For anyone who’s ever been told they weren’t enough, felt stigmatized by their life choices, or simply felt they don’t fit in, Jennifer Lopez’s latest film Second Act is for you. The comedy urges all of us — especially women — to break free from unhealthy societal pressures and expectations.
The story follows Maya (Lopez), a self-described “street smart” Bronx-native who’s worked at a big-box grocery store for 15 years. With hard work and savvy, she’s helped the retail giant improve profits and boost customer satisfaction, but is passed over for a promotion — on her 40th birthday, no less! — which goes to a far less effective employee, who has had the privilege of a formal education from a fancy school. Her disappointment is exacerbated by the fact that she’s not where she’d hope to be in her life. A secret from her past haunts her and stymies her ability to move forward with her boyfriend Trey (played by This Is Us’s Milo Ventimiglia), who wants to start a family, and her lack of higher education limits her career prospects.
To help soothe her birthday blues and grant her wish, her best friend’s gifted son, who’s on his way to Stanford University on a Google scholarship, secretly creates a false online profile for her indicating that she graduated from Harvard, as well as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, and speaks fluent Mandarin, which gets her an interview — and an executive-level consultant position — at a huge cosmetics company. There, she undertakes an impossible challenge — to create a totally organic face cream that will boost profits, all in 10 weeks. Along the way, she figures out who she is in a movie that crackles with important life lessons like these:
Use your self-doubt to propel your success
In a world that feeds women the message that they’re not thin enough, attractive enough, smart enough, strong enough, Maya (like many of us) struggles with self-doubt. The movie opens on the morning she heads to work to make a case for her promotion. In a romantic scene between her and her longtime beau, Trey, he reiterates his faith in her: “The only thing stopping you is you.” While that’s not entirely true — she’s skipped over for the promotion because she doesn’t have a degree — she does (in an epic scene) challenge her boss’s assertion that her well-educated co-worker is the best man for the job. “No sir,” she says, “I am.”
It’s not shocking that it took her years to understand her worth. Several studies confirm a “confidence gap” between men and women, where men are far more inclined to ask for raises and promotions than their female counterparts. But other research shows that we can use our uncertainty to propel our professional success and personal growth. Challenging ourselves to take risks beyond our comfort zones, gives us the opportunity to grow our skill set and confidence, as Maya eventually does.
Aim higher than you thought possible
“A lie got you in the door, but you got yourself the job, baby.” That’s what Maya’s best friend, Joan (played by Leah Remini, whose impeccable comic timing and relatability is reason alone to see this movie) tells her, as she repeatedly slaps Maya’s face, enthusing: “Who’s the champ? Who’s the champ? You’re the champ!” The movie takes “fake it till you make it” to wild new heights, as Maya trips (and gets back up) repeatedly during her 10 week stint as a consultant for the beauty company. While no one should fabricate their educational and professional histories to increase their job prospects, the underlying message is to brave the challenge of rising above the familiar and comfortable to reach new levels of self development.
Find your truth
For her first day of work as a high-powered consultant, Maya dons an outfit that’s decidedly not her. Luckily, Joan is there to remind her (throughout the film, really) who she is: “You need to wear anything other than that,” she says. “You look like Mrs. Doubtfire.” Heeding her friend’s advice, Maya throws on a number that’s true to herself and appropriate — and pure fire. It’s important to bring your whole self to work, and that includes clothes that authentically communicate your truth. In another key scene, when Joan sees Maya losing herself in the fiction created for her online, she says: “Don’t confuse this Facebook thing with who you really are.” Through a bundle of missteps and misfires, Maya eventually finds her way back to herself — and that’s when her life really starts to take off in all the right ways.
Heed these words from J.Lo herself: Don’t give up
At a panel to promote Second Act, which also featured Thrive Global’s founder and CEO Arianna Huffington, Jennifer Lopez broke down how she manifested her dreams. When everyone told her her talent wasn’t enough, she told the crowd, “I just kept going. You ask me what I did? Despite the hurt and the pain, I just kept going. I couldn’t allow myself to let that become who I was. It’s like, ‘No, I’m going to make another record; I’m going to make another song; I’m going to make another movie and I did. And that’s all I did…I kept going.” After working hard and forging ahead, she added, “I started believing in the fact that I wasn’t an impostor, that I wasn’t a fake, that there was a reason I kept doing this and people kept hiring me.”
Reject the naysaying voices and keep moving in the direction of your dreams. You’ll get there.