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Through the Coaching Lens: Booksmart

What would it feel like to not be limited to the one version of yourself you think is true?

Booksmart (2019, Dir. Olivia Wilde) is a wonderfully witty film about two friends as they embark on their final night before graduation: their last opportunity to be both good students and “party hard”.

The film is what we call a “rites of passage” film, or a coming of age story, and it made me think about those two terms and what they mean.

Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) - two ‘nerds’, realise just before it’s too late that they have been studying hard and focussing on climbing on the next rung on their ladders, namely an ivy league college. At the same time, their much cooler peers were able to do both: climb that rung and have fun doing it. Like one of those cool kids Molly bumps into in the bathroom says: “we care about school, we just don’t ONLY care about it”.

This sets in motion a night of breaking lots of personal rules, which is really about changing personas and letting go of characters: both those of themselves, and of their peers. As they try to find their way to a party they were never invited to, Molly and Amy encounter other kids from their year, as well as teachers and strangers, who suddenly show other aspects of their personalities that were unexposed until then.

Their headteacher makes extra income as a Lyft driver who picks them up on their search of the party; The pizza delivery guy warns them about trusting dodgy people (only for us to learn later that he is indeed wanted by the police); the rich boy who is trying too hard, who is actually a sweet soul, or the popular mean girl who is suddenly seen as a lost soul herself open to love and be loved.

Jumping Milestones - Changing Characters

Graduating from high school, as well as other ‘milestones’ in our lives offer us the opportunities to let go of the roles and characteristics that have been assigned to us, either by ourselves, or by those around us. These moments of letting go, and emerging as new characters are marked usually by big momentous changes in our lives: changing schools, leaving school, graduating from university, marrying, having children, changing jobs, roles, or geographical places, having our kids move out, moving into care, losing people we love. As we let go of one role, we take on another, just like an actor playing different roles.

Sometimes, we want to make those changes in ourselves, without any major external change happening in our lives. So instead of this shedding of roles being initiated by external events, we want to shift things internally: things stop working for us, or we lose momentum and we want to find a new perspective, a new purpose or direction.

Molly and Amy’s wild night out is an invitation to experiment, to be playful and to allow ourselves to change and explore, and at the same time give others permission to do the same. It is a reminder not to get overly hooked on one definition of ourselves, or too identified with a role assigned to us, or a feeling we have.

Creating change because we want to - not in response to external cues

In my work with clients we aim to identify both the narrative and the characters of our story - so that we achieve a new awareness. Through that we can then use this awareness to re-write the parts that are stopping us, or holding us back. We can then create those “rites of passage” moments internally - through creative awareness, curiosity and playfulness, to achieve a new sense of self. Like Amy and Molly we learn new things about ourselves and those around us, so that we emerge from where we are - chrysalis - like a butterfly out of its cocoon.

Through the Coaching Lens posts are my own commentaries of film and TV a coaching perspective. What movies or TV do you suggest I look at with my lens? Comment , and please share if it is of value to you.

Illustration by Evie Fridel

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