10 Life Lessons from The Academy Awards

Amidst the yards of fabric and the glitter of jewels, the 81st Academy Awards might seem an unlikely place for 40-somethings or sandwiched boomers to look for role models. After all, the red carpet doesn’t exactly represent the clothes in our closets or the figures reflected back to us in the mirror. So what life lessons can we take from the Oscars? Instead of focusing on the fashions, let’s look at the winners, nominees and the tips that they provide.

1. Work around obstacles placed in your path. Well-known now is the saga of Slumdog Millionaire, which almost didn’t make it to the wide screens. The determination of director Danny Boyle and others to find funding and a distributor after losing their original backing led to the Oscar for best picture rather than directly to a place at the bottom of your Netflix queue.

2. Have a Plan B ready. What do you do when your original plans don’t work out? Give up in despair or brainstorm other ways to reach your goal? When you resolve to apply your energy and skills to get what you want, you’ll find that often the path of Plan B ends at your initial target. So when things don’t seem to be going your way, stick it out and give it another try. You may not become a millionaire, but you can become a winner.

3. Look at life as a series of opportunities. Even host Hugh Jackman can teach us something about taking risks and going all out for something we believe in. As he revealed to Barbara Walters in his interview, he chose to define his pre-Oscar feelings as excitement, not nervousness. Learn to redefine your own emotions and circumstances in a more positive light.

4. You don’t have to be perfect. One of the changes in the presentations this year was to have past winners of the major awards single out each nominee and acknowledge her unique performance. After years of hearing, “it’s just an honor to be nominated,” the Academy finally got it right. You don’t have to be number one to consider yourself a success. You can feel good about your accomplishments even if you are not ultimately chosen the one and only.

5. Don’t be afraid to admit your shortcomings. Kate Winslet won the best actress award for portraying a woman whose behavior leads to horrific consequences because she refuses to disclose her illiteracy. Recognize that, if you trust others, they will be more accepting of your imperfections than you think. Give it a try.

6. Trust yourself. The leading actress nominees portray strong women who stand up for what they believe in. Angelina Jolie, faced with every mother’s nightmare, tirelessly works to find her son and expose those responsible for his death and the cover-up. Meryl Streep plays a nun who, even with some doubts, pursues her strategy for what she thinks is right for the students in her school. Melissa Leo does what she can to protect her children, even though it means taking chances with her own future. And Anne Hathaway’s character fights to retain her growing strength even as family dynamics assault her fragile personality. So, hang in there as you too follow your own dreams.

7. Be authentic and proud of whom you are. Portraying assassinated San Francisco supervisor, Harvey Milk, Oscar winner Sean Penn immerses himself in the vibrant personality of the first openly gay politician elected to public office. He reminds us to embrace ourselves, no matter what others think and whatever the consequences.

8. Keep on trying. In The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke personifies, in agonizing reality, the complexities of making a comeback – in love and in work. Throughout the missteps in his personal relationships and victories in the ring, his sense of decency doesn’t waver. You root for both Randy ‘The Ram’ and Mickey himself, telling them, “don’t give up, it’s never too late.”

9. Conduct yourself honorably. Playing disgraced President Richard Nixon, Frank Langella personifies the arrogance of power. The viewer feels no moral ambiguity after Frost’s questioning, as Nixon falls apart and declares, “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Vow not to let yourself make that kind of ethical compromise in your behavior.

10. Be open to love and friendship. As Brad Pitt ages backwards, the two stable women in his life are his friend and true love, Daisy, and his adoptive mother, Queenie. Both women, and the relationships he shares with them, exemplify the timelessness of love. Rely on the support of dear friends and family to strengthen you through times “curious” and difficult. In The Visitor, Richard Jenkins gradually lets others into his life and, in the process, expands his world. His new friends lead to his awakening – sensually, ethically, musically, sexually – and free him from his cloistered existence. Enrich your own experiences through the gifts of friendship.

Although you likely do not live in any of the dramatic scenarios honored at the Oscars, the lessons they provide can help reduce the tensions you face caring for your family and yourself. And even if you are in very high heels and a dress that is too tight, at least your balancing act is not in front of millions of viewers!

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