What Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar Speech Teaches Us About Letting Go of the Past

Your past is simply a memory. It doesn’t have to be your identity.

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I’m moved as I watch this man bring himself to tears with his own words. The audience is captivated and still. They don’t want to miss a moment. 

Only when he finishes speaking, they stand up and erupt with applause.

As did I.

I believe Joaquin Phoenix just had the most poignant moment of his life. 

Not because he just won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in ‘Joker.’ 

But because he used his acceptance speech to share a powerful message. He was transparent and gut-wrenching. He made an imprint in 45 incredible seconds of speaking from the heart. 

It was also challenging to listen to.

Whether you liked his speech or not, there were two moments about teaching us to let go and move forward.

“I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something, to give something up.”1

Inside all of us is a version that is hiding. A more courageous, more authentic, more honest one that truly reflects who we are at this stage in our lives.

But it’s so easy to keep that version tucked in a corner. We’ve been taught that change is scary. We’ve been taught that changing the course of our lives can be difficult, reckless, and risky. 

Life is Easy When It’s Comfortable

Life is even easier when we stick to the path we are already on, rather than listen to the changes we really want to create.

We let responsibilities hold us back from making a move, and we wait for the stars to perfectly align so we know it’s the “right” time for change.

We fear who we could become. We fear what people might think. We fear success as much as failure.

But what if change doesn’t mean getting uncomfortable or having a crisis or that we’re putting ourselves at risk for failure?

What if personal change can be about being limitless and not about sacrifice? 

I believe that’s the message Joaquin wanted to convey the most.

Change doesn’t have to be about giving something up. It can be about giving something greater.

With all inherently crave change because life is about growth. 

As we accumulate experiences, we build new memories and powerful lessons. We get more clarity. We connect more with that’s real about ourselves.

We can let go of what no longer serves us, without sacrificing who we are and the things we love.

Change should never be confused for compromise. 

You will never have to compromise if you are changing for the better, just like Joaquin has so beautifully exhibited in his career. 

The Past is a Memory, Not Your Identity

Joaquin so openly admitted, “Now, I have been, I have been a scoundrel in my life. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.”1

This man has had both a tumultuous and riveting career. He had dives deeply into characters and has no fear in pouring every ounce of his soul to make a script come to light. 

He shows us that we are all raw and fragile, but above all else, we just want to be loved for who we are and forgiven for being human.

We all have mistakes from our past that we would love to completely forget. We all have had times where we wish we could take back the words we said or the reckless actions we took.

What will help us let go of those few moments we weren’t at our best, the key is to forgive ourselves rather than be defined by them. 

Our past is but a memory. The moments we regret are fleeting. They do not have to shape our fate, our beliefs, or our worth. It would be a waste of a life if we let those mistakes shape our entire lives.

Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

Joaquin could have chosen to remain a scoundrel. He could have closed himself off to love and acceptance. He could have never stepped in front of a camera again. He would never know the glory of holding that Oscar on that stage.

If he stayed trapped by his past, we would have missed out on his brilliance, and he would have missed out on this second chance.

Our identity is our own. We can change it, shape it, and mold it to a better version of ourselves any time we choose.

A second chance can happen with a choice to change and a choice to forgive.

If we let go of whatever part of our past holds us back, then personal change will happen  naturally without any sacrifice or fear, because we are purely living into who we really are.

Joaquin, you reflected to us the powers of compassion and gratitude. Thank you for your  tears, your words, and your truth. 

Let go of your past. Find your stage, and shine your light.


1 https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/transcript-joaquin-phoenixs-speech-at-2020-oscars-1278278

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