If you grew up in the 1960s, it was almost a requirement to watch the annual showing of "The Wizard of Oz" with your family. As exciting as Dorothy and Toto's yellow-bricked journey to Oz was to me, I thought there were two serious flaws in the movie. First, the flying monkeys regressed my toilet training a good two years. Secondly, the movie's ending was lamer than Raymond Burr on "Ironside."
At some point during the last decade, however, I finally came to understand the meaning of the last scene. The Wizard, that pathetically wimpy "man behind the curtain", had no magic to give to any of the weary travelers. He didn't have a brain to donate to the Scarecrow. Instead, he offered a diploma. Dr. Christiaan Barnard wasn't doing his thing yet, so there was no heart transplant available for the Tin Man, but the Wizard did manage to evoke tears from him. And the Cowardly Lion? The Wizard skillfully convinced him that he was brave enough to "tear a hippopotamus from top to bottomus."
The Wizard's magic was not in his gadgets or devices. He didn't prescribe Prozac or Xanax. He merely reminded his new clientele that if they ever wanted to be happy and successful, they had better learn to believe in themselves and their already ample gifts.
Let me illustrate with a true life example. "Stephen" entered my life convinced he had no brain, no heart and no chance to successfully negotiate his freshman year of high school. He believed that he was "stupid" and that he was responsible for his parents' divorce. Because he felt like a loser, his plan was to survive high school for as long as possible, barely passing, and without participating in extra-curricular activities that might call attention to himself. As a form of protection, Stephen taught himself not to care. And although he hadn't tried drugs yet, he was admittedly open to the possibility of experimenting. Stephen was a disaster waiting to happen.
We had our work cut out for us. The first part of our journey was to become teammates. For that to happen, he had to believe that I understood how he was feeling. More importantly, he had to know that I cared. Once that was established, Stephen unashamedly poured out his pain about the divorce, rediscovering his heart in the process. Next, it was time to forgive his parents for their mistakes and release himself from blame. Their failed marriage was not his fault.
So far, so good, but Stephen wasn't done. Two sessions later, he showed up sporting a smile and a 100% on an algebra test. Finding his heart had mysteriously helped relocate his brain. But perhaps the greatest challenge for Stephen was to muster the guts to try out for the soccer team. After all, failing to make the team would ensure his status as "loser” in front of everyone.
In a Hollywood ending, Stephen would have earned his badge of courage by making the soccer team and scoring the winning goal at the state championship. But the real life ending was even better: Stephen did not make the team, but realized he was a winner anyway. He’s on the dean's list, has a great girlfriend and even likes his parents—when they are apart.
The truth is, Stephen was always capable of succeeding in life but failed because he never believed in himself. Like Stephen, we all need to dig deep to discover our own abilities in order to tap into them. As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right."
Oh, and one more thing: It's easier to believe in yourself when somebody else believes in you. Know any scarecrows that could use a little support?