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Aisha Tyler

The summer of 1994 was the summer of my extreme discontent.

Only weeks after I'd gotten married, I was asked to join a group of stand-up comedians on a national tour. I couldn't say no to such a great opportunity, so I quit my job as a marketing executive, kissed my new husband goodbye, and embarked on a four-month odyssey across the country, performing at colleges in 30 states.

What I believed would be a spectacular work experience swiftly revealed itself to be a series of thankless performances in such splashy venues as cafeterias and dormitory lobbies. No lights, no stage. Sometimes no microphone. To top it off, I was traveling with two male comedians I barely knew in a van that smelled overwhelmingly of sweat socks. I was miserable.

My anguish reached its peak in a crappy motel room in rural Pennsylvania. As I sat there sniffling into my cheese curls, I remembered how my husband believed in me, so much so that he sent me off into the wide world with the words "This is your dream. Go for it." I thought about disappointing him. I thought about disappointing myself. After so much hard work, would I give up just because the road had gotten a little rocky, the van a little stinky?

I considered my idols—Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Whoopi Goldberg—all of whom had overcome much more than a few surly audiences. I wiped my nose and stopped feeling sorry for myself. That night I got back onstage and did what I love to do. And it felt great.

Nothing really worth having is easy to get. The hard-fought battles, the goals won with sacrifice, are the ones that matter. I had to give up so much to do those awful college shows. But what I gained—the knowledge that I could do anything I set my mind to—was greater. What I learned in that shabby hotel room with the moldy shower curtain and the iron burns on the carpet was that I had what it took to go all the way: pure, unadulterated bullheadedness.


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