Career Lessons From The Oscars

February 23rd, 2009

Philippe PetitIf you stayed up late to watch Slumdog Millionaire win the Academy Award for Best Picture, you may be kicking yourself this morningĀ  for wasting 3+ hours of your life on endless musical numbers and montages.

But I’m here to tell you that it was time well spent. You can learn some valuable career lessons from this year’s Oscar ceremony if you can look past Hugh’s pancake makeup, the ginormous rings sported by both Brad and Angie, Whoopi’s dress, SJP’s cleavage, Zac Effron’s hair, Bill Maher’s bitterness, and the cute little boy in the tuxedo.

Oscar Career Lesson #1: Anything is possible.
Don’t be afraid to dream big in a world in which Slumdog Millionaire, a low-budget (comparatively) film about the slums of Mumbai, can sweep the Academy Awards. Slumdog triumphed over all of the blockbuster Oscar-bait flicks with all-star casts. It just goes to show that talent, dedication, and the right collaborators can take you all the way from the slums to the Kodak Theatre.

Oscar Career Lesson #2: Follow your passion.
The Best Documentary winner, Man On Wire, is also a fantastic reminder that crazy and impossible dreams can come true when you follow your passion. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked across a high wire strung between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. This miraculous achievement took months of planning, practice, and stubborn dedication to an unrealistic goal. Passion also drove the Slumdog filmmakers to persevere with telling their story in the face of Hollywood rejection. Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black gave one of the most touching speeches of the evening when he talked about his passion for sharing Harvey Milk’s legacy with today’s gay teens. Find a career that taps into your passion and you may have a similar moment of triumph. You’ll certainly enjoy a more meaningful and fulfilling work life.

Oscar Career Lesson #3: Everybody loves a comeback story.
Mickey Rourke didn’t end up taking home the Best Actor statue, but his comeback story has been an inspiration to film fans across the country. Like John Travolta before him, Mickey is a media darling, praised for his unlikely return from obscurity. What can you learn from Mickey? Even if you’ve suffered career reversals and setbacks, don’t give up on your dreams. Overcoming obstacles only makes you stronger in the long run. Keep working, keep looking for opportunities. If crazy Mickey Rourke can make an inspiring comeback, so can you.

Oscar Career Lesson #4: Reputation is everything.
Let’s face it: nobody saw The Reader. Not even Hugh Jackman. But Kate Winslet still won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of a German woman accused of Holocaust crimes. By all reports, her performance was great (I haven’t seen it yet either). However, we all know that the great Kate didn’t earn her Oscar with The Reader alone. After years of consistently strong performances and Oscar nominations, the Academy decided it was Kate’s time. Her reputation and past work gave her the edge over strong competitors including Meryl Streep (already recognized repeatedly and deservedly) and Anne Hathaway (her time will come). So remember to work hard and put in your best effort with every project. You are building your reputation and your personal brand with everything that you do. Eventually, all of that effort will be recognized.

Oscar Career Lesson #5: Life is short.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Kodak Theatre (or in my living room) when Heath Ledger’s family accepted his Best Supporting Actor award. The world lost a gifted young actor at the height of his powers and Heath’s family lost a beloved son, brother, and father. It must be some comfort to know that Heath Ledger left a legacy through his work, his spirit, and his lovely young daughter. However, the tragedy of his death reminds us that life is indeed short sometimes. We can’t count on living to the ripe old age of 82 like Jerry Lewis, who was honored with a humanitarian award last night. So don’t put off the things that really matter. Don’t wait to pursue that dream or spend time with the people that you care about.

Did you learn any other important lessons from the 2009 Oscars?

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vera babayeva

Pamela, reading this post filled my eyes with tears.
Thank you. I needed this so much. Anything is possible. It’s hard, money is tight, but the ability to dream keeps us going.

Mark McClure

re: Man on Wire.
Follow your passion, indeed.
There’s an iconic shot of Philippe lying back on the wire(!!) just as a plane is flying overhead… very powerful stuff.

I get goosebumps when I hear him say:

“This is probably the end of my life to step on that wire…death is very close now.”

Just 1% of such passion would be very helpful in these tough times for job seekers.

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