3 Life Lessons from Ethan Hawke

Francis Alcantara
3 min readAug 22, 2022

His filmography begins in 1985 and continues to this day. Or at least at the time I’m writing this. Although I do hope that he continues working because I think Ethan Hawke’s one of the most insightful actors out there.

There are countless articles out there talking about his skill as an actor. This isn’t one of them. Instead, this article’s about Ethan Hawke’s sensitivity. His sensitivity to life and the creative process.

Now, I’m not an Ethan Hawke expert here; I haven’t even seen all of his movies. But I enjoy watching interviews. And in each interview I’ve seen of his, I always learn something new — something, I think, that’s valuable to learn, especially if you’re someone with a craft you want to master.

I’m just a fan passing along what he’s learned from Mr. Hawke.

3 Lessons from Ethan Hawke

1. Don’t be afraid to play the fool

When we go through emotional experiences — we end our relationship, our parent passes away, we fall in love, we laugh to tears with our friends — we seek art.

Poems, movies, music. Books, paintings, dances. In a TED Talk he gave, Hawke talks about how, when our emotions start turning, these things stop being a kind of luxury and becomes “sustenance.” They’re vital. We rely on these things to make sense of what we feel, but also to express ourselves.

But sometimes we hold back on expressing ourselves. We fear what others think about us. But the time of our lives is so short.

When we become more authentic — expressing ourselves freely and encouraging others to do so — good things start to happen. Our relationships grow. We begin to heal each other.

So give yourself the permission to be creative. Own your cringe. Play the fool.

2. Be a professional, but don’t forget to have fun

There are two mindsets in the realm of creativity: that of an amateur and that of a professional.

An amateur is someone who does something for the love of it. They don’t care whether what they’re doing is good or not. They have heart. Their enthusiasm is contagious. We cheer them on because, more often than not, they’re the underdogs.

On the other side are the professionals. They get things done. They’re serious about their craft. There’s an end-goal they have which they commit all their waking hours towards. Writer Alistair Cooke defined professionals as “one who does one’s best when one does not particularly feel like it.”

Being too much of one won’t lead to much good. An amateur might only perform when they feel like it, meaning they’re unreliable. But a professional can burn themselves out too often.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Ethan Hawke tries to balance being both.

He’s a professional actor, yes, but he’s also an amateur in other ways. He’s written novels and directed documentaries, two things outside his metier, because he loves it. By remembering to have fun and doing things outside his profession, he’s able to become a better professional.

3. Happiness lies in your responsibilities

When most of us think of happiness, we think of pleasure. It’s having a good time, all the time. It’s having days to ourselves and a bank account balance that has more digits than a regular cellphone number. But that often isn’t the case.

Ethan Hawke, channeling the words of pianist Seymour Bernstein, mentions an alternative image of happiness. He says, “There is no happiness without meeting your responsibilities.”

Happiness isn’t about free time or bottomless funds. It’s saying you’re going to do something, and then doing it. It’s doing a good job. It’s about crossing off to-do’s. It’s as if, at the end of the day, happiness is about feeling accomplished and proud of yourself.

Lessons From Actors

You don’t need to be an Ethan Hawke fan to appreciate some of the things he’s said. It all sounds so simple too. They seem intuitive and are common sense. It’s why I think they’re so great. Sometimes, the most impactful lessons are the ones we already know.

If you want to learn lessons from another actor, read how Bryan Cranston defines Getting a Job vs Doing a Job.

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Francis Alcantara

Content writer. Graphic designer. Meal-finisher. Seinfeld enjoyer.