Director Baz Luhrmann’s highly-anticipated adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby hits theaters today, and we are excited to see how he brings the timeless story back to life!
A lot can be learned about professional reinvention from the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Once a poor, young military officer, Gatsby wants a second chance at a life with the beautiful, aristocratic Daisy Buchannan.
For five years, Gatsby has been reinventing himself to give Daisy the lavish life she wants, by any means necessary.
His intentions are good. But his execution was doomed.
Unlike Gatsby’s quest for Daisy, your pursuit to reinvent your career can have a happy ending. Fitzgerald’s story teaches us the importance of setting grounded career goals, realistic expectations and moving on from your past failure. The following are just a few timeless lessons on career renewal from the novel. Take it from Gatsby:
1. Idealization Leads to Let Down: “There must have been moments that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of [Gatsby’s] dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion” Ch 5
When Gatsby and Daisy reunite for the first time at the home of Daisy’s cousin and story narrator Nick Carraway’s, Nick wonders how anyone could live up to Gatsby’s vision of Daisy. Luhrmann says it perfectly in an interview with LifeandTimes.com: “Of course, Gatsby is meant to end tragically because he has such an absolute ideal in his mind, an absolute dream, and he will not let reality rewrite the script of that dream.”
To prevent inevitable failure, open your mind, but be realistic. Rather than idealizing a new career path, do you research and talk to accomplished, relevant professionals about the flaws, setbacks and negative aspects – every job has them. Passion can be a great source of motivation – but if you start fixating and demanding things to go a certain way, your happiness will likely be short-lived, like Gatsby’s romance.
2. Don’t be Fooled by Excessive Glitz: “He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life” Ch 3
Underneath Gatsby’s eternally reassured smile is dissatisfaction to live without his love Daisy. Excessive materialism can be a sign of veiled unhappiness.
Gatsby threw large, lavish parties. He was popular. Charming. But you as an outsider, you’d never know that Gatsby spent long nights brooding helplessly toward a symbolic green light just across the bay, where Daisy lived. His money was corrupt.
And yet, Gatsby fooled the town, including Nick, into believing that he was some sort of mysterious wonder.
So, focus on your own momentum. When you’re a stagnant professional, and you need a jolt of renewal, it’s easy to slip into demoralizing envy of watching others go further and be happier than you. You never know what symbolic “green light” they might be envying across the bay.
3. You Can’t Replicate the Past: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” Ch. 11
The most important part of a second chance is learning from the past – not trying to replicate it. During the pivotal confrontational scene between Daisy’s husband Tom and Gatsby, Tom reminds Daisy of all the treasured memories they shared as husband and wife in the past five years.
When Gatsby was sure Daisy would proclaim that she never loved Tom, she says, “Oh, you want too much! I love you now — isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past” Daisy tells Gatsby in chapter 11. When she ultimately chooses Tom, Gatsby is floored. Daisy’s love did not withstand time.
As you try and move forward to reinvent your career, let go of the failures you might have endured in the past. Moving forward, focus on the lessons you gained from the past and adapt to whatever changes might come next. Whether it’s starting over in a new city, changing your company or your career entirely, strategize for a better future without holding too hard to the past.