Life is either a Romantic Adventure or Nothing at All

Last night, my family saw the 1994 movie “Don Juan DeMarco” on Netflix with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando. It was funny, heartwarming, sensual, intelligent and very well acted. We were transported from our everyday world of people struggling with their desire to get more out of life and work to a place where life was either a romantic adventure or nothing at all.

Romance is “Ardent emotional attachment or involvement.” The opposite of “Romance” is to “depreciate, minimize, play down, reduce or understate.” Secretly, and starting with the Lone Ranger as my childhood hero, I think that’s what I’ve always felt, but never had the courage to be direct. As a consultant, I’ve sold companies imaginative thinking, team building, culture change, breakthrough results and executive coaching… People were helped, money was made and customers served. But inevitably, a prior context of order and control, power and position would creep back in. In some measure, my experience was like the Ernst and Young training video where the guy says, “I always wanted to be a Lion Tamer but I’m afraid, so I’m trying to work it out as an accountant.”

T.S. Eliot captured this in his poem: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

…And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare? And “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

Do I dare?
Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…

And Don Juan DeMarco;

“There are only four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for?”

Here then are some “New Rules” for having life and work be either a romantic adventure or nothing at all.

Rule Number One; stop needing the approval of others for who you are. Stop needing approval for the legitimacy of your heart felt projects. Speak about them powerfully and always say what inspires you. Act as if this is your world, you own it, it’s your stage and others can play if they wish. If not, it can’t be helped.

Rule Number Two; pay attention to what you love and to what truly attracts you. All that matters is that you are attracted in that your inner energy is moving out into the world. Be specific about this in the words you speak, where you look, who you associate with, where you go. Feel free to be dramatic in speech and dress consistent with what lifts your spirit.

Rule Number Three; know in your blood that your power and impact is coming from the way people contrast your way of being, moment by moment, with their own attitude and experience. Know that the rest is only words.

Rule Number Four; fully accept people and situations exactly the way they are. Know that everything you do or wish you could do to change them creates resistance, defeats your purpose and makes a romantic adventure impossible. Let your experience flow through you.

Rule Number Five: be content being stuck where you are. Prisoners who do “Hard Time” fight the fact that they are in jail and suffer. Prisoners who accept that they are in jail do “Easy Time” and are happier. In any moment, realize that you are where you are. Don Juan was content to be incarcerated and held to his self-designed identity in the face of it. Freedom is the ability to choose how to be whatever the cost.

Rule Number Six: you do not have to seek breakthroughs and extraordinary results in intentional and forceful ways. Follow the call of romantic adventure in word and deed and breakthroughs will follow while others join you because the path is so attractive.

The purpose of coaching is to help create the best life and work possible through the people you touch. A senior executive client I will soon see feels depreciated, minimized, played down and understated. His boss has a boss has a boss. Starting with his wife and kids, he sits on top of a chain of a number of human and bureaucratic bosses each resting on the one below. Only he can change this and he is responsible for all of the ways it occurs to him. The coach’s job is to help him turn this experience on its head.

Tomorrow, I will be Don Juan, the Coach.


Charles E. Smith has been a senior executive coach and leadership consultant in corporations and government agencies in the United States, Europe, andCanadasince 1969.  He graduated from the Boston Public Latin School and holds an A.B. from Harvard College, and M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University.  Dr. Smith also holds a certificate in Gestalt Methods from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.  He has taught at SirGeorge Williams University and McGill Centre for Management Education. 

His first book, The Merlin Factor: Keys to Corporate Kingdom was published in 1995 in US, UK, China, and Romania. Read his new book, Navigating from the Future: a Primer for Sustainable Transformation, available at Amazon.

Contact him at


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