Whether you watched Breaking Bad for fun and did not take it too seriously, or you were a die-hard fan who took note of the show’s every hidden message, there is no denying that the protagonist Walter White has plenty of life lessons to offer. The science teacher turned drug lord lived a tale that went from a zany midlife crisis when he started using his chemistry background to cook meth with the purpose of leaving money for his family after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, to a ruthless king of the drug trade in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It became an intriguing story much more complex than it first seemed, and over time, viewers picked up on many so-called “life lessons” that could be taken from Breaking Bad, some subtle, some not so much.
The writers of this drama series posed several large questions about good and evil throughout the five seasons of it, one of the biggest of which was the notion of karma. And these lessons on life could often be interpreted in many ways. No matter what you take from the show, though, or whether or not you even care to ponder life’s mysteries, Breaking Bad will have you doing so, at least a little. It is hard not to, because viewers become so involved with these characters leading questionable lives, and the implications of their actions are dire. In fact, in the case of Breaking Bad, these characters’ actions and consequences often mimic our own lives, which can be a sobering thought.
So did Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Gus Fring, and the rest of the cast effect you? How did you feel about their actions, choices, and their ultimate place in life at the end of it all? Did you learn anything from this fictional tale, or change your view on any aspect of life? Check out the following 18 examples of the life lessons some have taken away from this great show.
18. Never Make the Same Mistake Twice
This is a great (if a bit unrealistic) lesson that Breaking Bad taught us. While in reality people sometimes have to make the same mistake a few times (or more) before the lesson of what not to do is hammered into their head, ideally once you make a mistake, you have learned from it and will not make the same mistake again. In the show, Gus told Walter at dinner one night that if he had to give him one piece of advice, it would be that he should never repeat the same mistake twice. Both Walter and Gus are very smart men, and in this episode that some have called the “calm before the storm episode”, Gus mildly insinuates that Jesse cannot be trusted. It comes across as a thinly-veiled threat as much as a clichéd attempt at advice, but in the end Gus is right; as humans, we really should not be making the same mistake twice, although for most of the humans I know, making one mistake and never doing it again is a pretty lofty goal.
17. Always Be Prepared
Especially in the meth business, knowing to always be prepared (for anything) could be life-saving. And there are an infinite number of other situations in which being prepared could save a life, as well. To always be prepared could help you in various ways throughout life, whether it be academically, physically, emotionally, the list goes on. This is one lesson Breaking Bad taught us when, for instance, Hank was about to be murdered by the twins and he had a one-minute warning by way of a phone call that allowed him just enough time to mentally prepare and to know what was coming. He survived without any weapons because he knew what to expect, even with so little time between learning of his intended murder and the murderers showing up. Three gunshot wounds are a hell of a lot better than death, so even the tiniest preparation (in Hank’s case, 60 seconds of foresight) can make a huge difference.
16. Looks Can Be Deceiving
It is easy to automatically trust a cute young woman over a rough-looking dude on the street, but judging a book by its cover, so they say, is not always the right thing to do. You never really know who someone is just from their looks; that cute woman could be luring you into a trap, and that rough dude could have just fought off a person robbing an old lady. Yes, it is the exception and not the rule, but the fact is that looks can be deceiving, and you would do well to exercise caution when you do not truly know a person (and even then, how well do you ever really know another human?). Breaking Bad teaches us this exact lesson throughout the whole show. Walter White is never seen as anything other than a lame high school chemistry teacher. When on the hunt for Heisenberg, no one even thinks twice to look at Walter. They never even consider that this person could be a drug dealer, or worse. Not everything is as it seems. This is also illustrated in the carwash that doubles as a secret money laundering facility.
