Friday, May 23, 2008

Pressing the Red Button

Sometimes things come to you in the middle of the night that can be life-changing. I don't know whether this is one of those things, but I guess we shall see.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite movies . . . not the version where Johnny Depp plays a very pedophile-like man in a purple suit, but the original with Gene Wilder . . . the one which, incidentally, was made merely to promote General Mills' "Wonka" candy bars.

I was thinking tonight about one of the final scenes, in which Wonka, Grandpa Joe and Charlie find themselves in the famed Great Glass Elevator. Wonka explains to Charlie that each of the black buttons takes the elevator to a different room in the factory and that, "Up until now, I've pushed them all, except one." He points to a red button at the top of the elevator.

Why did Wonka never push that red button? After a lifetime of accomplishment as the world's premier chocolateur, perhaps he felt there was too much at stake to push the red button? The red button was an unknown, with obvious risks which Mr. Wonka could not calculate.

Charlie, out of childish curiosity and naivety, fearlessly pushes that button. As the elevator takes off, a fearful look sweeps over his face as he realizes that he may have sent the trio on a path to certain doom . . . but at this point, there is no going back. It turns out well for Charlie and the movie ends with him, Grandpa Joe and Willy Wonka flying peacefully through the air over their hometown; his dreams came true, he is given the chocolate factory and everything he always wanted and he lives happily ever after.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should be pushing more red buttons. Some of the people I truly admire (Ashley Palar, Megan Tormey, Christian Schwärzler, Kristi Schipull, Tammy Kirchner and the entire Carpp family come to mind) fearlessly push the red buttons. On average, it has probably made their lives more rewarding.

I, on the other hand, have generally been the one to consider, ad-nasium, the positive and negative consequences of my actions and, on the whole, I think that I've made some very good calls. (See also: near-obsession with personal finance and avoiding lifestyle inflation.) However, there have been a number of red buttons which went untouched, which, in retrospect, I wish I had pushed.

Many a false step is made by standing still. Perhaps I need to start pressing some red buttons?

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