Till You Get It Right: Lessons from Groundhog Day

The groundhog is caught in the crossfire of a time loop. It can’t do much, but we can. Photo by Ralph Katieb on Unsplash

The Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day (1993) may have more meaning in 2021 than in years past – in part because we’re all a little trapped, and in part because time has less meaning when your routine is unchanged for months at a stretch.

Dig a little deeper, though. Look beyond “I Got You, Babe” and the smashed clock radio, the sound of dishes breaking in the diner, the slushy puddle, and even the persistent sarcasm. Like many great movies, Groundhog Day invites us to reconsider our perspective on the world, our peers, and ourselves. It holds valuable lessons for leaders and aspiring leaders. Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve learned.

Focus on the big picture …

On Day 1, Phil Connors’ only wish is to get out of Punxsutawney. After Day 1, he knows the blizzard that he inaccurately predicted is hell-bent on keeping him there. He descends into a funk when he realizes that he’s stuck in a time loop and indulges in a variety of destructive behavior.

Phil finds that his actions have no consequences, but they have no rewards, either. He pursues his colleague, the lovely Rita, in a jaded fashion … but as the rejections tally, his jaded façade frays.

Before long, he’s using his time to improve himself. He also uses his accumulation of knowledge to help others.

What’s the lesson here? Instead of focusing on where you’d prefer to be, think about where you are. Do what you can in this moment with the knowledge that it’s just a single piece of a much larger puzzle.

… but don’t neglect the details

Why is Phil so eager to get out of Punxsutawney, anyway? We never really know. But we see the town through his eyes: the B&B, Gobbler’s Knob, the diner. To him, they’re corny, provincial, and boring.

Only after many, many days does he begin to understand the town and its people and see them in a new light. With his spiritual awakening comes a fresh appreciation for the warmth and quirkiness of his new friends.

Like Phil, we all can be myopic about things we don’t understand or have patience for. The year 2020 delivered the blessing/curse of time, so we could weigh our values and priorities and adjust accordingly.

The takeaway here? Use the time you’ve been given wisely. Learn more about others by learning about what they value. You might just find your own True North in the process.

Cultivate new skills

Don’t stand still, even if time seems to. Learn something new every day, week, month. Phil didn’t simply master Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – he also pulled off a jazz rendition at a town benefit that wowed the lovely Rita.

He didn’t stop there. After his time-loop funk faded, he learned French, created ice sculptures, and memorized poetry and Jeopardy trivia.

These new skills alone didn’t make him a better person. But they gave structure and purpose to days that seemed to stretch on forever, and they gave humor and depth to a character who, at the start, was snarky and a little sleazy. “Before Phil” was an unhappy wretch. “After Phil” had a new appreciation for life. Be more like “After Phil.”

Be flexible

We speak often about the need to be flexible, in life and in business. It’s become a new buzzword, alongside “effective” and “efficient.” Pandemics, blizzards, and time loops teach us that we might have to sacrifice one of these three ingredients in order to succeed.

How can we be flexible when efficiency is sometimes our best coping mechanism? By adjusting our expectations for when and how we complete tasks and projects. By pivoting when necessary: Even Phil knew he couldn’t continue his pilgrimage back home in blizzard conditions. And by shifting our mindset. Success isn’t always black and white. Someone else’s definition of it might be different from yours. We all struggle with limitations. Navigate them creatively and celebrate small wins.

Kindness is always the right choice

This one’s a no-brainer. What does Phil accomplish by insulting colleagues, hosts, waitresses, and girlfriends? A few laughs, sure. Not much else. The people of Punxsutawney start responding to him positively when his kindness and generosity shine. The dramatic acts of heroism stand out, for sure – but you don’t have to save a life to earn people’s respect and make your mark.

We love Groundhog Day and other movies that inspire us to think creatively and act with humanity. Great storytelling is what propels us forward every day. Learn how you can use it to grow your brand and cement your company legacy. Contact Consummate Prose today to get started.

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