*this contains spoilers*
Recently The Office US has been put onto Netflix. Great news for my entertainment, not so great for my productivity levels. The series follows the workers of Dunder Mifflin, a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Over the hundreds of episodes we see the ever-developing lifes of the office workers and we begin to find ourselves becoming attached the characters, and seeing our own lives reflected within the office.
Many of the characters storyarchs explore different themes we all face in life, and Pams storyline focuses on love, ambition and fear.
Pam; Fear and Failure
Pam is framed as everything that is ordinary in the world. In fact, the actress who plays her, was told by casting directors to look as unglamorous as possible when playing Pam. She starts as a receptionist in Dundler Mifflin, and from the beginning it is clear she hates her job. Pam’s true passion in life is art, and as the series continues, she makes small comments about how she wishes she could go to art school. Pam also has a fiancé, Roy, who makes little effort with her. She recalls her first date with Roy when they went to a sports match with Roy’s brother, and how they forgot her at the match. Though Pam does not enjoy her life, it is safe and comfortable. It is a low risk, low reward scenario.
As an audience we can see that Pam is deeply unfulfilled. In fact, the only time Pam seems to smile is when she is hanging out with Jim, her coworker. The pair maintain that it is platonic, but to both the audience and their coworkers alike, it is clear that the two share a deep connection. However, because Pam is engaged we are left saddened as we watch Jim pine from a distance. They are the love story that cannot be.
In the episode ‘Boys and Girls’, Jan, from head office, comes in to talk to the women about their goals in an effort to recruit more female talent. Jan asks all the women to discuss their dreams and whilst the women discuss what types of house they desire, Pam reveals how she would love a creative career. Jan offers Pam an opportunity to work in head office with graphic design which seems like the perfect option. But Pam looks horrified, and makes excuses about how it’s not the right time.
As she is interviewed she says “Dreams are just… that. They’re dreams. They help get you through the day, like the thing about the terrace. It’s nice, but… uhm. I know, it’s just a thing I read in this book when I was twelve. The girl in the book has a terrace that’s outside of her bedroom, and she planted flowers on it, and I just loved that. It just kind of always stuck with me. It’s impractical, I’m not gonna try to get a house like that. Uhm, they don’t even make houses like that in Scranton. So, I’m never gonna… [Starts to cry]”
This scene is heartbreaking as we see Pam giving up on her dreams. Pam is too scared to try and potentially fail, so instead she stays in a life that is deeply unfulfilling. This fear is a theme that follows Pam throughout the show.
After enrolling into art school Pam displays her art in an exhibit and invites the whole office to come. She seems proud to show off what she has painted- notably office supplies and the office building. As she waits for people from the office to turn up she sees Oscar and his partner Gil, who have not noticed Pam. Gil criticises the art calling it “motel art” and says “real art takes courage, and honesty” to which Oscar replies “well, those aren’t Pam’s strong points”.
We see Pam shrink and scuttle away, as she stands by her art noticeably upset for the rest of the night. It feels like a failure. However, in the following episodes it seems Pam has taken this comment to heart. Pam begins to take the courage to be honest. On a work night Pam confesses to Roy that she kissed Jim. As Roy smashes glasses and furniture, Pam leaves stating it is over for good this time. She has finally had the courage to end this chapter in her life.
On the Episode ‘Beach Games’ Michael tries to find a new manager by testing the candidates aptitude through various tasks like sumo wrestling, hot dog eating contests and fire walking. Michael is disappointed as none of the candidates want to walk on the coals and he says they lack the courage to be managers. As the camera pans we see Pam in background running across the coals and then running to the group to say-
“Hey, I want to say something. I’ve been trying to be more honest lately and I just need to say a few things: I DID THE COAL WALK. Just… I did it. Michael you couldn’t even do that. Maybe I should be your boss. Wow I feel really good right now.
Why didn’t any of you come to my art show? I invited all of you, and that really sucked. It’s like sometimes some of you act like I don’t even exist.
