The recent passing of movie critic Roger Ebert got me thinking one of my odd thoughts: what if our satisfying retirement was like a movie review? Others watched your life unfold and gave you two thumbs up, or down. Rotten Tomatoes gave you a 65 or 75 or … 45% approval rating.
Actually, in a sense, this happens everyday. You are on stage, in all sorts of public settings where others are observing you: the coffee shop, grocery store, auto repair shop, or drug store. OK, in most cases people are not "reviewing" you. Actually, most of the time, they are so focused on themselves they are ignoring you.
But, if we can imagine for just a few moments, what would a "person reviewer" say about your life? Let's take a few of the normal ways a critic judges a movie and apply it to our life.
Originality: in a movie it is usually important that there be something original about the plot or the characters. The director has found some different way to tell a familiar story that the audience finds memorable. Sure, there are sequels that work well, but even they need a fresh twist on the original story.
A life well lived is very similar. If we try to copy someone else, live someone else's life, or just follow the standard path even if it doesn't suit us, we will miss what being truly alive is all about. Each one of us has a unique set of skills, gifts, and personality. Our lives must reflect that to be truly alive.
Character Development: I am sure we have all seen movies where the characters never come alive. Either the words they speak are wooden and unnatural, or the plot never forces them to change. The movie is no more than a still photo repeated for two hours.
One definition of character I found says it is the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. As we age, we change. We gather life experiences. It would be unusual for someone to be exactly the same at 20 or 30 as he is at 50 or 60. Life has its effect on us, both for good and bad. And, like a well-written movie script, we deepen and grow because of what happens. The key question becomes whether your character is developing in a way that represents the core of who you are.
Musical Score: Music and sound can really enhance a movie. In some cases a certain musical presentation is what is most memorable. If I mention the movie, Jaws, don't you think of that sound when the great white is getting closer to the swimmer? Or, how about the theme from Star Wars? For many of us those notes are filled with memories.
Most of our lives aren't quite as dramatic as those two examples. But, think of a musical score as that part of your life that enhances the main story. Maybe it is a beautiful smile that lights up a room. It could be you are always there when a friend needs help or comfort. You can tell a joke at just the right time to defuse a tense or uncomfortable situation. These attributes aren't all your life is about, but they certainly add color and meaning to your life story.
Comparison to others in the same genre: Movie critics will often compare a particular type of movie to one that came before. Romantic dramas may be compared to Casablanca. A new tough-guy male actor has the performances of Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone lurking in the shadows. Who else could play Indiana Jones other than Harrison Ford? While sometimes unfair, it is inevitable that a new movie will have to compete with the past.
In human terms, we are always being compared to others. What type of career did we have, how big is our home, what do we drive? Our consumer-driven economy is based on creating desires for things we don't have. However, a satisfying retirement is very often built around a rejection of that mindset. As we mature and realize what really makes us happy, things we buy or possess often retreat into the background. Experiences, contentment, a more simplified lifestyle, or stronger relationships with others become the "things" we care more about.
Ultimately, we may see a movie even if a critic give it two thumbs down. Personally, I tend to disagree with the "experts" most of the time. Movies that score poorly I like while blockbusters often leave me cold.
Should I (or you) care what type of "review" others may give my life? No, not really. I am confident enough in my own decisions and self awareness to not worry too much about a less than blockbuster review. Importantly, though, I try to listen whenever an opinion or suggestion is offered. Improvement in all areas of my life is my goal. That may be impossible if I'm not open enough to a script suggestion or a new way to enhance the music score that enriches my life.
Lights — camera — action!