Natalie Portman Emphasizes the Power of Overconfidence and Inexperience in Harvard Graduation Speech (Video)
The alum reflected on her own "difficult" university experience, taking a risk on 'Black Swan' and making her directorial debut: "What has served me is diving into my own obliviousness, being more confident than I should be."
Natalie Portman highlighted the power of overconfidence — and the obliviousness of youth — while addressing Harvard's graduating class.
"You are here for a reason. Sometimes, your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to embrace other people's expectations, standards or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path," she said on Thursday, pointing to her directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, which just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
"My complete ignorance to my own limitations looked like confidence and got me into the director's chair," said Portman. "Once there, I had to figure it all out, and my belief that I could handle these things, contrary to all evidence of my ability to do so, was half the battle. The other half was very hard work."
"You can never be the best. The only thing you can be the best at is developing your own self. Make use of the fact that you don't doubt yourself too much right now. As we get older, we get more realistic, and that includes about our own abilities — or lack thereof. That realism does us no favors," she continued. "What has served me is diving into my own obliviousness, being more confident than I should be."
Throughout the self-deprecating speech, Portman, a Harvard alum herself, reflected on her own experience at the university.
"I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn't smart enough to be in this company, that every time I opened my mouth, I would have to prove I wasn't just a dumb actress," she said of her experience as an incoming freshman in 1999. "I feared people would have assumed that I had gotten in just for being famous, and that they would think I was not worthy of the intellectual rigor here."
"I realized that seriousness for seriousness' sake was its own kind of trophy, and a dubious one — a pose I sought to counter some half-imagined argument about who I was," she said. "There was a reason I was an actor: I love what I do, and I saw from my peers and my mentors that that was not only an acceptable reason, it was the best reason."
She also joked that her degree "doesn't help me answer the most common questions I'm asked: What designer are you wearing? What's your fitness regimen? Any makeup tips?"
Portman's happy ending at Harvard wasn't always clear. "It's easy now to romanticize my time here, but I had some very difficult times here too. Some combination of being 19, dealing with my first heartbreak, taking birth-control pills that have since been taken off the market for their depressive side effects, and spending too much time missing daylight during winter months led me to some pretty dark moments."
Portman recounted the steps of her acting career, noting that her first film The Professional which "bombed commercially," taught her that "my meaning had to be from the experience of making a film and the possibility of connecting with individuals, rather than the foremost trophies of my industry: financial and critical success."
"By the time I got to making Black Swan," she said, "the experience was entirely my own. I felt immune to the worst things people could say or write about me. … I was so oblivious to my own limits that I did things I was woefully unprepared to do. So the very inexperience that in college had made me insecure ... now was making me actually take risks I didn't even realize were risks."
"Achievement is wonderful when you know why you're doing it," she concluded. "When you don't know, it can be a terrible trap. … If your reasons are your own, your path, even if it's a strange and clumsy path, will be wholly yours, and you will control the rewards of what you do by making your internal life fulfilling."
Watch the video below.