. This is all based on how we’ve interacted with our parents, our siblings, and the environment around us.
What we also learn to understand is what society expects of us. Depending on what generation you grew up with, these expectations can be drastically different, but, for the most part, the big ones stay consistent over time. For instance, men are supposed to be men. They are supposed to be the bread winners, be “manly”, have no emotions and rule the roost. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be the homemakers. They are supposed to take care of children, be passive and be lady-like. These are stereotypes that have lasted a long time and are slowly starting to change. These beliefs are ingrained in us from the beginning.
Our beliefs about success are something that we start to develop once we get into our teenage and adult years. Depending on how you’re brought up and who you spent the most time around as a youngster, these beliefs can be drastically different, but, on the whole, they are pretty consistent across the board.
For example, have you ever watched a 3-year-old do something and thought “how in the world were they able to figure that out?”. Maybe you were putting a play set together for them and couldn’t figure out what part goes where, while the 3-year-old walks over and puts in place, no questions asked. This is because a 3-year old’s mind has no limitation or worry of success. They haven’t been told that things should go a certain way and that, if they don’t, you’ll be a failure. All they see is 2 parts that need to fit together.
I point out expectations and success, specifically, because the combination of these 2 are what limit our abilities to a great degree. As we grow, society tells us what is expected of us. We are expected to get a “box” job, and expected to eat a “box” breakfast and drive in our “box” car to our “box” desk. And if you step outside of your box, you are considered one of “them”. And we hate being one of “them”, because we are creatures that Thrive in community. Our expectations of success are set to a “box” standard because that’s what society tells us we should do.
Elf gives us a great metaphor for our lives and how we live them and interact within them. When Will Ferrell (Elf from here on) finds out that he’s not actually an elf, as he was raised to be, he is determined to find his father to figure out from where he came. As he starts his journey, he doesn’t know what to expect, he doesn’t know what problems he’ll run into and has no limitations on how he will achieve his ultimate goal, finding his father.
Rejection after rejection, failure after failure, Elf persists and pushes through every situation he encounters. Whether he’s getting attacked by raccoon or kicked out of his father’s office or getting hit by a taxi (hahaha, hilarious!!), nothing stops him from making progress towards his goal.
You see, Elf is the child that we all were at one time. With no expectations and no limiting factors in his mind, Elf didn’t let anything stop him from moving forward. He got kicked and hit and rejected and continued to smile and make progress by any means necessary. And this is the person we all truly want to be deep down inside. When we’re drinking and having a good time, this is the person that comes out. When inhibitions are limited, we become the person that we hope to be on a regular basis.
The truth is, although we want to believe we can only be relaxed if we have a couple of drinks in us, we can step outside of the “box” any time. We can be the child we once were. We can achieve whatever it is our heart desires. All we must do is set aside our expectations for appreciation and understand what success truly is. Success is not black and white. Success is not pass or fail. Success is persistent progress TOWARDS a goal. It is the process of getting there, not the achieving of the goal itself.
Don’t limit yourself through your expectations and the expectations of others. Be the kid you use to be and you’ll be much happier in the long-run.