Vanity Fair and business networking
Marie and I caught Vanity Fair at the cinema last Thursday. While many reviewers on IMDb said it differed from William Makepeace Thackeray's original (e.g. I bet there was no Bollywood dancing in the novel) , it gave an interesting, rather sad glimpse into society life in the early 19th century.
If you haven't seen it, Reece Witherspoon portrays Becky Sharp, a poor girl who aims to make it big, and get revenge on everyone who's held her down or rubbed her nose in her poverty-ridden past.
Thackeray's novel was subtitled "A Novel without a Hero" and it's true. Don't look for anything redemptive here; it's every person for themselves. And in that way, it's quite depressing.
However, in my most cynical moments I'd say it's realistic. And I wondered how different the High Society world of the 1800s was to the business networking world of the 2000s.
Back then, it was who your parents were and what they did. Now, it's who you've worked for, what university you went to, where you've travelled. In both cases, it's how much money you've started out with.
Just human nature I suppose - we like to talk to others with like experiences. But now, as then, someone with pluck, with courage and determination, can raise themselves up through force of personality, and through knowing how the system works.
But in Vanity Fair, Becky's character crosses a line. I don't know where it is, but throughout, she is vindictive, vengeful and ultimately self-driven. And why shouldn't she be? She doesn't know we're watching?
But it reminded me of where the title "Vanity Fair" came from - a scene in Pilgrim's Progress where the Pilgrim is waylaid at a town called Vanity. Vanity used in the original sense of the word - meaningless. All around him is a celebration of senselessness - and he has to decide whether to stay or to keep going.
Of course, the decision's not so simple for us. Even if we consider ourselves 'out of this world', we have to engage with the world we find ourselves in - whether that's business, entertainment, cultural or whatever.
I think part of being a leader is not being afraid to stand out - to be different - and to be your authentic self in the midst of Vanity Fair.
And if you believe in things of substance, keep believing in them, even when the people and circumstances around you say not to.