There’s a great metaphor for life at the end of “The Wizard of Oz”.
Dorothy, her dog Toto, the Tin Man, the Straw Man, and the cowardly lion, spend the whole movie looking for The Wizard.
Oz is apparently so terrifying that everyone is scared stiff at the mere mention of his name.
Finally, Dorothy manages to get an audience with Oz himself.
She and her companions are ushered into his presence.
They stand trembling.
The massive figure, forty feet high, wreathed in smoke, addresses them in a booming voice.
‘WHO DARES TO SEEK AN AUDIENCE WITH THE GREAT OZ?’
They can barely speak from fear.
Everything they’ve heard is true.
They are awe struck.
But Dorothy’s little dog Toto doesn’t know any of this of course.
Because dogs can’t talk.
So he hasn’t been terrified by everything everyone’s told them.
He just scampers across the room and pulls some curtains apart.
Behind the curtains is a little old man.
He is working levers and talking into a microphone.
The forty foot high Oz is actually just a mechanical device.
This little man with is working it like a machine.
They ask him why he did it.
He says it’s because no one would take him seriously otherwise.
But people are impressed by size, so this way he gets attention.
Put simply, he lets people’s minds do the work for him.
He lets their own minds create the stereotype they need to be frightened of.
They then live their lives in fear of the stereotype they themselves created.
That’s what I was like before I went to New York.
I grew up in a reality with a set of rules I never questioned.
New York lifted me up out of that, and showed me my life from another angle.
New York was the little dog pulling the curtains apart.
Suddenly I could question all the things I’d thought were unquestionable.
What seemed to be facts were only true if I subscribed to it being that way.
I found that very empowering when I came back to London.
Powerful, important people weren’t as frightening as I previously thought they were.
The things I’d been frightened of didn’t exist in the real world.
Just in my head.
That was a more empowering lesson for me than anything I ever learned about advertising.
I see students and young people all the time trying to learn the rules, so they can follow them.
Trying to learn what they are, and aren’t, allowed to do.
And then, later on, grumbling about the rules.
They learn the restrictions.
And then they enforce the restrictions on themselves.
And then grumble about it.
Of course we have to learn the rules.
Just as we would learn the rules of any game we were playing: football, cricket, tennis.
But the rules are meant to be a spring board, not a straitjacket.
The floor, not the ceiling.
How can we ignore, or break, the rules and get away with it?
No one can teach you that.
Today is the last day of 2008.
Tomorrow is a whole new year.
It’s a good time to think about whether we want to spend it imposing restrictions on ourselves or not.