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"Why Do I Stand Up Here?" Lessons From Dead Poets Society

With Steve Sanduski

dead poets society on desk“Why do I stand up here?”

As funny as he was, Robin Williams was also an incredible serious actor. His role as English teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society remains one of my favorite movies.

In one scene, Keating teaches his young prep students three important lessons about life.

Watch the 2-minute scene below then I’ll share my take on how these lessons apply to you as a financial professional.

Three Lessons

Here’s what I gleaned from that short scene.

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1. Look at things in a different way.

Keating says, “I stand upon my desk to remind yourself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

It’s so easy and comfortable to follow the crowd. For example, as an advisor, you, like many folks, might think of Robo-Advisors as a threat. Well, look at them in a different way. What can you learn from them to make your business better? Should you partner with one of them instead of viewing them as competition? Should you ramp up your planning capabilities since that can’t be Robo-ed out of existence?

When faced with an issue, don’t settle for the consensus answer. Look at it in a different way and be the “Un-Cola.”

2.  Find your own voice.

Keating quotes Thoreau who said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Then Keating adds, “Don't be resigned to that. Break out!”

My advice to you is don’t simply mimic what other people do. Figure out what makes you uniquely you and express that to the world. Rather than be a second-rate copy of someone else, be a first-class version of you.

You’re here for a reason and have certain gifts. Make sure you share them with your clients

3.  Take risks.

Keating says, “Dare to strike out and find new ground.”

I’m a firm believer in doing things that scare you. Not stupid stuff, of course, but things that stretch me as a businessperson. You only grow when you step out of your comfort zone. When was the last time you did something that scared you?

Commit right now to do something that scares the heck out of you. And it may be something as simple as contacting Mr. Big in town and asking to meet with him. Stretch and grow. Rinse. Repeat.

I know that every one of you reading this has the ability to be much more successful than you are. Ultimately, it comes down to how badly do you want to improve your lot in life.

Often, people don’t make changes in their life until the pain of their current situation becomes greater than the fear of doing something to resolve the pain.

As an advisor, business has never been better for most of you so your desire to put these three lessons into practice may be low.

But let me warn you. Like getting a bank loan, the time to make changes is when you can do it from a position of strength, not weakness.

Tomorrow’s leaders are making changes today. They embody these three lessons. My question is, will you?

As a bonus, here’s the script from the scene.

Dead Poets Society

The students are all back in their normal seats and Keating leaps up onto his desk.

KEATING

Why do I stand up here? Anybody?

CHARLIE

To feel taller.

KEATING

No!

Keating rings the bell on his desk with his foot

KEATING

Thank you for playing, Mr. Dalton. I stand upon my desk to remind yourself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

Keating glances around the classroom from atop the desk.

KEATING

You see, the world looks very different from up here. You don't believe me? Come see for yourself. Come on. Come on! Charlie and Neil quickly rise from their seats to go to the front of the classroom. The rest of the class follows them. While Keating continues speaking, Neil and Charlie join him on the desk and then

Keating jumps down.

KEATING

Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try! Now, when you read, don't just consider what the author thinks. Consider what you think.

KEATING

Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Don't be resigned to that. Break out!

Keating notices Spaz and another boy leaving the desk immediately.

KEATING

Don't just walk off the edge like lemmings.

Look around you.

The school bell rings as the boys continue to climb onto the desk. Keating begins to gather up his stuff. The clock begins to toll as Keating walks to the back of the class.

KEATING

There! There you go, Mr. Priske. Thank you! Yes! Dare to strike out and find new ground. Now, in addition to your essays, I would like you to compose a poem of your own, an original work.

The students begin to groan. Keating begins flickering the lights off and on while chanting ominously.

KEATING

That's right! You have to deliver it aloud in front of the class on Monday. Bonne chance, gentlemen.

Keating steps out into the hall before quickly peeking back in once again. Todd is the last one to stand on the desk and is about to jump off.

KEATING

Mr. Anderson? Don't think that I don't know that this assignment scares the hell out of you, you mole.

Keating flicks the light off, leaving Todd to jump down in the darkness as the students laugh.

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