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Life Lessons from Paul Newman

Paul Newman, who died this past year, left a lasting legacy as an actor, race car driver, and philanthropist, serving as a role model for performance living in many ways. Consider a few of his life lessons:

He took up auto racing in his 40s, becoming a successful driver and later race team owner, showing the value of taking on new challenges later in life. Such endeavors provide balance to life and often make for a fulfilling retirement. Newman never really retired from acting, but clearly he enjoyed racing as much as his first career. Second acts and retirements are usually more successful and rewarding if the groundwork is laid during your prime. You’ll also perform better in your prime if you have a diversion you’re passionate about.

Newman proved that it’s never too late to leverage your past accomplishments. In 1986, he reprised his role as pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson and finally won an Academy Award after many nominations, acting alongside Tom Cruise in the film “The Color of Money.” Not bad considering the movie was a sequel to the 1961 classic “The Hustler.” All of us have long-ago successes we can draw upon now, whether it’s through teaching, repositioning content, or simply by applying new technologies to an existing skill or talent.

In choosing roles, Newman emphasized quality over quantity. He appeared in roughly 65 films, a modest number considering his 50-year career arc. He had the luxury of being selective, but he often turned down big paychecks in huge studio films in favor of promising scripts and off-beat roles. Even when he cut back on acting, he delivered memorable performances, such as his mob boss role opposite Tom Hanks in “Road to Perdition” in 2002. Everyone can learn a lesson from that, striving for high-quality performance over the long haul rather than mediocre production at a prolific rate.

Newman departed from the crowd. He was famous for his maverick, renegade roles, but it’s the same way he was in life. He was married to the same woman for more than 50 years, a rarity anywhere, let alone Hollywood. Actually, he lived nowhere near Los Angeles, preferring Connecticut, and shunned the celebrity scene. Sometimes it’s tough not to follow the crowd, in business and in life, but staying true to one’s self usually is a good long-term strategy.

Newman gave back. In 1982, on a lark, he started the Newman’s Own food brand, bottling salad dressing he was making for friends. The company expanded into other products and became wildly successful. Newman donated all of the after-tax profits – more than $200 million to date – to charity, some of which went to his “Hole in the Wall Gang” camps that provided summer recreational opportunities to sick children. That’s a staggering amount of money, raising the bar for all of us.

Newman stayed current. It’s a challenge for anyone to keep up with changing trends and technologies. But Newman did. He was quick to embrace organic ingredients at Newman’s Own and constantly heeded advice from young people. Two years before his death, he pulled all of his interests and wisdom together in his final acting role, starring as the voice of “Doc Hudson” in the animated Disney movie “Cars.”

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Goals, Attitude, Longevity