There is something unnerving about recognizing an aspect of yourself portrayed in a movie character. But it can be very enlightening too. I know because this happened to me recently while watching “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
In the film, Murray plays Phil, a love lorn weatherman who is reliving the same day, February 2nd, over and over while in Punxsutawney reporting on their annual Groundhog Day festival. Rita, played by McDowell, is Phil’s t.v. producer, working with him on location, and the object of his affection. With the repetition of days, Phil experiences the passage of time and he falls desperately in love with Rita. She however, lives in the “real time” of a 24 hour February 2nd. Phil realizes that he has only that one day in which to win her affection.
With repeated chances to get it right, Phil becomes more adept at courting Rita and he has some success. Unfortunately, his success spurs his enthusiasm resulting in an over-eagerness that is a turn off to Rita. His actions create the exact opposite of his intentions. It is not until he stops trying so hard to win Rita, and focuses instead on becoming a better person, that he achieves the desired result. She falls for him.
Before the end of the movie, I had my “Aha” moment. I saw a reflection of my own behavior in Phil’s zealous determination. Since being single for more years than I’d care to admit, I have had ample time and an ample number of relationships to know exactly who I’m looking for and what I want. Recently I met That Someone. Like Phil, I rushed in full tilt never asking if my enthusiasm might be sabotaging my success.
If you are a resourceful person like me, it may seem counter-intuitive to not go after what you want with everything you’ve got. But in one of those ironic truisms of life, that is precisely what is called for.
In the 1992 preface to his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor Frankl, shares what is his repeated admonishment to his students:
“Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
It has been my experience that the same principle applies to love, as so clearly demonstrated in the movie. The more you want it, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you, as poor Phil discovered. When he dedicated himself to the greater good of being a better human being, the love he sought ensued as a by-product. Of course, Groundhog Day has a happy ending, it is a movie after all!
As for me, the object of my affection left saying he couldn’t state exactly why he knew it wouldn’t work out, just that it wouldn’t. I did not get multiple chances to get it right. And I am left to wonder if my behavior drove him away, at least in part. Relationships are complicated, I know nothing is that simple. But as to Frankl’s advice to let go and not care about it, focus on it, and yes obsess about it- well, I’m sorry to say I haven’t figured out how to do any of that.
Dear Reader, have you ever chased something only to have it elude you?