Renaissance Advice from the Red Carpet (Really)

This past Sunday night, E Entertainment waylaid Angelina Jolie on the red carpet at the SAG Awards to ask the following question:

“What advice would you give an aspiring actor?” (If you are riddled with disbelief at this post right now, please bear with me.)

To which Jolie responded, (If you are cringing with fear right now, bear with me.)

“Live a full life. Have as many experiences as possible. Travel. See the world. This is the only way to bring something uniquely yours to a role.”

Better than you expected, right?

As for me, I liked it because it reflected the same idea proffered in The Wow Factor: that of the importance of being a Renaissance person. Because despite the fact that we’ve all grown up with stories of success that are straight lines – simple, clear narratives from A to B to Success, when you probe a little more deeply into someone’s success, story, you’ll usually find that the straight-line story actually has a lot of angles, and that these multiple interests and angles were, in fact, critical to their success.

“Well, that’s all well and good,” you may be thinking, “But how am I supposed to get started? I’m guessing Ms. Jolie and I have a different budget.”

Yes, well, Ms. Jolie and I do, too. That said, here are three easy, inexpensive ways to get started:

Change your home page.  Many of us spend at least five minutes on our home page a day. So if you’ve been thinking you needed more insight into world affairs, you could put up the BBC news home page. If you’ve been wanting to do more reading, but haven’t had the time, consider changing it to the Times Literary Supplement; if you wish you knew more about the world of art, switch to the Metropolitan Museum. Once you’re there, you an also subscribe to receive the “artwork of the day” feed;) for a glimpse of the future, try; alternatively, is an excellent way to open your mind to the fact that the world really will be different for you and your business when you wake up tomorrow.

Buy a visual dictionary: My high-school English teacher said that good writing is specific writing (“Your characters should sit down under an elm or a maple, not just under a tree”), and he recommended that we all buy a visual dictionary.  (Remember those?  They provide detailed pictures of everyday objects, and give you the exact names of each part of, say, a violin, your GI tract, or a jet).  I laughed at the time, but many years later I took his advice and bought DK Publishing’s Ultimate Visual Dictionary and now find it alternately fascinating and hilarious to browse. It’s a very quick route to move from unconscious to conscious ignorance about any number of prosaic objects, and it does help your descriptive writing (not to mention save your skin when you’re doing science homework with your kids.)

Go back to college each time you commute or work out via The Teaching Company.  They offer hundreds of college courses by award-winning lecturers on a massive array of topics.  Again, though – make sure that you’re moving outside your comfort zone, and choosing subjects about which you know almost nothing.

Robert Heinlein, commonly referred to as the Dean of Science Fiction writers notes, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Angelina Jolie and I agree.

Frances Cole Jones