Finding your spark: what Disney’s 'Soul' can teach us about searching for our purpose in life

Meg Timbrell
Content & Social Media Manager
4 min read

If you've watched Disney’s Soul, it might feel eerily familiar to those of us who have ever felt lost with our life’s purpose, or the overwhelming pressure to pursue a sensible career instead of your dreams. This film acknowledges the anxiety many feel not knowing what your spark is and encourages us to just enjoy living for the little moments in life rather than obsessing over finding that dream job. 

** Warning: spoilers ahead **

You can’t eat dreams for breakfast 

Soul’s main character, Joe Gardner, is a band teacher obsessed with jazz music and playing the piano, but clearly wants more, gazing longingly at posters of famous musicians on his drab brick classroom wall. 

His interactions with his mother provide the more jarring and recognisable moments of the film, with her continual disappointment with him being expressed vividly: “You can’t eat dreams for breakfast”

Mocking his desire to play gigs as not providing enough financial security, she asks: “Does this gig have a pension, health insurance?” 

Soul encourages those viewers who feel pressured by parents or family members to pursue a financially stable career path to follow your dreams. 

The zone

Joe frequently enters into the zone, a kind of ethereal blue and purple atmosphere that is reached when he plays the piano. We find out that the zone can be entered when people unlock this state of mind doing what they love, and can also be accessed through meditation (demonstrated by the character of Moonwind).

However, when Joe eventually pursues his dream of performing the gig of his lifetime with renowned jazz musician Dorothea Williams, he feels unfulfilled:

“I thought I’d feel different”

Dorothea responds with the voice of wisdom, telling Joe a story about a young fish and an old fish:

Young fish: “I’m trying to find this thing called the ocean” 

Old fish: “That’s what you’re in right now”

Young fish: “This? This right here is water. What I want is the ocean.”

This definitely resonated with me, with feeling like you’re not doing enough or you should be seeking more for your life and career, especially with the ease at which you can compare everything we do with others on social media. Seeing that your classmate has been accepted into their dream job on LinkedIn can make your job or current situation feel stale and unexciting, not realising that you’re actually killing it and are right there in the ocean with everyone else. 

One of the final moments of the film involves Joe speaking to one of the ‘Jerrys’ (the spiritual beings who create personalities for each soul on Earth), who asks Joe:

“So, how are you going to spend your life?” 

Joe's very poignant answer:

“I don’t know. But I do know, I’m going to live every minute of it.” 

Lost souls and sparks 

Another character who many of us will familiarise with is 22. 22 is a soul who has not yet lived due to being unable to fill in the last box of her personality and find her ‘spark’. Due to not knowing her purpose, she doesn’t feel ready to ‘live’, wanting to recoil from life on Earth completely (a feeling that hits very close to home for many I’m sure!) 

Befriending Joe, he helps her find her reason for living. She visits the 'Hall of Everything' and tries out a variety of jobs from being a firefighter, artist, librarian, scientist, gymnast, politician and astronaut, all responding to them with a resounding "meh".

Once on Earth, in the barbershop, 22 is surprised by her conversation with Des, the barber who tells her:

“I never planned to be a barber, I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

22 is astounded that Des is “happy as a clam” as a barber and not in his dream job, contradicting everything she has ever known about finding the ‘spark’. The message here is that plans can change, and despite not always being able to pursue your original dream, you can still find happiness on an alternative route. 

The misjudgment made by those in Soul (and in everyday life) is that you are defined by your career, having to have this mapped out from birth. What Soul proves is that this is by no means the case; this is something we at Sortyourfuture firmly believe in too.

Lost souls, dark creatures who have lost their way, live in the underbelly of the 'Great Before'. One such 'lost soul' is a hedge fund manager who is rescued by the character of Moonwind (a spiritual hippie-type who practices meditation to journey into these other realms). This hedge fund manager quite literally sees the light, awakening from his lost state staring at the computer screen in his office, deciding to quit his job and pursue his real dreams, and exclaiming "What am I doing with my life?!"

22 also becomes a lost soul towards the end of the film, mirroring the anxiety lots of us feel when facing our daunting futures, surrounded by looming voices telling us we're not good enough:

"You'll never find your spark"

Joe breaks through 22's whirlwind of anxiety, offering her a sycamore leaf as a reminder to focus on the simpler things in life, such as nature.

He tells her that "Your spark isn't your purpose, that last box fills in when you're ready to come live."

Overall, a strange yet beautiful and definitely meaningful film, that can serve as a reminder to us all to appreciate the simple things that surround us everyday, and to not focus too much on the buzz of pressurising parents and the overwhelming urgency to find your 'spark'.

So when asking yourself that question - "what am I doing with my life?" - remember that you're not defined by the career path you choose, and to focus on your reasons for living, however simple.

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