What Forrest Gump taught me about success

Forrest Gump was truly a masterpiece by Robert Zemeckis (director) and Eric Roth (screenwriter), based on the novel by Winston Groom. It happens to be one my favourite films and when I’m in need of inspiration I think about Gump’s idiosyncrasies, his triumphs, and how he overcame adversity. It would be easy to dismiss Gump’s success simply because he is fictional but the principles on which he based his life, that led to his remarkable success, can teach us plenty.

Image by Christine Sponchia


From the onset, Gump was characterised by society as ‘stupid’ and was often asked by other characters ‘are you stupid or something?’ Gump endearingly responded with ‘mama always says stupid is as stupid does’.

Armed with his mama’s wisdom, he confronted his everyday spectators with his head held high, accomplished greatness, and left others slack-jawed with disbelief about the achievements of a man whom they dismissed so early on as being incapable.

Ask yourself how often you have believed a label that you or someone else has assigned to you.

Ellen Langer, a prominent researcher and psychologist is an advocate for mindfulness. “Langer believes that the more we adhere to labels and categories, the less open we are to possibility,” writes Cara Feinberg of Harvard Magazine.

Langer has contributed much to the field of psychology including experiments which explored the placebo effect and tested the mind/body unity theory. Ultimately, how we perceive ourselves manifests in our physical being.

Gump didn’t buy into any stereotypes, partly because of ignorance and intellectual state. This allowed Gump to just simply get on with whatever task or challenge was thrown at him, and he did it with such commitment and immense focus.


Wherever you put the mind, the body will follow.”

Ellen Langer, psychologist

In one particular scene, Gump was questioned by his drill sergeant who asked him, ‘Gump, what’s your sole purpose in this army?’ to which Gump responded ‘to do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant’. Naturally, his sergeant was pleased and even went so far as to call Gump a ‘genius’. I’m not suggesting for a moment that complete subservience is the path to success, however, Gump’s lack of egoism and utter obedience to the cause helped him survive the war.

After the war, he continued his service as a ping pong champion, a hidden talent he developed when a fellow veteran told him ‘whatever you do, don’t take your eye off the ball’. In true Gump style, he did as he was asked.

He was also a man of his word. He started a shrimp boat business in honour of his friend Bubba, he became a philanthropist, a world-famous runner, and eventually his most significant role, a father.

Gump’s life was blessed equally with fortune and grief which leads me to ponder how adversity, and how we overcome it, shapes our personal success.

Another one of his mantras was ‘mama always said life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.’ Gump’s mother was such a positive role model for him, and behind every successful person, there is a mentor, coach, or caregiver who encourages and shares their knowledge .

I’m grateful to have had many positive role models in my life, and I’m also grateful to have had much adversity to overcome. Not buying into stereotypes or labels has helped me to focus on the goals I wish to achieve, which is difficult to maintain in a world that is constantly enforcing labels on me.


Forrest Gump opens with a famous feather-in-the-wind sequence. It’s a beautiful metaphor for destiny and the paths we choose in life, which can ultimately lead to our success.

Inspired by many years of interviewing other creatives about their success, I’m creating more original music. I invite you to follow my new blog titled ‘meditations’ at jennifertrijo.com where I’ll be posting more about my personal creative projects. I shall continue to write ‘Bravo’ features and ‘Crescendo’ professional development articles here on theserenadefiles.com but I aim to use this as a platform to celebrate the work of my fellow creatives and keep my personal projects separate.

If you haven’t seen Forrest Gump, I strongly recommend it, not just for the philosophical points I’ve mentioned herein, but the excellent cast, photography, direction, score by Alan Silvestri, and screenwriting.

Do you have a fictional muse? Let me know who your muse may be.

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