8 Lessons from a Badass: What Betty White's 99th Birthday Can Teach Us
On January 17th, 2021, beloved television icon Betty White will turn 99--she's nearly a CENTURY young.
From having the longest TV career of any woman in history to 75 years of working consistently as an entertainer to her 6 Emmy awards, she has left an indelible mark on our collective psyche.
While her accomplishments are truly impressive, it's not just what she did---but how well she did it. There's a lot we can learn from Betty to help make our own lives more iconic.
1. Aging gracefully is possible.
No matter what image your mind goes to when you think of Betty White, she looks terrific.
Whether you’ve pictured her as the sweet and spicy Sue Ann Nivens from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977); the sweet, but dingy, Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls (1985-1992) or even as the colorful nonagenarian on Hot in Cleveland (2010-2015), she’s always very attractive and very stylish.
If you want a glimpse of how gorgeous she was over 70 years ago, take a peek at this 1952 episode from her first television show, the sitcom Life with Elizabeth.
Watch it all and marvel at how different TV was then, or just skip to 4:15 to see her smash walnuts to release her frustrations. It cracked me up. (Sorry! Couldn't resist the pun!)
2. Smile often---with your lips and with your eyes.
Pretty much every photo you see of Betty White shows her with a broad, welcoming smile that seems to radiate “I love life.” If you look closely though, you’ll usually see that her blue eyes are twinkling as well.
The gifted photographer Mayumi Acosta once told me that for a smile to be genuine, the person must use their eyes and their lips. She was right.
3. Spend time doing things you love
The old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never spend a day working in your life” seems to be hold true for Betty.
Professionally, Betty’s career makes her the woman with the longest career in TV history. Personally, she’s been a lifelong animal lover and animal activist who has raised millions to see they are treated humanely.
Over time, these passions became intertwined as she once told The Hollywood Reporter that "I have to keep acting so that I can afford to keep doing my charity work!"
When you are absorbed in things that excite you, it keeps you moving forward—physically and mentally.
4. Be willing to try new things
The next time you’re hesitant to try something new, ask yourself, WWBD (What Would Betty Do)?
My guess is she would say go for it.
Her willing embrace of new media and new mediums seem to part of what keeps her young.
Though known for her sitcom prowess across many decades, she was also part of a memorable Snickers commercial that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl and, after fans campaigned on Facebook, she became the oldest person at age 88 to host Saturday Night Live.
For perspective, when Betty was born in 1922, the TV was still five years away from being invented.
Snickers bars wouldn’t debut until 1930 and Saturday Night Live wouldn’t air its first show until 1975.
Facebook arrived on the scene in 2004, years after personal computers (it was 1974 when the first Altair was introduced) and the Internet (what we know as the World Wide Web) wasn’t invented until 1990, though its foundations were started in 1983.
When Betty was an aspiring actress in the 1940’s, she was repeatedly rejected.
The movie studios said she was “unphotogenic.”
Of that time she said, “You just keep plugging away. You don’t give up.”
Let’s imagine instead that Betty was told one too many times that her face wasn’t pretty enough for film---and abandoned her acting dreams.
Who would have delivered the quips that kept Mary Tyler Moore from getting too big for her britches?
Would that actress have won two Emmys for the show?
Would the series finale been as memorable without her?
Imagine, the millions of people who wouldn’t benefit from her comedic wit and skill across the decades.
When times are tough and the prize seems be elusive, keep going.
6. Find your own fountain of youth—wherever that may be
Betty once said that her secrets to a long and happy life include vodka and hot dogs, “probably in that order.” She’s also said to have a love of Red Vines licorice and Diet Coke.
7. Being well-loved is earned.
By every account, Betty is delightful. She’s a consummate professional who is fun to be around. She’s spent a significant part of her life raising money for animals.
She’s a beloved icon because of how she has conducted herself for 99 years---when she was on our television and off. No sex scandals. No hot mic ethnic slurs. No DWIs.
She puts good out into the world and receives good back through generations of fans. It's great advice for anyone.
8. Complaining is a waste of time.
Though we may not all be as naturally sunny as Betty (including me!), we do have a choice about whether or not we grouse and moan, and how often.
“I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside. I get bored with people who complain about this or that. It’s such a waste of time.”