During a recent flight back to Atlanta, I found myself browsing the movie selections on Delta’s ever-growing in-flight studio. Somehow, I always find myself gravitating toward my personal “classics” and this time, I landed on The Devil Wears Prada where I knew I was in the safe hands of Meryl Streep’s acting.
I had prepared myself for to the world of the “chick flick.” But over the 149 minute runtime, I slowly realized that this movie is filled with tangible takeaways for the non-profits that I enjoy working with on a daily basis.
For example, in one of my favorite scenes, Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) is providing feedback on a run-through for the magazine Runway where she is editor in chief. Her assistant, Andy, stands toward the corner taking notes. When the designer holds up two similarly designed belts, Andy laughs and earns the side-eye looks of everyone in the room. Andy then quickly apologizes and says that she is still trying to learn about this “stuff.” At this point, Miranda Priestly delivers one of my favorite monologues by saying:
This... “Stuff"? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select, I don't know that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you are trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue. It’s not turquoise. It's not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent - wasn't it - who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.
The first thing this short interaction highlights is how important it is for non-profit staff to understand the impact our field (or our association’s field) has on the world around us. The better we know the greater impact of the day to day actions of our members, the more invested and equipped we will be in making a better association for them.
In another scene, Miranda has tasked Andy with getting the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript with roughly four hours to accomplish this goal. To make matters worse, Andy has to perform other tasks like getting Miranda’s lunch and afternoon coffee. Andy calls everyone she knows in publishing and is on the verge of giving up when she receives a call back from Christian Thompson, a colleague in the publishing industry who she greatly admires and met while networking at an industry event.
This scene of the importance of networking. The association world in particular tends to be collegial where everyone is willing to assist in resource or knowledge sharing to the greatest extent possible. With that and the above example in mind, networking is key because we never know when or where someone you meet will be able to help you out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Why, I felt in love with this field because associations are defined as people with a common cause coming together in a non-competitive environment. This collaboration is ex
The last lesson I learned from The Devil Wears Prada comes from my favorite character, Nigel (played by Stanley Tucci). When Andy lost all hope and felt as though Miranda hated her, Nigel provided some sage wisdom and said:
Andy, be serious. You are not trying. You are whining. What is it that you want me to say to you, huh? Do you want me to say, "Poor you. Miranda's picking on you. Poor you. Poor Andy"? Hmm? Wake up, six. She's just doing her job. Don't you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it. Well, not you, obviously, but some people. You think this is just a magazine, hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for... oh, I don't know... let's say a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers, pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what's worse, you don't care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day. Wake up, sweetheart.
This scene and these words light a fire in my soul that burns brighter than I’m almost embarrassed to admit. But it reminds me that a positive outlook and end-goal in mind will help us accomplish our task. It also reminds me that what we do every day is so much more than just an association. We provide community and hope to our members who may feel alone and hopeless otherwise. And finally, it reminds me to appreciate what we are able to do and accomplish together every single day because there are so many people who dream of being in our shoes.