No matter how humble your beginnings, you can reach the highest level of success to which you aspire. Listen to either of Hilary Swank’s Academy Award acceptance speeches, and you’ll likely discover that the journey from where you’ve been to where you want to be is shorter than it looked from the start.
Swank grew up with her mother in a Washington state trailer park. Always visionary and ambitious, Swank confessed to aspiring to be an actress while still very young. She admitted that she never doubted herself, but also never expected great success. Life, however, had something much greater in store.
After her mother lost her job, Swank and her mom moved to Los Angeles where they lived in their car. Using rolls of quarters they had saved, her mom made calls from a payphone to get Swank auditions. Opportunities for television roles built momentum for Swank’s career that led to an indie film project called Boys Don’t Cry. Despite Swank’s enrapturing performance, nothing in the Academy’s history indicated any Best Actress consideration. The transgender theme of Boys Don’t Cry was so groundbreaking in 1999 that Swank said the film could not even have gotten made a few years earlier. It was directed by a young woman, a group the Academy is still slow to acknowledge. The movie had a tiny budget, which usually makes it a complete Academy oversight. But critical praise and word of mouth Oscar campaigning did what until that time was impossible—it brought Swank (and supporting actress costar Chloë Sevigny) an Oscar nomination.
As a first-time nominee in a small budget film about a transgender character, Swank was initially told to be grateful that she was even listed among the Best Actress nominees that year. But as more people saw the film, excitement for her performance escalated. At that year’s Oscars, Swank broke ground by winning with all odds against her. Five years later, Swank won again, this time for the year’s Best Picture, Million Dollar Baby. With that second victory, Swank joined Oscar record-setters including Luise Rainer, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, and Sally Field by winning lead Oscars for their first two nominated performances.
Swank began that second Oscar acceptance speech by saying, “I don’t know what I did to deserve all this. I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.” I believe she identified the source of her success: she had a dream. Her beginnings didn’t matter, because she was focused on where she was going. That vision vaulted her to the top of her profession.
Like Swank, we can all dream so big it leaves no room to doubt our talents. Such a visionary approach can put us in fine company indeed.