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Category Archives: Movies

Success vs. Significance in the Movies

I am surprised by how often the theme of success vs. significance shows up in movies, that is, that significance is more important than success, or that relationships are more important than career.

The basic storyline usually involves a main character who becomes so focused on success that they eventually alienate those around them, usually a significant other.

A few movies quickly come to mind (please add others in the comments below), including Family Man, Liar, Liar, The Devil Wears Prada, and even the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, which we wrote about last year.

“The Devil Wears Prada” is interesting from a leadership standpoint. It’s a movie about a young aspiring journalist, Andrea (Anne Hathaway), who takes on a job at a fashion magazine as an assistant to the editor. The editor, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is a demanding, hard-nosed leader. She personifies success-at-any-cost. As the culture of Runway magazine begins to shape her and becomes more and more wrapped up in her job, her personal life begins to fall apart.

Upon hitting a low point at work, Andrea talks to a co-worker, Nigel (Stanley Tucci), who tells her …

Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. Means it’s time for a promotion.

Ultimately, Andrea, like the main characters of similar movies, chooses the path of significance over success-at-any-cost.

In the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey (James Stewart), spends all of his adult life searching for success (starting with getting out of Bedford Falls) but never finds it. When he reaches the lowest point of his life, he encounters an angel named Clarence who gives him a glimpse of what life in Bedford Falls (and beyond) would’ve looked like had he not been born. In the process, George discovers that he had indeed lived a life of significance, even though it didn’t go the way he wanted it to.

The last time we watched the movie, Joleen noticed a sign on wall in Uncle Billy’s office just below a picture of Peter Bailey (George’s father) that read …

All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.

Significance is more important than success-at-any-cost.

At the end of the movie, George receives a book with a note from Clarence that says,

Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.

Again, significance is the the goal. Relationships matter.

Of course, like many things, it’s not really either/or. You can, and should, seek to be successful, to make the most of the life God has given you. But you may need to adjust your understanding of success. The point is, don’t let success and personal ambition destroy you or the people close to you. Relationships matter; they determine your significance. Success, especially success-at-any-cost, has little value if it alienates you from others.

When push comes to shove, choose significance over success, because, in reality, that’s what real success is.

Can you think of other movies that have a similar theme promoting significance over success?

“Lars and the Real Girl”

Recently, we watched Lars and the Real Girl (official site), starring Ryan Gosling as Lars. It’s an interesting — and sorta strange — but good movie with a powerful example of community. Lars is an extreme introvert who mostly keeps to himself. But one day he invites Bianca (a friend he says he met on… Continue →

“It’s a Wonderful Life!”

On the day after Christmas, Joleen and I watched the 1946 movie, It’s a Wonderful Life!, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. (Who hasn’t seen it?) For years, we watched the movie every year (during the Christmas season) but took a break from it for a couple years, until this year. It’s a great movie… Continue →

“The Great Debaters”

Ever since the movie, The Great Debaters, was released, we’ve wanted to see it. We finally got a chance to watch it on DVD this past week. And we’re glad we did. “The Great Debaters” is about a debate team from Wiley College, an historically African-American United Methodist college, located in Marshall, Texas. The college… Continue →

Marshall University

On our way home from Asbury, we stopped in Huntington, WV for a couple days. While there, we checked out some of the memorials related to the plane crash that killed most of the players on 1970 Marshall University football team. Ever since we saw the movie, We are Marshall, we’ve noticed the exit signs… Continue →

“The Martian Child”

This week, we watched the movie, The Martian Child (starring John Cusack and Bobby Coleman as Dennis, aka the Martian Child). We saw a preview of “The Martian Child” a while back, and thought we’d like to see it. What we didn’t know at the time is that it is an adoption-related movie. The movie… Continue →


Today marks our 14th our wedding anniversary. Over the course of the past 14 years, God has led us on quite an adventure! We’ve spent about a third of our marriage in a doctoral program (that we’re trying to finish up!). That’s on top of beginning our marriage while we were completing a Master’s program.… Continue →

“The Ultimate Gift”

Don’t just live a life, leave a legacy! Awhile back, we watched The Ultimate Gift (official movie/movement website). We watched it again while visiting family in Tennessee earlier this week. It’s a great movie with the tag line, “A life experience becomes a gift.” The movie is based on Jim Stovall’s book, The Ultimate Gift.… Continue →