I’ve been a fan of Amy Poehler since her Saturday Night Live days, where she parodied everyone from former first ladies to Mickey Mouse-adorned teens. I’ve also watched her on all 6 (soon to be 7) seasons of Parks and Recreation, where she plays hyperactive and hyper-motivated government employee Leslie Knope. But I’ve never loved Ms. Poehler more than when I read her book, Yes Please, which came out last month.
Yes Please (Dey Street Books)
Yes Please is chock full of lessons on love, friendship and parenthood, as well as a fair number of side-splitting laughs. However, what resonated with me most was Poehler’s advice for young women at work: Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.
Your career is like a bad boyfriend
These days, we’re conditioned to dedicate more and more time and energy to work if we want to get ahead (or even just keep up). That makes it hard to find a healthy work-life balance – and easy to feel like we’re giving more than we’re getting in return. That’s not healthy for any relationship. Poehler’s advice? Treat your career like it’s a bad boyfriend.
“Here’s the thing,” Poehler writes. “Your career won’t take care of you. It won’t call you back or introduce you to its parents. Your career will openly flirt with other people while you are around. It will forget your birthday and wreck your car. Your career will blow you off if you call it too much. It’s never going to leave its wife. Your career is f*****g other people and everyone knows but you.”
Your career is that fixer-upper boyfriend who never seems to get fixed, the one that lets you give and give without ever giving anything back in return. You’ll never get out of it what you put into it. Your career will never make the effort worth your while. The answer, Poehler writes? “Try to care less. Practice ambivalence. Learn to let go of wanting it.”
Prioritize your creativity, not your career
Poehler isn’t arguing that we should let go of our ambition completely. After all, you don’t get to be an award-winning actress, writer, producer and comedian by being unmotivated. Instead, she thinks, we should prioritize our creativity over our careers.
“Creativity,” Poehler writes, “is connected to your passion, that light inside you that drives you. That joy that comes when you do something you love. That small voice that tells you, ‘I like this. Do this again. You are good at it. Keep going.’” Creativity, she writes, is “the juicy stuff that lubricates our lives and helps us feel less alone in the world.” And creativity – not career – is where we should direct our ambition, our motivation, and our drive.
How you can treat your career like a bad boyfriend
Poehler’s advice for young women? “You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”
Below are 3 things you can do to start treating your career like a bad boyfriend (and your creativity like a best friend):
1. Find what you love to do
Your creative fire won’t be stoked if you’re at a job you’re dispassionate about. Stop wasting time climbing the ranks in a career you don’t care about, and figure out what it is you really want to do. You’ll find that you’re naturally more motivated and driven – and probably more successful.
2. Focus on projects, not promotions
You know that old saying, “Don’t lose the forest for the trees?” It applies here, too – don’t forget about what really matters because you’re so focused on titles, promotions and raises. Do your job well, but focus on the work instead of the results. You’ll be more gratified, and less likely to get burnt out.
3. Forget about “making it”
The trick about “making it?” There’s no such thing. As Poehler writes, “You will never climb Career Mountain and get to the top and shout ‘I made it!’ You will rarely feel done or complete or even successful. [. . .] It doesn’t matter how much you get; you are left wanting more.” So toss your ideas about “making it” or “getting to the top” and just enjoy the ride.
Poehler’s final words of wisdom? “If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.”