You Won't Realize How Far You've Come Until You're Compelled to Take Someone Under Your Wing
Brooklyn-inspired lessons about growing as a creator or entrepreneur
Nothing will make you realize how far you’ve come more than helping out someone coming up behind you. And nothing reinforces this more vibrantly than the movie Brooklyn. I watched it for the first time last Thursday and wow. It moved me beyond measure.
The film depicts a young Irish girl’s move from Ireland to America in the 1950s. And the storyline is as deep as the ocean she travels between them. As a three-time ex-pat who made solo moves to London, Sydney, and Paris back in my twenties, I resonated with many of Eilis' struggles (granted I travelled by air and could FaceTime home and she spent weeks at sea and waited longer for letters). My point is I resonated with the transformation she underwent in moving overseas. And watching her story unfold made me realize how much being an ex-pat prepared me for entrepreneurship.
Here are 3 lessons for entrepreneurs & creators illustrated beautifully by scenes from Brooklyn:
Lesson #1: Confidence Comes With Experience
Scene: Eilis’ first night aboard the ship to America is horrific. It all starts with an ominous scene of her eating alone in the dining hall. Then a waiter comes in and remarks on how brave she is to eat the stew. The forecast is looking bad and the other, more experienced passengers are fasting to mitigate seasickness. Fast forward a few hours and Eilis is frantically running through the corridor as the boat slogs her from side to side—the perfect depiction of the violence erupting inside her. She eventually locates a bucket to relieve herself and is forced to use it through the night because the women in the adjoining cabin have locked her out of their shared washroom. Nightmare.
The next morning, Eilis’ cabin mate, Georgina, returns having been busted for sneaking into First Class. Georgina is already settled in Brooklyn and has done this trek before. Once she bears witness to Eilis’ illness, she promptly—and profanely—picks the lock on the shared washroom and barricades the other side as the passengers in the adjoining room go berserk.
Georgina spends the rest of the trip with Eilis. She instructs her when to eat, how to act upon arrival, and what to look forward to in Brooklyn—namely “Not everyone you meet will know your auntie.” (An acknowledgement of how small-town life is behind them.)
Lesson: Confidence comes with experience. Most of us are like Eilis on her first boat trek when we do something for the first time. We don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to do—or more importantly, avoid—and we struggle to assert ourselves as a result. But case in point with Georgina, sometimes all it takes is one pass at something to toughen up and assert ourselves in the future.
Lesson #2: Bad Times Are Temporary And You’ll Look Back With Rose-Tinted Glasses
Scene: Father Flood—the family friend and priest who sponsored Eilis to come to America—arranges for Eilis to work at a high-end department store upon her arrival in New York. But things get off to a rough start. Eilis is awkward and nervous in her exchanges with customers and eventually breaks down into tears when her new manager asks what’s wrong. She later describes her agony as feeling so homesick she could die.
Father Flood swoops in and apologizes to Eilis saying “I’ve been here too long. I’d forgotten just how bad it feels to be away from home.” He then arranges for her to take night classes on bookkeeping because she wants to be an accountant (like her sister in Ireland). Father Flood assures her “Homesickness is like most sicknesses. It’ll make you feel wretched and then it’ll move on to somebody else.” Sure enough, through her studies, her boarding house, and her work at the department store, Eilis develops a social circle that transforms her into a happier, more confident woman (much like Georgina).
Lesson: The further you are ahead of someone, the less likely you are to remember the raw emotional challenges you had to overcome at their stage in the journey. Chances are if it was a particularly difficult or traumatic experience, you never reflected on it much. But to do so would be a form of digestion. It would make it easier to show empathy toward those undergoing similar challenges because you’d remember overcoming them yourself.
But otherwise, the good news is we have a tendency to look back on things with rose-tinted glasses. So no matter how difficult any one situation seems at present, like homesickness, it’ll pass. And you’ll look back on your overall journey as a positive sum.
Lesson #3: You’ll Feel a Sense of Duty to Help Those Behind You
Scene: When Eilis boards the ship to America for a second time after a prolonged visit home, she looks tremendously more confident. She’s staring off into the distance when a younger woman pipes up behind her asking about Brooklyn. Eilis eventually turns around and gives the woman the same hard look Georgina gave Eilis just months prior. Eilis instructs the woman not to eat and to lock her shared washroom so she’ll have the upper hand in negotiating with the passengers in the adjoining room. Lastly, Eilis tells the woman “You’ll feel so homesick you’ll feel like you’re going to die” but assures her she’ll get past it and soon meet wonderful people that won’t make her miss home.
Lesson: There’s a sense of duty that most of us feel to take people navigating our past struggles under our wing. Perhaps it’s a primitive instinct. Most of us want those coming up behind us to “make it.” I guess it’s because we know how hard it is to endure those same struggles and the wisdom we’re able to share gives our past struggles more meaning—as though we’ve deliberately forged a path to make it easier for others to walk. Everything comes full circle.
The film does an excellent job of illustrating Eilis’ transformation at every turn. But my favourite contrast is the way the camera captures her in the two photos below. The first is from her initial departure to America and she appears so small and uncertain among the chaos around her. The bottom photo is of her departure the second time around and she appears confident and center-stage embodying main character energy. Behind her, there’s a young woman embodying her former self foreshadowing how Eilis will take her under her wing (as I mentioned in the scene from lesson #3).
In life, the goalposts keep on moving. And we seldom stop to appreciate how far we’ve come. So do yourself a favour and reflect on how you’ve transformed and what you’ve learned in the process. Consider how you could share that wisdom with others coming up behind you. It might be the difference between whether or not they “make it.”
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week,
P.S. I always thought living in New York would be incredible but it’s surprisingly difficult for Canadians to get US work visas. So it never happened. But I did go overseas so that means Eilis and I still have something in common.
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