(turns to Jim) Jim, I called off my wedding because of you. And now we’re not ever friends. Things are just weird between us and that sucks. And I miss you. You were my best friend before you went to Stamford. I really miss you. I shouldn’t have been with Roy, and there were a lot of reasons to call of my wedding, but the truth is, I didn’t really care about any of those reasons until I met you. And now you’re with someone else. And that’s fine…it’s whatever…it’s not what, I don’t…ok my feet really hurt. The thing that I’m just trying to say to you Jim, and to everyone else in the circle I guess, is that I miss having fun with you. Just you, not everyone in the circle. Ok, I’m going to go walk in the water now. Yeah, it’s a good day.”
Michael replies “Pam! That was amazing! …But I am still looking for someone with a sales background.” Haha still makes me laugh.
The rest of the office members gossip about this incident the next day saying how embarrassing it was, but as the audience we feel vindicated. For 3 series Pam has denied ever having feelings for Jim, and finally she has stood up and said it. Pam has finally faced her fear and been honest.
Once Pam has had the couraged to face her fears we see her go from strength to strength. Her and Jim start dating to later marry. She goes to New York to go to graphic design school. And she ends up in a little house like she described above. In essence by facing her fears Pam has achieved her dreams. She is happy.
But this isn’t without tribulation. Pam exhibits her work and was humiliated by Gil’s comments. She takes the scary step of ending her 5 year engagement to become newly single for the first time in her adult life. Pam goes to graphic design school and fails her course. She publicly states her feelings to a man (who is in a relationship) in front of the whole office for him to turn her down. In many ways, you could say Pam fails. Her first engagement ‘failed’, she is publically humiliated when she confesses her feelings for Jim, she fails her graphic design course and returns to her original job.
But in the grand scheme, these were all little pieces of the puzzle that led to Pam achieving her dreams. Were Pam to have not ‘failed’ in her relationship, she never would have ended up with the love of her life. If she weren’t to have made her beach speech, Jim would’ve never asked her out on a date. If she hadn’t failed the graphic design course, she never would have returned to an office she loves to get an even better job. Pam needed to have the courage to fail, in order to succeed. Her failures created her success.
In the finale Pam says ““Jim was five feet from my desk and it took me four years to get to him. It’d be great if people saw this documentary and learned from my mistakes…be strong. Trust yourself. Love yourself. Conquer your fears. Just go after what you want, and act fast ‘cause life isn’t that long.”. That makes me teary even now.
Don’t be Afraid to be Seen Trying and our Fear or Failure
So often in life, we know what we truly want, but we never go for it for fear of failing. Our minds are filled with ‘what if’s’ as we think; ‘what if I am rejected’, ‘what if I fail’ or ‘what if I embarrass myself’. And as Evelyn points out, what makes trying out new things scary, is that a lot of the time we need to do it publicly.
For example, a job interview requires someone else to be there, people are aware when you get married or divorced, we eventually have to tell people if we moving. Our lives are played out to the public around us.
We don’t want to be seen failing. We want to be seen to be perfectly competent all the time. It’s not pleasant when everyone knows you were dumped, or you went for a job and didn’t get it, or you failed an exam. It is embarrassing. It conflicts against this perfect persona we want to put out into the world. But guess what? You will fail, you will be rejected, and things will not always go perfectly for you. Welcome to life lads.
But should that fear stop us from trying?
To get what you want in life you have to take risks. To have the possibility of suceeding, we have to put ourselves in the vulnerable position that we might fail. Like Pam we have to be brave and take a chance.
There is no-one out there who passed all their exams with 100%, got hired as a CEO straight out of school and married the first ever crush they talked to. Nothing is going to work out perfectly the first time. But does this lack of perfection mean we shouldn’t bother at all?
Failure as a key to success
We don’t look at a child learning how to walk and think how embarrassing they fell over. Simply, we understand this is part of learning. We must fall over to get back up again. And it will happen again, and again, until we learn to walk. It is part of the process. So why do we not offer this kindness and understanding to our adult lives?
