Career Advice from Amy Poehler? Yes, Please
“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.” - Amy Poehler, Yes Please (223-224)
Amy Poehler’s Yes Please fell into my lap in the midst of a career change. In January, I decided to leave the comforts of teaching to explore the unstable world of freelance writing. Feeling a bit lost and completely overwhelmed, I was trying to find something non-fiction, which isn’t like me – I’m more of a fiction reader, but suddenly, it felt almost necessary for me to read about Amy’s own career path. Hers wasn’t necessarily full of conflict, but it wasn’t easy, either. I can’t say that my own career path has been without some conflicts, but similar to Amy, they’ve all been internal battles of trying to convince myself that I do deserve to pursue what makes me happy, even if I don’t totally know what I’m doing.
Amy worked up from humble beginnings with no-pay improv shows and taking any and every opportunity presented to her before she was noticed by SNL, and long before she became Leslie Knope. But not only that, she followed her passion for comedy by starting Upright Citizens Brigade, and she helped other comedians make their way into the rocky world of comedy. A lot of her success came from her saying “Yes please,” instead of “No thanks,” especially to any and every opportunity that came her way. And this was almost exactly what I needed to hear.
I’ve always been scared to say yes to opportunities that make me nervous, but just saying “yes” to new projects is the only way to make it in the freelancing world.
It’s pretty clear throughout the book that Amy made it as far as she did because of this idea of “ambivalence.” Sure, she cared about what people thought about her – who doesn’t think about that sometimes, even if it’s only for a moment? Caring about the work instead of the result is the most challenging part of trying to build a career as a freelance writer – my time in college conditioned me to seek results and to place value on letter grades and praise from professors. I’m discovering that, even outside of academia as a freelance writer, I still seek this same validation in my pieces of work – does my client think I’m creative enough? Did I deliver a piece of writing that meets their idea of “perfect”?
Amy’s book taught me to focus on the present, especially when you’re doing something that you love. Embrace the feelings you’re feeling when you’re writing something you’re passionate about; find pause in the moments when you realize you’re getting paid to write about things you enjoy. It all goes by so fast, so it’s important to focus on the work that’s happening and how you feel about yourself, rather than being concerned with results or what others think of you.
It’s scary to dive into a career that you find both exhilarating and terrifying. If you’re looking for a little inspiration or motivation in your career, you’ll find it in Yes Please.