Sometimes life throws us challenges that make success seem more like an illusion than a probability. When setbacks come, it is easy to dwell on them and allow them to obscure your vision. But do you know you can turn challenges and failures into motivation and use it to achieve your dream? Take it from legendary actor Sidney Poitier.
Sidney Poitier is often regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time. However, the beginning of his career was far from the glamor he has achieved.
Sidney grew up in Cat Island, Bahamas. He attended school for a year but quit to support his struggling family. He worked as a casual worker in construction and warehouses. This backbreaking work gave him varicose veins at the young age of 14.
At age 15, Sidney lived in Miami with his brother. After experiencing racism for the first time, he decided to move to New York, where he held a string of dishwashing jobs. There, Sidney was often homeless, spending many nights in bus terminal toilets. During these cold nights, he witnessed the booming Broadway theatre and gradually developed an interest in acting.
Rough career beginnings
Sidney wanted to be an actor. However, he had one problem: he did not know how to read and would struggle with scripts. Fortunately, one of his colleagues offered to help. He became a dishwasher by day and a literacy student by night.
While practicing his reading skills, Sidney spotted a newspaper call for new actors by the American Negro Theatre. He tried his luck and got an audition, but the audience rejected him. In addition to his poor reading, he had a heavy Bahamian accent.
“The producer marched me to the door. He told me to stop wasting people’s time and go become a dishwasher.” Sidney recalled.
Rejected, Sidney walked back to the bus shelter. Halfway along the way, he wondered how the producer knew he was a dishwasher.
“I realized then and there that was his perception of my worth.”
Desperate to prove a point
Sidney was deeply offended by the producer’s assumption. He spent the next few days questioning whether he had any value beyond what he could do with his hands. Eventually, he decided that he was going to be an actor.
Admittedly, this decision was wild and without foundation. Nonetheless, Sidney used his first audition experience as motivation to work on his reading and accent. He started imitating the voices he heard on the radio and practicing with colleagues at his dishwashing jobs. When he felt he was good enough, he went back to the theatre.
Despite his best effort, the theatre rejected Sidney again. The following day, he returned and asked to be a janitor in exchange for some acting classes. However, even the lessons did not help. Showing zero acting talent, Sidney had to leave the class.
Sidney’s hard work rewarded him
Sidney Poitier was at his lowest point when he could no longer attend acting lessons. However, he had left a strong impression among his classmates, who felt he was a positive influence and the hardest-working student in the class. They banded together and appealed to the theatre on his behalf. Sidney was accepted back as an understudy for an upcoming production.
Next is a familiar success story in acting, where an understudy gets his big break because the main actor does not show. Sidney went on and did so well that a director in the audience invited him to read for a part in a Broadway production.
Sidney performed outstandingly in his Broadway debut. As a result, he landed a significant role in a Hollywood picture, No Way Out. His acting career was finally in motion, and there was no turning back.
A Hollywood legend
Sidney proceeded to star in many big Hollywood releases. His infectious acting made him the number one box office draw in the 1960s and earned him numerous accolades, including the 1964 Academy Award for best actor.
Today, Sidney Poitier is highly celebrated on stage and screen. Despite a humble background and several rejections as a budding actor, he persevered and eventually proved his doubters wrong with overwhelming success.
The takeaway is this:
Sidney’s story is testimony that you can achieve great things regardless of your beginnings. If you envision to become successful, do not let your current situation hold you back. With focus, dedication, and hard work, you can make it happen.
“Do not accept anyone’s definition of your life. Define it yourself.”