How Whiplash helped me get over myself

safe_imageI saw “Whiplash” a week ago, and something stuck with me.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should. Despite JK Simmons being the beacon of acting (he won an Oscar for it), it’s a movie about an eternal fight for recognition and coming of age.

Also, it’s a story about how NOT to coach.

But that’s a separate discussion.

You might remember the first minutes in the movie (or watch them here):

Sometimes, the voice of Terence Fletcher (the teacher) is VERY similar to the voice in my head.

“Not quite my tempo.” 

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”.

And I guess we all have this relentless judge inside, whom we are trying to please.

It’s a way in which we get ahead of ourselves and sometimes sabotage ourselves (more here about Self 1 and Self 2, from a 40 year old book on Coaching). Quite counterintuitive, right?

But then I understood that I have the “Whiplash” going on inside myself, all the time.


Last week I was endlessly busy, doing several things at a time, ticking off difficult tasks and planning ahead others. During this time, I couldn’t sleep, had my stomach in a knot, had headaches almost every day and my shoulders felt like boulders of stone for all the tension inside them.

I was running a marathon against myself.

During this time, I won an award (one I’d been hoping and wishing I could reach to for some years), got amazing unsolicited feedback from people around, and pretty much all in all, results were going very well.

So then, why was the teacher in my brain continously shouting?


I understood finally, and here’s my take on it.

[Spoiler alert ahead]

Like in Whiplash, I obey my Fletcher.
It’s a race around the clock. I will never be on his tempo. I will never play perfectly. I will never get that much sought recognition. I will run, I will get into a car crash, and I will still go to work and try to do my best.

Because my fear is that some day, some people might say it wasn’t my merit. That maybe I didn’t work hard enough or I got lucky. (yeah I think it’s called impostor syndrome).

However, obeying Fletcher is the end of Andrew Neiman (the young drummer). He practices until his fingers bleed, he prefers to end his potential relationship rather than take time off drumming, he goes to the end of his strength and when nothing works, exhausted and frustrated, he attacks Fletcher on stage. Which then leads him to be expelled.

(a similar struggle, but even more dramatic, you can see in Black Swan, where Natalie Portman’s character ends up [SPOILER] killing herself)

So yeah. The struggle to please the one who can’t ever be pleased, doesn’t end well.


At the end of the movie, after opening up, giving it one more shot and (what a surprise!) being humiliated again on stage, Andrew does something surprising.

He starts playing his own drumming rythm. His own tune. Ignoring Fletcher.
And the band follows suit.

So then, who is the leader, in my mind?

Is it the judge, who will never be pleased?

Or can I start to play my own tune?

I may never be able to quiet that voice. I may never be able to get it out of my head.

However I can choose how much I listen to it and how much power I give to it.
And who knows, sometimes maybe I can even ignore it and take lead myself.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

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