There’s a line from my favorite movie of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, that serves as a mantra for my entire life. It’s the line spoken by Tim Robbin’s character, Andy Dufresne, when he says in life, you either “get busy living or get busy dying”. The context of the line is that Andy is speaking about his desire to get out of prison and escape to Mexico to live a new life. Morgan Freeman’s character, who is also in prison with Andy, questions whether or not it’s healthy for Andy to keep dreaming about getting out of prison and creating a new life when that doesn’t seem to be a possible reality for Andy. Andy (Tim Robbins) sums up his position, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really”, Andy says, “get busy living, or get busy dying”.
I love The Shawshank Redemption for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s simply an amazing movie about the timeless themes of redemption, hope and the triumph of the human spirit. Secondly, it’s a movie that works on many levels, that is relevant to all of our lives. On the surface, the movie is about a man sentenced to a life in prison, for a crime he didn’t commit, who longs to be free again. But of course, it’s about much more than that, and ultimately it’s a story about the human struggle to overcome adversity, move beyond whatever limitations we face and realize our dreams and aspirations. In other words, it’s the perfect movie for a musician.
In the beginning of the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbin’s character Andy Dufresne, is committed to life in prison for killing his wife and her lover, a crime he didn’t commit. The movie centers around Tim Robbin’s character and the friendship he develops with Red, played by Morgan Freeman. In prison, the two form a friendship and inspired and motivated by Tim Robbin’s character Andy, together dream about one day being free again. I won’t give away the ending, just in case for some reason you haven’t seen this classic film, but suffice it to say, it’s an inspiring movie that is about as good as movies get.
The line “get busy living or get busy dying” is such a simple, powerful idea. I love the line as a musician, because it really speaks to the simplicity of making life choices. Get busy living or get busy dying. In other words, we’re either moving forward or were not. As musicians, we have a simple choice to make every day, either get busy moving forward or get busy stagnating. It really is that simple, even though we have a tendency to complicate and over think things. Ultimately though, we wake up every day and get to choose whether we get busy pursuing our goals and making things happen, or we can get busy finding reasons not to move forward and not to make things happen. It sometimes seems more complicated than this, but ultimately it really is that simple. On a day to day basis, we’re either choosing to move forward, or we’re not.
In other words, we can choose whether or not to stay stuck in our metaphorical prisons, or we can choose to start plotting our escape to Mexico, or wherever it is we’d like to escape to. We can choose to stay musicians who play music as a hobby, or we can choose to make a career out of it. We can choose to stay in the soul crushing day job we hate, or we can choose to carve a different path. We can choose to stay in our unhappy relationships or we can leave and find new ones. We can choose to stay fat and out of shape, or we can choose to put on our gym shoes, shorts and start running. We can choose to stay victims of whatever is imprisoning us, or we can choose to escape, or at the very least start plotting our escapes.
Whatever is holding you back in life, or whatever you think is holding you back in life, you can choose to fight to overcome, or not. It really is up to you. We all have moments in our lives where we feel imprisoned to varying degrees. Whether it’s a job we feel we’re stuck in, or a relationship that’s holding us back, or the color of the skin we were born with, we all struggle with the quest to overcome obstacles and move forward. It really boils down to how you look at these limitations. Do you view your obstacles as life sentences that can’t be overcome, or do you choose to look for a way to overcome your obstacles?
In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbin’s character Andy serves 20 years in prison before finally breaking free. (Oops, I guess I gave away part of the ending) During the 20 years he served, he never gave up hope of one day reclaiming his freedom, despite suffering years of imprisonment and multiple setbacks. The idea of “getting busy living” for Andy wasn’t some sort of “get rich quick scheme”. Instead, it involved methodically and patiently plotting his escape over many years, never giving up hope. The Shawshank Redemption is not a story about instant gratification and overnight success. Instead, it’s a story about persevering against all odds, never giving up and going the distance.
What about you? Are you the kind of person who gives up when the going gets tough? Do you accept whatever imprisons you and holds you back? Or do you instead keep fighting the good fight, whatever that means to you. We all have a very short time on this planet to reach our metaphorical Mexico and break the chains that bind us.
In the end, I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living, or get busy dying.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.