≡ Menu

7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Where The Wild Things Are


This is a guest post from Steve Kamb over at Nerdfitness.com

Steve has a great sense of humor and a great mission–helping nerds get healthy.

In honor of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are making its big screen debut today (which I can’t wait to see), I thought I’d take a look back at the 1963 classic children’s book that inspired the film. Now, I remember reading this book countless times as a little kid and loving it, so I decided to read through it again the other day just for kicks and got way more out of it than I expected. Here are seven life lessons you can learn from Max, the main character:

1. “He was sent to his room without eating anything…that very night in his room a forest grew.”

Max made a mistake (yelling at his mom) and was sent to his room. Rather than sitting there crying about it, he made the most of it and created a fantastic adventure for himself. So you lost your job, or your girlfriend dumped you, or you’ve got to a point where your weight is really starting to become an issue.

You know the phrase, “there’s no use crying over spilled milk?” You can’t fix the past and you can’t predict the future; you can only play the hand you’re dealt. Andy Dufresne, the main character from The Shawshank Redemption, was wrongfully imprisoned for twenty years; rather than dwelling on his predicament, he chose to take action.

He built a library, helped his fellow inmates get their GED’s, and then tunneled through a wall to freedom. What kind of box are you trapped in? What are you doing while you’re in there, and how are you going to get out? Feel free to insert your own joke here about the kid who set off his home-made UFO yesterday and then went and hid in a box in his attic.

2. “An ocean tumbled by with an boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day.”

Max might have been physically locked in his room, but he chose to mentally be someplace else: where the wild things are. These days we’re so concerned with trying to do everything at once and get it done quickly that we never actually stop and take a deep breath.

Be like Max: lock yourself in a room, put on your favorite music, close your eyes, and completely shut off your mind for 15 minutes. After a brutally stressful day at the office, you’d be surprised how quickly this can improve your mood. Few realize this, but your mental strength is as important to your overall well-being as physical strength.

3. “…til Max said ‘BE STILL’ and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. They were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all, and made him king of all wild things.”

Max was confronted by massive frightening monsters. What did he do? He glared right back, letting them know that he was in charge. F.D.R. once said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Nobody is in control of your life but you. Don’t let a fear of rejection, failure, or the unknown keep you from making something of yourself.

Take a deep breath, look your fear square in the eyes (imagine it has eyes, anyway), and tell it to BE STILL. Of course, I’m talking about an intangible fear; I wouldn’t recommend finding a Grizzly bear just to yell at it. Aside from Yogi, most bears don’t speak English.

4. “‘And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!'”

Live a little! We only get one chance on this planet, so it’s okay to have some fun every once and a while. I’m a big fitness nut, so whenever people come to me for advice on getting in shape, the first thing I tell them is to find something that makes them happy – whether its dancing, karate, yoga, ultimate Frisbee, running, lifting weights, etc. – and find a way to do it every day.

I bet Matt over at WhereTheHellIsMatt.com got hundreds of weird looks as he danced around the world for the first time. Compare that with his latest video where EVERYBODY around the world wanted to dance with him. Whatever it is that gets you off your ass and out of the house, do it.

5. Max gets creative, swinging from tree to tree with the monsters

If you’re looking to get in shape and don’t have a gym membership, you’re going to need to get creative with your environment. Don’t have a pull up bar? Find a playground and use their monkey bars.

A kitchen chair can help you do decline push ups, one legged lunges, pistol squats, incline push ups, dips, and more. Heck, even empty milk jugs can be filled with sand for use as dumbbells. Max used his surroundings to have some fun. If you want to get in shape, use your surroundings to get started.

6. “And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”

I learned this lesson the hard way. Right after college I moved to a beachfront paradise in San Diego, CA. It took me two years to realize that I was unhappy because my entire group of friends still lived on the east coast. It wasn’t until I moved back that everything turned around for me.

Max came to this realization and so should you: never underestimate or under-appreciate your friends and family. If you want to make a major life change, they are the ones who will motivate you, offer up encouragement, and pick you up when you fall down. If you don’t have a support group or somebody to lean on, find a community online or in your town that can help keep you motivated and accountable.

7. “Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye.”

It’s fun to dream and imagine and let go of reality for a while, but it’s important to stay grounded too. Once you’ve spent 15 minutes in your room alone with not a thought in your head, come back to the real world and put a plan in place to make things happen.

Whatever your fears are, take definitive steps toward conquering them. If you want to lose 10 pounds, get out of debt, run a marathon, or write a novel, make sure you set concrete, realistic goals and get started now.

Not bad for a children’s picture book! This mischievous kid in a wolf costume has taught me that it’s okay to not act my age, to face my fears head on, and to find a way to make the most of any situation. For those of you looking for the motivation to make a change in your life, you can learn from him too. Look at the hand you’re dealt, take a deep breath, and go wild.

Thanks Max.


Steve Kamb is a nerd and a fitness nut. He runs a fitness and lifestyle blog over at NerdFitness.com, helping out average joes and desk jockeys turn their lives around. You can download his free e-book, “A Newbie’s Guide To Fitness,” by clicking here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gordie Rogers October 16, 2009, 2:15 am

    I need to read more fiction. It’s amazing how a great post referring to life lessons can be borne from even a childrens book. Great post, Josh!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 7:12 am

      Gordie, I think so many children’s books are secretly written for adults. They’re written by adults, after all. Adults who have something to say. I don’t know. I guess the important lessons are important for kids as well as the rest of us sometimes.