It is easy to compare ourselves to others. To think ‘wow I will never be as good as them’. But we are missing something vital when we do this. We are looking at the final product. We are not seeing the hours of work and effort and failure that goes into a ‘success’. For example, we look at Mo Salah and quite rightly see an amazing footballer. But rarely do we stop to think about a 5 year old boy struggling to play football for hours a day. We want the finished product with none of the failure.
Failure is essential for our success. It may sound obtuse, but it’s true. For example in the book ‘Failing Forward’ by John C Maxwell, he relays a story about pottery students and failure. There was a pottery class that was separated into two groups. Both groups were told that by the end of the time period they were the create the best piece of pottery they could. The first group was told to create as many pieces of pottery as possible. The emphasis was on quantity. For the second group, they were told to spend their time working on only one piece and to make it perfect. To make this fair only one piece from each student was to be assessed.
By the end of the time period, the work from both groups was judged, and whose work was assessed as the best? Surprisingly it was the 1st group.
Maybe we think working on one thing until it is ‘perfect’ is the most effective method. How can multiple mediocre pieces of pottery be better? But the students success was in their failure. With each piece of pottery created, the students made mistakes. Maybe the pots were not stable enough and they collapsed, or they were just plain ugly. But these mistakes were opportunities to learn. They knew exactly where they needed to improve. Next time, they made the pots stronger, prettier, better. These ‘failures’ made the students better potters. These mistakes were lessons that served to make them stronger.
Gil’s comment about Pams’s mediocrity at the art show could be seen as a personal failure. The comments reflected Pam’s lack of honesty and courage back at herself. But they served as an important lesson. They allowed Pam to see herself clearly, flaws and all. Pam used these observations to improve her life, to make the changes she so desperately needed. This failure led to Pam living the life she wanted. Her failure led to her success.
Really this is just a case of perspective. Do we chose to look at our failures as disasters that we will never think about again? Or do we chose to see failure as a lesson that we can use to become even better? Do we ride a bike once, fall off, and never get back on again? Or do we chose get back on again, and again and again. And though we may have fallen, and our legs are covered in bruises, we can ride that bike freely off into the sunset?
And just as a public service announcement here- I will quickly step up on my soap box. Anyone in my life who has made fun of me for trying to do something has been doing nothing themselves. We often think that it is those who are the most skilled that will laugh at our inexperience. That the body builder at the gym will laugh at our puny muscles, and think ‘why are they even trying’. And then we look down sadly at our spaghetti arms.
But in my experience it is the exact opposite, and those who have succeeded, want to help. Absolute shocker here, but everyone starts as a beginner. No-one is born being able to surf, or speak 5 languages or as CEO of a FTSE 500 company. Those at the top know the struggle to improve is real because they have done it themselves. They will not laugh at you for trying to get better. They have been in exactly the same position as you before. We are not the only ones who find difficult things…difficult.
It is very easy to sit back and criticize when you achieve nothing. Think of everyone who comments on Olympic athletes performances when they can barely tie their own shoe.
Let’s face it, avoiding criticism in our life is impossible.
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”Elbert Hubbard
But who wants to do nothing? I don’t. Do we want to look back and think of all the things we could have/should have/would have done. Or do we want to look back and think god that was a failure, but at least I tried. Will these armchair critics comments matter in 10 years time? I doubt it.
I’m sure that Bill Gates, or Madonna or indeed anyone who has achieved great success were criticised at the beginning of their careers. But can you imagine how different their lives would have been if they let these small-minded comments kill their dreams.
So I shall end this long ramblings with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt; “It is hard to fail but it is worse to have never tried to succeed.”
Todays song of the day is ‘Las estrellas me vieron cruzar’ by Calle 13. I am a bit obsessed with Calle 13, but this song is particularilly beautiful and poignant to this blog post. One of the best lyrics are ‘Caí con todo el peso. Pero si es fuerte la caída mas impresionante será mi regreso’ meaning I fall with all my weight, but if its strong the most powerful fall will be my return’.
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