When I saw the movie, “Up in the Air,” I expected to be entertained but I wasn’t prepared for a powerful, multi-layered allegory about work+life fit.
Jason Reitman’s symbolism packed commentary puts up a mirror and challenges us to question key assumptions about work and life today reality. But it also offers insights into what we can do differently as we move into an era where greater work+life flexibility will be the norm.
Here are a few of my takeaways. I would love to hear what you think if you’ve seen the movie.
(Spoiler alert—Stop here if you don’t want key points of the movie’s plot revealed.)
Insight #1: Some people really do like working all of the time. But we need to stop celebrating their work+life fit as the bar against which we are measured (and fail), and respectfully see their choices as the aberration that happens to work for them…for now.
At the beginning of the movie, George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, genuinely loves his work+life fit. And it’s a fit that’s all work and no life. In fact, he likes it so much that he develops a series of motivational speeches extolling the virtue of the “baggage free” life to others.
The movie did a great job of showing how we collectively as a culture tend to romanticize Bingham’s fit. It’s glamorous—fancy hotels, honors clubs, first class seats. In fact, his speeches are so successful that by the end of the movie he’s asked to present at a large, prestigious venue. We want that life, but do we?
The role of work+life fit foil is played by Bingham’s junior-level colleague, Natalie. Initially when we meet Natalie, she seems to hold many of the same values as her more senior, experienced colleague. So it’s surprising when she begins to actively and forcefully challenge his work+life fit choices as she comes to terms, often painfully, with what she really wants personally and professionally.
First, she tries to get him to agree with and embrace her vision of a work+life fit that includes a partner and a family. Then, she attempts to take on his values and change herself to conform. But, it’s like watching someone put on a suit that doesn’t fit. Very uncomfortable.
In the end, she’s made him think differently, but he hasn’t fundamentally changed. Instead, she realizes that she needs to make herself happy and finds another job.
Insight #2: Life eventually creeps in for even the most hard core “all work/no life” person, whether by choice or by force….(Click here for more)