I don’t know if any of my readers have seen Labyrinth, which is quite possibly one of my favorite movies ever. It features muppets, Jennifer Connelly, and David Bowie wearing tights. Also, it has one of the best/most awkward dance scenes in movie history.
I love this film more than any normal person should, and in order to share the love, I’m going to share the Top 10 lessons this movie teaches about overcoming adversity in your everyday life, and your financial life as well.
1. Be careful what you wish for.
Things would have been much easier if Sarah had just let her baby brother self-soothe or something (that’s still a trend in baby-raising right?). Instead, she wound up in a twisted fantasy world.
Real life is not quite this literal, but you only have to look at the unhappy lives of lottery winners to see that those things you’ve been dreaming of will not magically make life better. Even at your dream job, you’ll wake up one morning and wish you could stay in bed. Dreaming of a house doesn’t mean you’re dreaming about doing all the maintenance and paying for all the major utilities. Sometimes it pays off to be content where you are.
Sure, this labyrinth is no simple back-of-the-cereal-box maze. Navigating its twists and turns is bad enough, but there are other hidden dangers. However, by starting with just a few steps, you can set yourself on the path to victory.
The obvious parallel is your savings. Even if you can’t save very much, it helps to start., and start early. Every journey begins with putting one foot in front of the other, and huge amounts of savings always start with just a few dollar bills stuffed in a can. Even if you’re not saving $1000 every month, you’re still learning the skills that will help get you there someday.
3. Starting off quickly is awesome, but sometimes it’s smarter to assess the situation to be sure you’re running in the right direction.
Very early on in the Labyrinth, Sarah becomes confused, because no matter how far or how fast she runs, she can’t find any turns in the maze. It just seems endless and straight. She decides to solve this puzzle by running even harder and faster down the corridor.
She limited the scope of her progress when she ran down the alleyway, and it wasn’t until she stopped in frustration that she managed to focus on the world around her.
You could say this is like the guy who completely cuts out all extraneous spending. Sure, it helped him save $200 extra that month, but is that sustainable? Is it enjoyable? Worse: could he save that much by giving up the gym membership he never uses?
4. Advice can come in the most unlikely places.
Even from those who may be “beneath” you. Sarah meets a little worm who shows her that the goal she’s trying to run toward – the goal she thinks is miles down the corridor – is right in front of her face. Without the perspective of this little guy, Sarah might still be wandering down that one passageway.
Is there anyone you know who might have a unique perspective to offer? Even if you hate certain blogs, could a recipe for laundry detergent come in handy? Even if your friend isn’t as financially smart as you, does she have some frugal meal ideas or tips for thrift store shopping? Is your sister’s unemployed boyfriend actually starting a business – and his plan is so brilliant, you’d invest if only you knew about it?
5. Make sure you’re getting all the information!
Nothing can make a difficult journey even worse like having incomplete information. If Sarah had just listened to the aforementioned worm a little longer, she’d have information that would have helped her immensely. Even if the movie would have been a lot shorter and more boring.
You wouldn’t invest in a company based on one month of returns. You’d want to know how they ran the company, how its earnings are, what the experts are trending. Sure, this isn’t as exciting or risky, but I’d rather be bored by how I earned a million dollars.
6. Sometimes, experts have no idea what they are talking about.
At one point, Sarah meets two guards, each guarding a door. One door leads to the center of the Labyrinth, and one door leads to (bumbumbumBUM!) certain death. In order to pass through the correct door, Sarah must solve the riddle they pose. When she figures it out, they guards are impressed. They don’t understand the answer!
The most obvious parallel to personal finance is the talking heads on MSNBC or FoxBusiness who try to predict the market, or Jim Cramer screaming, “BUY BUY BUY!” At the most basic level, they are guessing. No one foresaw the fat-fingered order that cause the market to drop nearly 1,000 points. And Cramer was telling people not to sell, even as Bear Stearns disappeared without a trace.
Maybe this conflicts with #3 a little bit, but the real takeaway is that you can’t trust anyone’s assessment, at least not blindly. If you want to be in the market and can’t take the time to do your own research, stuff everything into an index fund or a target date fund until you’re ready.
7. A support network is better than a million dollars.
As Sarah gets closer and closer to the castle, she makes friends with some of the Labyrinth outcasts. They prove to be invaluable as she fights her way through the Goblin City. Though she must face the Goblin King alone, they wait outside in case she needs help.
A strong support network, whether it’s made up of family or friends or both, is an essential safety net. Even if you’re not George Bailey and whole towns wouldn’t donate thousands to keep you solvent, having a couch to crash on or a shoulder to cry on is a tremendous help. People land jobs through their social networks. A good friend can refer you to a great realtor, set you up with a deal on a new car, or even do something as small as buying a round of beers at the bar.
8. This isn’t life, this is just stuff!
Sarah is very into her stuff. The catalyst for her wish is that her baby brother has her teddy bear, Lancelot. In fact, Sarah’s toys are reflected in the world of the Labyinth. After Sarah eats a poisoned apple and loses her memory, she wanders through a dump, gathering her belongings. Eventually, her memory returns: she doesn’t care about her toys or books or lipstick, she just wants her brother back!
I fall into this trap a lot. I’ll see a dress and imagine all of the wonderful parties I’m going to wear this dress to. The only problem is that I never attend parties where a floaty dress is the right attire. My life isn’t going to be defined by my clothes. The same is true for iPhones and Italian sports cars. The point is that I enjoy the parties I do go to, BBQs where everyone wears jeans or bashes where your clothes will be covered in beer by the end of the night.
(Bonus trufax: if you’re looking for a picture of the junkyard in Labyrinth and you search for “Labyrinth junk,” one of the top results is David Bowie in his tights with a circle around his “junk”.)
9. Life isn’t fair.
Every time the Labyrinth is tricky, Sarah yells out, “It’s not fair!” Eventually she realizes that no, it’s not fair, and she’s just going to have to deal with it.
No one waltzes through life without encountering bad luck, although some do seem to encounter more opportunities than others. It’s never going to be fair, but nothing will ever change if you do nothing but complain about it. No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be helping those who need it. However, it’s easy to make excuses about the hand you were dealt. If only you had been the boss’ pet. If only you hadn’t had to care for your parents instead of going to college. If only you hadn’t gotten sick and had to declare bankruptcy because of the medical bills. Yes, these are all things that may have set you back, but ultimately, the fact that it’s unfair isn’t going to change the fact that it happened.
10. There is nothing more awesome, or more awkward, than Bowie dancing with a baby while he’s wearing tights.
This is one of the defining moments in film, you guys.