“The notion that we are not enough, is a lie.”
“It’s important for us to remember the joy in what we do.”
“I was terrified to pursue acting as a career. I really didn’t think that this was kind of an industry that I had what it takes to compete in.”
– Kerry Washington
She’s an American actress who rose to prominence for starring in ABCs drama, Scandal.
For her work in Scandal she was nominated for an Emmy Award at the 65th and 66th primetime Emmy Awards.
In 2014, Time Magazine included her in their Time 100 list.
She’s Kerry Washington, and here’s my take on her top 10 rules for success.
Rule number one is a personal favorite. I’d make sure to stick around all the way to the end for some special bonus clips.
Also, as Kerry is talking, if she says something that really resonates with you, please leave it in the comments below and put quotes around it, so other people can be inspired as well. Enjoy!
Rule #1. Be the best version of yourself
The notion that we are not enough, is a lie. And I think more young people need to know that. That like when you have that thought that you’re not enough, that that’s based on a lie that somebody said to you, or a lie that somebody did to you.
Like somebody said or did something to you to make you feel like you’re not enough, and that’s not true. That you are everything that you need to be.
“The notion that we are not enough, is a lie.” – Kerry Washington
That you have everything that you need to have to be the person that you’re meant to be, and to be the best version of who you’re meant to be.
It may mean that you have to work really hard, and it may mean that you have to ask for help, but you are perfectly blessed.
You know, you are exactly who you’re supposed to be to be joyful in this life. So don’t be afraid to work hard, and don’t be afraid to ask for help so you can get there. ‘Cause that’s your truth.
Rule #2. Stay on your own path
“You can’t compare your insides with somebody else’s outsides, because you never know what’s going on for somebody else, really.” – Kerry Washington
I had a yoga teacher who said to me, “Always stay on your own yoga mat. “Because sometimes if you’re in headstand, “and you’re too busy looking at the person “on the other mat, “you could literally break your neck.”
I feel like that’s a really good metaphor for life. To stay on your own path, do what’s right for you. You can’t compare your insides with somebody else’s outsides, because you never know what’s going on for somebody else, really.
Rule #3. Commit passionately
Jimmy: You don’t have a lot of free time to do other stuff, do you?
No I don’t.
Jimmy: Have there been situations where there was something that you really wanted to do, movie wise, or any other part that you just weren’t able to do because of your schedule?
“I only have one window to do something else, so it has to be something that means a lot to me.” – Kerry Washington
Yeah, it’s come up a couple times. But that’s the commitment you make, particularly when you’re doing a network show. You kind of have to be willing to let some other stuff go.
And it’s helped me to really focus so that the projects that I do during hiatus, like the movie I’m going to do this season, is something I’m really, really passionate about, because I only have one window to do something else, so it has to be something that means a lot to me.
Rule #4. Find balance
I got great advice from, one of the people that totally fascinates me is Bob Iger, he’s the CEO of the Walt Disney ABC world, so his job is so weird to me ’cause he is in charge of everything from like a Disney cruise to George Stephanopoulos ABC News, like he, to like a theme park to Scandal, like all of that falls into the ABC Disney family, and I asked him, and it was very helpful to me, I asked him a few months ago, like how do you decide what you’re going to work on in a day?
And he said something so valuable to me, so I want to share it with you guys.
He said 80% of his time, he tries to think about where can I have impact?
Where am I going to make a difference in the day to day?
So it may not usually be Disney cruises, but sometimes it needs to be, because the cruise business has been doing what the cruise business is doing.
“It’s important for us to remember the joy in what we do.” – Kerry Washington
That’s not quoting him, by the way. But there, you know, sometimes it’s a Broadway show that’s about to open, sometimes it’s the ESPYs, ’cause ESPN, that’s where his focus needs to be.
So it’s really about like where can I have impact today, and the other, where am I needed? The other 20% is what brings me joy.
You know, so there are certain movie projects that fall under the ABC Disney world that bring him joy, or certain shows, or an opening of a park.
