How To Win A Work/Life Academy Award

One of my favorite lines in the Oscar-nominated “The Martian” is when astronaut Mark Watney realizes his best chance for survival is through his own unique, natural talent.

“I don’t want to come off as arrogant, but I’m the greatest botanist on this planet.”

[Spoiler Alert]
As viewers know, Watney (Matt Damon) is the only person on Mars…However, he reveals two things to the audience here.

First, we get a laugh and some character exposition into our protagonist’s dry winsomeness. Second, he shows us his insightful (and, potentially life-saving) self-awareness.

Watney knows he has the talent within himself to achieve his goal.

Will building a makeshift greenhouse on Mars be easy? No. Has NASA ever even grown food on the Red Planet (or any other planet)? Nope.

If Watney harnesses his innate, natural talents does he have a chance? Yes.

While you may not be the greatest botanist on Mars, you are uniquely wired for greatness at something here on Earth. You just have to find out what your talents are and how they work together.

Moreover, the difference between knowing and not knowing can dramatically influence your health, productivity and wellbeing…

Ground Control to Major Watney

My second favorite line from “The Martian”:

[after trying to make water by burning hydrogen] “So…I blew myself up.”

How’s your failure rate these days?

Hopefully, you don’t have to create your own water by isolating hydrogen from left over rocket fuel. However, what have you tried, failed at and learned from in the past seven days?

If you can’t think of anything, you’re not failing fast enough.

For example, if you’ve spent any time learning guitar, swinging a tennis racquet or preparing a new recipe, you’re familiar with the pain of short-term failure—calloused fingers, sore elbows and learning to quickly remove the batteries from your smoke alarm…

Eventually, after hours of mindful practice (and failure), you learn a few chords, consistently get your backhand over the net, and serve an edible apple-glazed lamb chop.

In smart work circles, quality failure is an activity that’s honored. Consider Google. Few companies are more dedicated to fostering a culture of innovation. (Check out Laszlo Bock’s “Work Rules!” for excellent insight into growing smart organizations.)

The benefits Google receives from allowing its employees to mindfully fail is staggering in terms of new products, new services and the creation of entire new markets for the company.

Fear-based cultures, on the other hand, shun and silence workers who dare suggest unfamiliar—but potentially superior—ideas and initiatives.

Why do lesser organizations, and people, for that matter, avoid failure with such determination?

People like the idea of improvement, but they hate change.

Someone at Kodak must have suggested paying closer attention to the growth of digital photography in the late 1990’s. Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975, for goodness sake. Alas, that potentially golden opportunity was not to be.

In 1908, a well-run saddlery probably made a decent profit. Then, this happened.

As we see, sometimes you gotta make water from hydrogen. You have to put your natural talents to work and take risks. When you do, you may get “blown up” a few times in the process. You’ll face uncertainty, challenges and your fair share of disappointment.

However, it’s the only way to survive past Sol 300 on Mars–much less thrive on earth.

It’s Time To Leave The Capsule…If You Dare

In the final scene, we see Watney in a lecture hall coaching a young group of explorers. Here’s the closing dialogue of the film:

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you…everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?”

In work and life “everything going south” is a “when” not an “if” proposition. When it does, will you be prepared?

One of the best ways to discover your natural talents and begin turning them into strengths is through the best-selling StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and talent assessment.

Check it out and remember the mindset of Mars’ greatest botanist. Own your natural talents, and keep failing until you’ve achieve your goal.

You may never be the greatest botanist on another planet, but you can become the best you on this planet.


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