I always find people’s life stories interesting, especially when they succeed despite all odds. What lessons can we learn from them? The story of the actor Joaquin Phoenix (Time magazine-October 1 2012), struck me as such a story.
Phoenix’s parents were missionaries with the hippie cult Children of God. They moved around a lot and when they moved to Caracas they cut ties with the cult and ended up facing crushing poverty. To start again, the family stowed away on a cargo ship to Florida. Can you imagine being so desperate as to do this with five children! The family later moved to Los Angeles. where they changed their surname to Phoenix, a symbol of new hope, a new start, “rising out of the ashes”.
When their mother found a secretarial job at NBC she sought out auditions for her older children who were already experienced street performers. “We all used to sing and play music, and we were all very outgoing. My parents always encouraged us to express ourselves. And so it seemed like second nature to start acting,” said Phoenix.
Phoenix loved being a child actor. After a break during his teens he returned to a fully fledged acting career with films such as ‘To Die For’ (1995), ‘Walk the Line’ (2005), ‘I’m Still Here’ (2012), ‘The Master’ (2012).
Celebrities can go to enormous lengths to keep up appearances, ensuring that the public never see them looking stupid. Phoenix went to the other extreme, inviting opportunities to look stupid.
“Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating,” he says. “Part of why I was frustrated with acting was because I took it so seriously. I want it to be so good that I get in my own way. It’s like love:when you fall in love, you’re not yourself anymore. You lose control of being natural and showing the beautiful parts of yourself, and all somebody recognizes is this total desperation. And that’s very unattractive.”
Phoenix also supports a number of causes. One of these causes is the Lunchbox Fund, which gives healthy meals to children in need.
I can think of several lessons that we can learn from the life of Phoenix.:
- Never give up hope even when life seems hopeless. Keep looking forward.
- Look at your abilities and use the talents you have. “Invent yourself with the ingredients you already have.”
- Be thankful for family and friends who open doors for you. Don’t be stubbornly independent, you don’t know what opportunities you might miss out on. We’re meant to be interdependent.
- Encourage your children and don’t criticize them. Experience is the best lesson in life.
- Stop pretending to be someone you’re not. Accept yourself, ‘warts and all’ because that’s truly liberating. Pretending just takes up too much precious energy! If you think people won’t like you if they know what you’re really like, give and go! Test your belief and see if it’s true.
- Give back to the community. We can’t just be ‘takers’ in this life. We need to give back to the community as well.