9 Of Jane Fonda’s Best Quotes About Life And Work Lessons

Jane Fonda, who turns 84 on Tuesday, is famous for speaking her mind.

Fonda is known for iconic acting roles in movies such as “Klute, “Barbarella” and “9 to 5” and, most recently, in the TV show “Grace and Frankie.” But the Oscar-winning actor is also a pioneering celebrity activist who uses her privileged Hollywood upbringing and the fame of her fitness empire to speak up for others.

For more than five decades, Fonda has been involved in advocacy work, from being an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War to supporting civil and Indigenous rights to launching Fire Drill Fridays initiatives for climate activists.

Here are some of her best insights on work and living a full life:

On the best teacher

“I love mistakes because it’s the only way you learn. You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.” ―Flaunt Magazine, 2014

On the importance of paying attention

“I think the best advice a mentor could have given me was, ‘Jane, you know you can say no if the script isn’t good.’ I was just so surprised anybody ever wanted me in anything! I didn’t pay enough attention. I think the only actor who ever taught me much about life, more than acting, was Katharine Hepburn in ‘On Golden Pond.’ Even though I did the movie for my dad, I produced it, who I learned from was Hepburn. I was 45 when I made that movie, and it was she who taught me to be self-conscious. I used to think that was a bad thing, but that means being conscious of the self you project to the public, having a persona, a style, a presence. I had none of that. I didn’t know how to dress! When I went onstage for my father at the Oscars because he was too sick, I couldn’t believe how I looked and how I was dressed. I never paid attention. Hepburn taught me to pay attention and that style is important.” ―The Hollywood Reporter, 2011

On the role of happiness in her art

“All the doors to my creativity, the energy that flows through you that leads to creativity, clang shut when I feel reduced as a woman, as I have been in my life. When I feel good about myself, I can become different people [in acting] with greater ease.” ―The Hollywood Reporter, 2011

On not settling

“As I read this, I am about to turn 78. And though I know you’ll find this impossible to believe, this is the happiest I have ever been. It was all worth it, the good and the bad. So don’t give up. I’m proud of you because you will never settle for less than you think you can attain.” ―CBS News, “Jane Fonda’s Note To Self,” 2015

On collective power

“This video clip has been circulating widely these last days and someone sent it to me. I was happy and relieved to see that even back in the 80s I was saying what I’m saying now: ‘There’s strength in numbers.’ We must leave our silos and join together to defeat the forces of hate and greed. Together we can win. In the clip I mention the Campaign for Economic Democracy. That’s the statewide organization which my then husband, Tom Hayden, and I started. It’s the organization that the Jane Fonda Workout was funding. I’m very proud of that. And I’m proud that I understood way back then that homophobia, misogyny, racism, climate change, and economic inequality are interrelated evils and so our movements must also be interrelated.” ―Jane Fonda on Instagram, 2020

On perfectionism

“It’s a toxic desire to try to be perfect. I realized later in life that the challenge is not to be perfect. It’s to be whole.” ―Oprah Winfrey interview, 2010

On empathy

“We have to listen to each other, even when we don’t agree, even when we think we hate each other … Look what scares you in the face and try to understand it. Empathy, I have learned, is revolutionary.” ―Oprah Winfrey interview, 2013

On a better metaphor for aging

“We’re still living with the old paradigm of age as an arch. That’s the old metaphor: You’re born, you peak at midlife and decline into decrepitude. … A more appropriate metaphor for aging is a staircase. The upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness and authenticity.” ―TedxWomen talk, “Life’s Third Act,” 2011

On what wisdom really is

“The task of the third act is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves.

″[On my 60th birthday] I realized that, in order to know where I was going, I had to know where I’d been. And so I went back and I studied my first two acts, trying to see who I was then — who I really was, not who my parents or other people told me I was or treated me like I was. But who was I? Who were my parents ― not as parents, but as people? Who were my grandparents? How did they treat my parents? These kinds of things.

“I discovered, a couple of years later, that this process that I had gone through is called by psychologists ‘doing a life review.’ And they say it can give new significance and clarity and meaning to a person’s life. You may discover, as I did, that a lot of things that you used to think were your fault, a lot of things you used to think about yourself, really had nothing to do with you. It wasn’t your fault. You’re just fine. And you’re able to go back and forgive them. And forgive yourself. You’re able to free yourself from your past. You can work to change your relationship to your past.

″It’s not having experiences that makes us wise. It’s reflecting on the experiences that we’ve had that makes us wise, and that helps us become whole, brings wisdom and authenticity. It helps us become what we might have been.” —TedxWomen talk, “Life’s Third Act,” 2011

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