Lessons From The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Written by Hank Martin in Personal Development

In 1939 James Thurber, a cartoonist and writer for the New Yorker published The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as a short story in the New Yorker. Mr. Mitty eventually found his way to Hollywood where he has, for the most part, remained true to most of the themes in the original story.

Who was Walter Mitty: Walter Mitty is an ordinary, unexceptional man with an exceptional imagination.  To escape the mundane world in which he lives he hides in a secret life filled with adventure and excitement. As Walter, a passive, humdrum man, does menial tasks, like driving his wife to a hair appointment or buying necessities from a drug store he imagines himself something far greater than what he is.  In one instance he becomes a commander driving a hydroplane through a storm.  Another daydream turns Mitty into a brilliant surgeon. In real life he is doing nothing more than sitting in a running car, or leaning  against the side of a building. In each instance he finds himself transformed by his imagination into a more successful version of himself.

Lessons Learned:

"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Mitty. "What are you driving so fast for?"1

In real life Walter Mitty is an forgetful husband, cowardly man, and passive individual.  But, his imaginations fill him with the qualities he sees as being admirable in a man.  As a commander of a hydroplane he is fearless and brave. When he becomes a surgeon he suddenly finds himself calm under pressure, brilliant, and skilled.  In each instance Mitty finds respect and reverence from those around him. Masculinity, in one instance, is a social term that gains its meaning from the culture of the time.

Being a man has meant many things through the centuries.  During the 1930's masculinity/ manliness was synonymous with the strong, silent male.  This man was a man of few words, highly productive and skilled in whatever endeavor he undertook, and courageous. It was this idealized image that Walter Mitty struggled with not being.

Mitty used the thrill of adventure to hone and display his prowess as a man. Travel, and the excitement of new experiences can shape the character of men and women alike. Travel tests our desire to move fast and live deeply, our courage, our sense of independence and our identity.


"He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad: erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last."1

Travel brings out our true identity. Issue 1 of our magazine is all about this. Our identities are shaped by the challenges we face and overcome, the cultures we experience first hand, and the moments of greatness that reaffirm our character and way of life. For Mitty he sought the unreal as a way to forget the lack of value and character he had. Mitty was a man who never got out and saw the world except through his imagination. And real life is always more vibrant than the best imagination.


Malcontent with your life and the person you are can be a strong motivator to travel.

Mitty couldn't change who he was so he lived inside of his mind. He was stuck in a rut, unable to spice up his life. Travel can be the freeing experience that breaks up monotony and frees you from the grips of boredom.

(Movie Exclusive) In the movie, Walter Mitty undergoes a journey to save his job and the job of someone else. He finds the courage to take that first step outside of his safe, little world and explore the bigger picture. The ultimate lesson in the movie is that travel can make you a better person. Travel can make you everything that your imagination wants you to be. It can destroy your dissatisfaction with yourself and lot in life. Travel makes you more interesting of a person, more grounded, and life-giving.



""Remember to get those overshoes while I'm having my hair done," she said, "I don't need overshoes," said Mitty. "She put her mirror back into her bag. "We've been all through that," she said, getting out of the car. "You're not a young man any longer."1

 Travel keeps us young long after we are racking up numbers in the age column. Mitty hadn't found the fountain of youth, but instead was growing old. Some retain their youth through reading, by keeping an active social life, and some by traveling. The, oftentimes, tiresome business of the act of traveling (flying, driving, training somewhere) can keep you feeling young at any age. Throw in the mental workout you give your brain each time you taste a new food, try to understand a foreign language, or piece together bits of a different culture and it is no wonder travel is a youth elixir.

*You can find the complete short story published in the New Yorker right here.


Hank Martin

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Traveling for a world education and writing about the life lessons learned.

Sources 1. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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