Sense and Sensibility Common Sense: A Life Coach on Austen

Part 1 (9:36) | Part 2 (9:12)

Hi, this is Cheryl Richardson. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my work, I am a personal coach, a life coach, and I have been coaching people since the early '90s when the profession first began. And over the years, I've been fortunate enough to work with thousands of people helping them to improve the quality of their lives. And since then, I have written several books that capture that journey on the page. I was so excited when Masterpiece contacted me and gave me this opportunity to speak with you about one of my favorite films, Sense and Sensibility. I've had a chance to see the film now a few times, and I just fall in love with it more and more each time I see it. So, what I want to do is talk to you about this two-part film Sense and Sensibility and how it relates to modern day life.

As I watched the film, one of the first questions that occurred to me, and it is a question that I would pose to you as well, is "What is it about this film that speaks to me so much?" What might this film say to you about your life? What is missing from your life that you would like more of? Is there something that you long for that you really need to bring into your life to feel better? What are the things that you value? Are there things in this film that you value that have disappeared somehow from your life?

The other thing that really speaks to me about Sense and Sensibility is the power of a simple life. When I watch the film, it makes me think about what can I do to create more of that simplicity in my life. And chances are you feel the same way too. I mean, most people I deal with nowadays say that multitasking has become a sport, and it is a sport that most people want to put down; they want to retire from that sport.

And so, believe it or not, when I work with clients about creating a simpler life, there's two ways to do it. There's a quick way to do it, a dramatic and quick way that is kind of more challenging, and there is a simpler, slower way to do it. I tend to be a kind of radical gal. I like to make big changes because usually I wait until I really need a change.

Sometimes if I have a client who is up for the challenge like that, I will challenge them to remove 30% of what is on their plate. To really look at where you are spending your precious time and energy, and I do mean precious. What can you do to begin to clear your plate of some of those things? It might be clearing social engagements, it might be passing on some volunteer opportunities for now, changing your mind. Just literally looking at your calendar and saying, "Unless it is an absolute yes, I want it to be no for a little while so that I can step back and breathe and begin to enjoy the presence of my life instead of often being so future focused which is, you know, what do I need to do next."

The slower way of making that change is to just make one simple change. So instead of radically saying, "I am going to remove 30% of things from my plate," then I am going to say, "Well, how about I clear one evening or one hour where I can just experience what it is like to be with myself without doing anything?" Now, a word of caution for those of you who are used to doing a lot; and if you are a woman you probably know exactly what I am talking about.

For those of you who are used to doing a lot, when you do decide to make some space in your life, some space for simplicity, there is a good chance that this voice is going to creep into your mind that says, "Well I can't just sit here, I need to do something." I've had clients who say to me, "I finally gave myself a night off and I am in the kitchen cabinets reorganizing dishes or cleaning my junk drawer!" It feels uncomfortable to introduce a simpler way of life when you are so used to going, going, going.

And the last area that I think the film really speaks to is the focus on connection and relationships -- the focus on intimate connections with the people in our life. And let's face it, Jane Austen's work is all about that. As I tell clients all the time, I always want to remind them that when we come to the end of our lives, all that matters is who we loved and who loved us. That's it. And our relationship with God as well, however we define that. But what really matters are the people that we have in our lives.

So the last thing I want to talk about before we finish this up is just a couple of important plot points or themes that I think would be worth you thinking about in your own life. The first one is how do you react to a wake up call in real life? When I look at the beginning, and we see that John Dashwood makes this promise on his father's deathbed, he promises to take care of his stepmother and three sisters, and then of course he reneges on that promise. And suddenly Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters are really thrust into a wake up call. The rug has been pulled out from underneath them. And it is really an opportunity for all of us to look at how do you handle a wake up call in your life.

So the first thing to do when faced with a wake up call, like a left turn in your life, is to just allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up. Give yourself the space to be honest about how you feel and to express it outwardly. We don't see enough of that in the film. You know, Mrs. Dashwood contains herself really well. Elinor turns into the dutiful daughter who is supportive and positive and is just going to go ahead and keep her mother based in reality and just make the change, but there are a lot of feelings that comes along with a wake up call, and it is important for us to give ourselves the space to feel them because then from there that you can move to the second stage which is acceptance.

One of the questions you can ask yourself is, "Is there anything I can do to change this situation in my life?" If the answer is yes, then you might want to go about making those changes. But if the answer is no, as it relates to the Dashwood family, they don't have any choice, they need to now leave the home, then you really need to find a way to come to a place of acceptance, and I think they all do that in the film. Elinor certainly does. She snaps right into that acceptance mode probably a little too soon but she does go to that place of "OK, this is what it is. We need to move." And of course Mrs. Dashwood steps into that acceptance place when she wants to protect her daughter from Fanny. And can I just say little Miss pin curl head Fanny - I can't stand her! First of all, let me back up and say what an amazing actress this woman is because pretty much for the whole first part one of the film I just want to slap her. She is just so annoying and cold and self focused and selfish. And you know, when she sets Mrs. Dashwood straight about how Elinor just is not good enough for her brother, that is when Mrs. Dashwood sort of snaps into the acceptance place and says, "OK we need to leave here." But that is sort of the second stage of handling the wake up call - accepting what is.

And then thirdly, getting support -- reaching out to people who you trust, who aren't going to overwhelm you with advice or tell you what to do but who can just listen. The daughters rally around their mother beautifully and they really support each other. You know, that is when Elinor's positive attitude really does come into play.

Not only do they support each other, which is the third and most important part of dealing with a wake up call, but also she [Elinor] lifts her thinking above the present-day problem. So instead of getting caught up in the drama and the mire of John who has betrayed her, or the fact that they need to leave their home she says, "OK, we're moving to the cottage and we're going to make the best of it." And it is a wonderful way for people to move through a wake up call with the least amount of suffering.

The other plot point that I think is important is the amount of containment and repression of emotion and communication that occurs in the first part of this film. So many of the characters, the female characters in particular, end up keeping their mouths shut. And I found myself as I was watching the film feeling tight and anxious thinking, "Speak up! Tell Fanny she's an idiot! Confront your brother and say to him, 'How could you possibly do this to me? How could you possibly lie to your dying father on his deathbed?' Elinor, open your mouth and say to Edward, 'Hey, Buddy, what is happening here? Do you love me or not? Like what is going on? Like what does this book mean? This, you know, your appreciative friend. What is up with that Edward?" OK, that is the modern day me talking. But there is a great cost to the containment and the repression of our emotions and I think that this plot point as well is something for us to think about.

I want to add by giving you just two things to think about as you watch the film as you go to the second part. The director does a beautiful job of using the ocean as a metaphor for the emotional content of the film. That is all I'll say. Just watch for that. And secondly, watch for the characters that represent the dark side and the opposite characters that represent the light side of the same issue. I'm not going to say any more than that but just watch for that it's really terrific.

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