What Ben Affleck Can Teach You (and Me) About Success

Mon, Feb 25, 2013

Success Isn't Winning It's "Being There"

The Blink of an Eye.

Just a few short years ago when a couple of wide-eyes kids strode onto the stage at the Academy Awards to receive an Oscar for their screen play, Good Will Hunting.

That blink of an eye has been 15 years. That’s hard to believe.

After this meteoric ride, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck where the hot ticket in Hollywood. They could do no wrong. I can’t imagine the prestige and power that must have come with that. Intoxicating at the least.

The closest thing I can relate it to in my own life is the ascension to significance and influence that was EAS, with my brother, Bill (Phillips).  In hindsight, we were young too. There was a lot of excess—and a hell of work too. Things seemed to come easy even though we worked very hard.

It’s easy to go back and romanticize the times—for there’s a lot to reminisce about but fact is, I don’t think anyone of us would really go back. Although, there’s certainly some aspects of that time I’d like to bring forward into my life.

In the years since Good Will Hunting, (“How do you like them apples?” I love that line) Matt and Ben have had two separate careers. Damon has become a highly praised and even more highly paid actor, starring in the Bourne series of movies among many other hits.

Matt’s done well. Ben… Well, not so much.

How Time Flies...

Sure, Affleck rode the wave well for some years but he fell on lean times. His little brother Casey, became many times the actor Ben was. Ben wasn’t getting roles and when he did, his performance was less than stellar.

Then came personal issues. He started acting up and out. It’s as if the stress was starting to creep out in his behavior. For all intensive purpose, Ben looked to be done in Hollywood. He was on his way down and out.

Having always liked him, I felt bad watching Ben descend—I’d never have guessed we’d see him on the Oscar stage again, especially for Best Picture.

In Ben’s lean years I identify. Following the EAS machine, I’ve had some great times. My personal life has enjoyed many blessings. I was married (and that’s all I have to say about that [hear Forrest Gump]) and I’ve been blessed with two healthy, amazing children. There’s nothing better and these life events far exceed all the joy I’ve ever had from career success.

But they don’t replace it. That’s one difference between men and women. While the personal life can have greater meaning it’s not a replacement for career success.

Like I can imagine Ben and Matt doing, following the EAS rise and exit, I started some exciting projects with the best of intention and inspiring vision. And I learned a lot—about what to do and what not to do. (One day I’ll share all these and detail the lessons).

If Success Were Measured In Muscle, We Win!

I’ve lost some relationships along the way, and gained others. Most all of my best work has been done in this decade and some. (I am increasingly confident with each passing month that Strength for LIFE is a far better and deeper book than I even imagined while writing it, and Full Strength is widely accepted by all in the know as the best nutrition shake ever made.) While deeper, richer and more meaningful none of it has brought the sort of accolade and success of EAS. Perhaps in many ways because it wasn’t intended to. Perhaps because I’m playing the game differently.

And like Ben, the last few years have been a struggle for me. The stress of struggle seeped into my personal life too. I’ve enjoyed a few of the low points that remind of us our humanity and bring with it humility—if you’re lucky.

Let’s just say, I have much greater empathy for our humanity and am much less prone to judge our celebrities slips and imperfections. We’re human beings doing our best, most of the time.

Maybe it’s my projection—maybe not—but in Ben Affleck’s presence on the Oscar stage last night I believe I saw a true secret to success—the one few of us really want to accept, being there.

Being there?

Yes, I think Ben was actually present to this recognition. I think it meant more to him than he could have even ever imagined. Because he’d received the gift of being released of ego—no, not entirely but it’s a tale as old as Scrooge; where a ghost of Christmas past helps a man break through his demons, to see how his ego and fear of being his true vulnerable self if blocking him from all that really matters.

For, while in the past, Ben probably believed that the awards were affirmation of his specialness, his superiority, he now gets that it’s not about him. That he’s simply a vehicle for which the spirit or “the universe” can act. And the recognition is for him getting out of the way, working so hard that the ego falls, and that all is left is truth and grace.

What is success if you’re not there? Is it success or just more evidence for an ego to build more layers on?

