We will cover the following key takeaways:
- Success is most easily achieved when we dream big.
- When we don’t meet our dreams the first time, we shouldn’t give up.
- In our businesses, we should serve something greater than ourselves.
- We should never compare our rut to someone else’s peak.
- We should forgive others and learn to take responsibility for the actions of our employees wherever possible and reasonable.
- Even though our competitors may get away with things that are wrong, it doesn’t mean we should do the same.
- It’s okay to lean on others and ask for help.
- Character is more important than money.
- When we feel lost, alone, and desperate, remember, our lives have purpose.
- No man is a failure if he has friends.
10 Lessons From It’s a Wonderful Life
If you haven’t already seen it, I would highly recommend watching It’s a Wonderful Life this holiday season. For this episode, I’m going to assume that you’ve already seen it so we can get right into the 10 lessons we can apply as entrepreneurs.
1. Dream Big, It’s Contagious
The first lesson is to dream big; it’s contagious. George, the protagonist, is ambitious and dreams big. He wants to travel the world, go off to college, and build things. His friends and family all believed in him and encouraged him to go after his dreams because they saw his enthusiasm.
When George is courting his future wife, Mary Hatch, he said to her, “You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.” George’s high ambitions and dreams for life attracted people around him. It was contagious. It made her and others want to dream big too.
Often when I’m consulting, I say it’s easier to accomplish something big than it is something small. When we think big, it’s easier to get great people to join our team, it’s often easier to raise money, it’s often easier to get customers to come purchase something that’s big. Many times people think small, because they think it’s going to be easier. But I actually think small is harder to be successful, especially in the long run. Success is most easily achieved when we dream big.
2. Don’t Give Up When Plans Change
The second lesson we can learn from It’s a Wonderful Life is to not give up when plans change.
When George was about to travel the world, his father died and he had to help settle the family business. When he was about to go to college, they asked him to take over the Building & Loan business. When he was about to go on his honeymoon, he finds out that there’s a run on the bank, and he ends up giving all of the money he had saved for his honeymoon to salvage the bank. George’s plan constantly changed, but he stayed positive and he never gave up.
I’m sure you’ve heard people say success is on the other side of hard. We’ve got to make sacrifices and go through hard things to find the true success that really matters in life. George had to make multiple sacrifices to help save his family and friends, but he did so, even if it meant his plans changed.
When we don’t meet our dreams the first time or in the short run, we shouldn’t give up. We shouldn’t let it overwhelm us. We need to realize that the success we’re looking for is on the other side of hard and it often requires sacrifice for us to get there.
3. Serve Something Bigger Than Yourself
The third thing we can learn from It’s A Wonderful Life is to serve something bigger than ourselves. George was constantly serving those around him: his friends, family, and local community members.
I think the biggest thing George served was his customers: the families of Bedford Falls.
He gave a speech to Potter, where he talked about all of the families he was helping to get out of his squalor, all of the families that he was helping find a small home they could afford. Because of his business, he was able to change the lives of almost everyone in his small town.
When we run our businesses, we should focus on the customers. How can we serve them? How can we help the community? There’s a quote on a picture that hung in the Bailey Building & Loan office that says, “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” What can we give away?
4. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
The fourth lesson we can learn is to not compare ourselves to others. We all have different paths, we all have different things that we have to go through, and we all have different rewards at the end.
There’s a moment where George’s friend, Sam, asked George and Mary to go to New York with him. But because of the situation at the Building & Loan, Georgre can’t do it. He has to stay and run the business. In a moment of frustration, he kicks his car. I’m sure he likely compared his current situation to his friend’s and felt sorry for himself. However, we should never compare our rut to someone else’s peak.
On the other hand, there were many times in his life where George could have been jealous and sorry for himself but he chose not to. When George can’t go to college, he ends up giving the money he’d saved up so his brother, Henry, can go to school.
