Note: This post originally appeared on the Digitaria blog.
A couple of years ago Batman changed my life. Sounds silly, but it’s true. I was watching the Dark Knight and I was struck by something remarkable — not an epiphany, per se, but a profound moment that sent me into deep contemplation.
These deep thoughts were a result of two distinct scenes. In the first, Harvey Dent (now Two-Face) squares up with his first victim after going rogue. The man looks wide-eyed with fear at Dent’s deformed complexion. At 35 seconds of this clip, you see Dent’s “two faces” in all their twisted glory. Honestly, I shuddered when I saw him take the shot from the bar and throw it back, alcohol slipping down exposed tendons, through the gaping hole in his cheek.
It was grotesque and raw. Despite the make-up and special effects, in some ways, it was a very real. And it made me think… it made me truly contemplate what we are, as humans. We are flesh; bone, gray matter and we are oh-so-fragile. As resilient as we like to imagine ourselves, we are constricted to deteriorating mortal vessels. And this reminds me of a quotation from my favorite author, Chuck Palahniuk:
“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”
This is the first lesson Batman taught me — we are all going to die. Furthermore, there’s no avoiding it.
This seems extremely morbid, I know. The truth is, coming to grips with one’s mortality isn’t fun. In fact, it really sucks. For weeks after “learning” this lesson I was distraught — faced with my own expiration date, wallowing in the idea that it’s not even a guaranteed expiration date, annoyed that I could go at any moment, anywhere, any way. I was convinced there was a bus with my name on it, just waiting for me to cross the street without looking both ways.
There’s another scene in that movie — it didn’t mean much to me for a while, but its true value was revealed later. In this scene, the Joker visits Harvey Dent in the hospital. He begins to rant about upsetting the established order, about anarchy and chaos. He refers to chaos as fear. It’s a horrifying speech. Two-face proceeds to go on a rampage as a jaded man, as a man with nothing to lose.
There’s a nugget of valuable truth in all of that, especially when viewed through less of a transgressive, subversive lens — let go of fear. When you have nothing to lose, you have nothing to stop you from being spectacular.
And then something incredible happened. After weeks of this near-manic disappointment… I let go. I let go of my fears — failure, death. My agitation simply floated away. And then something even more incredible happened — I started living more passionately than I had ever lived. I threw myself into my interests, into my relationships and my work. Since then I have learned SO much about myself and I have enjoyed each day more than I ever have.
There’s truth in this concept not only as a general life principle, but from an advertising perspective as well. Fear is debilitating when it comes to doing breakthrough creative work. If we limit ourselves to the edges of fear, if we keep the bold ideas to ourselves, not wanting to look foolish, then we will never reach our truly extraordinary potential. As advertisers and marketers we owe it to our clients to give them our big, audacious ideas. They deserve our best work and we have an obligation to present it.
Sometimes we need a reminder that life is ephemeral. That we’re not here forever. It’s scary and it’s difficult, but once we accept that, truly accept it, we free ourselves from the shackles of fear. When we let go, we excel. They say life begins at the edge of your comfort zone — I would argue you that it begins at the edge of fear as well.
Batman taught me to let go and start truly living. You too can find inspiration in unexpected places, as long as you’re open to it.
Carpe Diem. Grab today and do something great with it.