I am beginning to believe that life is like a movie, that the hero’s rise and fall is an absolutely essential part of the script. Not just because it’s a better story and we get more connected but because it’s the only way to get the point of the movie we call life. That by falling and rising again, on our own, through work that is harder than any we’d ever have signed up for, do we and can we find our way home to the place we started.

I reminded of this quote from T. S. Eliot:

“And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

I salute Ben Affleck for his courage, his perseverance, his steadfast unwillingness to give in when he had a million reasons to. And for his effort, for what he says was, “to work harder than you ever thought possible,” he received the Holy Grail of success. No, not the Oscar, not the money, not the fame but the nearly intolerable joy of being fully present to your own infinite potential, realized.

For me, Ben reminds me of that this is the journey, that the rise and fall is a necessary part of the script, of the “return to” glory and to know it for the first time.

For all of you and us who’ve seen better days, who’s felt the fatigue of the battle, who’ve wondered where their ol’ confident self went, I look to Ben’s seemingly impossible return and am myself rejuvenated by it. We’ve got the essential first parts and the challenge has not broken us down but simply strengthened us. This is the time to work harder than you ever thought possible, to lean on and share your gratitude for those still on your side and to look forward and up.

For as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

This time is your time. What are you going to do with it?


If you’re a man who’s feeling the ass-kicking pressures of life in the middle, this time is your time to take your mojo back, and get back on top of life. Step #1 of the “Man on Topproject is here, the 14-Day Challenge. Step back into your strength and success, again… for the first time.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 190 posts on Shawn Phillips | Start Strong Monday.

Author, speaker, sprinter, trainer, fitness guru and Integral philosopher...Shawn Phillips

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13 Responses to “What Ben Affleck Can Teach You (and Me) About Success”

  1. Jay Says:

    As always I appreciate your perspective Shawn. Glad he won, and even happier about who he seems to be “being”.


  2. James Says:

    Yes Shawn, this is my time to get it all back and I’m taking it, as the saying goes, one day at a time. Soon to be 61, it’s a little harder getting started, but with perseverance, dedication, commitment as well as understanding of my weaknesses and limitations and a whole lot of determination, I will succeed in achieving my goals.
    Thanks for always being an inspiration


  3. Ben Tilley Says:

    You’re only defeated when you don’t get back up.


  4. Peter Cady Says:

    This was inspirational today. For all the successes in my life, I am the one asking myself…What have you done lately?

    Sometimes it takes a little introspection and honesty to oneself!


  5. Tom Says:

    Hi Shawn-

    Great post! I can relate as a man, I went through the buying of “things”, buying rounds of drinks and burning the candle at each end. Once I lost THE job I found myself with empty pockets followed by an empty heart & soul. Life came full circle and I found out eventually, the simple life, as in the beginning, IS the Holy Grail.
    Less IS More! People over technology. Eyes and ears over moving lips.
    Some of the best relationships are the faces in passing. The people behind the camera in everyday life really help mold the world that makes me smile. Now I begin again with more “real” friends moving forward!


  6. jerry Says:

    For all intensive purpose, should be – for all intents and purposes. Good message.


  7. Christian Walker Says:

    Dear Shawn, this morning I read your post and I think it is really outstanding! I am from Switzerland and it is over 12 years now, I follow your work and I appreciate it very much.

    Back to your post: To be released of ego is probably the most difficult but also the most rewarding. I see so much people, espacialy the “young” generation, which are in their young age released of their ego and they unfolded their true potential. And there is a lot more to come. It’s absolutley fantastic to see people realize their full potential.

    Looking forward to see more of you…



  8. Kevin Says:

    Dear Shawn,

    OMG! Amazing post! Did a message ever find it’s way to someone who needed to hear it more! I’m on my 3rd major “Return to Glory” mission and I too look forward to being present when I arrive. I have written goals and quotes that I read/review every morning and evening. I’m adding “RISE AND FALL … RETURN TO GLORY” to my list. Please know that what you do and write changes lives! THANK YOU Sooooooo VERY MUCH! I love Full Strength Nutrition Shakes. They’re delicious and I truly look forward to them every day. Your post reminded me of the Napoleon Hills quote that I read/review every day: Every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed on an equivalent or greater benefit.

    My warmest regards and heart felt Thanks to you,



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