Two Lessons from "The Intern"

I watched The Intern yesterday. I thought I’d like it and it didn't disappoint.

Why? Life lessons coupled with laughter is my favourite kind of insight gathering.

Aside from the ever-perfect surroundings of the typical American flick that I find distracting in its impossibility, the story is one that I hope we’ll see replicated many times over in our Western culture over the coming decades.

Here’s a summary: 

Ben, a 70-year-old intern at an e-commerce startup, has the opportunity to influence his peers and his boss in various ways: with his work ethic, good manners & grooming, discretion, business acumen, and wisdom that can only come with age. In return, Ben learns new skills and abilities, makes new friends and, most importantly, leads a more fulfilling life—thanks to his new-found purpose.

Here's the trailer:

What I liked about it:

  1. It highlights that we’re increasingly losing the potential for intergenerational exchange and learning thanks to our propensity to segregate people by age.
  2. Ben sought out what we all do now and then when we feel something's missing: more of what makes life worth living

Agism Hurts Us All

Unfortunately, agism tends to guide us to where we think we belong, thanks to unfounded assumptions, beliefs and preferences.

Dealing with differences can be uncomfortable and confusing at first, but learning to work with people who are far removed from our usual context is rewarding. We get to see the world through others’ eyes. We’re reminded that everyone doesn’t grow up the same way, experience life the same way and value the same things. I find the experience akin to the insights that can be gained by travelling the globe.

The one difference is that no amount of travel can offer similar lessons to the experience of working with a wiser older person because it's not just about culture. Older adults can take you through time with their stories as they share their life experience. They also have a different take on problem solving because they see the world as far more dynamic than we do; having experienced more periods of change than most people around them.

What We Have In Common With Ben

I want the connection, the excitement. I want to be challenged and I guess I might even want to be needed.
— Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), The Intern

Ben applied for the internship because there was a hole in his life: he felt he wasn’t really needed. He felt no one depended on him. He had no where to be, nothing others counted on him to do. He’d lost meaning in his life because there seemed to be no purpose driving it, driving him.

The movie makes it clear that Ben had led a very successful life before his new rold: a good marriage, a successful career, a comfortable retirement. But it also makes it painfully obvious that the joy of retirement—the promised land at the end of decades of paying your dues/putting in your time—isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Musicians don’t retire. They stop when there’s no more music in them.
— Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) quoting a famous saying, The Intern

It’s the journey itself, not reaching the destination that makes life worth living. It’s the doing, not the arriving that’s satisfying. As anyone who’s achieved a major milestone can attest, the thrill of arrival is fleeting and quickly replaced by a feeling of loss and the question “Now what?”.

What We All Want

I’m not an unhappy person. I just know there’s a hole in my life and I need to fill it. Soon.
— Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), The Intern

We want to make a contribution to the world around us, no matter our age. The feeling of doing something that matters—making a difference—is what we crave. Money may pacify this craving for a while but it's unlikely to be a long-term solution, unless one has an unlimited appetite for regret later in life.

By chasing that feeling of giving the best of ourselves for something we find worthwhile, we live happier and more satisfying lives. That pursuit is what makes our days fuller, our nights more restful, and increases our potential to be successful at the same time.

When it comes to a full and happy life, meaning trumps money every time. The hope is that we learn that lesson sooner than later. 

Go ahead. Grab some popcorn and sit down to watch The Intern. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.