What Woody Allen Taught Me

Over the past few days, I’ve gotten into the habit of watching documentaries before I go to sleep every night (thank you Netflix for actually making this a possibility in my life!). They are just interesting enough that I won’t fall asleep, but aren’t so exciting that I can’t go to sleep right after. A glorious middle ground.


My first pick that started this new habit was Woody Allen: A Documentary. It has two parts, so I split up the watching over two nights. I thought it was splendid! I should probably know more about famous directors anyways (being a film student and all), but this was so interesting just to watch as a human. I find Woody’s whole mindset in life so intriguing. He is introverted and hilarious and bold and complex. I found this mixture of qualities compelling.

I admired his ability to go on with life. Few celebrities can escape the critical eye of the public, and he was by no means exempt. Still, he lives with this incredible ability to not care about what people think. Ah. I could go on and on.

Anyways, after watching, I was compelled to make a list of life lessons I took from the documentary. So, without further adieu:

6 Life Lessons Woody Allen Taught Me

  1. Follow your passions. Write jokes for the newspaper. Become a stand up comedian. Act. Direct. Granted, somehow these all made their way relatively naturally into Woody’s life. But still, if you can, do what you love. Do what you want to be doing, and the more difficult situations in life may perhaps be more bearable.
  2. Move on. You tried something and it didn’t work out? Move on. People don’t like your art? Move on. Try again. Learn from your mistakes, yes, but move on from them too. Become good at what you do, and if you mess up, remember that you are good at what you do, and then keep on doing it.
  3. Don’t give a damn about what other people (specifically people who don’t even know you) say about you. You will make mistakes, and people will latch onto them as something “juicy” to talk about. Ignore it. Woody does this incredibly. Time and time again, it is so apparent that he literally doesn’t care what the media or anyone says about him. His sister said, at one point, that she cared what they [the public/media/etc.] said about him, other close friends and family cared about what they said about him, but he couldn’t care less. I admire that so much, and although it seems a bit unlikely that I will ever not care as much as he does, I think it’s an important mindset to aspire towards.
  4. Let people do their thing. Everyone works differently. Multiple actors interviewed in the documentary said Woody was the best actor’s director they had ever worked with because of his ability to direct without being over-bearing. He encouraged actors that they thought something other than what was written in the script felt more natural for them, they should do that instead. He was (and is) humble enough, and wise enough, to let other people find their niche and then do what was necessary to direct them.
  5. Make your opinions your own. Like what you like. Don’t like what you don’t like. One of Woody’s favorite films he made (Stardust Memories) was one of the critics’ least favorite. That didn’t make him change his mind about his opinion. Be confident in what you think and stick to your beliefs.
  6. Don’t be afraid to wrestle with the Big questions in life. Woody Allen has mastered this magical way of dealing with some of life’s most daunting questions and mysteries in a comedic way. I think it’s good to be able to laugh about the things that scare us and leave us wondering. We can either laugh about them or cry about them, and (while there is a time for both) I think laughing is more conducive to living a life not devoid of hope. Think about God. About existence. About death. About love. Write about them and be honest about them. It’s good to think about those things.

So. Those are my six lessons learned. I highly recommend watching the documentary if you haven’t already! It’s quite good.  And thus, I leave you with a quote:

When I look back on my life, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve lived out all these childhood dreams. I wanted to be a movie actor and I became one. I wanted to be a movie director and a comedian, I became one. I wanted to play jazz in New Orleans and I played in street parades and joints in New Orleans and played in opera houses and concerts all over the world. There was nothing in my life that I aspired toward that hasn’t come through for me. But despite all these lucky breaks, why do I still feel that I got screwed somehow?” -Woody Allen


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