Barnum Humbug: life and business lessons from The Greatest Showman

© 20th Century Fox

Last week I treated myself to a little self-care time by going to see ‘The Greatest Showman’ at the cinema.  What a wonderful piece of film - I’m STILL buzzing from it.

Inspired by the rise and fall and rise again of the controversial circus impresario P. T. Barnum and his travelling circus, it’s a treat for the eyes and the ears as you’re transported back in time to all-singing, all-dancing 19th Century America. 

© 20th Century Fox

But it’s so much more than a few fancy circus tricks, empowering songs and fun dance routines. It’s about imagination, intuition and determination.  It’s about dreaming big and being fiercely committed to those dreams and working hard to make sure they come true.  It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone, taking a leap of faith and trusting that it’ll pay off.  It’s about acceptance and celebration of anyone and everyone and ultimately being all that you can and were meant to be.

Though Barnum was a flawed character (his attitude towards animal cruelty amongst other things leaves a lot to be desired), actor Hugh Jackman says, he was “a true pioneer, a bit of a disrupter.  I think of him as a Steve Jobs or an Elon Musk; he saw the world completely differently to anybody else […] he really invented ‘Pop Culture’ […] he redefined marketing, he redefined entertainment as we know it today.”

© 20th Century Fox

The film was, as Jackman describes, a “risky passion project,” which was in development for over seven years before it finally danced and dazzled onto our screens in glorious technicolour!  He confessed that he put the odds at less than 50-50 that cameras would ever roll.  But there was something about this self-made man and his story that had Jackman hooked and pushed him to take his own leap of faith in pursuing this film.  “He created this world that no one had even thought possible,” says  Jackman. “He really, for me, epitomized the idea that your imagination is your limit in a time where things were very rigid and when the social position you were born into was the one you were stuck in.”

© 20th Century Fox

So, here are my top 5 lessons from The Greatest Showman:

  • Celebrate your uniqueness - embrace all that you are, your quirks, your imperfections, be proud of yourself and really shine. You can be anything you want to be.
  • Always look for the positives - a bad review of Barnum’s circus is turned into an opportunity when Barnum has the review printed in every paper in New York offering half price tickets for the show to anyone who brings a copy of the paper with them.
  • Be on the hunt for new ideas - “If you haven’t been to the Barnum circus lately, you haven’t been to the Barnum circus!” No matter how big or small the idea, keep things fresh.  Whether it’s your services, your marketing, or even just having some fun with your usual coffee shop order, mix it up and try something new.
  • Stay determined to outgrow yourself - Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men.  True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.”  Barnum proved that his place in life was only limited by his imagination.  Always aim to better yourself for yourself, to outgrow your past and really live your best life.
  • Spread joy - Barnum wanted to make others happy.  He wanted to entertain, for people to see things they’d never seen before and to feel uplifted after watching the show.  Spreading a little happiness as you go on your way costs nothing and ultimately helps you to feel happier too.  “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”  - P. T. Barnum

I think, as business owners there’s a lot we can learn from Phineas Taylor Barnum (and from Hugh Jackman too).  If you believe in it, and it feels true to you, go after it.  Run at it full speed, and MAKE. IT. HAPPEN.  With a little bit of self-belief, grit and determination and absolute love and joy for what you do, anything is possible.

“Whatever you do, do it with all your might.” – P. T. Barnum

Keep dreaming with your eyes wide open.

And who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up in a musical.

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