Today is February 5 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “do you think of me as now?” This is one of my favorite quotes in the entire Navigate the Chaos series. Those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well know the path they have traveled to get to their present life situation. When new people meet them for the first time, they often see them as they are; but the reality is “they were never now.” This quote stems from a June 20, 2018 New York Times profile where Taffy Brodesser-Akner interviewed actor Josh Brolin. During the interview Brolin recalled a role he lost years ago in the 1996 movie Courage Under Fire. When trying to remember the actor who he lost out to Brodesser-Akner said “You lost the Denzel Washington (lead) role?” Brolin laughed hard and said “No, it was the Lou Diamond Phillips role (a much smaller role). See that?” Brolin said to Brodesser-Akner, “You think of me as now, and I was never now.” Beautiful!
Brolin started his career in TV films and guest roles on TV shows before landing a more notable role as Brandon Walsh in the 1985 film The Goonies. He ultimately turned away from film acting for years after the 1986 premiere of his second film, Thrashin', where he witnessed what he called "horrendous" acting on his part. For several years, he appeared in stage roles in Rochester, New York, often alongside mentor and friend Anthony Zerbe. In addition to his stage work he landed roles in a variety of television shows. One of Brolin's more prominent roles early in his career was that of "Wild Bill" Hickok in the ABC western TV series The Young Riders, which lasted three seasons (1989–92).
While he returned to films in the 2000s it would take his performance in the 2007 neo-Western thriller film No Country for Old Men, for Brolin to garner critical acclaim as he won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. He followed that performance up the next year with a dazzling portrayal of the American politician Dan White in the movie Milk. Brolin’s work earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, a Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Acting Ensemble, and the National Board of Review Award and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor.
What is most striking about this comment by Brolin is the duality between now and the past. Years prior to the interview Brolin was indeed a different person; thus ‘he was never now.’ This reminds me of a comment from American linguist, philosopher, and author Noam Chomsky who wrote “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope. If you assume there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.”
Two people who choose to take responsibility for making their future were Colombian weightlifter Oscar Figueroa and American actor Jeremy Renner. Figueroa competed in the Olympics four times, claiming fifth in 2004, taking a DNF (did not finish) in 2008 after injury, a silver in 2012, and finally a gold in 2016. To win gold, however, Figueroa had to overcome a serious life-threatening injury after suffering from a cervical spine hernia in the 6 & 7 discs. After surgeries and intense rehabilitation, Figueroa finally claimed gold in the 2016 Olympics. As Figueroa said, “You need to have guts when you’re up against it.”
Beyond playing drums in a high-school band, Renner was at a loss for career plans. “I didn’t want to go to college and spend a lot of money and not know what the heck I wanted to do.” Instead, he went to Modesto Junior College “to fumble around and figure it out”, taking courses in computer science and criminology. “I was all over the map,” he says. “Then I took an acting class. I thought ‘I’ll give it a go.’ I fell in love with it.” Acting helped him manage his emotions. “It was therapeutic. The stage was a safe place for me as a man with a lot of feelings inside which I had not exposed before. Where I am from, it would have been unacceptable – people would have told me I was a crybaby. So, I held everything in. Playing characters gave me the freedom to have all those feelings, that rage or sadness, in a safe way.”
After three years in Los Angeles, he landed a small part in National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. For the next seven years, however, he did a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet. He landed the lead in the Dahmer movie in 2002 but it was one of the lowest, most broke times for him. His success in Dahmer helped him land S.W.A.T. in 2003 but it was still another five years before he landed the role that would catapult him to acting full-time – his role in Hurt Locker. He had to live by candlelight for a year, but he never considered quitting and going home.
Those who navigate the chaos understand that the person they are speaking to was ‘never now.’ Do you?
Do you understand you have the choice to pursue optimism and create a better future for yourself? If not, what is holding you back from doing so?
How often do you remind yourself that the person in front of you ‘was never now’ and has a backstory worthy of understanding?
How do you feel when people fail to take the time to understand your backstory and how in that moment, you ‘were never now?’