There are certain things that bring him, that just fill him up that fall in his work responsibilities. And I just really have tried to bring that with me because it’s important for us to remember the joy in what we do.
It’s important to be effective in our workplace, but it’s important to cultivate the moments that just bring us joy. Because that’s how we’ll shine in our lives as professionals.
Rule #5. Stay at it
I joke around that I think about quitting the business at least once a year.
Because it’s tough. And I know there’s been a lot of talk about your misery being your message, and for me it has really been that I have to be willing to go into the places that scare me, in order for God to be able to use me.
So that’s often what my job asks of me, and sometimes I get tired and talk about quitting, but then God puts another wonderful project in front of me and I think, alright, I guess I’m back at it.
Rule #6. Make bold moves
There was a period before Scandal when I went into the wilderness. And for me what that meant was, there was a lot of toxicity in my life.
People that I needed to let go of in a personal way, in a business way. And also I felt like I had been living my career kind of on auto pilot, and I took a break and did a Broadway play, and I went back to my roots as an artist.
And doing Broadway is not going to make you rich, I think it cost me money to do the play on Broadway, but it was my return to my artistic essence, kind of the conversation between audience and artist. And I worked with a director who really challenged me.
“Going into the wilderness made me ready, as an artist, as a person, as a business woman, to receive Scandal.” – Kerry Washington
And so going into the wilderness really meant stripping myself of a lot of unnecessary weight in my life. And the ritual of doing theater is, I thought of it as going into a monastery, because you do the same thing eight times a week, in the same place, you say the same words, with the same props, and so it is a ritual that you commit to and I just wanted to, in a monk-like way, commit to that ritual and let it teach me about myself, and let myself unfold.
And in that period I let go of a lot of people, and a lot of things.
I experienced a lot of loss professionally. I had, for example, companies that I was working with on an endorsement level that walked away from me, because not everybody loves, not everything is Broadway sexy.
And my personal life changed a great deal. I allowed myself to be open to change in my personal life. I don’t talk about my personal life very often, but that’s true. So I think going into the wilderness made me ready, as an artist, as a person, as a business woman, to receive Scandal.
Rule #7. Have mentors
Interviewer: Who are your mentors in this business. I mean Shanda, obviously, you guys have worked together, but backstage we were talking about, you met with Cicely Tyson.
Oh my gosh, yes. I mean I have heroes. Heroes of mine are, you know, Cicely Tyson, and Diahann Carroll, Rita Moreno, Barbra Streisand, I mean women who have just kind of said, you know, oh I don’t fit your conventional idea of what a superstar looks like? Too bad, you know.
Interviewer: I’m going to be one anyway.
Yeah exactly, I’m going to do me. And those women have been real heroes of mine.
Mentors, Shanda’s a big one, Jane Fonda is a big mentor of mine, and she’s somebody who really beautifully combines her politics and activism with her work.
I don’t know how many people know this but the movie 9 to 5 resulted in the union for secretaries. There had been no union for administrative assistants, and that movie sort of brought to light the need because of abuse in the workplace of women.
And that to me is always a shining example of using art and really great, fun art, to better the world.
So she’s a real mentor of mine. Eva Ensler, who’s the writer of the Vagina Monologues. Yeah, um, yeah.
Rule #8. Be yourself
If I can really show up for life, with my imperfections, we give each other permission to be human when we show up. When we hide under the covers and feel like I have to be perfect, I have to look perfect, I have to do perfect, then we rob each other of community.
It’s in our truth, in our imperfections, in our beauties, in our flaws, in our strengths. That’s where we find strength together. That’s when we’re honest.
So, listen. I mean even, I know when you look at Olivia Pope, you are seeing a team at work. I sat in that hair and make-up chair for hours.
You know, I didn’t roll out of bed to be Olivia Pope. There’s somebody who gets paid all day to brush my hair.
“If I can really show up for life, with my imperfections, we give each other permission to be human when we show up.” – Kerry Washington
So, you know, people, and I think it’s important for me to say that, because it’s a disservice for you to feel like you have to look like your hair is laid all day long.
