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Seats and stage inside a theatre

Life Lessons from Musicals (Part 1: Wicked)

I have a number of friends who claim not to like musicals.  And then they go and see one and they say that they don’t like musicals apart from Wicked/Matilda/Hamilton/Les Mis (delete as appropriate).

I’ve even got friends who love opera and hate musicals – not spotting that it’s the same concept with added accessibility.  (And yes, that is one of the many musical-themed hills I will die on).

But I love musicals.  And I don’t care who knows it. I play the soundtracks at home, and in the car and sing along every single time.

And, like all art-forms, there is loads we can learn from them.

So, as an end of term special, here is my take on just a few of the personal and professional development lessons from one of my favourite musicals, Wicked.

It does contain spoilers but you should have seen it by now.  Where have you been?

1. Celebrate your difference.

Elphaba feels different for the other kids at school and doesn’t fit in.

This is unsurprising as she is green and has mysterious powers.

But there comes a point when she realises that being different might no be a bad thing.

True, the insight comes from elsewhere (from Madam Morrible who wants to exploit Elphaba’s talents for her own gains) but in “The Wizard and I”, Elphaba gradually realises that the characteristics that she has been trying to keep hidden could open up a whole world of opportunity for her.

At this point, the opportunity that she can’t quite believe is the chance to meet the wizard.

As you might anticipate, wanting to meet the wizard is not actually the noble ambition it might seem.  “Be careful what you wish for” is another valuable lesson I will throw in for free.

But it is incredible to watch Elphaba grow in confidence and ambition as she realises that the features which make her stand out (and which she has been embarrassed by) can be positive assets.

Blending into the crowd would mean diminishing her own power, whereas recognising and exploiting that which makes her unique can get her to where she needs to be.

One thing I am always keen to stress to coaching clients is that there is no need to fix “it” if “it” isn’t broken.  Too often we miss what is going well, usually because we are comparing ourselves to others.

Just the one more true cliché for you here – comparison is the thief of joy.

2. Aim High

I think it’s probably illegal to include Wicked in a blog without mentioning “Defying Gravity” – the undoubted showstopper.

Towards the end of Part 1, Elphaba realises that the Wizard is not the good guy she thought he was.  She mustn’t have seen the Wizard of Oz.

She then has to choose whether to sacrifice her principles and fall in with him for the money and the power or stick to her guns (and her values).

Or rather, her friend, Glinda, tries to talk her into the “safe” option by questioning her ability to achieve her ambitions alone, accusing her of having ideas above her station.

The cheek.  If you have friends like that, they should very firmly be in the category of “people whose opinions are none of your business.”

Luckily, by this stage, Elphaba is learning to believe in herself.

It is hard to imagine a better comeback than flying off on a broomstick, breaking free from imaginary limits imposed by others.

She does plead with Glinda to join her, recognising that there is strength in numbers.  But, ultimately she is happy to trust herself and go for it.

Inspirational stuff for those of us who sometimes get in our own way.

And worth a bit of a pause to ask whether other voices are getting into your head and stopping you break through to your full potential.

The limited/unlimited refrain is repeated throughout the show.  And it is worth noting that not everything goes smoothly for Elphaba even when she makes her leap.  Other people don’t always like that kind of attitude.

But there will always be people you can count on too which leads us nicely to Lesson 3.

3. You don’t have to do this alone.

(And reflection is a great habit).

(And it’s good to forgive and move on).

(And you can ditch what no longer serves you).

So many life lessons in one song.

Yes, it’s the tear-jerking slow ballad near the end: “For Good”.

This one might be my favourite.  I love it.

And I think it is vastly under-rated. I will think that until it is played daily in all schools.

With great melodrama, it manages to ask:

Where have we come from?

How did we get here?

And what has shaped us along the way?

Who or what has left a handprint on our heart?

“For Good” is a celebration of friendship, of supporting each other, recognising both what we bring to each other and what we can learn from each other and the connections we build.

The limited/unlimited theme is there again, in case we haven’t learned that lesson yet but the real theme here is that what happens to us and the people we spend time with changes us.

So, yes, there is a place for recognising when other people’s opinions (or perceived opinions) hold us back but also a power in recognising that we are stronger together.

I’ve just listened to it 4 times on repeat and I remain unapologetic.

So, be more Elphaba.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it and, if you can’t pay it back, pay it forward.  Cheesy but still valid.  And if you think cheesy is bad, this blog is not for you.

A coaching promise:

  • There is no obligation to like musicals to work with me.
  • I will not break into song.
  • I will let you find your own solutions, and will not impose solutions from musicals or other art-forms.

But coaching can help with breaking through from the limited to the unlimited (or much less limited at least).

So, if you are feeling stuck or getting in your own way, please don’t hesitate to contact me for an initial chat on cathbrown@skilfulconversation.com.

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