Millions of people across the globe have been inspired by the 1994 motion picture ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. The film stars Tim Robbins, as Andy Dufresne, and Morgan Freeman, who also brilliantly narrates the movie. Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in Shawshank Prison, for murders he did not commit. The story spans the two decades of his imprisonment and friendship with Morgan Freeman’s character, Ellis “Red” Redding. It is one of my all time favorite films.
The Company I lead is only a few years old. Each line manager has been employed on average for about a year. I have been at the helm for several months. This week, the founder of the company, an intrepid entrepreneur, spent a few minutes giving an informal address to the leadership team.
He took some time to share his story — highlights of his business history and personal background. He related the valuable life lessons he learned as a short guy playing the rough sport of rugby and the importance of pulling your weight on a team. In his typical hoarse tone, he then imparted one of his fundamental business philosophies. “If you’re not growing, you’re on your way out. There is no such thing as an organization being mature and maintaining the status quo.”
This statement is undeniably true, and yet easy to forget. Businesses which are unable over time to get more customers and make more revenues and profits, eventually go into decline. As costs rise and more attractive products and services enter the marketplace, they tend to become less and less profitable, and ultimately fail. Some companies die a slow organic death. Other organizations topple like a Jenga puzzle when the wrong block is removed.
At the moment, my job feels like the most challenging task I have ever undertaken. I am fully aware that a company is most vulnerable during its first few years. Each day I summon the courage to act boldly, even though I’m not sure that success will come. I banish fear and focus on the goals, knowing that results are the only true measure of leadership. I strive each day to keep growing.
This is what every human being is meant to do. Deep within each of us is the strength to lay it all on the line and believe in our own determination to make our dreams come true. Some people display these qualities to a heightened degree — many athletes and entrepreneurs, for example. But, it is perfectly natural. Deep down, we know this.
We love ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ because it tells the story of life, of struggle and vanquish over incredible adversity, of living and helping others, even where there is no freedom. Deep down we believe in hope and friendship and trust and love. We know that working hard pays off. We know that without something to strive for, we never achieve success.
Accomplishing anything worthwhile in business or in life will involve some form of struggle. For Andy, it was 20 years in the slammer, complete with the requisite gang rapes. But all the while he had hope – he lived outside and above the high walls of the prison. Resistance must be overcome in order for growth to occur. This is what life is all about. Twenty years of tunneling, and three pin-up girls later through a “river of sh*t” to come out “clean on the other side”. This is remarkable beauty and power of the human spirit.
Andy Dufresne is a fictional character, but each one of us faces our own personal set of challenges and obstacles, our own Shawshank Prison. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear, or we allow ourselves to rationalize that the effort is not worth the reward. We are wrong. Get up and grow. Grow into the person you are meant to become. Live up to your potential. Have as many experiences as you can. Make mistakes and learn from them. Build your character. Try for that promotion or salary increase. Meet those new friends. Travel to that place you’ve dreamed of seeing. Read that book. Sign up for that class. Call your mother. Forgive your father. Get busy living or get busy dying.
If you’ve never watched the movie, I highly recommend that you do. Here’s the trailer: