The death of comedian Joan Rivers has many reflecting on her long, successful career as one of America's top performers. From critiquing dresses on awards night to hosting her own talk show, Rivers made a splash at each stage in her career. Above all, Rivers was a survivor, who came up in a field (comedy) that is decidedly male-dominated, and who overcame numerous professional and personal obstacles.
Rivers may have begun her career as a stand-up comedian, but she managed to parlay her success into a career as a TV talk show host, producer, author, and actor. She built an empire by making great decisions and never losing her ability to laugh at herself. Her brutal honesty made her entertaining to watch, while also keeping her atop the headlines throughout her lifetime. But entertainers aren't the only ones who can learn from the ever-enterprising Rivers's climb to the top of her field.
Find a Mentor
During Rivers's first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1965, host Johnny Carson announced to the world that she was going to be a star. He did quite a bit to guide her along the way. Throughout the 1970s, she regularly appeared as a guest host on the show and by the early '80s, she'd been established as its permanent guest host. Carson's mentorship gave Rivers the boost she needed in the entertainment industry, introducing her to audiences and helping her learn her trade. This is an example of how a good mentor can not only inspire and teach new business owners, but also provide a helping hand during those early years of building and growing.
Set a Good Example
While she will be known for her commentary on celebrities and other public figures, Rivers was never afraid to put herself at the center of her own jokes. She made clear on multiple occasions that she was an unattractive child. This made one key aspect of her persona unmistakable: Even though she poked fun at others, she treated herself the same way. In a similar manner, entrepreneurs can set a good example by consistently demonstrating to employees that they aren't asking them to do anything they wouldn't do themselves.
Rivers's career wasn't without setbacks. While she spent years working closely with Carson, in 1986 she angered him by accepting an offer to host a competing show on Fox. Soon after Fox fired her in 1987, Rivers's husband committed suicide. But the personal and professional tragedies didn't stop her: In 1989, she began hosting the daytime talk show The Joan Rivers Show, which earned her a Daytime Emmy during its five-year run. Rivers's tenacity and perseverance were perhaps her signal traits, and should serve as inspiration for anyone who has ever tried to build a business and encountered inevitable (and not-so-inevitable) obstacles along the way.
Feel No Fear
Having been through so much, Rivers grew bolder as she got older. She'd been fired, bankrupt, unable to get work, and widowed by the loss of her beloved husband in a particularly sudden and tragic way. Once someone has been through all of that, she realizes she can survive whatever life brings her way. This realization empowered Rivers to make bold moves in her career without letting fear hold her back.
Refuse to Compromise
Throughout her career, Rivers dealt with negative publicity for her controversial remarks. Yet the comedian refused to back down, and repeatedly stated that she spoke the truth as she saw it. By refusing to bow to the pressure to be politically correct, Rivers earned more respect than if she'd constantly backed down. While an entrepreneur's course of action will likely be less controversial, he or she will always benefit from having convictions and standing by them.
Joan Rivers was a trailblazer, and she built a legendary career (and an empire) against significant odds. We should all have just a tiny fraction of the guts and tenacity Rivers routinely displayed throughout her storied career as we deal with our everyday struggles.