Philip Seymour Hoffman, dead at 46 years old. I thought he was an incredibly talented actor but what do I really know of the struggles in his personal life? Should his off-screen challenges affect how I evaluate his gift for acting? It would be easy to get lost in the scandal and the media frenzy about his drug use and maybe even blame him for his weakness. But what of my weaknesses?
What if my weaknesses were made public? How would I measure up?
Does the circumstances of a person’s passing make it any easier for the family and friends (s)he leaves behind?
A few days ago, I heard the news about a friend, someone who used to be a close friend, who might be in trouble, might be in legal and personal scandal. And it’s easy to speculate and say they might have caused this situation; it’s tempting to blame them for for the choices they made.
Just as it’s easy today, the day after the Superbowl, to do some Monday morning quarterbacking, and say Peyton Manning and the Broncos should have, and could have done something different, could have made different, better decisions, and turned the game around. But have you ever been in a situation where everything you’ve worked for and everything you’ve prepared for was finally happening, and the magnanimity of the situation didn’t magically propel you to the greatness you imagined? When the thing you were preparing for forever finally came and then you didn’t do as well as you thought you could? When you worked and worked and worked and the result didn’t mirror the effort you invested? I have!
I remember a math class I took in college, my final semester of my Master’s program. It is, in my mind, the hardest math class in the world. Applied Partial Differential Equations. It’s the last math class in a progam about solving math problems. It was the culmination of my Engineering preparation. It was the thing I had been working for my entire life. All the math I had learned at my kitchen table at 8 years old when Mommy was teaching me fractions. All the math I had learned from my brother when he was teaching me problem solving. All the math I had learned from my Daddy when he taught me applied Math in high school, when he taught me and few of my friends with a blackboard perched on the arms of the couch in our living room. All the math I had learned for the past 30 something years had led me to that class, that moment. And there I was in a college classroom and it just felt like I was going blank and nothing was going right. I remember how I felt when I sat in the library weekend after weekend that semester, working pages and pages for a single question and feeling stupider and stupider when I couldn’t get the answer I was sure was never far away but just always out of reach. I remember what it felt like when I finally exited that final exam and I wanted to just burst into tears because it wasn’t how I wanted to feel but it was over.
And now looking at Philip Seymour Hoffman’s accomplishments and Peyton’s and the Broncos’ performance and thinking, what if, after my experience, I then had to sit and listen to panel after panel, one talk show host after another, question my decisions and parody my performance and judge me. How would I feel? Hindsight is 20/20 and I could for sure, look back and think, maybe I could have done that instead. I could have gotten a different, maybe better result, if I had____ (fill in the blanks).
Sometimes, a well earned B is okay. That’s what I got in my Applied P.D.E class. The happiest B I have ever earned!
Philip Seymour Hoffman began acting in high school after he hurt his neck and couldn’t wrestle anymore. He channeled a setback into one of the most amazing acting careers of our generation, garnering an Best Actor Academy Award for Capote, three nominations for Best Supporting Actor, three Tony Awards for work he did on Broadway., and had even started directing and producing as well. Chances are if you’re a movie watcher, or even if you only watch Law and Order on TV (his first role), you’ve watched a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance at least once per year, considering that he acted in over 60 movies in the last 20 years, across different genres, and garnering a new generation of fans with his characterization of Plutarch in the Hunger Games trilogy. Why diminish his career accomplishments to a picture of drug paraphernalia? Maybe he didn’t get the A of living to be 100 and having the Lifetime Accomplishment Award on him, his drug use so far in the past that it has become a non-issue. Maybe we didn’t get that A we hoped for but can we come to a place where we can celebrate the things that he DID do right while he was here? Maybe we can be satisfied with his B.
And what of the Denver Broncos? They didn’t get the A of the Superbowl win. But they fought hard all year. They made history during the season, scoring a league record 606 total points during the season. Their quarterback, Peyton Manning, who a few years ago hurt his neck and we believed his career to be over, threw a league record 55 Touchdowns shattering the previous record set by Tom Brady’s 50 in 2007. The Broncos 4 Horsemen broke the record of the number of players each having 10 or more touchdowns. They won 3 games with over 50 points, tying a record that hasn’t been matched since 1969. They set a record for points scored in half-time. Their list of accomplishments seem endless. They played a FANTASTIC season. They did what they needed to in order to get to the Superbowl, and made fans of so many of us along the way. Why reduce that to a single game where they didn’t do what we hoped? Sometimes a solid B is okay. Especially when you know how close you came to dropping to a C or worse, or dropping out, or just giving up on your dream.
Sometimes you don’t get the result you hoped for, but what counts more than anything is the effort you put in. Sometimes, the journey counts more than the destination.
Because at the end of the day, what matters is what you did, how you honored your commitment, whether you gave it your best. And often, that’s something only you can know of yourself.
Even if it’s not the result you envisioned, Celebrate Your Success!