An Ode To The Shawshank Redemption

Theatrical release poster for The Shawshank Redemption

Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers to The Shawshank Redemption. If you haven’t seen the movie, please do that first – it’s awesome!

My favorite scene in the movie is when Andy is suddenly missing from his cell and the jail guards are looking everywhere to find out where he has vanished until the warden discovers the tunnel that he’s dug out of his cell.

That’s the scene with the big reveal of his perseverance over the last 20 odd years where he chiseled at his cell wall with a little rock hammer until he had dug a tunnel out. He planned, he stuck with the plan, he worked hard towards his goal bit by bit, everyday. There’s a lesson here for not giving up, there’s a lesson here for hope, but these are not the ones I want to talk about.

Now, this is the very definition of long term gratification to my mind. A more gangster personality with more swagger would have used a more instant gratification route like blowing the wall with a dynamite.

It’s a little unsettling to think that he spent 20 years of his life trying to break out of his jail cell; to think that it’s a life wasted. That he could have done so many better things if he would have been out, free.

And I agree. But the starting point of this is once he’s already landed in a jail. Now what? He can’t get out just because he wants to. What should he do then? Holding on to the hope of being free someday actually helped him not go insane. He carried out his prison duties with aplomb — in fact, he ‘exceeded expectations’ on those almost without fail!

And that’s where the story becomes so powerful in terms of carrying this metaphor for the everyday life. Keep being optimistic and hopeful and you may someday realize your life’s long term dreams, even if they seem unrealistic today — when you are at the start of the journey. Keep chipping away slowly at that wall that stands between you and your goal. But at the same time, the fact that you know you are working towards that long term goal, lets you give yourself that chance to enjoy the other things along the way — like an assignment or project at work, perhaps. You might even find the joy in doing this because you are calm for having made a little progress for your long term dream — whatever it is.

For me, it’s writing.

I started working on my second novel, DareDreamers: A Start-up of Superheroes, soon after the first one got published in August 2011. Exactly 7 years later, the second novel is being released next month. The joy that I experienced when I held the advance copies in my hand was no less than when Andy gets out of the prison — which is the moment caputred in the poster above.

I often fall trap to the idea of evaluating my life and in that mode, I actually gave up writing for several months together in these past seven years. The logical end to the effort of writing is the book getting published and I was inching towards that so slowly that it’s hard to even look at it like progress. These are the thoughts that I needed to fight off:

What’s the point of doing this at night after work or on weekends when I could be chilling!

Everybody’s talking about this new series on Netflix and someone’s going to spoil it for me on Monday.

My friends are catching up at this new pub today. (Ok, that one I probably wouldn’t miss.)

One month is a pretty significant period of time, right? But that’s just 1% of seven years. You can’t even notice that level of movement towards your goal, let alone evaluating if you are even moving in the right direction.

But I am glad that I persevered. Because now I can look back at these seven years and see how much I learned about writing. And the fact that I learned a lot about many other things from the time I spent with my friends and family and at work because I was quietly chipping away at the wall that truly mattered.

And it’s a life well spent.

PS: I’ve been working on finalising the typeset, the cover and the launch plan with my publisher these past few months and that has kept me away from Medium. Now that the book is out of my laptop and on it’s way into the real world (August 15 launch), “I will be back”.