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Monsters University

June 30, 2013 | by Mark Papers

Life doesn’t always work out how you planned. And that’s a good thing.

What are monsters afraid of? What keeps them up at night?

Pixar’s “Monsters” movies are aimed at answering this question. In 2001’s Monsters Inc., the answer was “cute little 2-year-old girls”. In Monsters University, the answer is: The existential questions of life. Why are we here? What are we meant to do in this world? Or in the world behind the weird trans-dimensional closet doors?

To God, our entire life is a prequel.

Monsters University returns us to the world of monsters, where everything – from toasters to desk lamps – is powered by the screams of children. (Don’t worry; it’s not as horrible as it sounds.) The screams are harvested by professional scarers, who work for such companies as Monsters Inc, Fear Industries, and Scare Corp., because we live in an advanced society where energy has been deregulated.

But they don’t just let anyone be a scarer. Turns out you need a degree.

The best college for such a degree is Monsters University, where you can learn to do things such as scare kids and build closet doors and fix scream canisters and call everyone 18 times a day to find out if they want to switch energy carriers.

The movie follows Mike Wazowski – a small Cyclops monster who, tragically, was born without a body. Ever since he was small (well, smaller), Mike dreamed of being a scarer. He’s been working his whole life toward that goal, getting straight A’s, getting accepted to MU, and enrolling in the scare program. But things get off course when he gets into a rivalry with a novelty duster mop named Sully, and they both get kicked out of the scare program. The two then have to join forces to win their way back in, teaming up with a neck pillow, a “mature student” named Don, a monster with two heads (turns out they’re not really better than one), and a marshmallow named Squishy who lives with his mom.

But we know how it ends for Mike. We’ve seen Monsters Inc. As it turns out, your passion and you’re your mission in life aren’t necessarily the same thing. Some people just aren’t built for scaring. If you’re one eye tall and look like a lime, you’re not inherently scary. It doesn’t matter how much you technically know about scaring.

I have experience with this as a teacher. Some people are just not scary. You can know everything there is to know about classroom discipline, but if you walk in and sound like Billy Crystal, your students will spend the entire period coming in late and leaving early – sometimes to the extent that they’ll leave earlier than they come in.

This message is a huge departure for Disney. For years, they’ve been telling kids that their dreams will come true. But perhaps they realized that kids were taking it too literally. Whoops.

So now they’re saying, “Look, you want to be a princess when you grow up, great. It might not happen.”

We always say that you can do anything – I’ve written articles with that exact message – but that statement depends on the sanity of the person we’re saying it to.

Let’s be honest. You can’t do anything. You can do anything reasonable. Maybe we should rephrase that statement to, “You can do anything reasonable that you can set your mind to, as long as it’s not physically impossible.” That’s inspiring.

Just because you have a dream, that doesn’t mean that’s where you’re going to end up. You want to be scary, but sometimes life hands you a lime. With an eyeball in it.

But does that mean you shouldn’t try reaching for what you think might be your mission? Shouldn’t you give up?

Mike didn’t. Even when adversity came his way, and he was told definitely by Dean Headmistress Batcockroachthing that he wasn’t scary, he didn’t give up. In fact, he only eventually found his life’s mission – training other monsters to be scary – BECAUSE he didn’t give up.

We’ve all asked our kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But kids aren’t even aware of 99% of the jobs out there. No one ever says, “I want to sit at a desk,” but that’s what most of us end up doing. (School trains us for this.) So why do we ask our kids what they want to do?

The idea in life is to reach for something, and maybe you’ll find out what you’re actually meant to be doing along the way. If you don’t find anything else, you’ll always have the thing you were originally reaching for. Maybe that was your mission. Sometimes it is.

We know where the movie is going to end, because we’ve all seen Monsters Inc. Sully is going to become the top scarer with Mike as his coach, Randall is going to become a bad guy, Waternoose is going to lose his Afro, and Mike is going to find an alternate source of energy that will make the whole MU scare program obsolete. That’ll show Headmistress Batcockroachthing.

Mike is worried when he gets kicked out of the scare program. We’re not worried, because we know what will happen. We realize that if everything had gone according to Mike’s original plan, then Monsters Inc, which is the better movie, wouldn’t have happened. He’d have ended up, at best, a mediocre scarer. How many kids would be terrified of a monster when all you have to do to get rid of him is poke him in the eye? He’s one big Achilles’ heel.

It’s kind of like how G-d knows what will happen to us. He knows the ending, and yes, sometimes G-d closes a door, and it’s scary. But He has an entire factory full of other doors He can open, each with an entire world behind it.

Mike has no idea of the future. When you have one eye, you don’t have much in the way of depth perception. He met Sully and thought that was the worst thing to ever happen to him. Then he got kicked out of the scare program and thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened to him.

But how many good things do you have in your life where, if you thought far back enough about how you ended up with it, you’ll find some world-ending disaster? And then you realize that not only did that disaster not end your world, as is evidenced by the fact that you’re here thinking about it, but you see why this was the better path to take.

To G-d, our entire life is a prequel. No one gets nervous about world-ending disasters when they’re watching a prequel.

But we never know it’s a prequel until it’s over. We’re never thinking, “Okay, we’re in the prequel now.” Things do get better. You’re not where you’re going to end up yet. You’re still climbing steps.

The famed sage, Rabbi Akiva, thought he’d be a shepherd. He studied shepherding in college, with a minor in goat herding. But that was just a step. It got him a job in the vicinity of his future wife, who convinced him to become a rabbi.

“Your name is Rabbi Akiva,” she reminded him. “You can’t not be a rabbi. You’ll just confuse people.”


Life doesn’t always work out how you planned, even if you put a lot of work into that plan. But that’s not always a bad thing. You don’t have to live your entire life according to plans you thought up when you were a kid. Set your eyes (eye?) on a goal and work toward it. You can follow your dream, but not necessarily your original dream. It could be there’s something you’re better at.


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