Monday, March 8, 2010

What Kathryn Biegelow Can (and Can't) Teach us About Success

The boys' club in Hollywood took a bit of a whack last night with Kathryn Bigelow's win as Best Director for The Hurt Locker.  She did something big, because she was first--Hollywood values women for their dewy looks and scorns those who want power, from what little I know about The Business--and was a gracious winner.  Here's my take-away:

To be top-tier successful, it's important not to need any life at all outside of work.  After the Oscars ended, I did a quick search of Bigelow and discovered that beyond her much-discussed, two-year marriage to James Cameron, she doesn't have much of an official personal life.  No new husband, though for all I know she has a devoted life partner.  No children, which, like it or not, is a by-product of being the equivalent of a CEO.  The men who get there often have kids, though most will admit they never see them. 

If you want it, have the talent and the work ethic, you can get it.  If the timing is right.  The Hurt Locker, in another year, might not have won, good though it is.  But the Academy was clearly looking for something to articulate the war of the current generation, and the wind blew the right way for the movie.  Talented people who work hard will find success, but at the level of an Oscar or an Olympic medal, it boils down to the right day. 

Do work that matters to you, and success will follow.  This is the lowest-grossing movie that has ever won Best Picture.  In this era in particular, this is amazing.  Bigelow managed to scrape up the money to make something that mattered to her, and she got the highest accolade possible.  But even she didn't make the movie because she was thinking Oscar, but because this was a story she wanted to tell. This is in stark opposition to her former husband, who in my mind does things for external validation, but many who buy movie tickets clearly feel otherwise. 

You're only as good as yesterday's success.  For those who want to operate at a high level, they can't rest on their laurels.  Hollywood represents an accelerated version of this--today's darling is old news very fast.  So, fingers crossed, Ms. Bigelow has a good chance of staying power, because she is relying on her considerable talent rather than her (also considerable) good looks.  The looks go for everyone, no matter what.  But the hard work and accomplishments are what she will always own.  A great leap forward.  

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