15. Always Seek The Truth
This is especially true in relationships- marriages more than familial relationships or those between friends. To have suspicions about your spouse and what they are up to, be it cheating or leading a secret life as a drug dealer, only drives a bigger wedge between a couple. Marriage is hard enough without having to distrust the person who is supposed to be your partner in life. For Walter’s wife Skyler, discovering what her husband was doing behind her back was painful, partly because he had been lying to her for so long (and partly because he was making meth, obviously). A psychotherapist in Beverly Hills named Frances Walfish said that had Skyler’s character been a patient of his, he would have advised her to do exactly as she did on the show, precisely to avoid any wedges between spouses. The truth is important in any aspect of life, of course, but always being in pursuit of it, especially when you know something is wrong, is vital to relationships. Skyler’s relentless resolve to find the truth really illustrated this lesson well.
14. There Is Something To Be Said Of Luck
Although hard work does pay off, sometimes luck has a little something to do with success, too. Often it is a combination of both that lead people to their successes in their careers, relationships, and life in general. Luck comes in many forms, such as being in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time), or knowing the right person and having the right connections to make things happen the way you want them to. Luck can be something so small like losing your keys and being late only to avoid an accident that would have otherwise taken place if you had left a few minutes earlier like you otherwise would have. In instances like these, we do not even realize that luck (or fate) has stepped in. Hard work on the other hand, is much more obvious. Walter is both a hard worker and someone who has had his fair share of luck. Throughout the five seasons of Breaking Bad, he and Jesse experienced numerous situations in which they would have likely been killed had luck (fate) not played a role. Unfortunately, Walter and Jesse had the fortune of being fictional characters kept alive by a staff of writers whose goal it was to keep the intrigue without killing them. We, however, are human beings living in the real world and our odds of surviving some of those dangerous situations without luck are not so great.
13. Hard Work Pays Off
Following that sentiment about luck playing a role in success, the element of hard work is every bit as important, since luck cannot be planned or relied on. As we know, Walter is a very hard worker. Together with his partner in crime Jesse, he did what he had to do to ensure that his drug business was successful. And while success means different things to different people, it is hard to argue that making exorbitant amounts of money and rising to the top of the meth business (illegal though it may be) is not a success in its own right. The necessity of hard work to go places in life is one lesson that Breaking Bad taught. Walter and Jesse’s version of success may not have been linear (success never is), but throughout everything they remained ambitious, ruthless, persistent, and always strived to do better, even when they were good enough, because to Walter especially, there was no such thing as good enough. All of this added to their long hours and stubborn dedication (and ok, the tens of millions of dollars), means these two were the picture of success. Unless, that is, you define success in terms of happiness. For our purposes, we won’t. The moral of the story is that in the end, hard work pays off. Walter and Jesse would never have been nearly so successful without working their asses off for it.
12. Pride Cometh Before The Fall
As quoted in the Bible, “pride cometh before the fall.” This essentially means that an unreasonably confident person who is behaving arrogantly or brashly about one thing or another is likely to experience a downfall pretty quickly at the height of their overconfidence. One example is a serial killer who has gotten away with killing for a while, and who thus gets sloppy. He gets too confident, which is when he makes the mistake that will get him caught. For Walter, it can be argued that he died a happy man, on his own terms and at peace because he left his family with money. It is true that his goal was accomplished in that respect, but looking deeper you can see that his ego got the better of him, always needing more, more, more, even when he had everything he could ever want. Simply put, he didn’t know when to quit, and ultimately his empire crumbled. No matter the cost, in his mind he had to win.
11. All Actions Have Consequences
In life, for every action there is a reaction, no matter how small. It is a common problem among humans to not notice or care when we cause a negative reaction. Walter is a very good example of this important life lesson, and the fact that no matter how good your intentions may be, the end may not justify the means. The road to hell was paved with good intentions, after all. What I mean is this: Walter began cooking meth to provide for his family after his death, an admirable intention. But he wound up selling his soul. Because he wanted to secure his family’s financial future without him, he brought pain to everyone he had ever cared about. His relationships with those closest to him suffered. He supplied meth to addicts. He committed innumerable acts of violence. He let a girl choke to death. He arranged for the deaths of dozens of people. He killed many himself. And when you think about the ripples all of these actions caused in the lives of others, not unlike the butterfly effect, it is clear that all actions have consequences, a lesson we should heed with our choices big or small.
