Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying - Lessons on Overcoming Difficult Times at Work

Commonly referred to (especially by football players) as one of the greatest movies ever made, the Shawshank Redemption turns twenty this year. Re-watching (for the umpteenth time) Tim Robbins’ inspiring portrayal of Andy Dufresne’s struggle for freedom, it occurred to me that there were many parallels in this story and that of our daily working lives.

Much like Dufresne, in order to achieve our goals on a professional level, we need an unwavering belief in a set of ideals to help us overcome the barriers put in front of us. Sure, we’re probably not wrongfully-accused murderers stuck in a demoralising hell that is a 1940’s Ohio prison, but we will encounter situations that, at the time, will seem just as hopeless.

Here are six lessons we can take from Andy’s struggle and apply to our working lives so we too can experience the freedom we wish we had.


Despite being convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Andy Dufresne doesn’t complain about it all. Realising that there is little he can do about what has happened, he accepts his situation and gets on with life. At one point, he tells Red – his best friend in Shawshank Prison – that while he didn’t kill his wife, it was his actions that drove her away, and thereby accepts the responsibility.

Rather than finding someone else to blame, Andy focuses on finding a way to firstly, endure his time in Shawshank, and then secondly escape it.

Pareto’s law or the 80-20 principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Looking for someone or something else to blame is stressful and unproductive. Rather than simply accepting things and putting our minds to good use, like solving the problem (the 20%), we focus the majority of our time and energy (the 80%) on the cause, whether real or not, and become resentful, disillusioned and unproductive.


It’s often said that prison isn’t an easy place to be and you cling to any helping hand offered your way. Andy Dufresne knew that he needed help if he was to endure the trials of Shawshank and often asked his friend Red for advice and once he formulated his plan to escape, the materials needed to make it happen. Without Red’s help, Andy probably would never have tasted freedom again.

We call find ourselves in challenging situations, whether we’re new to a role or have had the same job for years. Look around your office, every one of your colleagues has different life and work experience and being able to leverage that experience makes overcoming any challenge a lot easier.


Andy Dufresne spends twenty years in Shawshank Prison before finally digging his way out. Once he discovers a way to improve his situation, he works diligently and perseveres, chipping away at the wall in his prison cell during the evening and depositing the broken-down pebbles in the yard during the day, day-in day-out until he finally escapes.

We might not be breaking out of a prison cell, but by preserving and doing small things each day to improve our work situation, we’ll become more efficient at our job and solve almost any problem we face.


“Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of s*** smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.” – Red

Andy is never convinced by the rules and regulations of Shawshank Prison, but pretends to belong. While doing this he works to change processes and builds relationships with guards and manages to deliver improvements for his fellow inmates. At the end of it all, he crawls through the sewer and solves the problem that is Shawshank.

Sometimes when you’re faced with a challenging situation, you simply have to roll up your sleeves and crawl though that filthy river to get to the other side. Doing this will give you a better understanding of the finer details, so you can help make changes to improve the way you and your organisation work.

Originally published at: