This month for our book club, we read Finding Me by Viola Davis. Viola Davis is an accomplished actress who has won an Oscar, an Emmy, two Tonys, and a SAG award for her work. She also won a Grammy Award for her audiobook narration of Finding Me.
This book is a little different than our usual book club pick. It’s a memoir about Davis’ turbulent childhood and struggle to become a successful actress despite the odds being stacked against her.
At times, it was a difficult read. There are many descriptions of physical abuse, some discussion of sexual abuse, racism, and horrifying living conditions. Trigger Warning: There are brief mentions of the above topics in this blog post.
My takeaways this time will be a little different than usual since this book isn’t specifically designed to be a guide or a practical book. However, I think there is still a lot to learn from Finding Me.
1) Confront your past difficulties
Near the very beginning of the book, Davis tells the story of an eye-opening conversation she had with Will Smith on a movie set. During the conversation, she came to the realization that despite all of her success, deep inside, she was still a little girl running away from her bullies.
Throughout the book, she talks about keeping all of her trauma locked up tight within herself. As a child, she endured terrible things no child should ever see. Her father beat her mother on a regular basis. Davis was sexually abused by her older brother and raped by a boyfriend. Her family living conditions were appalling - they frequently lacked running water or electricity, the apartment was infested with rats, the poor maintenance of the building caused their apartment to catch fire several times. Davis and her siblings wet the bed until their early teens because of the stress.
She kept all of this a secret as much as she could. It was a shameful family secret. But of course, all of that pain didn’t just magically go away. As she grew older, she realized she had to deal with everything that happened in her past to be able to live happily in the present.
I hope that you don’t have such trauma in your own past, but we all have something that deeply affected us and impacts the way we see the world today. Maybe it’s a nasty comment about weight that pops up when it’s time to eat. Or maybe a cheating partner who broke your trust in relationships.
Whatever it is, finding a way to confront the past pain will help you move forward. It could include meditation, journaling, talking with friends, or even professional help.
2) Find your passion
One thing that struck me throughout the book was Davis’ passion and dedication to her acting. Despite all of the chaos happening around her, she was single-minded in her determination to become a successful actress from a young age.
Reading about her hard work to get into acting programs was inspiring. She worked hard on applications for acting programs, worked extra jobs, rode buses and trains all over the East Coast to auditions, lived in terrible apartments, and generally did whatever it took to reach the next level.
Although becoming a famous actress would lift her out of poverty, I never got the impression that wealth was the main goal of her work. Instead, it was a love of the craft. And her love paid off in the form of multiple awards, including two Tonys, an Oscar, and an Emmy.
Davis’ passion sustained her through all the difficulties of her personal life and the hardship of becoming successful in her career. Finding your own passion and your “why” can help you get through the hard times too.
3) Success doesn’t happen overnight
I must admit that before I read this book, I didn’t really know anything about Viola Davis. I knew she was a successful actress, but I don’t think I’ve really seen anything she’s been in. (I’m just not a big TV or movie person!) Seeing her accept awards in a beautiful gown, I never would have guessed everything she went through to make it to that point.
They say you never know what another person is going through, and as cliche as it may sound, it is true. We typically just see the success and accolades instead of all the hard work in the background.
The comparison game is hard to avoid in this age of social media, so it’s all the more important to take a step back and remember that success doesn’t happen overnight. In the book, Davis talks about the many acting programs she attended as a young girl, the work she put in during breaks in college, and the hard work just to get in to Juilliard. She talks about countless auditions where she was rejected and how even when she finally started to get small parts, it wasn’t enough to be a full-time job.
Whenever you find yourself feeling frustrated by a lack of progress or like your hard work doesn’t matter, think back to Viola Davis’ story. It took years of hard work before she became a successful actress and she was already 50 years old when she won her Oscar. She could have given up when she was a child after realizing how expensive schooling was, especially for a poor family. She could have given up when Juilliard catered more toward white students and certain acting styles. She could have given up after the audition rejections pilled up and she still had to work other jobs. But she kept going and her perseverance was rewarded!
Ultimately, I found this book to be a story of human resilience. Davis accepts that everything she went through ultimately made her into the woman she is today. She was able forgive her father for his abuse toward her mother and understand that her parents were doing the best they could under difficult circumstances. I believe that her empathy is the key to her incredible acting abilities.
I'm not sure "enjoyed" is the right word to describe how I felt about this book since it contained many painful passages, but it was real and honest, and I'm glad I read it.
"'It's futile to ask why. Instead ask yourself, "What did I learn from this?"' What have I learned from all of it? There is absolutely no way whatsoever to get through this life without scars."
What did you think of Finding Me by Viola Davis? Let us know in the comments below!
Next month, we'll be reading Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates.