A Little Happier: Laurence Olivier’s Advice to Dustin Hoffman Works for Me, as Well.

You’re probably not listening to this episode on the very day that it went live, but in case you are, today is Labor Day here in the United States.

It’s a day off from work, so everyone looks forward to it for that reason.

And as Elizabeth and I have been discussing, the occasion of the Labor Day holiday is a great reminder to think about our own labor, our own work life. Just as Valentine’s Day can remind us of the importance of having a loving relationship with our sweetheart, and Mother’s and Father’s Day can remind us to tell our parents how much we love and appreciate them, and New Year’s Day can be a catalyst for self-reflection and resolution, Labor Day can be a prompt to think about work.

There are many aspects of my work life that deserve reflection, but there’s one thing I want to talk about here. It’s important for me to remember that the most effective way to progress from A to B is not to work the hardest.

Sometimes I try to get something done with sheer force, by just barreling through myself, without asking for help, delegating, thinking about shortcuts and more efficient ways, without asking myself, “Is this effort really worth the trouble?” I just power through. And that’s often not very effective.

It’s important to work hard, but I should also work smart, and to think about how I can achieve my aims in the most efficient way, without a lot of wasted effort.

Elizabeth told me this story that seems relevant to this notion:

In the world of acting, Lee Strasberg taught an approach called “method acting,” and in method acting, in order to develop a deep understanding of their roles, actors use techniques to recreate the character’s emotional state by recalling emotions or sensations from their own life. Dustin Hoffman, the actor who stars in The Graduate, Tootsie, All the President’s Men, Wag the Dog, and many others movies, is one of the most prominent followers of method acting.

There are a couple of different versions of this story, but the version Elizabeth told me is this: Dustin Hoffman was working with legendary British actor and director Laurence Olivier, known for his Shakespearean roles and considered by many one of the greatest actors of his time.

They were both working on the 1976 film Marathon Man. Hoffman had a grueling scene coming up, where his character hadn’t slept in three days, and Hoffman told Olivier that to prepare for the scene, he too hadn’t slept for 72 hours.

“My dear boy,” replied Olivier, “why don’t you try acting?”

The hardest work isn’t necessarily the best work.





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