10. People Don’t Change
Breaking Bad was a show about character development, but that being said, it also illustrated that no matter how much a person can better themselves (or in Walter’s case, the opposite), people are inherently who they are. There is no changing who a person is. You can change behaviors, but not a person at their core. The best example of this lesson is Walter, himself. At the start of the show, he was this underestimated, mild-mannered science geek. But by the end, he was a ruthless drug lord. The catalyst for his drastic change was his cancer, but deep within Walter the darkness was already there, and had been his whole life. A good man may do bad things (like to help his family financially), but they do not take it farther than it needs to go. Walter, however, goes to extremes, even killing people. If that evil had not always been a part of him, dormant, it would not suddenly surface just because his life changed. His inherent pride and greed gave him the potential to be a true monster, and given the right set of circumstances, there was no stopping that monster.
9. Pay Attention in Science Class
Or any class, for that matter. You never know what will be useful to know later on in life. I am not saying it is necessary to be a teacher in chemistry or any given subject, but knowledge is power, as Walter excellently demonstrated throughout Breaking Bad. Plus, where would we be without science? Modern medicine is all thanks to science. Knowing history ensures we will not repeat past atrocities, understanding how to write well is an essential tool for most jobs, we use various math skills on a day-to-day basis without even realizing it, social studies teaches us about things like our government and how the world works, and knowing another language could prove to be invaluable, especially if it is Spanish or Chinese. Many high schools offer other useful courses too, such as computer applications or trade field studies. You never know what information you might actually use, so do as Walter does, and value high school! Take what you learn and apply it where it is needed in your life.
8. Family Is The Most Important Thing In Life
Walter taught us this when he risked everything in order to ensure his family would be ok when he died. And although he did that, in the end we saw that really, he did it for himself. On some level, no matter how far gone Walter was, he did know that his family should come first. In some ways they did, but in other ways he did way more damage to them than if he would have just let life take its course, or at least not kept pushing his luck with the drug stuff even after he had accomplished his initial goals. Through his family’s struggles that were both directly and indirectly attributed to Walter (and their completely separate struggles not involving him), it was clear that no matter what you are going through, your family will always be there. Most of the time, they will probably forgive you, too, even if you don’t deserve it.
7. Always Strive to be Better
Or, as Walter thinks of it, always win. The “winner” mentality is certainly a positive thing, and having a good attitude can work wonders when you want to be the best at something. Always doing your best and never accepting that you are good enough is a lesson many people learn as children. Walter teaches us this because he takes it too far. Never giving up is one thing, but risking everything for your meth business is another. Getting carried away is something that happens to all of us at one time or another in life, but Walter loves to win so much that he does not accept failure, even when it would have been in his best interest to do so. The point is that always pushing yourself to do better is an attribute shared by successful people, and happy people. Walter showed us the good and bad sides of perseverance. Overall, his constant drive to be the best is part of what made him the legendary television figure he is.
6. Be Irreplaceable
In business and in life, you must make yourself irreplaceable. Walter did just this, and it is yet another element of his success in the meth business. Walter had many things that his competitors did not, aside from the best meth. First and foremost, he had the knowledge of chemistry, so he knew exactly what he was doing, making his cooking both safer and higher quality. Secondly, he had Jesse, who had connections and basic knowledge on meth distribution that Walter did not have. In this way, the two made a great team, complimenting each other where the other was lacking. Their business started out just like any other small business, but because they were the best producers of meth in the area, they were irreplaceable, and thus quite successful. Being irreplaceable also helped them out in dangerous situations, as Tuco, Gus, and Mike all wanted to kill Walter at one time or another, but they couldn’t because no one else was as good. So, as you can see, in business and in life it pays to be irreplaceable, the best at what you do.
