Lessons from “A Knight’s Tale”

“A Knight’s Tale” is one of those movies that’s fairly middle-of-the-road from a purely technical and objective point of view, but off the charts in terms of pure entertainment value.

I rewatched it for the upteenth time recently, and one line in particular struck me, when the protagonist William first gets the idea to compete in jousting tournaments despite being a commoner. His friends immediately discourage him because, as he isn’t of noble birth, he would be severely punished if his status as a pauper were discovered. William, however, cannot be deterred, preferring to risk being found out rather than live out his entire life in poverty, barely scraping by. He asks his companions, “How did the nobles become noble anyway? They took it, at the tip of a sword. I’ll do it with a lance… a man can change his stars, and I won’t spend the rest of my life as nothing.”

To me, this attitude epitomizes the difference between people who are born disadvantaged and stay that way, and people who rise above their own circumstances and make something of themselves. Don’t ask for permission to be great. Don’t wait until society says it’s okay for you to succeed. If you’re born into a world that doesn’t think you’re worthy of your dreams, for whatever reason, that’s not cause to give up and settle for what they think you deserve; it’s an opportunity to prove them wrong. And yes, it will be hard. You’ll have to keep your head in the game, think one step ahead of others, show up early and stay late, metaphorically speaking. You’ll have to put in the hard work in situations where others are simply allowed to coast or ride on someone else’s coat-tails. It’s important to understand that, during this long and arduous process, you will almost certainly become bitter if you don’t actively work to avoid doing so. But don’t ever doubt that (a) you can, as William asserted, change your stars and live a life far better than society thinks you’re worthy of, and (b) upon achieving your dreams, you will, in fact, be far happier than those who were simply handed everything you spent countless hours earning.

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