  • #6 is my favorite. I have a bookmark on that page in my copy. I am not kidding when I say that book is right next to my computer as we speak. The images alone can even tell the story. Thanks for sharing Josh – I really liked your take on one of my faves.

  • Stefan October 16, 2009, 6:31 am

    “Andy Dufresne, the main character from The Shawshank Redemption, was wrongfully imprisoned for twenty years; rather than dwelling on his predicament, he chose to take action.”

    Well, look at where it took him. 😉

    • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 7:10 am

      To the beach!

      • Stefan October 21, 2009, 7:45 am

        You are right. I thought about the character Brooks Hatlen who didn’t make it to the beach..

  • Steve October 16, 2009, 7:09 am

    Hey guys, thanks for the kind words, I had a lot of fun putting this post together 🙂

    @Laura – I definitely underestimated how much I’d miss my friends when I moved cross-country a few years back. I think my heart knew right away, it just took my mind two years to finally catch up. I now live back on the east coast with two of my best friends, I have a job I love, and I wake up smiling every day.

    @Stefan – Sure the 20 years of prison stunk, but Andy ended up with hundreds of thousands of dollars of the warden’s money, a beach-front property on the Pacific, and an old boat to fix up with his buddy Red. Could be worse 😀


  • Shane October 16, 2009, 8:33 am

    Anybody remember the computer game Zelda? That was a kick-ass imagination inspiring game (even though it was on a lame POS computer with a green screen.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 8:53 am

      Shane, I don’t remember it on PC. Is that different than the 8 bit Nintendo one?

      • Shane October 16, 2009, 9:08 am

        Yeah, mine was a 1-bit POS text version!!!!!!

  • Jessica Marie October 16, 2009, 10:07 am

    Wow, who knew so much could be learned from a children’s book. Thanks for the post.

  • Larissa October 16, 2009, 12:01 pm

    Such a great post; one that I really needed to read today. 🙂

  • Mattitiyahu October 16, 2009, 1:45 pm

    What’s really amazing is that the book itself was just over 300 words. Says a lot with very little.


    • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 1:46 pm

      Mattitiyahu, great point. I bet Maurice put a lot of time into selecting which 300 words to use.

  • Gayze October 16, 2009, 2:47 pm

    Awesome post about an Awesome kid with some Awesome monster friends in an Awesome book.

    I can’t wait to see the movie.


    • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 3:27 pm

      Gayze, go watch it right now. Go! I want a report and then I’ll see if I can brave the theater.

      • Gayze October 16, 2009, 5:54 pm

        I’m glad Steve’s seeing it tonight, as it’ll be a while before I will be able to. I look forward to the reviews! 🙂

  • Steve October 16, 2009, 4:54 pm


    I’m actually heading to see the movie later on tonight, I’ll be back with a full report tomorrow.


    • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 5:32 pm

      Steve, it’s a deal. By the way, I need to send you an email about the traffic today.

      • Steve October 17, 2009, 9:23 am

        Saw the flick last night.

        Great, but not amazing. But incredibly epic and surprisingly deep for a 100-minute kids movie based off a 40 page picture book.

        Incredible cinematography, beautiful scenery, believable monsters, and quite a few laughs…and many sad parts!

        I have a feeling a lot of little kids are gonna walk out of there and wonder what happened. Fortunately, my theater was full of people my age.

        Yeah Jost, shoot me an email, let me know how your day went yesterday!


  • Daisy October 16, 2009, 6:46 pm

    Remember the end of the story? His supper was waiting for him, and it was still hot. No matter what he did or thought, his mom was still home, waiting for him with open arms.
    The private boat just let him get there without clicking his heels three time.

  • Patty - Why Not Start Now? October 16, 2009, 9:06 pm

    My favorite on the list is #6, a lesson I’ve learned over and over in life. As much as my seeker wants to go exploring, she’s never really happy if she’s too far from her roots. That sense of belonging is so powerful. Thanks for the fun and thoughtful post!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 9:13 pm

      Hey Patty! Welcome to the party. Seeking is overrated but fun in small doses.

  • Danielle LaPorte October 16, 2009, 10:37 pm

    JUST back from the movie this evening. Genuine, sublime, spectacular, rough, sweet. Arrooooooo!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 17, 2009, 7:49 am

      Hey Danielle! Thanks for dropping by to class up the ruffians. We could use some glamor. I’m thrilled to hear the movie was good. Not surprised, but more excited than ever to see it.

  • Jodi at Joy Discovered October 17, 2009, 5:06 pm

    Reading this was really enjoyable. I am now even MORE excited to see the movie. Thanks!

  • Tracie Yule October 21, 2009, 3:08 pm

    This is a great analysis of Where the Wild Things are. This is a take that I had never thought of before because I actually really don’t like this book. I saw some parenting mistakes by his mother (sending him to his room without dinner…then giving him dinner) and a kid who wasn’t going to learn about being rude because his mom didn’t stick to his word. Then this rude kid decided to rule over some other monsters instead of just playing together as equals.

    I guess your viewpoint works and is maybe a bit nicer than my take.