John Nash – Beautiful Mind
In Ron Howard’s 2001 American biographical film “A Beautiful Mind” about Dr. John Nash, the main character share a vision of overcoming hardship to achieve greatness. These characters are motivated to make changes to turn this vision into reality. Immediately… it would be best if you recognized that it was the motivation that promoted action.
It would be simple, or perhaps too easy, to state that Dr. John Nash’s goal was to change the world of game theory or mathematics, and there is no doubting the genius of Dr. Nash. However, the movie, the story, and the lesson are that having a vision can help us overcome the hardships we face 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 in the lives of many. Some people may have a vision but are lazy in attempting to achieve anything. Some have all the energy and motivation in the world but lack vision or scope. Perhaps true success starts with a vision, though. Vision is your goal. 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 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.
Nash needed to keep his mind from wandering into paranoia to achieve these priorities and goals. To do this, Nash needed to understand that he was having delusions. Knowing the real problem is critical to finding a 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 daydreaming became a practice he had to refrain from. However, failing to do so would result in Nash losing everything, including his wife, child, career, and so on. On the other hand, by achieving this vision, he could keep his family, continue his work, and achieve his desired greatness.
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 gauge how well this formula has worked thus far. While never completely “cured, ” Dr. Nash could get a handle on what was wrong and still make an 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 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. We know that many afflicted with brain issues have often contributed significantly to the world, and Nash is no exception. I, for one, appreciate Nash’s 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 in which we are engulfed, laying on our backs and watching them fade, only to wake up with emptiness.
In the movie, Alicia asks John what he is 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; that is how we can overcome our hardships to achieve our “greatness.”
So what’s the point? It’s relatively 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 combine all of these, you’ll never realize true success. These are essential 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. Ironically, Dr. Nash had 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