Worrying is like a rocking chair.
I?m a large proponent of learning from any and all sources. You can learn from good men as well as evil men, incompetent leaders, stellar leaders, and even non-obvious sources. Like a college party movie. Ryan Holiday once told me, ?There is always something you can learn in every situation. It?s not all top down teaching though.? Van Wilder, one of my favorite comedies, is a good place to start. Here are 8 lessons in being a better man from the party liaison:
1. Live in the moment
?If you?re always thinking about the future, then you kinda forget about the present.?
From sharing a latte with a reporter in the hockey stands, to helping the swim team raise money, to competing in the naked mile, Van Wilder embodies the phrase ?live in the moment,? almost to a fault. The fact is, too many of us are removed from the moment in unhealthy states of anxiety and fear. As Seth Godin said, ?I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance.? Try to experience mindfulness: listen to the people with whom you?re conversing, have some fun, and retain your presence in the present.
2. Follow your heart
?Sometimes you gotta let your heart lead you? even if you know its someplace you know you?re not supposed to be.?
Van said that as he was led into the locker room to talk to Gwen, but it?s also a big theme in the movie. One of the coolest lines is when Gwen rejects Richard?s marriage proposal. She walks away and Richard asks her where she is headed. ?I?m not sure, and for some reason, I feel really good about that,? she replies. Pursue what makes you passionate. You?ll be a happier, more effective person, in doing so.
3. Don?t take life too seriously
?But you know what I?ve learned in my seven years here at Coolidge? Timmy? I?ve learned that you can?t treat every situation as a life-and-death matter because you?ll die a lot of times. Write that down.?
This quote from the opening of the movie introduces another major theme of the movie: that of enjoying life. You should work hard, you should be a good person, and you should do what you love. But you should also enjoy the ride. Van Wilder?s famous quote: ?You shouldn?t take life too seriously?you?ll never get out alive.?
4. Stay Curious, Keep Learning
Van Wilder: ?Well just take a look at this: yeah, doodles. I attended class today. Just about stayed the whole time, too!?Gwen: ?I?m glad you went to all your classes today.?Van Wilder: ?And a few that weren?t mine, I stepped in the wrong room, liked what I heard? stayed.?
Apart from the fact that Van has spent the better half of a decade in school, he?s also shown to be curious and constantly learning. In seven years, he?s dabbled in most areas of academia, as well as many facets of social life and activity. He retains the curiosity and excitement of a child, which I think is important for both success and happiness in life. Here?s the secret: you?re never supposed to stop learning. As Van says, ?Don?t be a fool, stay in school!?
5. Don?t sweat the small stuff
?Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn?t get you anywhere.?
Let?s pretend you?ve got a problem. Can you fix it? Yes? Do it. No? Worrying won?t help anyway. Worrying, at the end of the day, is a time-wasting, reactive practice that doesn?t produce results. Replace worry with action and you?ll soon lose less sleep and will have less to worry about.
6. Value Relationships (and help other people)
?A good soldier does not leave his commander just because he lies wounded, arms torn off at the sockets, intestines spilling out onto the mud, picked at by the birds. I will stay on at no charge.?-Taj to Van Wilder
Have we definitively decided that relationships are what actually matter in life? I hope so. It?s all about connections, both in business and in life. Real, solid, connections. How do you develop solid connections? Become genuinely interested in other people, listen to them, provide value to them, help them out, and connect them to other people you know. Don?t hang out with toxic people. You?ll soon build an amazing network of people that will give you amazing opportunities and will be personally gratifying.
7. Build a good reputation
Vance Wilder, Sr.: ?Where can I find Van Wilder??Wasted Guy: ?In the Guinness Book of World-fucking-Records, man, under ??Raddest Fucking Dude Alive!??
Apart from his sharp wit, Van Wilder?s defining feature may be his impressive control of his own reputation. Freshmen line up to apply to be his assistant. Everyone on campus has heard of him, and most of them would do anything for Van. He?s built a tremendous presence at Coolidge. He?s also clearly aware of his reputation and how to manage it. As he mentions to Gwen, ?Hey look. I read the damn article all right. But don?t tell anyone because if word gets out that I read my reputation shot to hell.? Everyone has reputation; make sure yours is good.
8. Don?t be afraid of your own potential
?You have the potential to be great?
As we learn in the end, Van Wilder is excellent as seeing potential in others. He picks up Taj as his assistant and pushes him to grow towards his potential. But Van?s flaw is that he cannot recognize, or is afraid of, his own capabilities. Nobody takes seven consecutive years to complete a bachelor?s degree. Van felt comfortable in his situation and never chose to push through his own ceiling to the next level (until he met that special someone that saw the potential in him.) Never be shy about what you can do. Aim high, push yourself, and be unabashed about your pursuit of mastery.