Career advice from Amy Poehler

I was going to write an authorly post on my other blog reviewing Amy Poehler's book, Yes please, and then I read her chapter, "treat your career like a bad boyfriend." That's when I started taking notes.



Most people, women especially, already adore her, so I know I'm not breaking new ground here. But if you haven't read it yet, I would start with Tina Fey's Bossypants first. It's the perfect setup for Amy to spike the ball.

That she does. Her book is silly and genuine (also rambling and name-droppy, but who can blame her). She says things you wish you had the guts or wherewithal to have uttered yourself. More than once I wanted to accuse her of stealing ideas from my head, and then realized that we weren't really in conversation with each other.

For example, the chapter, "the plain girl vs. the demon." Every woman everywhere feels what she describes, and we just wish we were together enough to have found our "currency" in life and stuck with it as well as her.

Or, the chapter, "my books on divorce." If you are divorced or about to be, do yourself a favor and visit pages 87-93, even from the aisle of a bookstore. It's not so much funny, as painfully, embarrassingly, honestly true. To the point that if you haven't experienced something that she mentions, just wait. It will happen.

I promised to focus on her career advice, though, which is peppered throughout the book and more directly offered in the bad boyfriend chapter.

When I read the title I was reminded of a coaching session where we compared my client's boss to a bad boyfriend. We referred to the line from When Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan tells Carrie Fisher that the married man she's been sleeping with is not going to marry her. She repeats several times, "He's not leaving her, Marie."

My client's boss was not going to change, no matter what she did. She needed to stop focusing on that unfulfilled wish, and instead look at what else was possible. What she could change about the roles she took on in the office, and how she felt about the work she was doing.

Poehler - Amy because I feel like we're friends - extends the metaphor to encompass your whole career.

[box type="none"]"Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure in reminding you that you aren' will never make you truly whole."[/box]

Feeling whole comes from creativity, your passion. "That small voice that tells you, 'I like this...You are good at it. Keep going.'"

The key, she says, is ambivalence.

[box type="none"]"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."[/box]

You mean I shouldn't hold out for gold stars from everyone? There was a reason I was taking notes.

Treating your career like a bad boyfriend means remembering that it likes you more the less you need it. When you're busy enjoying and taking care of other parts of your life, like your creativity and your health, it will chase after you down the street.

She put in the hard work too, she makes that abundantly clear in her stories, but has also seen talented people who care too much, and want it too badly, not get anywhere. Do the work and let go of the reins a little.

It's not easy, but it's worth the effort of practicing what Buddhists would call healthy detachment. It is also healthy to remember about your bad boyfriend of a career that, "you can always leave and go sleep with someone else."

Elsewhere in the book she provides a few other gems, such as "Too often we women try to tackle chaos that is not ours to fix." Her solution is to lean back, and let the person whose problem it is make it right. She also tells a story about a creepy hug, and you can bet as a hugger that I've had my share of those. (And a lot of really wonderful ones of course.)

Though not career-related, I want to end with by far my favorite line from the book, because it describes the friend I hope I am and the kind I love having in my life:

[box type="none"]"I am interested in people who swim in the deep end. I want to have conversations about real things with people who have experienced real things...Life is crunchy and complicated and all the more delicious."[/box]

Yes please.