Robin Williams_Mrs Doubtfire

Lessons from Robin Williams’ Movie Roles: a Tribute*

Like most of us, I was deeply shocked and saddened by the passing of Robin Williams. He was such a genius. The poignancy of the lyrics “tears of a clown… when there’s no-one around” ring very true today.

So in tribute to Robin Williams, I thought I would draw on some of his most memorable movie roles  and relate them to lessons for people going through career transitioning: (See my footer * to this article.)

Good Morning Vietnam

Nominated for an Academy Award for his role in this movie, Williams played the role of an unorthodox and irreverent DJ,  who shakes up things when he is assigned to the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam.

His wake up cry “Good Morning Vietnam”, became the signature for the movie – a slogan which is still used today by thousands around the globe when having to wake our friends or family outside of our normal waking period.

Williams’ DJ role showed the importance of being sure of one’s mission and purpose even though others might not have the same thing in mind. In the movie, he severely alienated his commanders, yet made the troops laugh – despite serving in very unpopular war.

Knowing one’s mission and purpose when in career transition is critical. It’s easy to be swayed by the next opportunity or opinion from our well-intended family, friends or colleagues. As George Harrison said “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

‘Knowing thyself’ and then continuing to make sure your corner of the world knows about you is your sure fired way of announcing your own “Good Morning Vietnam” and sticking to what you want to brand as your purpose.

Mrs. Doubtfire

Robin Williams_Mrs DoubtfireIn Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams played the role of father/husband Daniel Hillard, an eccentric actor who dubs voices for cartoon characters. After his wife files for divorce, and determined to stay in contact with his kids, Daniel keeps in touch with his family with the job, disguised as Mrs. Doubtfire, a Scottish nanny.

Mrs. Doubtfire represents the persistence that one needs to continue on a path and rediscover one’s self – what is truly important.

While the role Williams played here was hilarious and touching, the message was clear. Despite all the travails that a career transition poses and a re-launch requires, it’s important to keep persisting, regardless of any set back.

Not only that, but the use of something that you might think is unimportant might end up being the main pathway to your happiness. I recently read that the activity that constantly distracts you from your main game may very  likely to be your real passion. There is richness in that distraction. Find your passion and continue to bring it to life.

Work is not work, when there is passion behind it.

Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams_Dead Poets SocietyWilliams earned an Oscar nomination for his role of an English teacher, Keating who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry. Keating encourages his students to go against the status quo and ‘seize the day’, carpe diem.

Williams as Keating showed the importance of not just thinking about things, but acting upon them.

When it comes to career transition, there are so many lessons within the term ‘carpe diem’:

  • Reach out to connections you may not have touched in a while
  • Don’t take no for a final answer
  • Ask for an appointment from a hiring manager
  • Write that branded cover letter
  • Apply for that new role
  • Make that phone call

I could go on and on. If we all remember to ‘seize the day’, then when we do that, we not only honour Robin Williams, but we do so to our own goals and dreams.

Patch Adams

Nominated for a Golden Globe for the role of Patch Adams, Williams played the role of an aspiring doctor who loves helping people. Unfortunately, the medical and scientific community does not appreciate his methods of healing the sick, while the actual patients, medical professors, and hospital nurses all appreciate what he does.

I know people who were inspired to move in to Sales and Medicine because of this movie.

What does Williams’ role teach us here?

In essence, Adams threatened the establishment because he dared to ‘get down onto the same level as the patients’. In other words, always empathize with your customer base; with your intended employer’s interests and needs; do not merely play a role with a title, but be more authentic and human in your interaction.

If in your own career transitioning you can do this, you will be more attractive than other candidates and be hired because your prospective employer or new client falls for the essential YOU.

Good Will Hunting

Winning an Academy Award for the role he played in this movie, Williams played the role of a therapist who works with an obstinate young man who struggles to find his identity, living in a world where he can solve any problem, except the one brewing deep within himself, until one day he meets his soulmate who opens his mind and his heart.

Williams’ role shows the importance of dealing with one’s demons. When  aided by careful help, then anyone can overcome them, despite having fears of what might lie on the other side.

Having been laid off, many people feel understandably angry, hurt, and blind-sided. Often, especially Baby Boomers may have worked in the same role for many years. It is only once career transition is foisted upon them, that they have to discover what lies on the other side.

Should this happen to you, seek a coach or a mentor in your journey as Williams’ role did with Will Hunting.


In Memoriam:


I will miss the brilliance of Robin Williams.

A man who touched so many in his short 63 years. RIP and please, play some golf up there!

* Note: This tribute had originally been called “5 Tips Robin Williams Taught Us About Career Transitioning”. I unintentionally caused a storm on LinkedIn Pulse by titling it so. If I have caused offence to any reader, it was not my intention. To do so, would be completely out character. Know that my tribute was aimed to honour Robin Williams – linking the lessons of the movie themes and wonderful roles Williams’ played to ‘my world’ of helping with career advice and transitioning. I loved his work, as I aimed to show.  I have and continue to donate to charities and causes that deal with the treatment of depression – all too prevalent in 2014. I wish the entire Williams’ family my condolences on the untimely passing of a genius.

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About the author:

Greg Weiss is the Founder of CareerSupport365. He has almost 30 years success in HR and in career coaching people.

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