The Shawshank Redemption is so great. It’s one of those movies that stops me when I’m channel surfing, and often keeps me watching until the end. Financial writer Trent Hamm is also a huge fan of Shawshank, which tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a soft-spoken banker wrongfully imprisoned (or was he?) for killing his wife.
Hamm recently wrote a great article for thesimpledollar.com in which he shared life and money lessons from The Shawshank Redemption.
Never give up. Both inmates and guards treat Andy Dufresne brutally when he arrives at Shawshank prison. But Andy battles on and moves forward. Stuff happens in all our lives. And it isn’t always fair. A lay-off, an illness, an accident. We can’t control these things, but we can pick ourselves up off the floor and get back in the race. No matter how big a mess you face, you can make things a little better every day until you’re fully recovered.
Take advantage of the opportunities you have, not ones you wish you had. Andy losses nearly everything when he enters prison. That’s enough to break anyone’s spirit. But Andy evaluates his situation and finds a way to leverage his financial know-how to make life a little easier for himself and his fellow prisoners. He helps the guards with their taxes and later becomes the Warden’s bookkeeper. How are you using your skills to make the most of your current situation? Or are you just dragging through the work week, convinced everything would be great if only you had that other job?
Make yourself useful. Both Andy and his smuggler pal, Red, understand that helping others solve their problems is a key to success. What do you offer that makes you valuable in the workplace or marketplace? Are you adding value to your employer’s business every day? If not, how can you up your usefulness? Take on added duties? Master new skills?
Have a big dream and a scheme. Andy constantly operates on two levels. He works his job in the Warden’s office while planning to escape. His job is more than a way to pass time and curry favor. He uses the job to fund and execute his Big Dream. What’s your Big Dream? What do you see when you look to the horizon of life, and how do you plan to get there?
Almost anything is possible with discipline. Andy digs his way to freedom by tunneling through the prison walls just a little bit every day for many years. This is a great metaphor for successful financial planning. When we set specific money goals -- house down payment, retirement – and have the discipline to follow a well-thought plan for reaching those objectives, dreams can come true.
Have a back-up plan. Andy’s tunnel allows him to escape when the corrupt warden turns against him. What’s your escape tunnel? Do you have an emergency fund? Insurance? A second set of job skills? When it hits the fan, and it always does, such contingencies can make all the difference.
Take smart risks. Andy’s rise to influence and privilege begins when he dares to approach the prison’s nastiest guard with unsolicited money advice involving the guard’s wife. That conversation could have ended very badly. Instead, it changed the course of Andy’s future. It’s important to take smart risks in life. Keeping your head down and always playing it safe is a shortsighted strategy that will always deliver mediocrity.
Respect and give to others. In exchange for helping that guard, Andy requests a reward not for himself, but for his entire work crew. As a result, he wins his fellow inmates’ respect and affection. Whether you are building new team at work, or looking for new friendships, it’s important to give of yourself without questioning or expectation.
Persistence pays. Andy Dufresne’s redemption takes 19 years of diligence, discipline and hard work. But nothing worth having comes fast or easy. Career success, fulfilling marriage, creating a successful retirement – the good stuff takes time and persistence.
Just ask those two guys happily restoring a wooden boat on a gorgeous stretch of beach in Mexico…