How To Truly Achieve Personal Greatness As Your Authentic Self, According To Disney's 'Soul'

Photo: IMDB
A scene from Disney's "Soul"

If you never feel good enough, it’s not so easy to live your "you." 

Disney's "Soul," the Best Animated Film of 2021, has a lot to say about what gets in the way of your great achievement and how to get free of those obstacles.

Maybe you feel like Joe Gardiner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), always looking for the big opportunity that’ll make you "great?" If you aren’t, you’re afraid you’re a nobody.

Or, maybe you feel like the unborn soul, 22 (voiced by Tina Fey)? You find yourself struggling to believe you’re good enough, to make life feel worth trying "to live it" at all.

Having to be perfect ("great" like Joe) keeps you stuck. So does living with a voice inside your head that constantly tells you: "You’re not good, you’re wrong, you’re a failure."

You could probably use some wisdom to get unstuck.

You won’t find two more compelling characters than Joe and 22 to take your "you" journey with. Unsure where to begin? Let’s start with our jazz pianist, Joe Gardiner.

Be warned of spoilers below!

RELATED: 5 Critical Steps To Take To Embrace Your Most Authentic Self

What does it mean to be "great" and reach your great achievement, according to Disney's "Soul"?

You have to be "great" to feel good enough. That’s Joe.

Joe isn’t satisfied with being a Middle School Band Teacher. He wants to be a jazz pianist. That’s understandable, it’s his passion. Yet, it’s more than that.

Joe doesn’t ever feel good enough. He needs to be "great" to feel like he’s somebody at all.

So, when gets his chance to play with Dorothea Williams, even that isn’t good enough. He imagines his name on the Marquis, not hers. Joe’s imagining his own "greatness."

"Dying a happy man" if he has a chance to play with Dorothea Williams’s band isn’t enough to make Joe satisfied with himself. He has to be more. Joe can’t live his "you."

He doesn’t know how to do that yet. And, in Joe’s "out of his mind" excitement about playing with Dorothea Williams’s band, he doesn’t look and falls in a manhole.  

How does Joe learn to live his "you"? He almost dies, but not a happy man.

If you have to be "great" to achieve greatness, you're not really living.

What makes Joe almost die, is thinking he’s finally "made it." Yet, in some ways, he’s always been dead. You can’t really live if you’re always waiting for your life to begin.

And, now, Joe finds himself without his body, going to The Great Beyond, "Hey, I’m not supposed to be here. I have a gig tonight, I can’t die now, not when my life just started."

But did Joe’s life just start? He’s ignored everything and everyone who loves him because he’s been trying so hard to be great. The good thing is, he has a chance to learn.

Yet, he fights it, at first. So, he finds himself in The Great Before, "Does this mean I’m dead?" Not yet. Now, he’s in the "You Seminar." And, he meets his match in 22.

You protect yourself with negativity, from "being crushed."

That’s 22, an unborn soul. When introduced to Joe, her new "mentor," she says, "We’ll stand here in silence, then you can say you tried and I’ll go back to living my non-life."

22 feels she isn’t good enough for living. And, this feeling can easily turn to negativity and spite, against both living and getting help. That happens when you’re scared.

In fact, the "You Seminar" has been trying to prepare 22 for life for thousands of years.

And, she’s undone the patience of even the greatest mentors: Mother Teresa, Copernicus, Madame Curie, and Einstein, to name a few, because 22 thinks she’ll fail.

Why try if you’ve decided you can’t do it?

Take Joe. He’s like 22. He’s faced a lot of rejection trying to get jazz gigs: “We’re looking for something different. Sorry, Joe.” “My life has been meaningless,” he tells 22.

She counsels, "You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on earth is for." And, when you don’t think you’re any good at anything, you’re expecting to be crushed.

22 is scared to even try. Yet, 22 sees another side of Joe that inspires her to think again, "Your life is sad and pathetic and you’re working so hard to get back to it. Why? This I got to see.”

So, they help each other. 22 decides to go to Earth with Joe.

22 can go wherever she wants to go.

"I’m not stuck with a body. I’m a nobody, get it?”

RELATED: How To Discover Your Authentic Self To Reclaim Your Happiness & Revitalize Relationships

To reach your great achievement, you need to learn to accept yourself and let out the "you."

If you feel like a nobody, you can’t live inside your body or your "you."

You can’t even stop to "smell the roses," as the old saying goes. You’re too busy rushing to make yourself "somebody" or hiding from life, which amounts to the same thing.

Let’s say Joe and 22 are two different sides of a person.

22, with the feelings of being "a nobody" and having no idea how to live a life, takes over Joe’s body. And, what happens? 22, in Joe’s body, has a lot to learn about living.

Joe, not surprisingly, lands in the therapy cat, Mr. Muffins. Yes, Joe needs therapy — a lot of it. Therapy turns out to be slowing down and learning to walk, not run to greatness.

Therapy also means tasting food for the first time, really listening to music, feeling the breeze, being interested in other people (not just himself), and letting out his "you."

You can find your "you" in the little things in life — lollipops or kindness or spools to sew a suit — like 22.

"Maybe walking can be my purpose… I’m really good at walking."

"That’s just regular old living, 22," Joe tells her. 

Yet, really, isn’t that the point of life? Otherwise, you’re a lost soul, untethered, mostly from those moments of joy being you.

A purpose (or obsession) doesn’t define you — just being you does.

If you’re obsessed with finding greatness, you aren’t really living. Joe certainly wasn’t.

Having a purpose, like being a "great" jazz pianist, doesn’t define you. That’s especially true if what’s underneath your need to be perfect is not feeling good enough for life.

Like 22 — she was learning to live until Joe made her feel she was doing it all wrong.

She wasn’t. She was "just living." But you can’t live if there’s a voice in your head, belittling you.

"No one would want to be around you, you’re a loser, you won’t make it."

Don’t listen to that voice. Find your spark in little things, those that make you feel good.

Be you. That means loving whatever you’re doing, like Connie (voiced by Cora Champommier). She’s 12, she doesn’t care if she’s great. She just loves playing trombone.

Or like 22, who’s seeing the world through fresh eyes, as if for the first time.

Joe gets a second chance. What will he do with his life?

"I don’t know. But I do know I’m going to live every minute of it."

Believing every minute counts, whether they’re big or small, means embracing your you! Go for it, you!

RELATED: Be True To Yourself: The Power & Importance Of Authenticity 

Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst. She specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.