In pursuit of passion: what Morgan Freeman's story teaches us about chasing our dreams


Is there now, or has there ever been, an actor as well-known and highly respected as Morgan Freeman? Perhaps, but surely none surpass him. The seemingly effortless actor with a voice that is as recognisable as it is powerful has enraptured the world with his performances in TV shows, movies, and on the theatre stage. His ascension to such high levels of fame and respect was, as it almost always is, a long and arduous journey. But, having identified his passion for acting, Freeman dedicated his life to its pursuit, remaining resilient and hopeful despite whatever challenges were thrown at him. And he has never taken any of it for granted.

“Was I always going to be here? No I was not. I was going to be homeless at one time, a taxi driver, truck driver, or any kind of job that would get me a crust of bread. You never know what's going to happen.”

An accidental discovery

Morgan Freeman was born on June 1, 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee to a low-income household that was struggling with the racial segregation laws commonplace in Southern US states at the time. Freeman spent hours in his childhood days saving and collecting money only to watch movies. But his first tryst with acting did not arise from his fondness of movies, instead it was a punishment meted out by his school teacher that led to his first appearance on a stage. Ordered to participate in the school's drama competition, Freeman proved to be an actor with a natural flair for the craft, winning the top award in the program. An interest in the art was subsequently sparked: “When I was a teenager, I began to settle into school because I'd discovered the extracurricular activities that interested me: music and theatre,” Freeman has said.

But, as his schooling years were nearing an end, acting was still not his one true passion. It was flying, particularly the idea of being a fighter pilot, that captivated him the most. Therefore, upon graduating from school in 1955, he turned down a partial drama scholarship and instead enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. However, his dream was not to be realised as he only got assigned jobs such as mechanic and radar technician — jobs which require both feet firmly planted to the ground. Disillusioned with military life, and struck by an epiphany which made him realise (in his own words): “You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this,” Freeman returned to first and true love — acting.

A relentless passion for acting 

“All my life, as far back as I can remember, I saw my first movie when I was six years old. And since then I wanted to do that. I wanted to be a part of that.”

After leaving the Air Force in 1959, Freeman moved to Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, in search of work as an actor. A difficult period followed, and struggling to find work in LA, Freeman soon moved to New York City in search of better fortunes. After going through a few more trying years, Freeman finally landed a role in the all African-American Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! Regular stints in the TV show The Electric Company and a few appearances in stage plays followed, but it wasn't until the 1980s when Freeman finally stepped into the hallways of Hollywood.

His first movie, Brubaker (1980), did not do much for his career but his second, Street Smart (1987) was the big break he had been working towards for decades. His performance in the movie earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and the floodgates to more movie roles correspondingly opened. 1989's Driving Miss Daisy saw Freeman win his second Oscar nomination and his first Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. Shortly after he appeared in Glory (1989) — what he considers to be his most important film till date.

The 1990s brought Freeman more critical and commercial acclaim through movies like Unforgiven (1992), Shawshank Redemption (1994), Se7en (1995), and Amistad (1997). Several more nominations followed and his superlative performance in the Million Dollar Baby (2004) finally won him his first Oscar (Best Supporting Actor). Since then, Morgan Freeman has left his mark on the industry through a plethora of movies in varying genres, playing roles in memorable ones like The Dark Knight (trilogy), Bruce Almighty (2003), Gone Baby Gone (2007), and Invictus (2009) to name a few. And what does all this have to do with us? Allow me to explain.

Living your dreams

Nearly all of us dream of one day turning our passion into a full-time career. We imagine escaping our dreary jobs and instead working as a musician, artist, film director, chef, or whatever else we truly enjoy doing. But the fear of failure and financial insecurity keeps us trapped in our current, and often miserable, situation. That's precisely what we need to overcome.

Of course, it's easy to look at someone at the top of their game and think that I'll never get to that level of success. But does it matter? I know the adage — ‘it's the journey, not the destination, that matters’ is oft repeated, but it remains true nonetheless. If you get paid handsomely for doing what you love, then good for you, if not, who cares? You got to live your life doing what you loved anyway. I'm not trying to romanticise the idea. You will undoubtedly face debilitating problems and challenges if you venture down this path, but at least you'll never deal with that terrible question — ‘what could have been?’. If you have identified something that you enjoy doing above everything else, so much so that you immerse yourself in it at the expense of other important aspects of your life, then you owe it to yourself to pursue it single-mindedly, reward and success be damned. This is what Morgan Freeman's story teaches us — follow your dreams, resiliently and unfalteringly; it's the only way to live.

“Acting means living, it's all I do and all I'm good at. If I weren't getting paid well, I would still be acting in a small troupe somewhere.” — Morgan Freeman.