Punxsutawney Phil says it’s going to be another six weeks of winter, and if you heard that in Bill Murray’s voice, you are old. Just kidding, youthful Bill Murray superfans — you don’t need to have seen Groundhog Day in the theater to appreciate its message. In fact, the movie is such a classic, it was deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant by the United States National Film Registry in 2006, and selected for preservation. What about the film strikes a chord, even 23 years after its release? Well, if you’ve ever had a terrible job, you probably relate to Murray’s character, Phil Connors, a self-absorbed weatherman who’s stuck repeating the same day over and over again.
If hate your job right now, and are thus still stuck in that loop, take heart: you can break free, using some of the same wisdom it took Phil Connors 10,000 years to accumulate.
1. Focus on other people, not on yourself.
When I first saw Groundhog Day (yes, in the theater, and shush), I thought Phil would break the cycle once he confided in Rita, his love interest. After all, in a movie that was clearly building up to a moral amid the slapstick, what could be more important than forging a connection with another human being?
But even after convincing Rita that he’s stuck in a time loop and building a strong enough relationship that she’s willing to stay with him until he falls asleep, he still wakes up to “I Got You, Babe” on the clock radio and the same old day again. The real reset doesn’t happen until he starts thinking about other people, getting to know the townsfolk and helping others, and starts developing himself.
The lesson here is that real relationship building, whether it’s the romcom kind or the professional, networking kind, is about other people, not you. To create a network that will really help you, you have to think first about how you can help others.
In other words, don’t think about what people can do for you. Think about how you can connect them with opportunities, and you’ll (rightly) become the kind of person they want to help.
2. Don’t be a cynic.
Phil starts out the movie as, well, a Bill Murray character, and ends it as someone who helps people and believes in things we can’t explain. OK, he has pretty good evidence for the latter, but try to imagine first-act Phil carving a snow sculpture of his beloved.
Cynicism is easy, but it’s not useful, especially to the cynic. Inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, just about everyone who’s ever built anything of value — they’re optimistic people. They have to be, because success is usually the product of hundreds of failures. (Or, at least, trial runs.)
3. When you fool people, you really fool yourself.
When he first enters the time loop, Phil does what most of us would probably do, upon discovering that we finally got that Do-Over Day we wanted as kids: he does whatever he wants, acting recklessly, learning everyone’s secret and using it against them, convincing beautiful women that he’s their ideal partner. And it works, except that when the switch flips, he’s right back where he was when he started. He hasn’t made any real progress.
It’s the same when you try to fool people at work, whether it’s by taking credit for someone else’s efforts or fabricating your resume or lying about your salary as a negotiation tactic. Sooner or later, you’ll probably get caught — but even if you don’t, you’re not the person you’re claiming to be, so you won’t really have that imaginary person’s career.
4. Put in the time.
There are actually a lot of different theories about how long Phil’s in the loop. Even the director, Harold Ramis, gave different estimates, stating in the DVD commentary that 10 years pass, while telling Stephen Tobolowsky (“Ned Ryerson! Needlenose Ned! Ned the Head!”) on set that 10,000 years passed.
Later, Ramis said: “I think the 10-year estimate is too short. It takes at least 10 years to get good at anything, and allotting for the down time and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years.”
But more to the point, he said, fans who dwell on questions like these might consider whether it’s the best use of their time.
“They could be learning to play the piano or speak French or sculpt ice,” he said. “People have way too much time on their hands.”
It may or may not take 10 years to get good at something, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Recognize that when you decide to pick up a skill, you’re not going to be good at it right away — and that you don’t have to. The important thing is to get started, and keep practicing.
5. Remember that nothing is forever.
When you’re stuck in a loop in your career, it can feel like you’re never going to get free, never going to enjoy your job, never going to be appreciated by your manager, and so on, ad infinitum. But nothing is forever — not Phil’s Groundhog Day, not your bad job. Things could change tomorrow, or even today. A new manager, a word from a contact with the right person at a new company, an opportunity to go back to school and re-skill for something different — any of those things can happen at any time.
In fact, you can make change happen, starting right now, by making up your mind to recognize opportunities to grow when they present themselves. You’ll be looking forward to spring in no time.
GIFs via Giphy.
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