I first watched Te Secret Life of Walter Mitty when it came out in theaters. It was a different experience for me, since I usually reserve the movie theater for high action movies with lots of visual effects. But I have to admit. That movie was fabulous.
The story was original, the cinematography was beautiful, and the music was captivating. I rented the DVD last week to see it again and throughout the length of the movie I came to realize that Walter, though quirky and somewhat odd, actually resembled more than one person I knew (including myself). The more I studied him and the more I dug into his story, the more convinced I became that we all have a Walter Mitty hiding inside of us.
For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, Walter Mitty is a negative assets manager at Life magazine who daydreams of fantastic adventures. When I say daydream, I mean exactly that (to the point where he actually zones out of reality completely). In the movie, Sean O’Connell, a famous and highly regarded photojournalist, who also happens to work with Walter, sends him his latest negatives. Negative #25, according to Sean, captures the “quintessence” of Life magazine. He requests that the photo be used for the cover of the magazine’s final print issue before its transition to online status. The problem comes when Walter can’t find negative #25 in the roll, forcing him to take matters into his own hands. Walter decides to use the other photos in the roll to figure out Sean’s location, since he doesn’t own a phone and has no physical address, and ask him about negative #25. This decision leads Walter to live out his own adventure, for real.
There were three aspects of this movie that made me realize the similarities between Walter and myself, and taught me three lessons about how I can improve as a writer.
Lesson Number One: Live more, daydream less.
In the movie, the more Walter lived and engaged with the outside world, without reservations or doubts, the less he felt the need to daydream. It still happened, but not to the point where his daydreams completely absorbed every part of him. Walter’s daydreams were fantastic, but unrealistic to a great extent. On the other hand, his real life adventures, though many would consider them improbable, were closer to reality than any of his daydreams ever were. The moment he decided to live and experience life without holding back, he began to open new opportunities for real adventures. So, kudos to Walter and the catchy phrase on the DVD cover, “Stop Dreaming. Start Living.”
Lesson Number Two: You want to find your voice? Find yourself first.
This is something I particularly loved about Walter’s growth. At the beginning of his journey Walter was shy, insecure, and quiet. At the end however, after having found himself and come to terms with his true identity, Walter’s shyness, insecurities, and quiet behavior were a thing of the past. It was so evident, too. All the living he had done boosted his confidence and nourished his inner voice. So at the end, there was no need for daydreaming about wrestling (superhero style) with his obnoxious boss through New York City. He simply spoke up, bringing his inner voice to life.
Lesson Number Three: Never Stop Sharing.
I absolutely loved Todd Maher, the eHarmony representative who kept in contact with Walter during his adventures, and who also happened to share those adventures on Walter’s profile. At the end of the movie, their connection had grown to the point where Todd was not only able to help Walter connect with other people on their site, but also aided him in a little predicament he encountered. But the best part of their relationship was the simple fact that they had one. Isn’t that something we as writers look for? We want to connect with readers and fellow writers. We want our stories heard and shared. We want people interested in them. We want to build our network and reach out. But we can’t do that if we hide in a closet, or keep our real adventures to ourselves, while at the same time letting our daydreams get the best of us.
Embrace Your Inner Mitty
With all this said, the most inspiring part of the movie came after understanding that Walter’s success didn’t happen because of the adventures he lived, but because he freed his true identity. Walter embraced himself and everything that made him who he was. His adventures simply assisted him in seeing what was already there.
How about you? Can you relate to Walter? What lessons can you learn from him?