Like literally, somebody is in a hair union, following me around with a brush and some hairspray all day so that Olivia Pope’s hair is laid.
Well she’s good, Linda’s good, Linda’s good. I mean, you can’t deny Linda’s good. So that’s, it’s important for us to talk about that, because I don’t look like that when I go to Whole Foods, you know what I mean? I don’t bring Linda with me to Whole Foods.
I go to Whole Foods with my little hair band, and it’s up in a bun, and let’s roll and get some apples. So I think it’s important that we sort of frame our expectations, and know that, I know for me to show up as the character I want to have all those pieces in place to inspire and to have a creative moment, but I am not Olivia Pope, and I’m just Kerry.
Rule #9. Go for it
I was terrified to pursue acting as a career. I really didn’t think that this was kind of an industry that I had what it takes to compete in. Because I didn’t, and I don’t necessarily have a drive toward fame. It’s not something that really calls to me, and so I just thought, well I’ll never make it, ’cause I’m not one of those girls that wants to be on the cover of every magazine, like I just really love to act.
“I was terrified to pursue acting as a career. I really didn’t think that this was kind of an industry that I had what it takes to compete in.” – Kerry Washington
And it wasn’t until I found out about the existence of actor’s unions, and knowing what unions mean in our country and in our history, I just thought, oh well, if there are unions for actors then that must mean there are thousands of people who are making a living doing what they love to do, even if they’re never famous, so maybe I’ll give it a try.
Rule #10. Have fun
We’re going to play dance charades, and I’m going to give you 45 seconds to show me how, ’cause I think you’ll be a very good dancer, and I like to play games.
I like to dance.
So we’ll go over here, and let’s see what we have, over here. Move on the other side.
When you said dance for you I wasn’t sure what you meant.
Yeah, no, no, I don’t have any dollar bills in my pants.
Okay, alright. I thought she was going to make it rain!
No, no. Somebody get me some dollar bills. Alright, so you have 45 seconds on the clock.
I’ll hold up the card. I’m going to have to guess what you’re…
45 seconds on the clock, go.
Oh, okay, ready.
Waltzing, Flamenco dancing, that is a kind of dance.
Yeah. It’s ballroom dancing. And I pass. And it’s Tango, damn. Sorry, ‘kay. Oh, I should know the name of that. Running man?
Tap? It’s like clogging, or Scottish dancing, or,
Yeah something like that. Yeah, what’s this.
You think that I’m bad. Peeples is in theaters now. Go see it, we’ll be right back.
I’m here with the one and only Kerry Washington right now, and we are about to play Box of Lies. Here’s how it works. Upstage there are a bunch of boxes containing objects neither of us have seen before. Taking turns, Kerry and I are going to select a box and open it on our side of the table, out of the view of the other person. Once the object is out of the box, you look at your opponent and tell them what’s in the box. You might be lying, you might be telling the truth. Your opponent has to guess which one and say either lie, or truth. If you guess correctly, you get a point. If you guess wrong, the other person gets a point. First to two points wins. Kerry, you’re our guest, why don’t you pick your first box?
You’re welcome. Oh, got a little heft to it. Hint number one.
In my box, is a pumpkin with spaghetti in it.
What? Why are you laughing? Pumpkin with pasgetti on it.
Yeah, I wanted to see if you’re acting. You lie!
No! It’s true!
What? Let me see it. oh you’re good, you’re good. Let me pick one. Three!
What’s in the box, Jimmy?
Oh I don’t know.
What’s in your box, Jimmy?
Ah, well, well, well.
In my box, is an iPhone 6.
Plus, or regular?
Plus. With a figurine getting a tattoo from another figurine, that I believe to be Justin Bieber. That is what is in my box.
That’s a lie.
You got me. Wait, you won! It was that fast? You are too good at this. Kerry Washington, the champ!
Evan: Thank you guys so much for watching. I made this video because Delta Horse Races asked me to.
