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Work life lessons you can learn from Barbie and Ken

When Barbie hit the cinema, it sparked collective joy for fans, but on a deeper level the film exposes and challenges the role that work plays in our lives and offers some important lessons around how you can boost your happiness at work.

When Barbie hit the cinema, it sparked collective joy for fans, but on a deeper level the film exposes and challenges the role that work plays in our lives and offers some important lessons around how you can boost your happiness at work.

The film explores the dilemma many of us face in the workplace – do we overcome feelings of exclusion by conforming or do we accept who we are, worry less about what others think of us and decide to be our best selves?

Everyone in Barbie Land was happy in their jobs and busy following their passions. The main character Barbie (which can be confusing in a land with only three names available) showed the power of being yourself and the confidence and enjoyment that can be found in your career. She holds true to her core values of kindness, independence, style, organisation and sense of self while also trying to express the feelings she has, even when they are at odds with the views of the other Barbies. This way she gets to be herself at work because she is actively choosing to be – defying the brainwashing of cultural conformity at work or deference to the opposite sex.

This is not easy. While Barbie is trying to show us the way, only 16% of us feel we can be ourselves at work. Buttoning down our feelings and expressions to suit a working environment is never going to feel healthy; being yourself at work is bound to make the challenges a job can throw at you much easier. All Barbies have a clearly defined job role that they’ve chosen because it aligns with their value, be it Lawyer Barbie, Construction Barbie or President Barbie, each has a different personality type and fully embraces and enjoys their job roles, their work is an extension of themselves. If only we could all be a little more like Barbies.

The film doesn’t leave Ken behind as it explores his sense of self and what he feels his role in life is too. Ken tries to discover who he is and although his job seems to be quite an open description to begin with (Beach, he does beach) he shows complexity and the will to pursue his own agenda based on his true feelings.

Just like most men, Ken feels vulnerable but tries not to show it. Research shows that over 70% of men never have a positive conversation with themselves. Men struggle to be authentic because they don’t know who they are and social structures don’t help young men and boys to explore this in supported ways. It’s no wonder that in the workplace they don’t feel they can be themselves. In the film Ken realises that he is not his labels, his gender or his job; he is Ken, he is himself and he owns this, stitching onto his final outfit that he’s ‘Kenough’.

It is the ‘real world’ character of Gloria that really makes this theme explicit in her moving monologue about feeling trapped by assumptions. In a recent article, the actress America Ferrera says, “Ultimately, it was about giving myself permission to let go of expectations that had been placed on me.” If we were all able to do this at work, doubtless it would be a weight off our shoulders.

Far from just being a movie about a set of dolls, Barbie shows how being yourself at work inspires magic and happiness. Everyone should be able to follow their own path like Barbie and of course they should be able to feel Kenough.

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