Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis Part I: The Transformation
Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis
Part I: The Transformation
Finding Me by Viola Davis was published back in April of 2022. It is so rich and full of life lessons that I have to review in two parts. The book is phenomenal or maybe, I found Viola Davis to be phenomenal either way Find Me: A Memoir was a treat. I do not know why it took me so long to read it. That is a lie. I don’t usually read autobiographies. I only recently, a few years ago, started reading nonfiction books regularly to begin with. So, my inclination is not to run out and grab a memoir when it is released. I have listened to a couple in the last few years though and look forward to listening to more.
I am somewhat elated that I decided to explore Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis though. It challenged my ideas of forgiveness and acceptance and personal growth and how one deals with their trauma. Her life was not an easy one, particularly in her younger years. Hers is a rags-to-riches story that she tells so eloquently and matter-of-factly that one would almost think she was an impartial outsider peaking in. I listened to the audiobook and her voice accompanied by her words was weirdly soothing and disturbing to me at the same time due to a level of detachment I perceived.
Who is Viola Davis? It is worth mentioning that she is an extraordinary, beautiful, powerful actress who fought and pushed and worked hard for everything she now has. She is an EGOT-level award-winning actress having won an Emmy for How to Get Away with Murder, a Grammy for the narration of Finding Me, an Oscar for her role in Fences, and two Tonys for her roles in King Hedley II and Fences. Not to mention the many other award nominations she has received and the ones she has won. She has been in the acting game for over 30 years and although she had some angels along the way, she did not get any handouts.
She starts the book by comparing her younger self to her older self while being forced to reconcile with her younger self in a therapy session. Viola Davis coming to terms with her younger self by acknowledging her strength and loving her was a real light bulb moment for me. Realizing that sometimes we resent or feel sorry for our younger selves when we should revere our younger selves caused me to pause and reflect on who my younger self was and thank her for being her. That person we were in the past, even though they went through unimaginable pain or hardships, is the survivor. Their survival is the reason why we are where we are today. Her therapist appropriately pointed out to her that “it’s the 53-year-old that needs some help.” Finding Me made me think about not only the reconciliation with who we once were but also acknowledging that person and thanking them for their survival could be a key to healing and making whole the person we are today.
A hero’s journey. “A hero is someone born into a world where they don’t fit in. They are then summoned on a call to an adventure that they are reluctant to take. What is the adventure? A revolutionary transformation of self.” In the book, she talks about the journey of a hero and how you are the hero of your own life, your own story. Honestly, there is no harder thing than acknowledging your shortcomings and deciding to work on them earnestly. Self-transformation can be a daunting task even when it is for our betterment. I believe that’s why some people avoid therapy and even when they do go, they are not always honest with the therapist because that would require being honest with oneself. Of course, embarking on self-transformation is the tale of a hero. Heroic feats require heroic strength.
Viola’s Diane. Diane was Viola’s older sister who talked a new life into her. “You need to have a really clear idea of how you’re gonna make it out if you don’t want to be poor for the rest of your life. You have to decide what you want to be and you have to work really hard,” Diane said to Viola. We all need a Diane in our lives. Someone who has our back. Who will be our biggest supporter and teach us what we need to know to get through life. “Because I’m the oldest everything I that learn, I’ll teach you guys when I get home so you’ll be ahead,” Diane said to her litter sisters. She not only told Viola what she needed but also put action behind it. Those simple, factual words took root and set Viola on her path to greatness. More than that they set her mind a blaze wondering, “What do I want to be? Is there a way out?”
Diana was the type of person you needed around you when embarking on a transformation that you did not even realize you needed. Someone who saw the potential. She reminds me to surround myself with people who will push me further and not be satisfied with the way things are. Going beyond expectations is how progress is made. That is what assists when courage is lacking because when you come from a world that Viola did, one fraught with difficulty, pain, and lacking hope, you also had to be courageous to simply dare to dream of something different.
Courage to dare to do what you love. Viola realized that acting was her passion but somewhere along the way allowed sensibility to cloud her judgment. She spent an entire year trying to be sensible and denying herself her passion while everyone else around her knew she should be pursuing acting. I believe it may have been her own self-doubt to succeed because all throughout the recurrent theme seemed to be how she had to love herself. Interestingly enough, I never got the sense that she had low self-esteem but rather, she had a hard time believing she deserved more and could do more. “The cure was courage the courage to dare, risking failure.” She spent her first year of college depressed, but her depression lifted when she turned her energies to doing what she loved. Making the decision to pursue her acting changed the course of her life.
Black card struggle. “It was like as if I didn’t have my black card.” She was “lost in that in-between space.” Because she did not relate to the people around her because of the perceived environment she was from. When in reality, she struggled maybe more than the rest of them. I imagine there was some level of black bourgeoisie working against her as well. Not to mention she worked so much that she did not appear to have time to build those relationships. Viola seemed to hustle with no care to the outside world and what people thought of her and only her will and determination to keep her fueled.
I think most people who are not living it, take for granted what true transformation looks and feels like. A big part of this book was going on Viola’s hero’s quest and learning everything it took to get her to where she is today. Likewise, our willingness to actively engage in a transformation is sometimes key to our growth, development, and arrival.