Phyllis Diller died today at the age of 95, and I can’t stop thinking about her.
She wasn’t a beauty, and in fact, was perhaps decidedly NOT a beauty. She was 37 years old when she entered show business, an age when many people are plodding along in jobs they tolerate or even loathe, sure that it’s too late to pursue a new career. She jumped headlong into the male-dominated field of entertainment, doing stand-up comedy at a time when women simply didn’t do that sort of thing. And whether she did it because she loved it or because circumstanced necessitated it, the fact of the matter is that she succeeded against the odds.
When she made that brave leap into a career as a comedienne, she was in a lousy marriage, had five living children, had mourned the death of a child two weeks after its birth, and had abandoned hopes of becoming a professional pianist because she didn’t think she was as good as others she heard play. Her comedy was self-deprecating, to put in mildly. She built a career largely on making fun of herself, and kept up the gags all throughout her life.
She blazed the way for all the female comediennes who would follow her. What she did as a show biz pioneer was brave, important, and created a ripple effect for which many will be grateful. When she was 37, her life wasn’t even halfway over.
But I meet people all the time who feel like they’re trapped in their jobs simply because of the time they have already invested. They’ve earned the college degree. They’ve been climbing the ladder. They’ve been beefing up the resume. And in their minds, it’s just too late to change course now.
I think Phyllis would tell them it isn’t too late. I think she would tell them to go for it. I think she would tell them you only live once, so make the most of it. And I think she would be right.