In Ron Howard’s 2001 American biographical film “A Beautiful Mind” about Dr. John Nash, the main characters share a vision of overcoming hardship to achieve greatness. These characters are motivated to make changes to turn this vision into a reality. Immediately… you need to recognize that it was motivation that promoted action.
It would be simple, or perhaps too easy to state that Dr. John Nash’s goal was to simply change the world of game theory or mathematics, and there is no doubting the genius of Dr. Nash. However, the movie, the story, the lesson really, is the vision of being able to overcome the hardships that we personally face in order to achieve greatness. In this particular case, the vision was to overcome schizophrenia.
Think about that. Vision, motivation, and action. These are things that are often missing from many people today. Some people may have vision, but be lazy in regard to attempting anything. Some have all the energy and motivation in the world, but lack vision or scope. Perhaps true success starts with vision though. Vision is your goal really. Where do you want to go, or what do you want to do? Nash had more than vision though and it starts with priorities.
The priorities of his vision are threefold. The love and loyalty of Nash’s wife were priority number one. Without these, it is hard to say where Nash would have ended up. Perhaps we could categorize this as “support”. The second priority was obviously keeping his schizophrenia under control and coping with what would undoubtedly be unbelievable hardships related to that. The third priority was “life”, keeping his work going, helping with his family and being a good husband to the woman he loves.
In order to achieve these priorities and goals, Nash needed to keep his mind from wondering into paranoia. In order to do this, Nash needed to understand that he was having delusions. Knowing the real problem is critical to finding the real solution. Finally, he also needed to realize and separate his delusions from reality. No doubt these seemingly basic tasks were enormous mountains to climb, because even the matter of day dreaming became a practice he had to refrain from. However, failing to do so would result in Nash losing everything, including his wife, his child, and his career and so on. On the other hand, by achieving this vision, he would be able to keep his family, continue his work, and achieve the greatness he so desired.
Of course, overcoming hardships is never an easy task. Perhaps it is not supposed to be. Nash would need to remain diligent in his goals and he would need the understanding of Alicia, his colleagues, and the collegiate community. He needed appropriate medical care, and the ability to forgive himself for falling from time to time. Understanding the depths of the problem and knowing that he was “sick” would not be enough. Being resolved to see it through was and remains critical.
The question of whether or not this was an evolutionary or revolutionary vision is a complex one. In many ways this is both evolutionary and revolutionary. Evolutionary in that the change was inevitable for both the good and bad and revolutionary in that the change was thrust upon him and that the correction had to be forced.
The outcome remains unseen in many ways, but we can sure gauge how well this formula has worked thus far. While never completely “cured”, Dr. Nash was able to get a handle on what was wrong and was able to still make extraordinary contribution in his field of study and beyond. Nash went on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994, and between 1945 and 1996, he published 23 scientific studies.
While not a part of the movie, I think it is important to note some of Nash’s more recent achievements as his life is still a model to gaze upon. As of 2011 Nash's recent work involves ventures in advanced game theory, including partial agency. In 2012 he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
When I watch this film, I am reminded of a quote from Oscar Levant, a brilliant person afflicted with neurosis; "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line." Perhaps there is craziness in genius. Perhaps certain types of genius are crazy. What we know for certain is that many of those afflicted with issues of the brain have often contributed greatly to the world at large, Nash is no different in this regard. I for one appreciate Nash for both his contributions to humanity and his resolve to do it.
More than anything, what I pull from this film and his story is that true greatness comes from realization and resolve. Without these two elements, ideas and dreams are nothing more than delusions of which we are engulfed, laying on our backs and watching them fade, only to wake up with emptiness.
In the movie, Alicia asked John what he was thinking about. John asked “What do people do?” Her response was perfect. “It’s life John. Activities available. Just add meaning.” I think we add meaning by adding realization and resolve and that is how we can overcome our hardships to achieve our “greatness”.
So what’s the point? It’s rather simple. You may have vision, motivation, willingness to act, or even resolve. You may even have a great support network, but if you don’t put all of these together, you’ll never really know the realization of true success. These are important factors for a leader. Your job is to recognize the formula, and put it together. If you lack an element, you need to create it.
As I’m sure you can tell, Dr. Nash holds a near and dear place in my heart. He was an inspiration to me on so many levels and for so many reasons. Unfortunately, Dr. Nash was killed alongside his wife Alicia in a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. This, after having just received the Abel Prize for Mathematics from King Harald V for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations.
Sir… you have done so much for me (and countless others) in ways that may never be told. You are a true leader. Your memory is our keepsake, and with that, you will surely live forever.
Dr. John Forbes Nash Jr.: Born June 13, 1928 – Died May 23, 2015