Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

September 5, 2019

Joan Rivers, Really

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:42 am

I’ve long-made it a habit to be inspired every day.  To make sure I seek out or welcome at least one story of strength, of overcoming, of successful thinking…

Last night I caught the life story of Joan Rivers.  I thought I might just take a peek at this over-the-top icon, not expecting anything more than a glimpse and a glance at her outrageousness.  But I was struck and glued.  What a fascinating story!

Because of hardships, quick-changes, doors closing, opportunities drying up…Joan Rivers reinvented herself over and over throughout her lifetime.

Her life story is a great example we can all take from.

When she was Johnny Carson’s permanent stand-in on The Tonight Show, she felt she was at the pinnacle of her career in a stand-up comedy world long-run by men.  She had made it.   She was a star.

But, apparently at some point, she caught a glimpse of an internal NBC memo naming ten possible candidates to replace Carson after he retired.  Her name was not on it.  Though, later, it was rumored that the list had been a ruse, NBC extended Carson’s contract by two years and only extended Rivers’ by one.  She felt the writing was on the wall and she took a huge gamble and grabbed the opportunity to go up against Carson in that premium late-night slot from an fledgling Fox station.  It was a huge gamble, going up against Carson.  A gigantic risk.

She and her producer husband were fired before a year was up.

From one of the pinnacles of any entertainment career, permanent guest host on The Tonight Show, to being fired from Fox and, eventually, black-listed by Carson, Joan Rivers found herself at an abrupt dead-end with nothing that looked like any kind of hope.

Like so many of us find ourselves after we are first-hurt.

And then it got worse.

Her husband, devastated after the firing from Fox and already long-suffering depression, took his own life.

What then?  What would she do?  What would any of us do?

What have we done now?

Black-listed, unemployed, grieving, alienated from her only daughter, Joan Rivers scratched and she clawed.  She swallowed her pride and she took small gigs anywhere and everywhere, just to try and keep the lights on and the roof over her head.  She called up every name on her Rolodex and asked, “What can I do?”

What can I do?

In the years that followed, she slowly climbed back from sleepless nights catching an hour of sleep between flights to uncountable and modest gigs in cities she hadn’t heard of.   From sharing the spotlight with comics who were half her age and who had no star power.

She did what she had to do.

Even as she reclaimed some of her star power, there were new opportunities and new failings.  A new nighttime talk show.  A morning show.  She started writing books.  She took a gig interviewing stars on the red carpet.  She starred in a show set in California where she would fly out there from New York, tape the show, and fly back.   She went on the road more.  She made guest appearances.  She accepted the new opportunity to sell a clothing line on a fledgling network (back then) just starting to sell clothing on TVs.  She helped establish a charity.  She won Celebrity Apprentice.  She wrote more books, 12 in all.

Joan Rivers’ life lessons often get lost in the outrageous quips and over-the-top comments she has been quoted and known for.  But she gave us so much more.

What an extraordinary lesson in not giving up.  In how to rebound.  In how to change direction after hitting a frustrating wall.  In how to be open to any opportunity and how to be courageous enough to try anything new.

Too often, brain injury or not, we get stuck or scared.  We start to cling too tightly because something is all we’ve known, because of expectations, because of perceived insurances and assurances.   And, when that comfort dries up or gets snatched away by circumstances in life, we are decimated.

Joan Rivers’ life story reminds us that our lives are big enough to dare broadly.  To strike out new.  To try anything and everything.

Our lives are big enough to hold a lot of new directions, new dreams, new starts and new ways.

Let’s not spend one more day anchored to what we cannot do.  Let’s, instead, embrace each day and challenge ourselves to find what more we are capable of.

In every direction.  In every area.  In every way.

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