Lessons from Mrs. Maisel

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It’s winter. The days are short, the temperatures in the Midwest have been below normal, I’ve been inside more than usual and have been watching more than the recommended dose of subscription television. Perhaps you can relate. One of the shows that I decided to dive into was The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I’d heard about the awards and accolades, so knowing almost nothing about the story, I bought into the hype and tuned in.

I’ve definitely enjoyed the show and what has surprised me are the “lessons” underlying the comedy and frivolity of it all. (SPOILER ALERT: For those that haven’t watched yet, now is the time to decide if you want to read on because I’m going to talk specifics.)

The basic story is structured around a family, living on New York’s Upper West Side in the mid to late 1950’s. Their 20-somehting year old daughter, Mrs. Maisel (Miriam), finds herself trying to break into the comedy scene with a stand-up routine. This is quite an unusual pursuit for a woman, especially one of her social standing, and it comes with a lot of bumps along the way. As viewers, we get a front row seat to Miriam’s journey and there are some great leadership lessons tucked in.

#1 - When you are aligned to a vision, very different individuals can harness their unique skills to reach a goal. Miriam and her manager, Susie, are definitely cut from two different cloths. On the surface, they would seem to be opposites with little to connect them. And yet, their goal of launching Miriam’s comedy career makes them an unbeatable team. They have a shared vision which keeps them on track and forces them to work through disagreements. Their unique attitudes and aptitudes help them navigate a variety of situations, tapping into their individual strengths.

#2 - You have to be willing to fail wildly on your way to what you want. The work it takes for Miriam to get a “tight ten minutes” of stand-up is hard. She has to be willing to try new material and new ways of delivering the same joke repeatedly to test the audiences’ response. Sometimes the jokes work and sometimes (many times) they fall flat. In fact, Susie seems almost giddy when she knows that Miriam is about to bomb at a given performance. She knows that failing, and learning from the failures, will help Miriam improve. The only way to achieve success is to risk failing.

#3 - Even when you really want something there are days that you’ll feel like quitting. Yes, even for our leading lady, Miriam. We can see her raw talent and her passion on display, and yet, at some point, she leaves the club upset and defeated. She proclaims, “I quit.” When you’re fully committed to the work you’re doing, the team you’re leading, and the goals you’ve set, the work will be hard at times. There will be days that you’ll feel like giving up. That’s okay. Just make sure you’ve got a “Susie“ around that believes in you and reminds you of what you’re working towards.

#4 - A relationship can change and it doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship. This is clearly on display in the relationship between Miriam and her ex-husband, Joel. In the beginning, Joel was the one trying to break into comedy and Miriam was his biggest fan. Things shifted quickly and it could have been a harsh ending for this twosome. However, even in the moment Joel realizes what has happened, he champions Miriam. (Okay, maybe he just redirects his anger at her critics but nevertheless he sees her potential.) We see from watching Joel and Miriam navigate their relationship that it is a nuanced thing. That we can do hard things together if we continue to communicate. Roles can change. People can leave organizations. Relationships have roots that can weather the changes.

These are just a few of the lessons that I learned from watching and perhaps there are other things there for you. I personally love how The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is full of heart, grit and hilarity. As in life and leadership there are mistakes along the way, misunderstandings happen, and feelings get hurt; but at the end of the day, there’s always laughter.

Spontaneity works until it doesn’t work. Then you’re stuck.
— Susie Myerson