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  • Writer's pictureJames Eves

Are you using your strengths in the right job? Lessons from Mike Wazowski in Monsters University.

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Image by Merran O'Neill

I was watching the Pixar movie – Monsters University – with my stepson the other day. The prequel to the original Monsters Inc.

I love animated movies as there are so many powerful lessons written into the narrative for not just children but the adults watching!

Spoiler alert...don’t keep reading if you must not know the end before watching it!

From the original movie, we know Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan (aka Sully) as the dynamic duo leading the scaring floor at Monsters Inc. power plant. Scaring children to gain the powerful energy from their screams to power their city.

Love the motto of “We scare because we care!”

The 2nd movie follows their paths intersecting at university in joining the School of Scaring.

Mike is determined to become a top scarer. Even in the face of ridicule and being told that he is not cut out for this, he ignores the feedback and is relentless in his goal of achieving this.

Have you ever felt this in your own journey and career?

If I just keep going...just another year, one more promotion, if I just don’t quit, if I just ignore what others say, if I just avoid burnout, then I will succeed?

Eventually it hits Mike. After failing to scare a room of children, he has the realisation talking to Sully that:

“You were right. They weren’t scared of me. I thought if I wanted it enough, I would be able to show everyone that Mike Wazowski is special.”

It’s a sad moment for him.

However, Mike is special. But he was trying to become something he was not innately. No amount of effort, and self-belief would change that.

There are 3 strong messages I take from this film. They link to understanding ourselves and putting our values and strengths to good use.

Climbing the wrong ladder

We can spend a lot of time and effort climbing a ladder to reach some higher echelon, only to realise that when we get there, we don’t know who we are, we have been playing a role, and are miserable as are not acting authentically and in line with our values and strengths.

Teamwork does make the dream work

To continue on the Scaring course and compete in the Scare games, Mike needs a team. He gets together with the campus misfits (the only ones that will join him) and creates their team Oozma Kappa.

Despite much mocking and laughter from the other teams, thinking they will catastrophically fail, Mike uses his strengths such as positivity, problem solving, and commanding others, to inspire them as unique individuals to work together to beat the other teams.

Mike was excelling in the leadership role, not on the scaring side of things.

How often is the natural leader not in a position of management? Here Mike was the perfect fit. And positive things started to happen.

Working in Partnership

Due to some cheating in the final round of the Scare Games tournament. Mike and Sully are expelled from the university. Their dreams of being top scarers and working for Monsters Inc. are dashed.

Mike, however, finds the solution that they can always still work there, pointing to an ad in the newspaper. They start in the mail room, become janitors, win awards and promotion at each stage. Until they finally reach their dream of being on the scare floor.

Both Mike and Sully worked well as a team, their energy boosted each other, and their strengths were complementary. This key partnership meant they achieved so much more than they would have as individuals.

Moving back to the original movie, Mike and Sully become a top scare team.

Enter the realisation with Boo’s help that laughter is 10 times more powerful than screams, Mike is now the natural fit to make children laugh. He is in his element and using his natural talents.

This further turns around the fortunes of the power plant and saves the day.

So, when you feel like Mike Wazowski striving to be James P. Sullivan, reflect on if this is the right ladder you are climbing, and if the scare floor is not actually the goal you should be striving for.

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