In Success, We Can’t All Be Forrest Gump

“I’m not a smart man… but I know what love is.”

Everyone knows Forrest was a decorated Vietnam Vet, table tennis champion, shrimp mogul, and world class long-distance runner, but c’mon. The rest of us are only human. As a film, Forrest Gump was full of memorable, touching lines like the one above and as an individual, Forrest Gump was full of dumb wisdom, always one step ahead of everyone else too caught up in thought to act. In that way, Forrest can still teach us a lot about how to overcome challenges. Let’s examine how the life lessons Forrest embodied can be practically applied to obstacles we face every day.

CHALLENGE: Only 8 AM and something’s already gone wrong.

FORREST: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Let’s get the most cliched and overused line of the movie out of the way up front, because even this “I watch movies too” throwaway holds brilliance in less than 20 syllables. In a broader sense, the box-of-chocolates Forrest’s momma was referring to is about his entire lifetime, and not your Monday morning commute.

Still, you don’t bite into a coconut candy and throw away the rest of the box right? Just because something went wrong with your day doesn’t mean it’s not a salvageable set of circumstances. If you’re running late, call in and let people know so they don’t get pissed at you later for blowing off the meeting. Everyone has a coconut piece once in a while, and today might just be yours.

You’ll never know what you’re going to get when you wake up, so if you acknowledge that fact you won’t be so pissed when some small step of your daily routine is thrown out of whack. We’re creatures of habit, but your surroundings can change at any instant without your knowledge and completely outside of your control. Readying yourself to roll with the punches will provide you with a much better outlook and give your peers cause for admiration after you’ve handled a wild pitch with style and grace.

CHALLENGE: I can’t reach!

FORREST: “You have to do the best with what God gave you.”

So you’re not Yao Ming. So you’re not on the cover of GQ or Vogue. So you’re not paid millions of dollars to hang out with your friends like Adam Sandler apparently is (Grown Ups 2? C’mon). Bottom line, someone in the world has to have below average height or whatever it is you’re working with. It just so happens you’re that person and it’s time to come to grips with it.

Forrest is a little dumber than the rest of the population, but that doesn’t stop him from trying new things, working his hardest when he’s needed, and being an infallible friend to the people he cares about. Forrest excelled in life despite his set back because he chose not to let it define him. Instead, he decided what he was going to do with it.

Once you do that too, an entire series of doors will open to you. You can find unique solutions to problems unique to you. You can seek help and understanding with other similarly affected individuals. Issues or barriers that seemed to loom largely in your mind and take up all of your energy with negativity now seem trivial because you’ve realized you’re not the only one in the world. How we react to adversity defines us, not the circumstances that created that adversity.

If something didn’t go your way yesterday, don’t let it infect your new day. If it’s been months since you got a call back from that cute girl, it’s time to move on so you don’t look like a totally burned-out loser the next time you see her. Obstacles that repeat themselves over and over can end up feeling like part of us, but the reality is that we’re just looking at it in the same way.

CHALLENGE: The great beyond is calling.

FORREST: “Mama always said, dying was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.”

No one wants to die, ever. If you’re afraid of death, it’ll come that much sooner. Obsessing over the things you’ll never be able to do before the end is going to take a lot longer and sap you of a lot of energy, turning life into walking death. Sure, Forrest’s great accomplishments seem like divine intervention at times, but the reality is that he was the driving force behind the initial steps that lead to greatness.

Did fate put him in Vietnam where he could rescue his fellow soldiers following an errant napalm strike? Did fate put him on an All-American football team? Single-minded determination and dedication gave Forrest his amazing journey, whether it was running his way to a scholarship or forming the Bubba Gump shrimp company in honor of his departed friend. Certainly Forrest acted without impetus on many occasions, but only if it was something he truly wanted to do. Sometimes we fail to see the opportunities that lie in front of us because we’re too busy longing for those that were never available to us.

If you know you’re never going to become a world-famous football star, it’s probably time to enjoy the sport as an enthusiast and not another has-been. Pick up a game with your friends and get attached to your favorite club, but appreciate those activities for what they are, and not what they could be. So you’ll never walk onto the pitch with millions of screaming fans watching your every move, but you can still score the winning goal in your Saturday afternoon pick-up game (and get as much satisfaction out of it too).

CHALLENGE: What to do….

FORREST: “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!”

Act with purpose. You don’t have to literally run everywhere you go, but make choices with full knowledge of the consequences and your own desired outcome. Things will go wrong, you will get a disgusting coconut nougat chocolate in that box, but if you’re really following Forrest, you’ll accept those challenges and continue on your dedicated and directed path.

That part of the movie where Forrest runs all across the country for years at a time? That’s great and all, but you should probably have a destination in mind when you walk out your door in the morning. Knowing where you want to go and what you want to do when you get there enables the kind of problem-solving, objective-minded clairvoyance to read and address obstacles as they come.

When you make meaningful and goal-oriented steps towards a faster mile time, a bigger paycheck, or that trip around the world, every little thing you do will feel like a victory unto itself. Identifying which credit card to pay off, which muscle group to work out, or even what to make for dinner can turn mundane or unappealing activities into satisfying and rewarding endeavors. Conscious activity will always be more profitable than the things you’ve programmed yourself to do.


“Stupid is as stupid does.”

Everyone does something stupid at some point in their lives, but how you react and how you learn from that one stupid mistake will define you a lot longer than the moronic misstep you just took. If you’ve done something stupid, it’s probably time to stop and try something different. Don’t repeat mistakes, learn from them.

How stupid do you think Forrest is by the end of the film? He’s transformed into an intelligent and wise individual after everything is said and done because he’s learned from the experiences he’s had in life. He takes the challenges he’s faced head-on and uses determination to power through. If he sees a road-block, he takes a left turn and just keeps running.

Moreover, your friends and peers will respect and admire the way you took some stupidity on the chin, only to excel beyond it. The way you unabashedly assume responsibility for your mistakes will make your a more likable and caring person when others falter around you. Soon, accepting the reality of embarrassing and unhelpful situations will turn into further opportunities for growth and progress.

The truth in Forrest Gump’s wisdom transcends circumstance to speak directly to anyone met with adversity or challenge in their life. Whatever you lack won’t define you long-term if you can adapt and excel. Case in point, an IQ of 75 in a doctor’s office in Alabama miraculously equates to an IQ of 160 in basic training. When Forrest focuses on running, it takes him thousands of miles. When he runs through dog sh**, all he can be bothered to say is “It happens.”