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Life Lessons Learned from Pixar

This week I visited the Pixar exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The exhibit was very engaging and it is amazing the number of factors that influence the production of so many movies that have generated deep emotional responses in my family including Toy StoryIt's a Bug's Life, Inside Out and Up

Since my return home from Israel in May, I have been doing some heart-wrenching reflection about my life: past, present, and future. This past week I asked my kids if they have had a happy childhood. My youngest looked at me as if I had horns suddenly growing out of my head. My oldest answered a wary yes, not quite sure where the conversation was headed. And, in true sibling protection, my oldest prepped my middle on the question that was coming. When I asked her, she just laughed and said yes and then proceeded to ask me from where such a question had come. 

While my trip to Pixar didn't trigger the question, the Pixar movies have definitely generated plenty of opportunities to create life-long memories for our entire family. The exhibit gave me an incredible opportunity to reflect on not only groundbreaking processes but these life lessons as well. 

1. Focus on what is real.

Computer generated movie making and life are at its best when it is grounded in what is real. The process for making It's a Bug's Live and Finding Nemo started with cameras capturing the very real perspective of the characters. Grass was videotaped from a bug's point of view. Divers took cameras deep into the ocean. 

We all have the potential to get lost in our internet worlds and conversations that only happen over a social media application. However, we need to remember that the most meaningful conversations happen in the real face to face world in which we live. The Ted Talk, Everyone Has a Story to Tell, demonstrates the power of the face to face dialogue reminding us the four most important phrases someone can tell another are: a) Thank you, b) I love you, c) Please forgive me, and d)  I forgive you. 

2. Failure is part of the process. 

It took 17 tries to model the character, Joy, from Inside Out. The failure to get Joy completely right was not an anomaly. It was the norm with so many of the new elements explored by the Pixar films. In my academic world, my students do a paper, they turn it in, and never return to it to enhance it. When they (and I) interact in the real world, we forget that no one gets it right the first time. It is only those who have the courage and self-discipline to go back to the table to keep trying to make it better who eventually emerge as the leaders and influencers of truly incredible things. 

I am currently reading Benedict's Way: An Ancient's Monks Insights for a Balanced Life. One of his early lessons or rules is Stability in which he suggests not to run from place to place (or relationship to relationship) seeking the ideal situation. The grass is not necessarily greener on the other side and we need to ensure we keep returning to the source of what might be causing us angst so that we can address the failure to solve the problem, not ignore it. 

3. Solutions to complex problems take many people to resolve. 

Merida, the main character in Brave, has long red, curly hair. As it turns out, the bounce of long curly hair is difficult to mimic in a computer generated world particularly when the character is high energy and runs a lot!  This problem was just one in a long list of problems that the math and computer programming experts did not know how to solve when making the Pixar movies.

Life is complex and we can't solve our problems by ourself. I often wish someone would see me struggling and reach out to offer assistance. The reality is that sometimes I need help and I need to pay other creative, smart people to help me. Solutions to complex problems need many minds and after being reminded of this, it became instantly clear to me why the credits of the animated movies go on and on and on. 

I could continue with many more life lessons learned from the Pixar exhibit including we can choose how to illuminate our life and rendering the desired outcome takes a lot longer than you think. Instead, I will end with one of my family's favorite Dory quotes: "When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming."

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