When I Think About
Teamwork. Imagination. Betrayal. Persistence. Self-advocacy. Humiliation. One step forward, multiple steps backwards. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. A dream deferred. Sweet Success.
These are some of the words and phrases that come to mind when I think of the film, Joy (2015). Based loosely on a true story, this biographical comedy-drama film chronicles the journey of an entrepreneur, Joy Mangano, who faced setback after setback before becoming a “self-made millionaire”1 and before creating her own business empire. What is important and worth noting is not the millions Joy amassed, but rather her journey.
At Made to Flourish, we often talk about faith, work, and economics (FWE); this film majors on the “E” in FWE.
Created to Be Creatively Imaginative
Mimi, Joy’s maternal grandmother and the film’s narrator, saw the creative entrepreneurial leanings in Joy (played by Jennifer Lawrence) when she was just a child. Mimi lovingly remarked about Joy, “She made many beautiful things in her world, magic. Some people love to make things. They have the patience and the focus to figure it out with their hands. Joy was one of those people who rejoiced in making things.” While a little girl, Joy created cutouts, other childhood creations, and an imaginary world. As a teenager, Joy invented a novel dog collar that could be easily removed but did not have a supportive family to get the invention patented. Besides the self-wringing Miracle Mop that she invented; Joy went on to invent over 100 other products. These inventions began with a creative imagination.
God is wildly imaginative and creative—just look at the diversity of animals He created; and look at the diversity of people around you. Every person is made in God’s image and every person images God. One way we image God is by being imaginative and creative (Genesis 1:26-28). Adam imaged God and demonstrated his creativity and imagination as he named the animals. Reader: you are creative and imaginative.
Team of Encouragers Needed
Starting a business, the pursuit of an idea from design to manufacture to market is not to be romanticized—this trek is painstaking hard, it is not a solo affair. That’s why I question such descriptions as “self-made,” because entrepreneurs need a team of encouragers along the way. Joy’s encouragement did not come from her crass father, Rudy (played by Robert De Niro); nor did it come from her severely broken mother, Terri (played by Virginia G. Madsen). Ironically, Joy’s encouragement came from Tony, her ex-husband who for a time lived in the basement of her home. Mimi commenting on this strange arrangement, “They were the best divorced couple in America. Much better friends than they were husband and wife.” Joy’s steady encouragement came from Mimi and her best friend, Jackie. Mimi, a constant encourager, said this to Joy, “You are the one born to help carry us on to success.” Perhaps, the most moving scene came when Joy was demonstrating her new mop on what would be a precursor to the Home Shopping Network (HSN). Joy had never been on live cable TV and froze when the stage director said, “Action.” Jackie, who was watching Joy on TV, along with Joy’s family, called into the show and began asking Joy to explain the features of her mop2. From there, Joy came alive and beautifully and naturally demonstrated the features of her mop, thanks to Jackie’s encouragement.
Doing Business Can Be Brutal
Joy found herself broke many times. Her phone service was discontinued. Joy had to take out a second mortgage on her home before her investors—her incorrigible dad and his wealthy Italian widow—would give her another loan. At one point in the film, Joy was $200,000 in debt. Be warned inspiring entrepreneur: the path to travel is often akin to the ‘reality’ path depicted in the figure3 below.
Emotionally, Joy hit the wall several times in this film. For instance, Joy paid $50,000 in royalties to a man in Hong Kong who supposedly had created a similar product. However, she discovered this was all a ruse. Instead of the money going to the man in Hong Kong, she determined that the money was actually being funneled to a rich Texas tycoon who also incidentally owned the Los Angeles manufacturing company that made the parts for Joy’s new mop. After a clandestine visit to this LA company, Joy discovered that her manufacturer was about to fraudulently patent her design. Once she studied the legal documents regarding these transactions, Joy flew to Texas to confront this Texan. Shrewdly and courageously, Joy implicated this man of fraud and threaten to expose him to his oblivious partner in Hong Kong. Joy walked away with this man’s signature and his promise to pay back double with interest, the amount out of which she had been cheated. An entrepreneur must be his or her own advocate, his or her own pursuer of justice. An entrepreneur must be doggedly persistent. The journey of an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart.
‘Paying it Forward’
Near the conclusion of the film, we find a demure Joy who has moved from a nearly dilapidated home into a very spacious mansion. Hardly settled and with unpacked boxes surrounding her desk, she sees a young couple with their baby from Memphis4. The wife nervously presents Joy a prototype of her invention. Joy examines the invention and tenderly tells the wife, “Nice design.” She then offers to pay for an additional nights stay at nicer hotel and volunteers to call the woman’s employer so that she does not suffer any penalty for missing work as a waitress. Then Joy invites the couple back the next day to meet with her designers. In tears, the wife is overwhelmed by Joy’s generosity to which Joy replies, “I know what it feels like to be in that chair.” Joy did not forget her path to success. This led her to adopt an attitude of “pay it forward” and encourage other budding entrepreneurs. Joy lived out what she told her daughter, Christie, “Christie, look at me. I want you to remember something, because a lot of times people get nice things and they start to think differently. We got here from hard work, patience, and humility.” From all appearances, Joy did not let her fame and riches cause her to think differently. She remembered her modest beginnings and the concomitant struggles. And she wanted to encourage others also embarking on the entrepreneurship journey.
‘Real Ambitions and Real Ideas’
Joy said, “I have real ambitions and real ideas.” We have children that have real ambitions and real ideas. We have congregants that have real ambitions and real ideas. We have neighbors that have real ambitions and real ideas. Yet often our broken world creates obstacles that serve to defer dreams temporarily or permanently. May we as a church take time to listen to the ideas and dreams of others and be a real help to those who have real potential to be entrepreneurs. Think about the benefits of encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs. The persistence of entrepreneurs can lead to employment for the unemployed. The ingenuity of entrepreneurs make life more livable. Think about your favorite gadget. This gadget was first an idea in a person’s head. Entrepreneurs are good for the economy.
- What are you doing as a parent, pastor, or youth minister to encourage or stir the imagination of your children, parishioners and young people, respectively? Do you have ‘eyes’ to see an entrepreneur in the making?
- Joy was no dummy; she graduated valedictorian of her high school class and was accepted into college, but was forced to put this dream on hold because her parents divorced. Have you taken time to give a person the “gift of unhurried time’5 to hear their deferred dreams? What might be our responsibility once we hear their dreams?
- As an entrepreneur, have you taken other budding entrepreneurs under your wing to show them the ropes?
2. Pick up the action around the 1:17 mark.
3. This figure is compliments of the Christian rapper, Lecrae.
4. Pick up the action around the 1:52:10 mark.
5. My colleague, Denis Haack, Co-Director of Ransom Fellowship is fond of saying this.