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For a certain slice of Millennials like myself, Jason Bourne is the ultimate badass of the decade spanning 2000 – 2010.
Watching Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, his memory a blank but nonetheless knowing how to evade hit squads, navigate a foreign city, and fight to the death was totally fresh. I came away from The Bourne Identity wishing I would wake up in Marseille without my memory but with his skill set.
Bourne was more than a flimsy action hero, however. He tapped something universal.
His story is, essentially, a coming of age tale: Boy wakes up with only a hazy sense of identity; boy meets girl; boy slowly discovers who he really is and what he’s capable of. It’s a version of what we all go through, albeit much more gradually and with fewer car chases (more on that later).
Jason Bourne of the movies, of course, is based on the character created by master thriller writer Robert Ludlum. Ludlum penned the first three novels before perishing in a mysterious fire in 2001.
The banner has been picked up by Eric Van Lustbader and spun into a further eleven novels, with the newest entry being The Bourne Initiative.
A lot has happened to Jason Bourne in 14 novels and fans of the film franchise may not recognize him so easily. Bourne has (surprisingly) made a handful of close friends, (unsurprisingly) accumulated a lot of enemies, and extended the map of his adventures all over the globe.
But some things will be reassuringly familiar. In The Bourne Initiative he’s still on the run, this time from US Government hit squads and Russia’s FSB and the Russian mafia. His enemies include a Somali criminal mastermind who enjoys tearing out the throats of his enemies with his teeth and a master hacker running an unacknowledged cyber black ops team.
Bourne’s allies include a recently assassinated Russian spymaster, who appears to be reaching from the grave to help him, and a deadly, unbalanced femme fatale who goes by the Criss Angel-adjacent nickname Angelmaker.
Add to the mix a Wikileaks-style organization (penetrated by the FSB, naturally), a cyber weapon discovered on the Dark Web and The Bourne Initiative feels very much of the times.
Another aspect of the novel that feels relevant: whether someone’s a good guy or a bad guy depends a lot on the personal choices they make, not which “side” they’re on.
Jason Bourne has had quite a career on the page and the screen. Here’s awesome, important lessons we can learn from the original amnesiac hit man super spy.
But first, enter to win a copy of The Bourne Initiative and a FitBit Charge 2!
The 7 Lessons of Jason Bourne
1. Never Stop Making Decisions
Jason Bourne is the embodiment of the classic survival adage: keep making decisions, even if they’re the wrong ones.
In a survival situation, especially where hypothermia or a caloric deficit are in play, it’s all too easy to just sit down, let despair set in, and freeze (or starve) to death.
Bourne never stops moving and never stops making positive, decisive decisions. It helps that some highly trained gun thug is always chasing him, but the lessons stands.
2. Hone Your Situational Awareness
Bourne’s ability to read a room is remarkable – he sees what others don't, and it makes his powers mage-level.
Or so it seems.
While Bourne certainly gets a leg up from Hollywood, what he’s doing is practiced by countless first responders, soldiers, and real spies: situational awareness.
Most of us go through life with a very narrow beam of attention. Growing your situational awareness means widening that beam, especially in crisis situations. Check out our piece on How to Be a Leader in an Emergency for tips from a psychologist and a firefighter.
3. Your Body Can Do Remarkable Things When it Needs To
The The Bourne Supremacy arguably contains the best car chase in the film franchise, culminating in his enemy’s Mercedes G Class t-boned on a jersey barrier. What does Bourne do after this gruelling smash up? Actively bleeding, he walks away from his stolen Volga 3310 taxicab and continues to evade Russian police.
Again and again, Bourne is beat up but continues to function, pushed on by adrenaline, willpower, and a high level of fitness.
Here’s the thing: whether you’re an avid Crossfitter or a casual weekend warrior, your body can do more than you think it can.
I remember this lesson every time I’m in a long workout and my brain starts screaming “stop!!” Sometimes you have to trust your body when you can’t listen to your mind. There’s always more gas in your tank. Learn how to use it wisely and safely.
4. You Can Use a Rolled Up Magazine as a Weapon
Who can forget that classic scene in The Bourne Identity: Bourne locates another Treadstone agent in Munich and confronts him in the baddie’s spotless Ikea kitchen. A brutal fight ensues, with the baddie grabbing a kitchen knife and Bourne wielding a rolled up magazine.
It’s classic, badass, and very useful for the next time you confront a punk at the dentist’s office. Just grab that copy of Redbook and extend your reach a full 8 inches.
5. Embrace Improvisation
The magazine trick leads us to another of Bourne’s most enduring lessons: the power of improvisation.
Bourne is a bit like a super serious MacGyver. He uses what’s on hand to get the job done and pivots to a new plan when conditions change.
Improvisation is a powerful tool, both for your life and your brain. It’s been shown to help with anxiety and boost creativity. For some every day inspiration, check out this list of MacGyver-style tricks from Lifehacker.
6. Know thyself
Bourne's quests are driven by something profound: regaining his memory of his true self, before he was broken down and reshaped into the perfect human weapon.
It's an elegant metaphor for what we all have to do in our own lives: shape an identity that feels authentic and powerful while navigating myriad influences, including family, friends, culture, and art.
Know who you are, and what you're about; it'll save a lot of time and help you accomplish what you're on earth to do
7. Everyone Has an Agenda, Always
Bourne's nemeses are always angling to cover something up in order to hide their misdeeds and save their own skin. And while people in the real world are seldom as nefarious, everyone moves through the world doing their best to represent their own interests.
This is especially relevant in career and work, and when it comes to dealing with bosses. If you have a difficult supervisor, ask why – are they simply stressed out? Or do they view you as a potential threat to their job?
If you have a positive, generous work mentor, you should still ask how they benefit from the relationship. Are they grooming you for a role you want, or one that benefits them? When they give you that special assignment is it to help develop your career…while letting them take off early?
That’s not to say you should be Bourne-level paranoid, but understanding the motivations of the people around you can help you see the whole picture and stay one step ahead.