Lessons Learned from Kung Fu Panda 3

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Like many of us in greater DC, I spent last week cooped up in a post-Snowzilla haze of telework and cancelled school days. By Saturday, I ventured out with the family to watch some classic cinema, Kung Fu Panda 3. While it wasn’t this winter’s big box office hit, the movie was a welcome oasis of entertainment amidst cold, snowy days.

Perhaps I ‘m a sucker for anything with an Eastern philosophy vibe, but I thought there were some great government employee takeaways in the flick.

Energy is what it’s all about. The Star Wars franchise calls it the Force. In Kung Fu Panda 3, they call it chi. No matter what you call it, this winter’s movies focus on the universal energy that flows through everything. As employees of the federal government it’s important to remember that we are not distinct from the citizens we serve. We can use our power and our work for the greater good of the country if we concentrate on our purpose.

“You must take the next step from warrior to teacher.” In the movie, Po (the kung fu panda himself) is asked to become a kung fu teacher. At a certain point in our careers, we are mighty warriors learning our craft and rocking our performance reviews. Eventually it is time to pass along your best practices and help others along their path to excellence. It is an amazing feeling to take the step from mentee to mentor, but it takes some bravery to make the switch.

“If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be better than you are.” It is great to do what you do and do it well. However, true career growth often requires you to stretch yourself beyond your current limits. In the movie Po struggles with his new role as teacher and experiences early failure. It would be easy to let early failures in our career guide us away from growth. But, if you only stick to what you are good at, you will never get good at anything else. If you only do what you can do, you will never grow enough to be ready for the next step in your career.

Know who you are and be you. In the movie, Po journeys to the secret panda village with his new-found father. The going home experience helps him learn just who he is, which in turn enables him to excel in his work. As a government employee, it is important to know who you are in order to be effective at what you do, too. What are your areas of excellence? Where can you grow and learn? What unique ability or insight do you bring to the team? With this understanding you can bring the value of your individuality to your work and achieve greater results for your organization.

Motivate others to be their best selves, not to mimic you. Early on, Po asks his master to make him into the master. The master wisely states that he can only make Po into Po. While Po struggles with the concept that he can’t be just like the master, he eventually finds his true power by being himself. Also, Po finally gains success as a teacher by helping his students apply their unique talents in the field of kung fu, rather than trying to teach the students to simply emulate him.

In our workplaces, valuable employees may look and act different. Rather than making our mentees fit into our mold, it is important to help them retain their individuality and maximize their own strengths so that they can achieve their potential and add value to the organization. The government doesn’t need mindless drones, it needs individuals achieving their personal best while also fulfilling the agency’s mission.

While Kung Fu Panda 3 might not be a movie everyone rushes out to see, I thoroughly enjoyed it from the lens of a government employee seeking to help other employees achieve their best. The lessons are simple are simple and powerful: the energy that connects us is critical; you must be yourself to achieve your best; and help others be their best selves.

Krista J. Roche is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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