5 Lessons from the Oscars

Tonight a worldwide audience tunes in to watch “The Oscars.” Created in 1929, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seeks to recognize professional excellence in the motion picture industry. Many tune in to see if their favorite film wins, to see what their favorite star is wearing, or just to be a part of a global communal event and, well,  tweet about it.

But let’s face it, everyone is there to advance their own profession in one way or another, so let’s look at takeaways for your career.

People notice what you wear. Someone once sang, “It’s not who you are, it’s how you dress.”  That’s true, to some extent, at the Oscars—and to some extent, at the office. You hope to be judged for more, but your office doesn’t have to have a red carpet for you to know that no matter where you work your appearance is one of the first things people notice. While the cameras of the world may not be on you, everyone you interact with notes what you’re wearing. The plus side? It’s also one of the few things you alone can control. Remember the old adage…dress for the job you want. Look professional and prepared (Google “dress for success”).

Thank others. One of the most boring aspects of the awards show (besides, sometimes, the host) is the winner with the long, drawn out blustering acceptance speech.  No one climbs the precipice of success alone, so thanking others is admirable and appreciated. but a thank you shouldn’t sound obligatory it should be sincere. While you may not have access to a Sunday night primetime audience, you do have plenty of social media tools at your disposal. And while tweets and comments are a great way to say thanks, never underestimate the power of a personalized thank you note.

It’s not just about the stars. The base of the Oscar statuette has five spokes representing actors, directors, producers, writers and technicians. In addition to awards given for best actor, best director, and best music—often to names we  know—awards are given for sound mixing, costume design, and makeup—usually to names we don’t. Even if you’re not the “face” or “star” of your organization, know what it is you contribute and strive to be the best at it. Make yourself indispensable, and you’ll last longer than the pretty faces, anyway.

The best work isn’t always recognized. The Monday morning water cooler discussions center around who won, who didn’t win, and who should’ve won. But if there is one consensus about the Oscars, it’s that “the best” doesn’t always get the reward. You won’t always get that job, that promotion, or that recognition, no matter how deserved. There will always be lucky first-timers, irrational favorites, and sympathy winners. If you’ve ever felt jilted, take heart from actors such as Cary Grant who have never won an Oscar. If the reward you want is something controlled and bestowed by others, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get it. The only solution is to put your focus on being the best performer you can be today, and keep your eye on tomorrow.

What’s your own “Oscar?” While you are sitting on your couch watching others have their big night, think about what you want to win and what would be a good representation of that success. It’s fun to see others celebrate their giddy success, but you deserve to celebrate yours, too. Oh, and when the day comes that you walk up to the podium, please remember the three classic rules of public speaking…Be sincere, be brief, and be seated. Thanks.

What’s your dream?

Today Laura Dekker, a 16-year-old Dutch girl, arrived in the harbor of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Unremarkable perhaps, except for the fact that she just finished sailing around the world, the youngest recorded person to do so–alone.

This is a venture that cost legendary explorer Magellan his life. Dekker battled the Dutch authorities who forbade her journey, she faced down her own self-doubt aboard her 38′ “Guppy,”  and en route she encountered all manner of harrowing maritime tribulations.

But she circumnavigated the globe. Why? In her words, “It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it.” As we ponder the big questions in life it’s easy to forget that sometimes there’s just a simple answer.

Who do you blame?

 “If we fail, it would be only our fault,” said an engineer in Tripoli quoted by Reuters. “Before we blamed everything on Gaddafi, it was easy. Now we can only blame ourselves.”

 When someone else is calling the shots there is an element of freedom in the repression.  Freedom to blame someone else for your troubles. And the more iron-fisted the control is, the more excuses you have for your own predicament—the more it’s someone else’s fault. It’s even more convenient if that someone is on posters, TV, or represented by statues. The name for your pain becomes ubiquitous.

 Not everyone in the world can blame a dictator or monarch for their misfortune or lack of success, though. But many have a radio show host or political figure-du jour that fits the bill. And others choose to fill this role with vengeful bosses, overbearing spouses, or controlling parents or in-laws. Not to mention the looming specter of corporations, government, or religion. There’s no shortage of people or organizations to lay blame, and we can usually find like-minded confidants to share in our woe.

That’s because complaining is easy. it’s not easy to take stock of ourselves and take the action necessary to remedy the shortcomings that hold us back. It’s not easy to topple those statues we love to point our fingers at. But it’s something that everyone can do if they choose. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

So declare your own little revolution, throw some ropes around whatever it is you’ve been blaming, and topple it once and for all.

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