When Jennifer Lopez won the MTV Generation Movie & TV award earlier this month, her acceptance speech made headlines. There was no litany of thank-yous that usually make up the bulk of award acceptance speeches, though she did give a heartfelt shout-out to her longtime manager Benny Medina, and another to her fan base.
Instead, she said, “Since you cannot create truth unless you’ve really lived it, I have a different kind of list of thank-yous tonight.” And it truly was different. It was a lesson to every leader and every communicator in both self-acceptance and letting others see and know your authentic self.
Here’s what made her speech so special.
1. She thanked her own mistakes and failures.
Entrepreneurs and others in the startup world talk a lot about the value of failure. How failure is the best way to learn, how failure makes you stronger. But few if any of us would stand up in front of an audience of millions and admit to our biggest failures, let alone express gratitude for them.
“I want to thank the people who gave me joy and the ones who broke my heart. The ones who were true and the ones who lied to me. I want to thank true love and I want to thank the way that I lied to myself because that’s how I knew that I had to grow. I want to thank disappointment and failure for teaching me to be strong and my children for teaching me to love.”
Consider the power behind those words for a moment. All of us have made mistakes. If we’re lucky, we’ve learned from them. If we’ve gained some wisdom and insight along the way, we may be able to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and to acknowledge how much we learned from them. But how many of us would have the honesty and self-knowledge to stand on the world stage and thank our own blunders and self-deceit for the lessons they taught us? I know I wouldn’t.
2. She thanked the people who’d hurt her.
Lopez has faced naysayers all her life, beginning with her parents, who thought of one of her sisters as “the smart one” and the other as “the singer.” J. Lo wanted to be a dancer, but her parents insisted that she should attend college; eventually she moved out of the house so she could pursue her dream.
She struggled to be taken seriously as an actress and faced ridiculously rude comments and questions about her butt. When fiance Ben Affleck asked if it bothered her, she answered “I’m Latina, I’m a woman I expected this.” But here’s what she said about it at the MTV awards.
“I want to thank all the people who told me, to my face or when I wasn’t in the room, that I couldn’t do this. I really don’t think I could have done it without you.”
I love the tone and the emotional intelligence in that statement. Yes, she’s faced the haters but no, she’s not bitter or angry because they helped motivate her. And so everyone won in the end.
3. It was a very smart bit of marketing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting there was anything less than genuine about J. Lo’s acceptance speech. It was obvious that she meant and deeply felt every word. But it’s also a moment in the career of this iconic star when she’s being more self-revealing than ever before.
First there was Marry Me, a frothy romantic comedy about a marriage literally on impulse, in which Lopez played Kat Valdez, a mega-pop star whose engagement to another star is the subject of endless online comment and speculation–much as Lopez’s real-life engagement to Affleck has been. It was hard not to suppose that Lopez was playing herself.
Then, Netflix came out with Halftime, a backstage documentary about her appearance at the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime show with Shakira. “My whole life, I’ve been battling to be heard, to be seen, to be taken seriously,” she says in the movie. It’s as if this woman who’s spent most of her life performing is now choosing to let the world see who she really is as a human being. That’s a powerful thing to do, and an effective way to connect with your customers or fans–no matter what business you’re in.
Here’s J. Lo’s full speech: