If You’re Not First, You’re Last….is it true? What Ricky Bobby Taught Me
Are you on a fast track to nowhere?
I recently watched the movie Talledega Nights again. It's a masterpiece in so many ways, but now, as a life coach, I see a different layer of wisdom in the story of Ricky Bobby.
We live in a culture that teaches us about winning. We worship winners. We are scared to death of losing. We avoid it like the plague.
I'm not sure when the American Dream became inflated to this point, or if it was always like this and I'm just noticing it now. But the fancy ZIP codes, the latest fashions, the plastic surgery, the fitness programs, the high-paying jobs, the flashy cars...all of these toys and amusements, which have become SO glamorous and fun as the demand for them has gone up, are substitutes for the relationships we are seeking with ourselves.
As I look around at our human condition, I see that we share a common need to belong. We share a common need to feel loved. We share a common need to love someone or something, and be able to express it. And we share a common need to tell the truth in our hearts.
The problem is, we're not taught to acknowledge what we truly need. We buy into the concept that if we just keep racing to win, we'll have everything we ever thought we needed.
Well, have you ever gotten to the very top of your game, accomplished the goals that have been put in front of you, and still ended up feeling empty? If you know what I'm talking about, then read on.
The Hero's Journey
Ricky Bobby is a winner. We meet him at the beginning of the film as the seed for needing to win is first planted in his mind. His absentee father, a race-car driver, shows up for a brief moment in his elementary school classroom and tells his son, "If you ain't first, you're last."
The words make an indelible imprint on the young Ricky, and it leads to a career as a champion race-car driver. He's on the fast track, literally. He lives in a McMansion with a pool and a circular driveway, owns a boat and more cars than he can drive, and has a hot wife and two kids. He has all the trappings of what material success looks like in America.
As long as the prize money keeps rolling in, it's all good.
The problem arises when a foreigner invades his racing kingdom and threatens to dethrone him.
Ricky has a minor injury, but doesn't allow his physical condition to overpower his ingrained zeal to win. He's on the fast track, remember? And he won't be stopped by anything.
He powers through.
When Ricky suffers a devastating crash, and it appears that his racing career is over, he loses everything that once defined him - his house, his wife, his best friend, his career.
The Hero Sits Down
Humiliated, Ricky moves in to his mother's house, takes a job as a pizza deliveryman, and is left to mope around in an unfamiliar, egoless state.
He encounters his father, who has come back to redeem his lifelong absenteeism and teach Ricky a few lessons about winning.
The Hero Learns To Love...Himself
This part of the film is where we watch Ricky get life coaching. His coaches come in the form of his father, his mother, and a former employee - all of whom show him aspects of the love he has been seeking for himself through the substitute of "winning".
He faces his fear by learning to drive with a wild cougar inside his car. He learns to feel by driving blindfolded. He learns the value of clarity and compassion when his own mother takes over the parenting of his two foul-mouthed, defiant sons.
The final "aha" moment happens when a former employee runs into Ricky at a local bar and reveals what she has always seen in him - the love of racing, and the true spirit of a winner, who races for the love and not the prize money.
It's a hilariously cheesy moment in the film, complete with a soundtrack from "White Snake", but it's the melodrama of recognizing your own essential self that's being conveyed. It's the moment we all long to experience for ourselves. It's what we need to keep growing, keep risking, keep living - we need to be reminded of how to really love ourselves. And when we see glimpses of our essential self, it always feels like love.
There Is No Finish Line...
The fact that Ricky's final race with his foreign nemesis ends in a scratch result (both drivers disqualified for leaving their cars) is a beautiful way to convey the ambiguity of what it means to "win" in life, versus being declared a "winner". The only result that matters to Ricky is the acknowledgment of his essential self's true love of racing, and that he is free to be first or last, without fear of losing love.
At a time when our nation is lamenting the loss of teens to senseless suicides, discussing the problems of bullying, and exposing the dark side of our achievement culture, maybe it's also time to ask, "Whose race are we in? And how will we know when we've won?"
Take a moment to remember what you truly love. It will point you toward the only finish line that matters....living a life you can call your own.