Wise words from Amy Poehler? Yes Please!

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

Lately I’ve been on a reading kick, and particularly autobiographical books from funny women. Amy Poehler’s contribution to the collection is one of the best. Part memoir (from her “middle-years”), part words-of-wisdom, part collection of funny stories, it was a real treat to read.

You can tell that this was a book written as snatches of stories in stolen snippets of time, but masterfully edited together. Seriously, kudos to her editors. The 3 sections/themes of the book likely weren’t planned on the outset, and yet it works.

Not only is she very funny, Poehler is thoroughly quotable with some very wise words regarding working and career that really resonated with me. 

“The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”

Sometimes I get so caught up in the planning and worrying of a task at hand that I end up procrastinating.  Also, it is so easy to look at the things other people are doing and pass judgement, without actually contributing anything of substance yourself. But snarky remarks aren’t a way to provide opportunities for others to respect you and the things you do. So to that end, “The doing is the thing.”

“Good for her! Not for me.”

A reminder that there is more than one way to do things, and each can be equally correct. Try to refrain from all these guilty feelings about what other women are doing that I am not. Also those guilty feelings about what men are doing and I am not need to be banished. And perhaps more difficult, to not judge other women just because they made different choices than me.

Sheryl Sandberg waited until she reached the executive suite before having children — good for her! Not for me. The highly involved mom who volunteers hours each week at her kid’s school — good for her! Not for me. The woman who’s decided to not have any children at all– good for her! Not for me. She cosleeps with her kids? Good for her! Not for me. She travels for work while her husband keeps the homefires burning and caring for their children during the week? Good for her! Not for me.

“Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.”

Three paragraphs of solid advice of keeping perspective about your career.

Now before I extend this metaphor, let me make a distinction between career and creativity. Creativity 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.’ That is the juicy stuff that lubricates our lives and helps us feel less alone in the world. Your creativity is not a bad boyfriend.

Career is different. Career is the stringing together of opportunities and jobs. Mix in public opinion and past regrets. Add a dash or future panic and a whole lot of financial uncertainty. Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure in reminding you that you aren’t. Career is the thing that will not fill you up and never make you truly whole.

Ambivalence is key. 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…If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.

This was definitely something I needed to get into my mind earlier in my career, especially working in a place where annual reviews are based on direct comparison to all others my peer group. I got caught up in being bitter about the politics of needing to frame your contributions in the best possible light for the peer evaluation laddering sessions. Still I stayed, figuring the bad boyfriend I know is likely better than the bad boyfriend down the road that is new. At last, I evaluated the sum total of all the crappy treatment, in spite of the good work I did, and it was a clear signal that I needed to leave.

Overall, a great book to read. The chapters are short too which makes it a very easy book to read in disjointed sessions, the way much of my reading used to be.

I don’t profess to be a big fan of hers; I haven’t watched any Parks and Recreation episodes and rarely watched SNL. It’s only through the exposure of her SNL rap while pregnant and her co-hosting of the Golden Globes that raised her profile with me. After reading Yes Please however, I find myself wishing I did have her as a friend, and that’s some of the highest praise there is.