Dead Poet’s Society, My Quest and Finding Your Voice

When I first saw the movie Dead Poet’s Society at the age of 17 it was my favorite movie (and to this day it is still one of my favorites of all time).  At the time, I thought the reason that I loved the movie so much was because one of the main characters dreams of being an actor.  At that time, as an actor myself, most of my dreams were filled with thoughts of my acting.  I watched it again recently for the first time in many years and I realized that the “Why” behind my love for that movie runs so much deeper than I’d ever known before.   Watching Dead Poet’s society at the age of 17 was the first time I heard the call of my Hero’s Journey.

(At this point, as intrigued as you may be to keep reading … if you have never seen Dead Poet’s Society you may want to stop reading because there are some serious spoilers ahead … )

Robin Williams stars as English professor John Keating, a passionate teacher at the Welton Academy prep school who changes his students’ lives forever when he challenges them to live life to the fullest and “Carpe Diem” — seize the day!  Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke star as Neil Perry and Todd Anderson, two of Keating’s students.

In the language of my quest – Keating helps his students find their voice.   I never consciously noticed that at 17 years old, or any of the times I have described the movie as one of my all time favorites over the years.  As I watched the movie this time, I wept just about from beginning to end because it was so clear to me as one of the main aspects of the movie.

Todd Anderson is a quiet type – an introvert who hates speaking.  At first, he doesn’t want to speak up in class and hesitates to join the Dead Poet’s Society (a group that get together and read poetry together after school) because he’s afraid he’ll have to actually speak in front of the group of boys.  Even though the group includes less than ten boys, he is terrified.   Todd represents one type of emerging leader looking to find, trust and share his voice with the world that I love to work with.  During the course of the movie, Professor Keating helps Todd find his voice and he makes up a brilliant and chilling poem on the spot in front of the entire class.

Neil Perry, Todd’s roommate, is an extrovert.  He enjoys leading from the front and speaks in front of crowds both small and large with ease.  Eventually he shares his life-long dream of being an actor with his roommate Todd.  He auditions and is cast as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  And then, his father finds out…

While it may seem that Neil already had his voice, he’s actually an example of another type of emerging leader that I am called to work with…  While he glows in front of a crowd, he loses his voice when he faces his father one-on-one.  In fact he loses his voice to such an extent that he commits suicide at the end of the movie.

At the end, when professor Keating is asked to leave in disgrace, Todd is the student who finds his voice again when it matters most – choosing to stand on his desk and call out “Oh Captain my Captain” as Keating leaves – letting Keating know “you mattered, you had an impact.”

Emerging Leaders like Todd and Neil, whether they are challenged by crowds or in one-on-one situations across from an authority figure, who cannot find their voice tug at my heart.  Actually, they more than tug – my heart weeps.  Instead of letting my heart be ripped to shreds by the pain of watching an individual not able to find their voice when it counts, I’m on a quest to help emerging leaders find their voice and make speaking when it matters most both possible and repeatable….

What’s your favorite movie, and how is it related to your quest in the world?

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