Last night, I caught up on a Halloween tradition that was postponed by Hurricane Sandy: I watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. (For those of you overseas, this Halloween special aired every year without fail for many years on US network TV—for those of us who grew up with it, it’s just not Halloween without it.)
As I watched, I was struck by the attitudes and lessons we get from Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy. I could be reading into things too much, but here’s what I saw:
Charlie Brown is an almost tragic figure. Nothing in his life seems to go right. If you stop and think about it, it’s a wonder poor Charlie even manages to get through his day (but no shock whatsoever that, by the time the holidays roll around, he’s so desperate that he’s willing to give Lucy five cents to help him out).
The thing is, he does get through his day. Charlie Brown has every difficulty a kid could have, from absent parents to his attempts to talk to the Little Red-Haired Girl, but he soldiers on. He never seems to let it get to him for very long (except for that desperate Christmas moment). His approach seems to be: encounter injustice, feel whatever you feel about it, then let it go and move on.
I know—he’s just a cartoon character, and that philosophy sounds simple. But I also know I have yet to master it myself, so I have to give him credit where it’s due. After all, how many of us would have the determination and optimism that lets Charlie Brown try to kick that football over and over again? Or to keep trick-or-treating even though he gets a rock at every house? When life hands you lemons, it seems to me you could do worse than ask, “What would Charlie Brown do?”
Linus has the most faith and philosophical depth of any Peanuts character. Between his belief in the Great Pumpkin, which he maintains while everyone else laughs at him, and the way he recounts the Biblical Christmas story in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus isn’t your average kid. Charlie Brown may have the Zen thing down, but for me at least, Linus is the heart and soul of the Peanuts crew.
Are you willing to have faith in yourself in the face of ridicule, physical hardship, and failure? Anyone who dares to dream big dreams is going to find out in a hurry. If you’re dreaming of making money as an artist, for instance, your first hurdle is probably the reactions of friends and family who believe the conventional wisdom that you’re doomed to fail because “art doesn’t make money.” And a lot of people stop right there, deciding it’s not worth it (and then spending the rest of their lives pushing against that deep-seated desire to go do what they love anyway).
Linus, on the other hand, believes in the Great Pumpkin no matter what. He writes him a letter. He finds the perfect, “most sincere” pumpkin patch. And then he waits, into the dead of night, even after all his friends come to take him trick-or-treating. He falls asleep there, wrapped in his blanket and shivering. Nothing deters Linus from his quest except for a big sister who hauls him inside in the wee hours so he doesn’t freeze to death. Even then, Linus isn’t giving up on next year.
Unexamined devotion can be tricky, and it’s good to question yourself here and there to be sure you’re heading in the right direction. But once you’ve decided to pursue that goal, dedication and determination may be exactly what you need to get there, especially when everyone’s telling you you’re crazy. Stick to your guns and one day, the Great Pumpkin will turn up as promised. (Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching™ is really great at helping you hang in there, by the way!)
On a side note, if you’ve not seen Linus singing “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” you owe it to yourself! It’s better than Prozac.
Snoopy takes Halloween as far as he can. The World War I Flying Ace doesn’t just dress the part, he lives it. He climbs up on his doghouse and is off fighting the Red Baron and crossing rivers in Europe. There’s something fabulous about the way he immerses himself in his WWI identity and then lets it go when he doesn’t need it anymore, and it’s worth trying.
KMCC also uses this idea—we call it working with personas. Let’s say you’re trying out a new job, or a new creative project, and you’re feeling a little intimidated by it. “Am I really A Novelist?” you ask, feeling like a fake. If you can take five minutes to really let yourself be A Novelist, you can try the role on and see what happens. Maybe you turn into a caricature of the stereotypical novelist and have a good laugh at yourself. Maybe you find that you’re not sure what A Novelist feels like and decide that you want to try just being You, Writing a Book. Maybe you hit on unexpected inspiration. In any case, giving yourself permission to try something new on broadens your world and lets you taste that goal you’re aiming for.
The next time you’re in need of a little creative inspiration, take a page from your favorite Peanuts character. And if you need some backup, give me a shout!