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Three Life Lessons We Learn From The 2023 Oscars

Three Life Lessons We Learn From The 2023 Oscars

Barely a month ago the world stopped to witness the 95th Academy Awards. The annual event recognises artists in the film industry for excellence in cinematic achievements. It’s arguably the highest recognition an artist in this industry can receive.

While the awards are aspirational for actors, directors and filmmakers, they have a different appeal for everyone else. Many of us are touched by film in some form or shape. The Oscars – as the annual ceremony is colloquially known – allow us to dwell on those human touch points and reflect on why they matter to us. So much so that when we root for an actor or a film to be nominated, and win, we are essentially rooting for the performance that touched us the most. 

In this thought, I tease out a few of those touch points, echoed on the big stage. 

It’s Never Too Late To Shine

In a world that idolises youthful achievements, we’re constantly reminded that time is fleeting. And while the top 20 under 20, and 40 under 40 are legitimately praiseworthy, these yardsticks minimise contributions that lack a youthful lustre, often matured by years of deep, broad experience. They’re just not seen as brandable.

But alas, in the real world, we don’t get to decide where and when opportunity finds us. We can only prepare and hope to be ready for it. And (especially) when our stories don’t align with conventional markers of progress and success, we feel pressure to make up for what we didn’t achieve in our prime. 

Michelle Yeoh is redefining prime time altogether. It’s not been easy for her though. Those familiar with the industry will know that minorities still struggle to find their place in it. And despite her glowing talent on set, Michelle’s journey has been no different. Receiving the best actress award for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, an emotional Yeoh implores: 

Ladies, Don’t let anybody tell you that you are ever past your prime. 

It’s a message that resonates with everyone who feels the urge to make something of a career that has not quite blossomed on cue. It resonates especially with minorities, who often lack the same level of support and opportunity as their peers. Despite the odds, we can, and should still dream. Michelle captures this idea perfectly in the opening remarks of her acceptance speech. 

For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams do come true. 

Greatness Needs A Friend

In all things, preparation and perseverance come before applause and acclaim. The idea of private nurture followed by public bloom is best illustrated in nature. Take a tree for example. An elaborate root structure is hidden from sight. All we see is the beauty and magnificence of the shoot system, and the fruit it produces. 

It’s natural to applaud talent when it is acclaimed. And we should. The real legwork, however, is a largely private affair. And in those private moments of growth, the support structures around one’s talent influence its longevity – that ability to go the distance.

Ke Huy Quan’s acceptance speech for the best supporting actor was a moving reminder of this. Fighting back tears, he had a special thank you for someone close.

I owe everything to the love of my life, my wife Echo who.. 

He pauses, taking a moment to collect himself

..who month after month, year after year, for 20 years told me that one day, one day my time will come. 

As with every achievement, we’re reminded that the journey towards fruition can be painful, even crushing. And in those darkest moments, it matters who is in your corner. It’s tempting to think that talent will always prove itself, and shine brightly, regardless of circumstance. But those who make it to the top always swear by the support structures that carried them through adversity.

Indeed, greatness needs a friend!

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Winning Is Not Everything

This is admittedly an unlikely takeaway from a night reserved for celebrating winners. Of course, there’s virtue in recognising distinction in all forms. That said, there’s more to life than winning prizes. Lots more. Real life happens off-stage, and getting it right is the ultimate prize. 

We go through life searching for the things that make it worthwhile: Love, purpose, wonder and the pursuit of happiness to name a few. Those fortunate enough to find meaning in this life know very well how such findings render the other things insignificant. As it happens, those other things often seem aspirational, taking up much of our time and attention. It’s an irony of sorts that finding the true meaning of life helps us see clearly what’s not important.

There was a moment that captioned this idea perfectly when Jonathan Wang took to the stage to accept the award for best picture. Indeed his words – a quote from the film he produced – paint a beautiful picture of what the glitzy stuff looks like, juxtaposed against something timeless.

To my brilliant and beautiful wife Anni. If all this shiny stuff and tuxedos goes away I would just love to do laundry and taxes with you for the rest of my life.

In this statement, I hear something of his reason for being. Such is the outlook of someone living a life endowed with meaning. The things that ground and inspire us, also help us make the most of everything else. The trick is to find the things that ground and inspire us. 

Final Thoughts

When someone gets on stage to receive an award and give a speech, they get to define what that moment means to them. They decide who to thank, and who to celebrate. They also decide which real-world issues to acknowledge, and speak to why those issues matter. 

There’s no right or wrong thing to say when speaking from the heart. Think of it as an imperfect snapshot of their values, rendered in a few brief words, often punctuated by teary, emotional gasps. 

And every time this happens, we get to glimpse something of the meaning of life, through their words.

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