Viola Davis on the importance of owning your story

Facing the ugly truth about ourselves isn’t always easy. Having to acknowledge our flaws and take accountability of our wrongdoings requires a certain level of honesty and maturity that for many comes with age and experience. The beauty, though, is that the acknowledgement is a step toward the overall goal of self-acceptance, self-awareness and ownership.

In a recent interview with InStyle , Viola Davis — the cover of the magazine’s December issue— defines ownership as the process of “owning your failures, owning your insecurities, and understanding that it’s a part of life.” “A lot of times we have those hiccups in the road, and we spend an awful amount of time — years — trying to sweep them under the rug instead of understanding that they’re a part of the joy,” she said.

Davis explained that ownership is usually attained in the older years of life — she personally didn’t grasp its concept until 55. Once you get there, however, the concern will be more about protecting energy and less about fitting in.

Davis, for example, remembers when she — “the only kinky-haired chocolate- brown girl” — tried channeling the girls with “the Farrah Fawcett look.” With age and the experience of the “disastrous results” of her experiment, however, the older Viola only makes moves that are in alignment with her authentic self.

“I think my greatest source of strength is my authenticity,” she said. “That is really a powerful tool because we spend our entire lives trying to get there. If you are projecting that, that’s what people are attracted to.”

Throughout her career, but specifically in recent years, the attraction to Davis has increased exponentially, partly because of her ability to seek out roles that allow her to channel her authenticity. Cue in role as Annalise Keating on ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder.”

The character, Davis admits, was “easier” to accept and portray after 33 years in the industry because she studied life, not the actors and actresses around her. 

“I know what’s good and what’s bad. If it doesn’t shift people in some way, then it’s not a piece of art,” she explained. “I could’ve lost 40 or 50 pounds,” she said of her portrayal. “I could’ve worn a long, straight weave. But I decided to start with a palette that was me. Physically me. Age-wise me. My wrinkles. All of it. The fact that I had the courage to do that is a testament to how long I’ve been in the business. What I’ve seen, how often I’ve failed. How my heart has been broken time and time again.”

Davis has gone on to win an Emmy and two Screen Actors Guild awards for the role, but the success is attributed to her overall ownership…of her failures, insecurities, generally her life story — something she advises people to strive toward.

“The most important thing you can do is own your story,” she said. “And then pass that story with all of its failures, all the joy, all the lessons learned, all the mistakes, pass it on to a young girl when you’re giving advice. Don’t filter it and channel it into your best moments.”

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