The Academy Awards have been quite hot with Ang Lee winning 4 coveted Oscars in the following categories: Director, Cinematography, Music Score and Visual Effects. This was his second Oscar win for Best Director, after winning his first one for the movie “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006.
I didn’t watch the Academy Awards on TV but when I heard “Life of Pi” and Ang Lee winning 4 Oscars that night, I was inspired to distill 5 important lessons we can learn from this highly respected movie director.
5 Lessons We Can Learn From Ang Lee
1. Attitudes shapes your future, not your personality
I am a shy person – Ang Lee
When it comes to success in life, it really doesn’t matter if you are an outgoing or a more introverted type of personality. You might evolve as you grew up and gain more life experience, but in my own experience, it is not so easy to change an introvert to an extrovert or vice versa. For example, I have an introverted personality (INFJ according to the Myers-Briggs personality test) . In fact, in the past I would never have considered to start a blog at all. (What, put my thoughts, heart and soul for the world to see? No way!) . But since then I realize that a blog is an excellent platform to share ideas with a wider group of people so naturally I pick up blogging even though I would never want to be too much exposed in the lime light.
What counts as success is your attitude, your persistence and commitment and also the results you deliver that earn you the respect and fame, not whether you are an introvert or extrovert.
Similarly, Ang Lee became highly regarded as a movie director because of his talents and excellent work despite his admittance that he is quite shy.
2. Learn from every experience
Many times when you make a movie, it feels like your biggest mistake. But even if a film isn’t a hit, you shouldn’t view it as a mistake – Ang Lee
The most important lesson in this quote is that we should see our mistakes or failures as not something negative and to be put away from our memory as soon as possible. Instead, it is important to rather see “mistakes” as learning experiences or stepping stones for greater achievements. Nobody is perfect and if you can recognize that failure is being human, that you can take pro-active steps to turn any mistakes or failures to even greater things.
3. Be proactive
When I started out, nobody gave me scripts, so I had to write – Ang Lee
As Ang Lee recounts his early years in the US, he was unknown and he has to take odd jobs to make ends meet and support his family. He face rejection from production companies for his early screen plays but that doesn’t deter him from giving up. He keep going and write screenplays until it was picked up and was able to make his own movie. After that, the rest is history: he became famous for many movies including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain and the most recent Life of Pi.
4. Commit to lifelong learning
I did a women’s movie, and I’m not a woman. I did a gay movie, and I’m not gay. I learned as I went along.
I love this quote because it captures the essence of what makes one successful: commit to learning and understanding anything you want to work on. As Ang Lee says: the fact that he wasn’t gay or a women doesn’t prevent him from making these types of movies.
5. Have Faith in Life and in Yourself
“To me, faith can be elusive, but .. As a Taoist would say, ‘That’s the apple’s truth.’- Ang Lee (source: Reuters.com)
Having faith in yourself is what pushes you through the “dark night of the soul”: the period in life where you didn’t know what to do next, or what your purpose is in life. I went through this period in 2009 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I was devastated and at that time, I resign my job, left Canada and went to be with my mother to give her emotional support.
The doctors told me and our family that it is a very rare type of cancer and there is not enough cases for them in the world to fully understand the treatment options for this type of cancer. They give us a time frame and I remember being upset for half a year afraid that my mother would leave us forever. That was also the point in my life where I turn to do a lot of prayers. Thankfully my mother situation has stabilized and I am extremely grateful that she is still with me and our family.
What push me through this period was my faith in my mother’s strong survival ability and my increasing faith in the Divine. I was truly grateful that my mother was able to handle the cancer treatments really well and I believe that faith from me and family in her recovery was a big contributing factor.
I came across this beautifully told story by Ang Lee with English translation from Irene Shih:
In 1978, as I applied to study film at the University of Illinois, my father vehemently objected. He quoted me a statistic: ‘Every year, 50,000 performers compete for 200 available roles on Broadway.’ Against his advice, I boarded a flight to the U.S. This strained our relationship. In the two decades following, we exchanged less than a hundred phrases in conversation.
Some years later, when I graduated film school, I came to comprehend my father’s concern. It was nearly unheard of for a Chinese newcomer to make it in the American film industry. Beginning in 1983, I struggled through six years of agonizing, hopeless uncertainty. Much of the time, I was helping film crews with their equipment or working as editor’s assistant, among other miscellaneous duties. My most painful experience involved shopping a screenplay at more than thirty different production companies, and being met with harsh rejection each time.
That year, I turned 30. There’s an old Chinese saying: ‘At 30, one stands firm.’ Yet, I couldn’t even support myself. What could I do? Keep waiting, or give up my movie-making dream? My wife gave me invaluable support.
My wife was my college classmate. She was a biology major, and after graduation, went to work for a small pharmaceutical research lab. Her income was terribly modest. At the time, we already had our elder son, Haan, to raise. To appease my own feelings of guilt, I took on all housework – cooking, cleaning, taking care of our son – in addition to reading, reviewing films and writing scripts. Every evening after preparing dinner, I would sit on the front steps with Haan, telling him stories as we waited for his mother – the heroic huntress – to come home with our sustenance (income).
This kind of life felt rather undignified for a man. At one point, my in-laws gave their daughter (my wife) a sum of money, intended as start-up capital for me to open a Chinese restaurant – hoping that a business would help support my family. But my wife refused the money. When I found out about this exchange, I stayed up several nights and finally decided: This dream of mine is not meant to be. I must face reality.
Afterward (and with a heavy heart), I enrolled in a computer course at a nearby community college. At a time when employment trumped all other considerations, it seemed that only a knowledge of computers could quickly make me employable. For the days that followed, I descended into malaise. My wife, noticing my unusual demeanor, discovered a schedule of classes tucked in my bag. She made no comment that night.
The next morning, right before she got in her car to head off to work, my wife turned back and – standing there on our front steps – said, ‘Ang, don’t forget your dream.’
And that dream of mine – drowned by demands of reality – came back to life. As my wife drove off, I took the class schedule out of my bag and slowly, deliberately tore it to pieces. And tossed it in the trash.
Sometime after, I obtained funding for my screenplay, and began to shoot my own films. And after that, a few of my films started to win international awards. Recalling earlier times, my wife confessed, ‘I’ve always believed that you only need one gift. Your gift is making films. There are so many people studying computers already, they don’t need an Ang Lee to do that. If you want that golden statue, you have to commit to the dream.’
And today, I’ve finally won that golden statue. I think my own perseverance and my wife’s immeasurable sacrifice have finally met their reward. And I am now more assured than ever before: I must continue making films.
You see, I have this never-ending dream.
Image Courtesy of jiadoldol
Here is a interview of Ang Lee and Suraj Sharma about Life of Pi:
Life of Pi Trailer