Recently a video went viral showing Ashton Kutcher speak at the Teen Choice awards. What many use as a platform to thank fans and family, Ashton used to teach. He started off saying that he wants to share his Hollywood secrets of success. The first point was that you need opportunity. How did he define opportunity?
As hard work. Not exactly inspiring or mind blowing. In fact, when he said it, there was a brief deafening silence. It was almost as if the crowd was waiting for the punch line. Instead, he went on to detail all of the trivial, laborious jobs he had as a teen that made him who he is, explaining that he never quit any job because it was hard work.
Not exactly what these screaming fans came to hear that night.
But I hope they were listening. Because it’s one of the core messages the millennial generation needs to absorb but rarely hears.
Instead they are all too often told that we can achieve any dream we want, with little mention about all the work required to get there. The media celebrates the lifestyles of the rich and the famous, but seldom focuses on the years of hard work and steadfast dedication. Hollywood loves the overnight success story; real life loves the outliers – the people who invest 10,000 hours of sweat and practice, moving inch by inch towards their goal.
Ashton may sound like my parents, but his message is right on -- success is not instantaneous and without effort.
Being seen as physically desirable was his next topic. It was instructional to hear what this heartthrob, who works in an industry where physical beauty is prized and cultivated, finds truly attractive. Here too he was surprising. “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart,” he said. “And being thoughtful and being generous.”
What of the beauty we see in magazines and on screen? Reading about and watching stars can make us feel their world is utterly flawless. It sometimes looks like the rich and famous celebrities we idealize have it all: beautiful homes, beautiful spouses, kids, perfect looks, everything.
Here Kutcher let us into a secret he’s learned as an inhabitant of that rarified world. It’s something “people sell to you to make you feel like less,” he concluded.
Finally, Kutcher said he wanted to address “living life.” Rather than passively accept the world around you, see yourself as an actor in it. “You can live your own life. So build a life. Find your opportunity.”
This month is the Jewish month of Elul, a time when we look inside ourselves, examine our past year, and think about what values, hopes and plans we wish to make for the coming year. As we do so, Kutcher has given us a great gift: a valuable lens through which to look at some of our desires. His words, coming from someone who has scaled the heights of fame and seemingly “has it all,” can serve as a wake-up call, reminding us that the most lasting things in life are those we create for ourselves, that who we are matters more than how we might seem to others, and that growing into the type of person we are capable of becoming – hard-working, honest, smart – will make us much happier than chasing abstract dreams of wealth or fame.