Vanessa Hudgens's father passed away hours before she performed as Rizzo in "Grease: Live" on national television on Sunday night.
The actress who first gained notoriety for her role in Disney's High School Musical, joins a line of performers who have excelled in the spotlight, while dealing with personal adversity. In doing so, she demonstrated what anyone who has performed under adverse circumstances already knows: It isn't easy, but the chance to feel useful and task-focused can provide a welcome relief from heartbreak.
For example, most football fans remember how legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre had one of the best games of his career, one day after his father died, on December 22, 2003. He passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Packers to a 41-7 win over the Oakland Raiders in a Monday Night Football game that has become part of NFL lore, a signature moment in Favre's (soon to be) Hall of Fame career. Likewise, in the most recent World Series, Kansas City Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez performed marvelously only a few days after his father died. In the Royals' series-clinching Game 5 win over the New York Mets, he gave up only one earned run in six innings.
Coaches, too, have performed under the strain of severe heartache. In 1983, when Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells was in his first year as head coach of the New York Giants, almost nothing went right. In the same week, his mother died and his father underwent double bypass surgery. Between games, Parcells went from hospital to hospital. His father passed in early 1984. But through it all, Parcells endured. Two years later, he won his first title. Though he was tempted to resign during tough times, he did not. In his autobiography, he wrote, "They're not going to cancel the football games"--the sports equivalent of "The show must go on."
In the world of music, too, there are performers who've played with heavy hearts. On July 1, 2002, the Who famously gigged at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles--only four days after their immortal bass player, John Entwistle, was found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room. In Entwistle, the band lost a star who'd been with them since their inception in 1963. Moreover, he had known founding members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend since grade school. But the band played on, notes a Rolling Stone story commemorating the occasion. "Tonight we play for John Entwistle," Daltrey told the crowd. "He was the true spirit of rock and roll, and he lives on in all the music we play." Later on in the show, Townshend added: "This is going to be very difficult. We understand. We're not pretending nothing happened."
How does all of this pertain to the workplace? One recent example comes from the sad story of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, last year. In a post on Facebook, Sandberg wrote about how she embraced the chance to return to work. What was more, by being present, she was able to put to rest how worried her colleagues were about her state of mind:
For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected...I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer...One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, "It's the elephant." Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.
Even in the business world, the show must go on. And it can help you heal.