I, like many of you, cannot stop thinking about the loss of Robin Williams. I was lucky to meet him once in person (under rather embarrassing circumstances) when I was a teenager.
Entranced by the movie Good Morning, Vietnam, I had memorized his "acronym" line from this scene, in addition to many of his other scenes from the movie.
In 1988, the year after Good Morning, Vietnam was released, my family ran into Robin Williams while we were on a family vacation and he was celebrating the movie at a film festival. My father, who is never one to let the potential of these moments pass by, approached Robin and told him how much I loved the movie, and that I knew the acronym scene by heart. At which point Robin asked me to perform it for him. Yes, really.
What I will always remember, though, is not how mortified I was (ok, I remember that quite a bit), but rather how kind and generous he was to me in that moment. He was busy and out with a large group of people, yet he took the time to appease a teenage mega-fan, and it meant the world to me.
Later that night, we were treated to an "only Robin Williams" moment, when we were having dessert at an outdoor cafe. When the clock struck midnight, Robin ran into the square and performed the entire story of Cinderella for the crowd, including all the characters and corresponding voices. It was pure magic.
Although I only met him once and don't have a personal connection to him, his characters and performances so moved me that I do feel a profound loss. I think it is the same feeling many people are having as I read posts, tweets and blogs across the web. Although there is a deeper discussion to be had about mental illness, depression and suicide, I will not discuss that here, and instead focus on the positive lessons from Robin Williams' work that will stay with me and that I hope will bring wonder for generations to come.
Here are 5 things I've learned from some of my favorite Robin Williams characters.
1. There is a powerful voice inside each of us
As a former high school teacher, I adore his character, John Keating, in Dead Poets Society. The way he coaxes Ethan Hawke (as Todd Anderson) out of his shell in this scene, helping him find his voice - his inner poet - is truly inspirational.
We see this every day at Change.org, where ordinary people find their voices, and amplify them with the voices of others to create meaningful change. I also try to tell my daughters frequently, that they each have a powerful voice (a "light") inside them and that their voices matters. Imagine what we could accomplish if we each found and used our voices at their full strength.
2. Be willing to take big risks (a.k.a. "true love trumps baseball")
In this scene of Robin Williams as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, Robin teaches two important lessons. First, that it's worth taking big risks (which would he regret more, missing the game, or never having "seen about a girl?") and second, that love is what life is all about, not just romantic love, but also meaningful, authentic relationships with friends and family. This lesson reminds me of the recent summary by George Vaillant, after three decades of work leading the Grant Study on human development. His conclusion? "Happiness is love. Full stop."
3. Do what you love
As Patch Adams, Robin Williams shows us in this scene that following your passion matters. He has discovered what he truly wants to do with his life and wants to start immediately. Patch teaches us both the value of doing work that you love, and the added fulfillment that comes from doing work that helps others.
And, I love that this scene ends with another acronym - a Robin Williams classic - "IDGARA" or "I don't give a rat's ass."
4. Don't forget to dance
As the mother of two daughters who are both dancers, I love how Robin Williams so often incorporated dance into his movies as a way to relieve tension, mediate conflict and just have fun. Whether it was the scene from Mrs. Doubtfire, where he dances while vacuuming and dressed in full-body makeup, the scene from The Birdcage where he directs a young, uninspired actor to "...Martha Graham, Martha Graham and Twyla, and Twyla...," or this scene from Robots, somehow dance is always involved in saving the day.
I know that in this animated scene, Robin Williams is not actually dancing as Fender from Robots. However, I love his character in this movie and this scene, when Fender is threatened, and responds by breaking into a dance to Britney Spears, just seems like something Robin would have done. Wouldn't many tough situations be a bit easier if everyone broke into dance?
5. Stand up for what you believe is important
And going full circle back to one of my personal favorites, Good Morning, Vietnam, Robin Williams shows us in this scene as Adrian Cronauer, that it's worth fighting for what you believe is right, even when there may be a price to pay. Although he loses his job after refusing to censor the news, he leaves with his integrity intact, his audience better educated, and a step towards progress.
He does get his job back, as demanded by his listeners, showing us that for the right cause, others will rally around the person with the courage to speak up. Real change can take time and many voices, but it does happen.
We see this working at Change.org, where we now win nearly one victory an hour. I feel so lucky to work building a platform that supports people who do so many of these things Robin reminds us to do - use their voices, take risks, and stand up for what they believe is right.
Although he left us way too soon, Robin Williams also left us a tremendous gift, full of lessons and full of joy, in his body of work. For that I am truly grateful.
And it seems only fitting to end this post with an acronym -- RIP, Robin. You will be dearly missed.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Influencers.
Movie Credits/Copyrights: Touchstone Pictures (Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society), Miramax Films (Good Will Hunting), Universal Pictures (Patch Adams), Twentieth Century Fox (Robots)