5. Anticipation Is Worse Than What You Are Anticipating
And that goes for both good and bad things in life. Worrying about something that you know is going to happen, or that might happen, is of course pointless. But most people cannot help but worry about some things, whether they are big or small. Likewise, the time leading up to an exciting event or something you have been looking forward to is often half the fun of the event, itself. The anticipation leading up to whatever is happening in your life is often better than the anticipated event. Walter said in Breaking Bad, “I came to realize that fear is the worst of it. That’s the real enemy.” One of his more straightforward life lessons to us, these words ring true. We fear not only what we don’t understand, like death, but things we know will be unpleasant. If nothing will change the outcome, anticipating or worrying about it only makes it worse. So as hard as it is, we should try to suppress the amount of worrying we do. For happy anticipation, it also might be better to suppress it, because then you avoid letdowns of things you have built up in your head. Plus, why would anyone want the anticipation to be better than the actual event?
4. Ambition Without Compassion is Dangerous
While being ambitious is an admirable quality and will arguably get you farther in life than being unambitious, if you don’t retain a certain amount of compassion, ambition can be dangerous. The best example of this is Hitler, plain and simple. The man had not an iota of compassion to be found in his heartless soul, or he wouldn’t have organized the mass-murder of millions (obviously). There is little else to be said on this point, because it is glaringly obvious that everything, ambition included, needs boundaries. If Walter had compassion, he would not have let Jane choke to death, which is only one example of his lack of compassion. Ambition can consume a person, as it did Walter. If we are not careful, our personal ambitions can hurt others, and cost us greatly. Walter was an extremely ambitious man, too much so. In the end, it was this ambition, along with his pride, that was his downfall. Some have said that the moment Walter left a bloody handprint on the metal mixer before falling to his death is the perfect reminder of what ambition without compassion will get you, and that it should be a warning to us all.
3. We All Have a Dark Side
Usually, most people do not see the dark within us, because we suppress it. Suppressing it is what makes most of us good people. But no person is all good, all the time. We all have bad parts, but unless you know someone very well, that is typically not what we choose to show the world. The benefit of television and movies is that we get to see people (albeit fictional people, unless it’s a reality show, but even then, the “reality” is questionable) when they are alone, or letting their inner darkness show. In Breaking Bad, all of the characters have a dark side, some more than others. Marie is a shoplifter, Hank is a racist, Skyler has an affair and smokes around her baby, and Todd is just plain messed up. But even these transgressions do not make them truly bad people. While it is possible to be a wholly bad person (for example, a sociopath), it is impossible to be a wholly good person; to be perfect is to be inhuman.
2. There Is Such A Thing As A Point Of No Return
And in addition to the so-called point of no return, people often experience in their lives a specific moment they can pinpoint as the moment that would divide their lives into the Before and the After. For Walter, some have asserted that this moment was when he let Jesse’s girlfriend Jane die. Lying on her back in a heroin high, she begins to throw up, and rather than help her, he stands idly by, and she chokes to death. He effectively killed her. He had his reasons, although no reason is good enough to let someone die when you could easily prevent it. Her death has been called the most devastating of the whole series, and also Walter’s turning point. Sometimes, there is no going back. Some decisions cannot be reversed, and from there, you cross a sort of line you don’t come back from.
1. What Goes Around Comes Around
So, karma. Breaking Bad is all about this fun life lesson, although in real life karma, should it exist, is not so clear-cut and obvious. Some of examples of karma in the show are as follows: Combo stole the RV and was shot dead. Krazy 8 betrayed Emilio and was strangled to death by Walter. Ted Beneke slept with Skyler and wound up in a coma. Jane tried to blackmail Walt and got Jesse addicted to heroin, and died of choking. Todd Alquist killed the motorcycle kid and tortured Jesse, and was strangled to death by Jesse. Saul Goodman practiced ethically-questionable law, and had to go into hiding. Uncle Jack killed Steve Gomez and Hank, took Walt’s money, and enslaved Jesse. He was killed by Walt, and his gang was massacred. There is no telling how karma truly works in real life versus television, but most people agree that some form of it exists. Basically, nothing good comes from doing bad. This was arguably the biggest lesson of Breaking Bad.