When I read Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by psychologist Angela Duckworth, it helped me connect the dots behind what I do as an artist and why I do it, and seeing it in the context of my greater purpose in life. I kept this info to myself or friends until recently. When younger artists ask me about motivations, I’ve started suggesting that they think big—not in terms of ambition, but in terms of connecting your art practice to a higher purpose.
For this reason, I really picked up on the clarity with which LeVar Burton (in “LeVar Burton’s Quest to Succeed Alex Trebek” by David Marchese, NYT, June 25, 2021) speaks about his goals and purpose, and the emotional intelligence, wisdom, and reframing that he practices.
“…my goal is to be authentic to myself as well as have a real relationship with those that I come in contact with through storytelling.”
Amazing: Having a clear sense of your goal, who you are, and how your goal connects you with others.
“That’s the nature of who I am. We love to make each other feel good, and feeling good is one of the privileges of being human, as is feeling at all. I gravitate toward the good vibe.”
Yes! The ability to feel is so easily taken for granted.
“I spent a lot of time and energy discovering, defining, divining who I am and how I want to live my life.”
It takes time and attention to develop self-knowledge and core beliefs. These are fundamental to belonging to yourself.
“What does it mean that I got this [opportunity]? What does it mean that I didn’t get that? The what-does-it-mean game is one that I had to get over if I was ever going to achieve equanimity in my life. The real truth that I have come to recognize is that everything that is supposed to be for me comes to me. If it doesn’t come my way, it wasn’t meant for me. It’s all perfect in its design and execution. I mean, the idea that I’m still here 45 years after “Roots”? I’m not only still here but I’m still making a contribution. Those times in the past when I felt like I wasn’t getting my due, out of jealousy or ego — that’s natural, but it’s self-destructive. I learned how to minimize my response to those feelings to the point where I rarely have them anymore. When I didn’t get certain acting jobs, it forced me to develop other skill sets, and that was obviously part of the plan because now I’m able to do what I do as an actor, writer, producer, director, podcaster, storyteller, public speaker. It all happened perfectly because here I am. I feel like this life is a gift. I used to wonder what it was that I did in previous lifetimes to deserve it. How did my soul get here? This is hard to put into words, David: There are times when I experience my life as having been for a specific purpose. I look at Kunta. I look at Geordi. I’ve been able to express humanity as enslaved in the past and as free in the future and do it as a completely liberated Black man. It’s kind of mind-blowing.”
Events that happen to us are separate and distinct from the story we tell ourselves. We can reframe and tell that story multiple ways. Being able to reframe and see things in the perspective that gives you equanimity is a superpower.
There was the time that I found out that the producers of “Glory” wanted me for the role that Denzel Washington ended up playing, and “Star Trek” would not agree to let me go. When the movie came out and then Denzel won an Academy Award, I thought, Hmm. [Laughs.] But it wasn’t for me, and I’ve made peace with that. That which is mine, no one can take away. That which is not meant for me, no amount of wishing or stamping my feet will make it so.
The idea that “That which is mine, no one can take away” is wisdom echoed from Victor Frankl.
DM: When you say your life has been for a specific purpose, can you articulate what that purpose is?
LB: Healing through storytelling. Bringing joy through storytelling. Bringing information, education, enlightenment through storytelling. That’s why I’m here.
Again, being able to articulate your purpose in life is so helpful and wise.
“…Fred [Rogers]’s example is about being able to be OK with who we are wherever we find ourselves. It’s easy to forget how important that is: simply being fine with who we are at any given moment.”
I’m thinking maybe at the heart of self-actualization (depicted at the top of a pyramid by Maslow) is idea of self-acceptance (which feels to me more circular than unidirectional). And, of course, self-acceptance is another key ingredient in belonging to yourself.