“Emeralds of Oz: Life Lessons from Over the Rainbow”: A Q&A with Peter Guzzardi

Susan: In your new book, you’ve taken a deep dive into one of the most popular films of all time, The Wizard of Oz, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in August. You’ve been searching for wisdom in the film that can uplift the quality of our everyday lives. What prompted this idea?

Peter: The stage was set by a lifetime in book publishing, where I’ve had the great good fortune to work with authors like you, Susan, as well as with Stephen Hawking, Carol Burnett, Douglas Adams, Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington, Paula Poundstone, and many other inspiring people. One day I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that everything I’d learned from rubbing elbows with these thought leaders was right there in The Wizard of Oz all along.

In the process, I located dozens of insights—from “Remember Your Manners” to “Read the Fine Print” to “Revisit a Neglected Virtue, Humility.” As I was finishing the book, I realized that nine big chunks of wisdom stood head and shoulders above the rest, and I named them Emeralds. Emerald #3, for example, is “Celebrate Yourself Just for Showing Up,” and Emerald #6 is “Face Your Fear.” Then I made the startling discovery that when you consider these nine Emeralds in the order that they appear in the film, they become activated as if by magic. Suddenly you experience this expansive, uplifting, powerful sense of yourself, and by comparison whatever issue you’re facing in your life shrinks, or even dissolves.

Susan: Does this have special significance for introverts?

Peter: I could make the case that The Wizard of Oz is almost exclusively populated by introverts, with the exception of the Cowardly Lion, which is a fascinating lens through which to see the film. (That’s a topic for another book, however, and therefore for another conversation.) I do think the wisdom in Emeralds of Oz is helpful to everyone, but it is especially easy to see how it would benefit introverted readers. I say this being an introvert myself and knowing the ways in which I’ve put the Emeralds to work in my own life. 

For instance, the first time I used the Emeralds of wisdom, I was sitting in a parking lot at 8:30 at night, getting ready to audition for a local choir. I didn’t know anyone in the choir, but I love to sing and the choir had a good reputation, so I figured I’d give it a try. Just as I was about to get out of the car, I got hit by a wave of panic. What if I froze up and failed to emit any sounds whatsoever? What if my fear led me to squeak instead of sing? What if the choir director singled me out for special humiliation? How could I have ever thought this was a good idea?

Then I remembered this tool that I’d recently discovered, so I sat in the car and quickly ran through the nine Emeralds in my mind. By the time I’d completed the circuit, I felt a sudden uplift of confidence and ease, like a bird riding a thermal. I walked calmly into that audition and hit every high note effortlessly. “You’re a tenor two,” the director said, “and our first rehearsal is next Tuesday.”

Susan: That’s a great story. It sounds like the Emeralds work together as more than the sum of their individual parts, but do you find that there are one or two that would be especially applicable for introverts?

Peter: Yes. I happen to love the third Emerald, which is “Celebrate Yourself for Showing Up.” This emerges from the iconic moment in the film when Dorothy has just accidentally killed the Witch of the East, and she’s surrounded by ecstatic Munchkins singing and dancing in her honor. In a culture like ours where extroverts attract most of the attention and praise, it’s especially important for introverts to celebrate ourselves just for showing up. Yes, it’s a big deal. Whether we realize it or not in the moment, just showing up makes all the difference. It may even reduce the amount of wickedness by half, as it does for Dorothy in Oz.

The fourth Emerald, “Choose Compassion,” is also particularly helpful to introverts. We tend to think we’re alone in our desire to avoid eye contact or head for the exits in a social situation, which only makes it worse. So taking a moment to feel compassion for the other people involved, to put yourself in their shoes, can dispel this feeling of being an outsider. Very few people at a party are truly feeling relaxed and in their element. That’s why there’s so much drinking going on!

Choosing compassion also calls for us to turn that floodlight on ourselves; now instead of beating ourselves up for that urge to hang out in the bathroom, we can greet it with kindness and understanding.

Susan: I’ve always loved the scene in the movie when Glinda tells Dorothy that the Ruby Slippers have the power to return her to Kansas, which gives rise to your Emerald # 8, “You’ve Got the Power and You’ve Had it All Along.” What’s your favorite Emerald of wisdom?

Peter: I love that scene, too. The awareness it promotes is the perfect antidote to the helplessness we all tend to feel when we’re confronted by obstacles, especially when they seem so much bigger than we are. As far as my favorite Emerald goes, it might be #1, “Listen to Your Longing.” As a first-born child with a tendency to please people, I find this Emerald helpful as a way to center myself. For me, it’s a good idea simply to ask myself what I want, or what I need. Those are good questions, and this Emerald takes them deeper, asking what we yearn for in that vulnerable place where the authentic self resides.

Susan: Well, thank you for discussing your new book with us, Peter! I think you’ve chosen a fascinating topic, and I wish you every success with it.

Peter: Thank you, Susan. It’s great to connect with you again. Please give Ken a hug for me when you get home.

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