Today is July 6 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you realize ease is a threat to progress?” Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once quipped “Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” Those who navigate the chaos struggle and realize ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. When you are working on translating dreams into reality it is easy to want the easy route. It is normal to look at someone and say that it easy for them to navigate the chaos.
During our struggles, when we are at our weakest, ask why it must be so hard. As the adage goes, ‘if it was easy everyone would do it.’ Today’s reflection involves asking yourself if you fully recognize, understand, and accept the fact that you will experience hardships along your life path. If you are not expecting hardships why do you think your ability to navigate the chaos will be easier than anyone else? Are you under the illusion that life has been easier for people? While he may be one of the most recognizable actors of our generation, Denzel Washington certainly had to overcome hardship along his path.
Born in Mount Vernon, New York, his mother sent him to the private preparatory school Oakland Military Academy in New Windsor, New York when he was 14. His parents had just divorced and as a lost adolescent, Washington needed a more structured environment. Washington later said, "That decision changed my life, because I wouldn't have survived in the direction I was going. The guys I was hanging out with at the time, my running buddies, have now done maybe 40 years combined in the penitentiary. They were nice guys, but the streets got them."
Between 1970-1977 Washington struggled with attending college, selecting a major, and finding a career path. After a period of indecision and taking time off, he graduated Fordham University with a bachelor’s in drama and journalism. Washington then worked as creative arts director of the overnight summer camp at Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut. He participated in a staff talent show for the campers and a colleague suggested he try acting.
Washington enrolled at the Lincoln Center campus to study acting, where he was given the title roles in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones and Shakespeare's Othello. He then attended graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California, where he stayed for one year before returning to New York to begin a professional acting career.
Shortly after graduating from Fordham, Washington made his screen acting debut in the 1977 made-for-television film Wilma, and his first Hollywood appearance in the 1981 film Carbon Copy. He shared a 1982 Distinguished Ensemble Performance Obie Award for playing Private First Class Melvin Peterson in the Off-Broadway Negro Ensemble Company production A Soldier's Play which premiered November 20, 1981. A major career break came when he starred as Dr. Phillip Chandler in NBC's television hospital drama St. Elsewhere, which ran from 1982 to 1988. He was one of only a few African American actors to appear on the series for its entire six-year run.
During the 2017 NAACP Image Awards Denzel Washington received the award for the category of Most Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for his performance in Fences. In his acceptance speech Washington said: “Without commitment you'll never start, but more importantly without consistency you'll never finish. It's not easy. So, keep working. Keep striving. Never give up. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. So, keep moving, keep growing, keep learning.”
To illustrate his point Washington mentioned several African American actors who overcame hardships as they navigated the chaos of their careers. “If it were easy, there'd be no Kerry Washington. If it were easy, there'd be no Taraji Henson. If it were easy, there'd be no Octavia Spencer. But not only that, if it were easy there'd be no Viola Davis. If it were easy, there'd be no Mykelti T. Williamson. No Stephen McKinley Henderson. No Russell Hornsby. If it were easy, there'd be no Denzel Washington.”
He reminded people to never give up on their dreams and highlighted filmmaker Barry Jenkins who made many short films before he got the opportunity to make Moonlight that won the Academy award for best picture in 2017. Jenkins debuted on the screen with his 2003 short My Josephine, but his first breakout film was Medicine for Melancholy, a low-budget independent feature, produced with Strike Anywhere films and released in 2008. The movie stars Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins. The film was well received by critics. It would be eight years before Jenkins would create Moonlight.
Washington realized that ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. Do you?
How often have you wished for ease?
How often have you held the belief that if only things were easier you would be further along in life?
Do you blame life’s hardships for holding you back?
How often do you allow yourself to realize others have used their hardships as a springboard to propel them forward in life?
What is holding you back from using your hardships as a springboard to help you navigate the chaos?