3 Lessons Comedians Can Teach You About Your Career

You could learn a lot about building a successful career from a comedian.

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Bill Connolly
Bill Connolly
Imagine walking up on stage in front of a packed house with an objective to make strangers laugh. For most people, this proposition sounds terrifying. For a comedian, it is just another Wednesday night.

Comedians are a rare breed of individual, often working odd jobs to make ends meet, spending every night in bars and clubs to tell jokes and seeing the world in a totally different way than what may be considered normal. This lifestyle and career choice might seem drastically different than the path you have chosen. But, believe it or not, comedians can teach you quite a bit about building a successful career.

Hopefully, you can benefit from these concepts without ever having to get on stage. Here are three lessons:

1. Become comfortable with failure. You often hear about how to succeed in work and in life, but few speak of the importance of failing. Today's marketplace has such an emphasis on being perfect and never making mistakes, so people shy away from risks or opportunities that might result in failure. Unfortunately, failure is an imperative component to success. Comedians are taught this lesson from the beginning, and they have an ability to fail, adapt and move forward. In comedy, failure is seen as a rite of passage, you earn your stripes by performing for less-than-excited crowds and overcoming performance obstacles. Everyone has a bad show, no matter who you are. By the time you see a polished hour-long special on Comedy Central or HBO, that comic has likely written three, five or 10 hours of material to develop a set that actually works. It's a difficult process and just like in other careers, enduring the failure makes success far more gratifying.

2. Not everything has to be a competition. In business you are conditioned to be exceptionally competitive. In some cases, that mentality serves you well. For instance, if you are going up for a promotion or head-to-head with someone for a new job. However, we tend to turn everything into a competition and it doesn't have to be that way. Surprisingly, comedy is far more collaborative than it is competitive. Through comedy, there is room for all of us to succeed and there is room for everyone to be funny. This is an idea that business folks could benefit from. Be kind to one another and look for ways to build each other up. Ultimately it will have a positive impact for you down the line.

3. Know your audience. In comedy, this one might seem obvious. Performing for a retirement home versus at a local bar on Saturday night will likely produce two very different shows. As a comedian, you have to know your audience and what influences them. In other words, ask yourself, how you can connect with them and get your message to resonate? In business, this idea isn't spoken about nearly as much, but it is just as important. Especially because an audience doesn't have to mean a 200-seat comedy club, your audience could be your colleagues, your customers or your boss. We spend a lot of time talking about our message from our perspective, without thinking about the implications for those around us. For example, if you want a promotion, you may walk into your superior's office and make a case for why you think you deserve it. Instead, try approaching the conversation by laying out reasons why your promotion will help your boss and the organization. Simply considering how your message is going to be received will make it much more effective, no matter your audience.

There are several more lessons that comedy teaches about business and life, but these are some of the biggest. Look outside of your daily job responsibilities to find inspiration. Your "hobby" might also be able to teach you more about career success than you think.

Bill Connolly is a contributor to the Personal Branding Blog. He is a marketing/branding expert, career adviser and professional improv comedian. Bill is the author of "Funny Business: Build Your Soft Skills Through Comedy," and hosts an online radio show with the same name on the UR Business Network. He is an actor at Boston's Improv Asylum and resides in New York City, where he studies and performs comedy regularly. Follow him on Twitter: @billconnolly.