Everything I Know About Life, I Learned from Musical Theatre

Okay, yes, obviously exaggerated clickbait title is obvious. But I was thinking about this recently, so I thought it might be fun to write about.Anyone who knows me knows that I love musical theatre. I think it’s because it combines two of my favourite things: music and stories. And most of my favourite shows have that one line (or sometimes more than one) that sticks with me because it sums up something I know to be true or sometimes need to be reminded of.

So just for fun, here are nine of my favourite pieces of showtunes wisdom and the things I take from them.

“Forget regret, or life is yours to miss” (Rent)

(I know Rent is problematic, I love it anyway, don’t @ me)

Much of this show is about seizing the day and taking the love you can get now, because you know you don’t have forever. This one reminds me that life can be short, and that there’s no point living in past regrets. Because sometimes now is all we have.

“You change the world when you change your mind” (Kinky Boots)

We are all learning every day, or at least we should be. Sometimes, people might feel as though they can’t keep up with all the changes in society and politics and language. But none of us come to the table knowing everything.

The world doesn’t change in a day. But with every mind changed, we make progress. With every view reconsidered, we get closer to the world we want. Wisdom isn’t about knowing it all. Wisdom is about knowing when to change your mind.

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” (Les Miserables)

I always think of this one as something that might be said to a hero just as he’s about to give up on his quest. It reminds me that there’s always another day and that even the worst pain doesn’t last forever.

“To seek revenge may lead to hell” (Sweeney Todd)

I wrote recently about why I still hate my abuser and won’t forgive him. I think anger can be a strong and powerful thing. But anger is not the same thing as revenge.

I do not wish to hurt him. My goal is not to cause him harm. In the end, exacting revenge (whatever that looked like) would do more damage to me than it would to him. My goal is to help myself, not to hurt him. Allowing myself to be angry does the former, while seeking revenge would succumb to the latter.

“I am the one thing in life I can control” (Hamilton)

I actually have a print featring this quote framed on the wall of my office. I’ve long known that I have control issues. It’s a safety mechanism and something I’m working on internally and with my therapist. But this serves as a reminder that I can’t actually control others or external situations – and that it is foolish and even harmful to try. All I can control is myself.

“I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so” (Wicked)

Most of us have probably been told “you can’t do that” at some point. Any person who has reached the peak of achievement in their field will tell you that they’ve encountered naysayers along the way.

But you don’t have to accept other people’s limitations or allow them to put those limitations onto you. You get to define your own limits.

“Everybody’s playing the game but nobody’s rules are the same” (Chess)

We all approach situations and relationships with our own unique context made up of beliefs, preconceptions, past experiences, and goals. While two people might be superficially facing the same thing, it can look incredibly different. So if you feel as though you’re talking past someone else or can’t come to a place of understanding, consider whether you’re approaching things with a completely different set of rules.

“Nice is different than good” (Into the Woods)

So many of the people I’ve been harmed by in my life were nice people. My abuser was perhaps the nicest, at least to those outside his immediate sphere. He charmed strangers, gave great compliments, even flirted with service staff in a way that managed to be charismatic rather than creepy. He also spent years breaking down my sense of self and my grasp of reality.

So now, when someone tells me they’re “such a Nice Guy,” I think of him and I understand that being nice doesn’t necessarily mean they will treat me well.

“There’s a fine, fine line between love and a waste of time” (Avenue Q)

Yes, even a show that is essentially “Muppets, but wrong” can have the occasional pearls of wisdom. There’s a Fine Fine Line is a surprisingly poignant little song about knowing when to give up on someone even if it hurts.

I know I’ve had a tendency to hang on to relationships for far too long in the past. I felt as though as long as I loved the person, I couldn’t leave. Now I know that sometimes, the greatest act of love you can show to both yourself and the other person is to get out before things get much worse.

Do you have any favourite theatrical wisdom?

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