So it there’s a famous entrepreneur that you want me to profile next, leave it down in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do.
I’d also love to know, what did she say that had the biggest impact on you?
What lesson was most important to you and why?
Please leave it in the comments and I’m going to join in the discussion.
I also want to give a quick shout out to Jason Fonceca and Yuki, thank you guys so much for going to the bookstore and picking up a copy of my book, Your One Word, it really, really, really means a lot to me.
So thank you guys again for watching. I believe in you, I hope you continue to believe in yourself, and whatever your one word is, much love. I’ll see you soon.
Write Your Own Story
Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential. So I want to share a little something with you about stories, and about heroes, and about how this all works.
It was here at GW that I first read the work of Joseph Campbell. And what attracted me to his writing was the concept of the hero’s journey.
He wrote, “The hero’s journey always begins with the call. “One way or another a guide must come and say look, “you’re in sleepy land. “Awake, come on a trip. “There is an aspect of your consciousness, your being, “that’s not being touched. “And so it starts.”
This call to adventure is what we call in film the inciting incident. It’s an invitation out of your comfort zone, and into your strength.
Because by definition, being a hero requires pushing beyond the bounds of what’s comfortable. In 1996 in my junior year here, I had to push beyond the bound of my comfort zone.
The musical that year, which as you know, I was required to audition for, was entitled, Croak, The Last Frog. It was a beautiful musical about frogs by GW’s own Professor Leslie Jacobsen. Now, I have to be honest with you.
“Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.” – Kerry Washington
It was not my lifetime dream role to play a frog. In fact, the thought of it terrified me. Scared that the role would be too difficult, and afraid of the embarrassment that would result from my failed attempts, I wondered if there was some way that I could get out of this audition. This is what Campbell describes as phase two of the hero’s journey, the refusal of the call.
You’ve experienced it, an exciting opportunity presents itself, but our fear makes us believe that we’re not capable of meeting the challenge.
There are 17 stages of the hero’s journey as Campbell describes it but don’t worry, I’m not going to go through all of them.
What I will tell you is that I crossed the threshold into unknown territory, meaning, I showed up for my audition because I believed in the message of the production.
A message of love, and family, and environmental conservation. I wanted to support Leslie Jacobsen, my brilliant professor and my mentor, and I had to fulfill my scholarship requirements, because, as many of you probably relate to, I wanted to complete my degree and graduate. So I answered the call. I pushed past my comfort zone, and when I did, I won the role.
So now I was in the belly of the whale. Now I had to be willing to be the lead frog. Again, I was terrified. This was a serious musical with important dramatic themes.
How could I commit to the role and bring life to the character in a way that made people think and feel, rather than giggle and mock us. So I approached the role as a social scientist, the way GW taught me to. I thought, I’m going to study frogs.
I went to the zoo up in Woodley Park and I spent hours watching frogs. I read about frogs, I held frogs, I watched frog documentaries, I figured out ways to physicalize my performance as a frog without seeming to be a cartoon.
I faced my fears and I stepped out onto that Marvin Center stage, and it became a role that transformed my thinking about how I use my body to do what I do every single day, and more importantly, to this day, it is my father’s most favorite thing I’ve ever done.
I’m serious, you can ask him. But the lesson here isn’t how you too, can be a frog, the lesson is that you are sitting here today because you too, learned how to answer the call.
Your degree is proof that you have what it takes to take the leap into the adventure of your unique experience. You don’t earn a degree by doing, and being, and existing in the comfort zone of what you already know.
So whether it’s taken two years or seven to get today’s degree, I want you to look back on the journey that brought you here.
What moments challenged you most?
When were you asked to step outside of your familiar territory in order to rise to the occasion of your potential?
How have you pushed past your fear?
I want you to remember those moments because they will embolden you, and affirm you, and remind you that you did this. You completed this journey.
You answered the call. And now you can continue to do so, but the choice is yours. When you leave here today and commence the next stage of your life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected, and copy the status quo. Or, you can look at all that you have accomplished today, and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.