Jane FondaFamous for being a public speaker, 84-year-old Judith Sullivan turns 84 this Tuesday.
Fonda is known for iconic acting roles in movies such as “Klute, “Barbarella” and “9 to 5” and, most recently, in the TV show “Grace and Frankie.” But the Oscar-winning actor is also a pioneering celebrity activist who uses her privileged Hollywood upbringing and the fame of her fitness empire to speak up for others.
Fonda has been active in advocacy since more than fifty years. Fonda started as an outspoken critic of Vietnam War and supported civil, Indigenous, and launching rights. Fire Drill FridaysClimate activists can take action.
Here are her greatest insights about work and how to live a fulfilled life.
The best teacher
“I love mistakes because it’s the only way you learn. You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.” ―Flaunt Magazine, 2014
Paying attention is crucial
“I think the best advice a mentor could have given me was, ‘Jane, you know you can say no if the script isn’t good.’ I was just so surprised anybody ever wanted me in anything! I didn’t pay enough attention. I think the only actor who ever taught me much about life, more than acting, was Katharine Hepburn in ‘On Golden Pond.’ Even though I did the movie for my dad, I produced it, who I learned from was Hepburn. When I created that movie I was only 45 years old. It was her who helped me become self-aware. It used to be something I thought was bad. But it means that you are aware of who you present to others, that your style is visible, that your presence is consistent. None of this was possible for me. I didn’t know how to dress! When I went onstage for my father at the Oscars because he was too sick, I couldn’t believe how I looked and how I was dressed. It was something I didn’t pay attention to. Hepburn taught me to pay attention and that style is important.” ―The Hollywood Reporter, 2011
The role of happiness and art in the artist’s life
“All the doors to my creativity, the energy that flows through you that leads to creativity, clang shut when I feel reduced as a woman, as I have been in my life. If I am happy with myself, it is possible to be different. [in acting] with greater ease.” ―The Hollywood Reporter, 2011
“As I read this, I am about to turn 78. And though I know you’ll find this impossible to believe, this is the happiest I have ever been. All the hard work was worth it. So don’t give up. I’m proud of you because you will never settle for less than you think you can attain.” ―CBS News, “Jane Fonda’s Note To Self,” 2015
On collective power
“This video clip has been circulating widely these last days and someone sent it to me. I was happy and relieved to see that even back in the 80s I was saying what I’m saying now: ‘There’s strength in numbers.’ We must leave our silos and join together to defeat the forces of hate and greed. All of us can win. The Campaign for Economic Democracy is mentioned in the video. That’s the statewide organization which my then husband, Tom Hayden, and I started. It’s the organization that the Jane Fonda Workout was funding. I’m very proud of that. And I’m proud that I understood way back then that homophobia, misogyny, racism, climate change, and economic inequality are interrelated evils and so our movements must also be interrelated.” ―Jane Fonda on Instagram, 2020
“It’s a toxic desire to try to be perfect. Later in my life, I learned that perfection is impossible. It’s to be whole.” ―Oprah Winfrey interview, 2010
“We have to listen to each other, even when we don’t agree, even when we think we hate each other … Look what scares you in the face and try to understand it. Empathy, I have learned, is revolutionary.” ―Oprah Winfrey interview, 2013
Here’s a better illustration of aging
“We’re still living with the old paradigm of age as an arch. That’s the old metaphor: You’re born, you peak at midlife and decline into decrepitude. A staircase would be a better metaphor to describe aging. The upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness and authenticity.” ―TedxWomen talk, “Life’s Third Act,” 2011
How wisdom can be found
“The task of the third act is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves.
″[On my 60th birthday] I realized that, in order to know where I was going, I had to know where I’d been. And so I went back and I studied my first two acts, trying to see who I was then — who I really was, not who my parents or other people told me I was or treated me like I was. Who was I then? Who were my parents ― not as parents, but as people? What were their grandparents like? What did my grandparents do for me? All of these things.
“I discovered, a couple of years later, that this process that I had gone through is called by psychologists ‘doing a life review.’ And they say it can give new significance and clarity and meaning to a person’s life. As I discovered, you may find that many things you thought were your fault and a lot about yourself are not really your fault. It wasn’t your fault. You’re just fine. And you’re able to go back and forgive them. You can also forgive yourself. You’re able to free yourself from your past. It is possible to work with your past to heal.
″It’s not having experiences that makes us wise. It’s reflecting on the experiences that we’ve had that makes us wise, and that helps us become whole, brings wisdom and authenticity. It helps us become what we might have been.” —TedxWomen talk, “Life’s Third Act,” 2011