Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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Groundhog Day’s Message for Working People

Warning: Spoil Alert!  (Of course the movie’s almost twenty years old, but maybe you haven’t seen it.)

When the film Groundhog Day was first released, audiences immediately sensed that it was more than just a romantic comedy. Buddhists recognized it as depicting the struggle to break free from the cycle of birth-death-and-rebirth, but it struck a chord with people from a wide variety of other religious backgrounds as well. As February 2nd approaches, I’d like you to consider the message that this film has for us—for those of us who seek spiritual adventures in the workplace, and especially for those who are not happy with their jobs.

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a big-city TV weatherman who’s trapped in a time warp, repeating Groundhog Day again and again. No one else is aware of the repetition–not even his producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell) or his cameraman (Chris Elliott). 

There are several ways in which this story parallels daily life for those who are stuck in dead-end jobs and can’t find better employment:

The alarm clock. Every morning when Phil’s clock strikes 6:00, he suffers all over again, realizing that he’s trapped in this endless round of repetition. Lots of people in this world feel the same way, no matter what time their alarm actually goes off.

The elusive resolution. Phil can’t break out of the cycle until he gets his life in order, but he doesn’t know how to do that. He wants the girl, Rita, and we are led to believe that he’ll break out of the curse when he finally wins her heart, but that seems impossible, given the fact that he only has one day in which to do it. Similarly, those who feel trapped in their jobs won’t break out of the cycle of drudgery until they do something about it, but for many people that seems impossible, given the state of the economy (and other problems: you can fill in the blank).

Resolution begins right here, today. Although Phil wants to get out of Punxsutawney, the solution to his problem is there. And although he wants to break out of this one day that keeps repeating, the solution must be found within that day. For us, too, the temptation is to wish for greener pastures, but any resolution to our problem must begin where we are.

He gets on the right track when he starts caring about the people around him. The turning point comes when he tells the sleeping Rita that he wants to be compassionate like she is. And then he jumps out of bed the next morning to begin doing so. He asks people about themselves and really listens. He speaks to his cameraman, whom he has always dismissed as an underling, and asks his opinion about how to shoot the scene. He notices people’s problems and thinks about how to help. He invests himself totally in the very community that he wanted to get out of. He becomes Punxsutawney Phil. (Yes, like the groundhog.) And we, too, may earnestly wish to get out of our current job, but until that’s possible, the solution is to care about our coworkers and clients—to invest ourselves right where we are.

Once he starts caring, his day is filled with meaningful work. Knowing about people’s problems and desires, Phil does what he can to help. Before long, his day is spent on errands of ministry. The film, of course, does not use religious language, but that’s what he’s doing: finding ways to help others, to bless them, to make their day brighter. For us, too, a meaningless job can become an adventure if we look for ways to lift others.

He learns what each day offers: an opportunity to use his gifts fully through blessing those around him. At night he’s too exhausted to consummate his relationship with Rita, and he says the next morning, “It was the end of a very long day.” But it was more than just the temporal span of the day that drained him; he had spent that long day making full use of his gifts. He had fixed flat tires, caught kids falling out of trees, fed a homeless man, played Cupid for a young couple, filled in on keyboard in a dance band, and lots of other things. He had used a wide variety of skills and a great deal of ingenuity. By the time it was over, he had become so heavily invested in his community, he said, “Let’s live here.” And it’s the same for us: no matter where we work, no matter what we do for a living, if we can find ways to use our gifts in service to others, it may be “a very long day,” but it will be a day well spent. And if our life is made up of just such days, then we will live a charmed existence, despite being underemployed.

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