“I think it’s my job to risk looking foolish. One of the things I’ve learned from the actors I’ve worked with is you don’t get something for nothing. If you don’t risk looking foolish, you’ll never do anything special.” —Ethan Hawke

Four-time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke wants to encourage people to nix any moments of self-doubt they may experience and to escape the rut of routine. Instead, he invites us all to replace such limited mindsets with courageous expression. In his inspirational nine-minute TED Talk Give yourself permission to be creative, the Before trilogy actor reflects on lessons he’s learned about the nature of creativity and how it promotes deeper connections with others as well as healing.

Drawing from his 30-year career (Dead Poets Society, Training Day, Boyhood, First Reformed) Hawke believes people need a little encouragement to think creatively and to risk making a fool of themselves as they forge a new or different path. With that in mind, he exposes one mindset that is not helpful when it comes to creativity: 

“I think that most of us really want to offer the world something of quality—something that the world will consider good or important. And that’s really the enemy, because it’s not up to us whether what we do is any good. And if history has taught us anything, the world is an extremely unreliable critic.”

Creativity often has a way of being overlooked over the course of day-to-day life when pondering the importance of art, music, poetry, or literature takes a backseat to earning a living or running necessary errands. However, when people suffer a tragedy or fall in love, for example, oftentimes a certain song or book or movie will have a profound effect on them, nourishing their soul in the most unexpected but real way. “That’s when art is not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance. We need it,” the 49-year-old actor insists.

Expressing oneself, he argues, is vital because sharing ideas promotes connections with others, conversation, and healing. “If you want to help your community, if you want to help your family, if you want to help your friends, you have to express yourself,” the Texas native says, adding, “To express yourself, you have to know yourself. It’s super easy. You just have to follow your love.”

“Follow our love” by changing up your music list, talking with new people, and reading books that you want to read as opposed to those you’ve been told to read. Do what you want to do— not what others want you to do. You risk being called a fool, and you may even feel like a fool yourself at times. “There is no path till you walk it,” he insists. “Play the fool.”

Ethan Hawke is one among many creative minds who’ve dared to look foolish as they followed their passion. Here are some quotes about taking risks and playing the fool.

  • “I learned pretty soon that it was essential to fail and be foolish.” —Daniel Day-Lewis, three-time Oscar winner 
  • “It’s the actors who are prepared to make fools of themselves who are usually the ones who come to mean something to the audience.” —Christain Bale
  • “Making films is about having absolute and foolish confidence; the challenge for all of us is to have the heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant.” —Mira Nair, Oscar-nominated film director
  • “A fool thinks of himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” —William Shakespeare
  • “People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they are willing to remain actually fools.” —Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist
  • “Too many men are afraid of being fools.” —Henry Ford
  • “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” —Steve Jobs