Made in America tells the fictionalized (or Tom-Cruise-ified) story of Barry Seal, a maverick TWA pilot who, in the 1970s, gave up the monotony of flying commercial planes to fly missions for the CIA in Central America. In the film, what begins as hot-shot spy photography over rebel encampments soon evolves into arms dealing, militia training and cocaine smuggling. Over the course of the film, we’re treated to an (almost) unbelievable tale as Seal seeks to stash millions of cash in suitcases around his property while evading federal and state law enforcement as well as assassins from the Medellin cartel. In short, plenty of career/life lessons for us to chew on. Here are three entrepreneurial lessons from Made in America:

Understand the risks of passion

Early on in the film we’re introduced to Seal as he wearily bids farewell to passengers on his TWA flights. He’s obviously bored by his work – this is made clear with his behavior on long haul night flights. The boredom makes Seal pull the pin and eject from an otherwise steady and stable job in epic fashion (walking off a boarded plan preparing to taxi to the runway). While it’s unclear Seal does a lot of risk/reward analysis, preferring instead to leap first and look second, he does end up making the right decision for his own medium term happiness – though probably not his (and definitely not his family’s) long term happiness. Staying engaged at work is a shared experience between you and your employer. You are accountable for your engagement and development and the organization is accountable for creating the conditions for you to thrive. If you are in a situation like Barry Seal where you’re working a job you fundamentally dislike, weigh the risks of leaving and then make the call to either stay (and re-adjust your attitude) or leave for new adventures. Then if you decide to leave, plan on how you’ll depart. Better not to leave in a blaze of (asshole) glory like Seal does, though, because you might want to come back and the world is a pretty small place (and word travels fast!).

Be entrepreneurial

Even when working for a big airline, Seal was an entrepreneur – sourcing additional income with a simple Cuban cigar smuggling operation. It’s one of the things that eventually propels him into his CIA work. Once he arrives, fronted by the CIA, he transforms himself from a broke pilot, living in a decrepit home in Arkansas, into a formidable drug runner, owning an airport and striking deals with Colombian drug kingpins, all the while taking advantage of the resources and cover of the CIA. The lesson for us all is to find the overlap in the Venn diagram of our employer’s needs and our needs and determine if one compliments the other to launch another lucrative venture. For example, if you’re like me and work in media relations, is there a way that your skills and experience as a media trainer/specialist can be used outside the workplace – either in consulting or volunteering for an organization you are passionate about. How might you build more skills and stories of success through a side hustle?


Begin with the end in mind

At critical times throughout Made in America, we are meant to feel as though Seal is being driven into making decisions he would otherwise not make. He’s juggling too many things and everything falls apart. A particularly evocative scene that hammered this sentiment home for me was part way through the film. Barry was on two payphones talking with his burnout nephew (who’s calling from the local sheriff’s office) and his contact with the Medellin cartel. You get the sense that Seal has become a vessel lacking a rudder, caught in multiple tropical storms and constantly in danger of capsizing. Don’t let this happen to you. One way to avoid this is to have long term and short term goals. It’s never clear what Seal’s longer term game plan is (short of burying more suitcases of cash in his backyard). By setting goals, you’re forcing yourself to be strategic and in so doing, charting your own course. LINK to our goals for the year.

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