Life Lessons From ‘Top Gun Maverick’

Life Lessons From ‘Top Gun Maverick’

Jun 08, 2022

It was the first time I watched a movie inside a movie house again since Covid struck our world! For today’s article, I wish to discuss some life lessons I picked from the movie of soon-to-be senior citizen Tom Cruise.

1. There is no single definition of success.

By traditional standards, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is not successful as he remains a captain after all these years. Here’s the line by Ed Harris acting as a superior, “Thirty plus years of service, combat medals, citations, the only man to shoot down three enemy planes in the last 40 years. Yet you can’t get a promotion, you won’t retire, and despite your best efforts, you refuse to die. You should at least be a two-star admiral by now. Yet here you are. Captain.”

This scene reminds us that there is no single path and even “destination” when we’re talking about success. Each one has his own point of intersection – where your deep gladness meets the word’s deep need. Maverick’s deepest joy and passion is flying and shooting down enemy planes, and maybe being an admiral will not allow him to use his gift as much. We can further think about this in terms of wealth accumulation. Does it necessarily mean that your college classmate who used to just copy your notes is more successful than you are because he is now a budding taipan while you are still paying your home mortgage? It all boils down to what your personal definition of success is.

2. The best pilot is not necessarily the best leader.

Hangman was the best among the younger pilots but he makes for a poor choice as a leader because he is all about himself. A leader has to care for his team; otherwise, there is no team to speak of. In the way we choose our leaders, compassion and integrity should be the top traits to look for.

3. Being by the book has its limitations, but…

In the scene where Maverick meets his students for the first time, he asked how well they knew the flying manuals, then he throws them all in the trash bin saying, “Well the enemy knows all these too!” And he went on to teach them skills that are not found in the flying manuals.

But here’s an important reminder about thinking outside the box. Before you can think outside the box, you must first know the box very well. Before you can throw the manuals, you must master the manuals first. Before you can use poetic license in your writing, you must know your grammar rules first. For the younger generation who selectively idolize successful people who didn’t finish school, know that they are the exception more than the norm. Basic education is still very important. Finish it! For those who won key public posts without the necessary education, please go back to school!

4. We learn through play.

In the football scene at the beach (the 2022 counterpart of the iconic volleyball scene in 1986), the superior frowned upon the activity, “We have a mission to prepare for, we don’t have time for play.” But Maverick was making them play to learn about team building.

5. It’s the pilot, not the plane!

This line was used more than once and a good reminder to all of us. No matter how high-tech our work gadgets and gizmos are, it’s still the one using the tools that would make the difference.

6. There is time to let go.

Both Maverick and Rooster could not let go of the death of Goose (Maverick’s wingman and Rooster’s father). There may be a long process of grief, but when it wears us down for a prolonged period of time, we have to learn to let go and liberate ourselves from unnecessary stress and guilt.

7. If a mission is important enough, it should still be attempted even if failure is highly probable.

Our loss averse wiring makes us avoid important missions in our lives because we feel the impact of a loss at least twice as much as the impact of a gain. This could be in handling our money, career, relationships and other important aspects of life. Just like in investing, the higher the reward, the higher the risk; the lower the risk, the lower the reward.

8. Take care of your body, don’t “let go.”

This may sound superficial, but it’s really great that the soon-to-be senior Tom Cruise (yes, he’s turning 60 on July 3, 2022) still looks very handsome and fit after all these decades. Let me just remind you, my readers, about Hyperbolic Discounting or Present Bias, our tendency to choose a smaller but sooner (now) reward over a larger but later reward. This is our enemy when it comes to “maintaining” our body. It’s giving in to one dessert too many, not exercising, and not having enough sleep because what’s fun at the moment is so much easier to choose than what’s good for our body in the long-term. We’re all guilty of this. (I am actually in the process of getting rid of my “pandemic inches” added around the waistline and doing calorie counting for the first time in my life! Hahaha! Wish me luck.)

Maybe after seeing Tom Cruise still look that good, or watching Gary Valenciano sing and dance as if he were just the brother of Gab Valenciano, we will be inspired to take care of our one and only body.

9. It pays to be a maverick!

A maverick is an unorthodox or independent-minded person. He’s stubborn and trailblazing. We wouldn’t have the useful innovations that we’re enjoying right now if not for the mavericks of the world. But being a maverick also has its downside. If you are “too maverick,” it might be difficult for you to get along well with others.

10. It’s a movie!

Let’s not forget that this is a movie. In real life, our maverick moves don’t always bring us to happy endings. If we succeed in achieving our goal, then good. Our unorthodox and stubborn move will be lauded and we will be the hero. However, if we end up failing, those same maverick moves will make us fall flat on our face, with little or no support as we could have alienated a lot of our peers along the way. So go back to number 7, “Is it such an important mission to take the risk?”

I hope you enjoyed the above lessons from the movie. Oh and here’s one more lesson form the making of the movie itself. Great outcomes come from tedious and long preparations. The initial steps taken to come up with Top Gun Maverick started as early as 2010. Again, it’s a reminder, no cramming!

Join me on Thursday. I will be interviewing the President and Managing Director of Viviamo, Dar Ty-Nilo. We will talk about the business of inspiring people.


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This article is also published in Philstar.

Attributions: Images from The Aviationist