This week, an iconic actor and comedian died. Robin Williams was a role model and inspiration for many people.
I have been inspired by many people and events throughout my life. Some were uplifting and joyful. Others were difficult or demanding. Still, I found inspiration in many of these events and from many different people. Robin Williams was definitely high on my list. I loved his irreverence, his jokes, his dialects, energy and even his straight face. His tone could make me laugh, touch my heart, or chill, me to the bone.
I love people who make me feel…and Robin always left me feeling something. (And, trust me, feeling anything is better than feeling nothing at all!)
With his passing, I am called to consider his legacy for me. (I am often called to consider the legacy of people who have died that were important to me such as Maya Angelou when she passed away earlier this year.)
What did I discover when I pondered the death of Robin Williams?
I found lessons in his legacy; life lessons to inspire and teach me throughout during my career.
They are three simple but real lessons:
Whenever I watched Robin Williams whether on the big screen or on television, I was always amazed and slightly jealous. He was someone who could act, speak, sing, or even dance without fear or reservation. And his choice of expression was just perfect. He could make me laugh, cry, think or watch with wonder. I was jealous! He did not concern himself with looking silly, being criticized, or fitting in. He just acted in his own special way. In doing, so, he touched me profoundly.
Robin’s Inspiration: He inspired me to be myself. To wear the clothes that I wanted, to laugh out loud, to act silly, and to go beyond what is expected. I can use that lesson every day of my life.
Robin Williams was a comedian, right? Of course. Then why did he appear in dramas, fantasies, and thrillers? Because he was more than a comedian. He was a performer with talent that transcended comedy. He showed the world that he could make us laugh as Mrs. Doubtfire. But he also proved that he could scare us in movies like Insomnia, challenge our perspective in The Birdcage, and charm us in Hook.
He would not be typecast or limited. He once said, “I started doing comedy because that was the only stage that I could find. It was the pure idea of being on stage. That was the only thing that interested me, along with learning the craft and working, and just being in productions with people.” I remembered those words because it humbled and inspired me to put ego aside and follow my dharma. I could take the long road or the short path, but I knew that I would always go in the direction of my dreams.
Robin’s Inspiration: Reject limitations, stereotypes, and all other limitations. As an African American woman, there are many roles that people expect me to play and many stereotypes that I constantly face. But I don’t have to allow myself to be profiled into anyone’s vision. If Robin Williams can play (convincingly) a serial killer psychopath against Al Pacino, (Insomnia) then I can be an African American woman writer, mother, athlete, and lawyer who speaks Mandarin and travels the world. There are no limits!
Okay, I admit it. As much as I admired Robin Williams, I did not realize the full scope of his work until after his death. I looked on the Internet and discovered a HUGE volume of work, including television shows, movies, stand up comedy, live theatre performances and voice overs. Wow! But he did not start there.
He studied at Julliard School of Drama. In fact, he was one of only twenty students admitted to the freshman class. He was also one of only two students to receive a scholarship! He continuously studied, worked, practiced, and kept practicing to get it right. Many people think that his performances were only raw talent. Of course, his talent was certainly a large part of his success but he worked tirelessly to improve his work. It is impressive and inspiring to know that hard work really does work!
Robin’s Inspiration: I must work hard at my craft, my goal to be a great writer. Formal education is a part of this process. But practicing (remember the 10,000 hours?!) is the factor that separates the good from the great.
The death of a great person/performer/mentor is never an easy time. Yet it is a time for reflection, learning, and honoring. Robin Williams was no mere comedian. He was a genius who made his incredible work look easy.
Yes, he made me laugh but he also brought genuine happiness into my life and the lives of countless others. His was truly a life less ordinary. And his life has inspired me to appreciate the person that I am, to expand my own vision of myself while rejecting the limiting visions of others, and to work hard at whatever I choose to do.
Robin once said: “You’re only given one spark of madness; you must not lose it.”
Great words from a great man.