What ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ Teaches About Wisdom, Work and Relationships

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Let’s take a step back to just before the explosion of social media. The year was 2006, and one of the most influential movies of the decade was about to come out. Despite its title, it wasn’t a film about a demon’s wardrobe. It was a film about wisdom, work, relationships and so much more. 

Those who have seen or at least heard of the movie know I’m alluding to The Devil Wears Prada. Whether you’ve seen it or not, it’s the film we’re diving into today for SUCCESS Movie Rewind. Welcome back, folks, and buckle up for the latest installment of your favorite spoiler-free (within reason) movie podcast focused on career success and self-improvement.

The Devil Wears Prada has been around for some years, but this oldie is most definitely a goodie. Let’s jump in.

Don’t mistake the appearance of knowledge for the substance of wisdom.

Every workplace has its own subculture, and when Anne Hathaway’s Andy enters her new workplace under the direction of Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), she finds that out quickly. She doesn’t see much value in the nuance and detail of fashion—after all, she’s a hard news journalist with formal training. But then Priestly famously schools her. 

If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend looking up the speech I’m talking about here. It’s near the top of the YouTube results if you search “Devil Wears Prada quotes,” so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.

Anyway, Streep’s Priestly really nails Andy to the wall, and it’s fun (and hard) to watch. We see the hardcore fashion editor’s superior knowledge come out with teeth bared, but we later see Priestly make some key mistakes in both her professional and personal life. What happened here is what inspired my first takeaway from the film: Don’t mistake the appearance of knowledge for the substance of wisdom.

Knowledge is the ability to school a new hire on the particulars of your workplace and field of study. Wisdom is the ability to deploy knowledge in an effective way and use it to keep moving yourself forward—whether that’s in your career or your life in general.

It’s easy to think you or someone else has it all figured out if you have amassed a lot of knowledge on a topic. But don’t mistake that knowledge for the kind of wisdom that keeps you out of trouble and on the right path.

Jobs can’t love you back.

Emily Blunt—conveniently named Emily in the movie—has a simple but powerful moment. You see her on screen repeating “I love my job, I love my job” after a particularly stressful moment, as if she’s trying to remind herself that thousands of people would kill to have her job. She may indeed love her job, but it can’t love her back.

That’s takeaway two from The Devil Wears Prada. We see Emily go to extreme lengths to convince herself that she loves her job, but we see it give her no love. That’s because jobs are jobs—they occupy an important part of our lives, but the emphasis here has to be on part and not whole.

If you’re putting other important parts of your life on the back burner because you “love” your job, you’re not doing yourself a favor. You’re investing emotional capital into something that will yield no emotional returns. Material rewards, maybe, but no love.

This is an important reminder for entrepreneurs and business owners, too. If you created the company, it’s not your job; it’s your company. You may love it because it’s yours and you built it, but you can’t—and shouldn’t—expect your employees to love it the way you do. They know your company won’t love them back.

Responsibly prioritize your relationships.

At one point in the film, Andy’s boyfriend Nate famously says:

“You know, in case you were wondering—the person whose calls you always take? That’s the relationship you’re in. I hope you two are very happy together.”

Nate is referring to Andy’s increasing obsession with her work, which has become a big point of tension in their relationship. This quote made it onto a lot of Facebook timelines in the late 2000s, and why shouldn’t it have? It’s on point, really, despite Nate’s clear and numerous character flaws. 

You can’t take everyone’s calls at the same time unless you schedule a massive Zoom meeting with a frankly hectic agenda. Even in 2022, you have to take your calls one at a time, sifting through the bevy of spam callers as you do it. Here’s The Devil Wears Prada takeaway No. 3: You need to responsibly prioritize those calls.

In other words, you need to responsibly prioritize your relationships. Let’s face it: For entrepreneurs and others dedicated to self-improvement, time is a commodity in short supply. Even as you build your business or advance your career, you need to manage your time in a way that respects your loved ones—those you hope to have in your life once you’ve reached the top of whatever mountain it is that you’re currently climbing. 

Take your work calls, sure, but don’t take them all the time. Make time for the relationships that matter to you or risk losing them.

Dune-ot miss it: ‘Dune’ is next on SUCCESS Movie Rewind

That’s a wrap on The Devil Wears Prada. If you’ve seen it, I’m willing to bet you never watched it with your personal development lenses on. And if you wrote it off and skipped it because it appeared to be just a movie about fashion, this is as good a time as ever to realize you were wrong. If you’re in either camp, I encourage you to give this one a watch or rewatch.

I’ve been talking about Dune for a couple of weeks now, and that should tell you just how excited I am about next week’s episode, in which we finally dive into this incredible film. After that, we’re all set to talk about the new Batman movie, so get ready for some action-packed podcasting for the next couple of weeks. See you next time.

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Alex Stevens invented motivational media criticism and reinvents the genre every week on SUCCESS Movie Rewind. Alex is also a lawyer, creative consultant, and artist, sometimes all at once. Alex lives with his family in Dallas, Texas.

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