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Sam Davidson's blog

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What Tig Notaro can teach you about the unexpected

Entrepreneurs and leaders face the unexpected all the time. In fact, what usually sets either apart as one of the great leaders or entrepreneurs is his or her ability to deal with the unexpected.

Simply managing the normal or routine rarely inspires others or allows anyone to showcase the talent and passion they have for a cause or company. Rather, it's the fires that pop up, catching you unaware. How do you respond to a budget cut? A key staff member leaving to work for the competition? A drop in morale, a swing in the market, a dip in online sales? What do you do when things get tough?

I just listened to Tig Notaro's recent comedy set, where she discusses the immense tragedy in her life. She was dealt a series of blows all at once: hospitalization, a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship. And in the midst of all this, she walks on a stage and performs what has quickly been dubbed a legendary routine that makes people laugh and cry while addressing the unexpected in a very honest way.

From Fast Co.CREATE

From Fast Co.CREATE

I was going to write this post about how you need to deal with the unexpected in the way most appropriate to you - laughing, crying, screaming, asking for help. But upon further reflection, I think my admonition has to be bigger than that.

Both in life and at work, when faced with the unexpected, we need to take a page out of Notaro's playbook.Her example isn't merely one of laughter; it's one of extreme honesty. If you listen to her set (which you should do, no matter what you do for a living), you'll notice that both she and the audience are trapped in a half-hour of honest discussion. People groan and laugh; she both delivers lines and also tells authentic stories.

She doesn't run, she doesn't vent, she doesn't wash over the reality of her life with one-liners that offer temporary relief. She seizes the unexpected moment and uses it to honestly assess what's happening and plan a course for the future.

What this means for leaders and entrepreneurs is that we have to get to a place of extreme honesty about our businesses and plans. We have to honestly assess what is happening at home and at work if we want to be most fulfilled. We can't merely react with chiseled reserve, thinking a stoic facade will see us through. If something makes our heart break, we need to ache deeply for as long as we need to, no matter who we think we are.

And what we'll find is exactly what Notaro found on stage (and in the weeks since her performance): those who watch, hear, and follow us will notice the honesty and respond with appreciation, dedication, and support.

And then together we will carry on, charting a new path in the midst of the unexpected.