When Henry comes back from college, George hopes he can take over the family business. However, Henry has a wonderful job opportunity somewhere else so he lets him take it. Then, when his brother goes off to war and wins a medal, instead of being bitter and jealous, George celebrates him. He gets so excited that he passes out the newspaper in town to brag about the accomplishments of his little brother.
We’re all on our own journeys. We’re all at different stages. We should never compare ourselves to others or feel sorry for ourselves. When we choose to be bitter and jealous, we can never be happy.
5. Forgive Others
The fifth thing we can learn is to forgive others. George’s uncle who worked with him in the bank was very forgetful and often made mistakes. The biggest mistake he made was misplacing an $8,000 deposit. He had placed it inside a newspaper by accident that ended up in the hands of George’s rival bank owner, Mr. Potter. While George was rightfully upset, he forgave his uncle, and even went as far as taking the blame himself.
Our employees often make mistakes. Instead of blaming them, we should forgive them. We should ask ourselves, “What could I have done better? Did I do the best I could to help them?” Maybe our employees only made the mistake because we didn’t communicate clearly. Maybe there’s something we could have done better that could have prevented it from happening. We should take responsibility for the actions of our employees wherever possible and reasonable.
6. Your Competitors May Be Ruthless
Our competitors will likely be ruthless and sometimes they may do things that are unethical and even get away with it. The story that I referenced above where the $8,000 was stolen by Mr. Potter is a great example of this. Mr. Potter stole that money, and even got away with it. The movie doesn’t resolve with him being discovered and held accountable for taking that money.
People do unfair things to us and hurt us. However, even though our competitors or others may get away with things that are wrong, it doesn’t mean that we should do the same thing. We need to be as honest and ethical as we can be. We aren’t perfect, but we need to do the best we can. Scriptures tell us that “vengeance is mine saith the Lord”. And I know that that is true. We need to let the Lord take care of the judgement. Our part is to love; our part is to forgive.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
One of George’s downfalls is that he tried to do everything alone. But he didn’t have to! He had so many friends and family members who were willing to help him if he had only asked.
The seventh thing that we can learn from It’s A Wonderful Life is to not be afraid to ask for help. After the $8,000 is lost, George contemplates suicide. He thinks there’s no solution for the situation that he’s in. Instead of asking for help, he thinks he has to solve it all himself.
We need to remember that it’s okay to lean on others. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s especially okay to ask for help from our friends and our family, from the people who love us. At the end of the movie, that’s what happens. Mary asked for help and all of the people that George had helped from the past came forward and gave him money. George was able to get out of this seemingly impossible situation because he had invested so deeply in helping others and building those relationships.
8. Character is More Important Than Money
Character is more important than money. George was a good man. He saved Henry from drowning. He saved the pharmacist from accidentally poisoning the child. He sent his brother off to school. He took over his father’s business. He helped people find affordable homes. We should try to be more like George and remember that money isn’t everything.
When George was offered $25,000 from Potter as a job to lure him away from the Building and Loan, George turned it down because he felt there were more important things than money. He felt he had a responsibility to continue to help those people. In the end, Harry proclaims that George is “the richest man in town!” Not just rich because of all the money people gave him, but because he has friends and family who love and support him.
Compare that to Mr. Potter. What is true wealth? It’s not just measured by what’s in our pocketbook or what’s in our bank account. It’s measured far more by the people we love and who love us.
9. Your Life Has Purpose
The ninth thing we can learn is that our life has purpose and meaning. Clarence tells George, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” He also says, “You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”
Our life touches so many others. When we feel lost, alone, and desperate, remember, our lives have purpose. Your life has a purpose. Many purposes. It’s our job to find out what those are. To find our purpose, we have to learn to be grateful and recognize our blessings, something George could only do when it was all taken away.
10. No Man is a Failure Who Has Friends
And finally, the 10th thing we can learn from It’s A Wonderful Life is that no man is a failure who has friends. At the end of the movie, Clarence gives George a book with a note that says, “No man is a failure if he has friends.” And in the end, it really was those friends that helped George through his hardest situation. Those friends and relationships were truly the wealth of his life.