Monday, August 25, 2014

Channeling Leslie Knope to Kick Ass at Work

I am almost dangerously obsessed with the TV show Parks and Recreation.  Every summer I rewatch the series on Netflix, and this is where the danger comes in.  You know how Netflix automatically cues up the next episode for you?  If I'm watching on my Kindle while in the kitchen "fixing dinner," there are only about 4 seconds before the next one starts.  Sorry, kids, no one's eating.  There are plenty (my husband among them) who insist that The Office is a better mockumentary series, but there's something about the characters on Parks and Rec that clicks for me.  I love April & Andy's marriage and Ron's stubborn manliness. I want Donna to take me shopping and give me eyebrow advice.  I have a heartbreaking crush on the awkwardly sweet Ben Wyatt.  But I really want to be Leslie Knope.
Leslie's character started out as a Michael Scott carbon copy; goofy, overzealous, a walking inside joke to all the people who work under her.  If that's what was necessary for the series to take hold, then fine.  Because as the episodes went on, Leslie began transforming.  Her obliviousness became shrewd insight.  Her stuffy suits and formal carriage went from being the punchline to being her backbone.  Her obsession with female politicians stopped representing a pipe dream, and became a fiery motivation that pushed her to get incredible things done for her town.  Through it all, the only thing that doesn't change is her devotion to her job as a public servant.  Leslie defines the word passionate, and the biggest beneficiary of that passion is the town of Pawnee.  When Leslie Knope talks about the town she loves , her face goes all soft and serious and sometimes I get chills. Leslie Knope loves her job, and she never questions her responsibility to do what is best for the people she serves.

I want some of that. 

I work hard at my job, and I'm proud of my teaching career so far.  Still, there are times when I can't see past the end of my own nose.  I'm prone to getting my panties in a bunch. "I have two kids in day care oh my oh my what is for dinner oh my oh my I just got a new student oh my oh the baby has a cold oh my oh my how is there time to work out oh my my?"   I whine about new initiatives that require extra paperwork or learning systems that I don't understand.  I fret about emails with a rude tone.  I let forgetting to make the copies I need ruin my afternoon.  I slump too easily. I get caught up in all the hype.  This is where I could use some Leslie in my life.  I want to feel excited about staff meetings and agendas, to be undaunted by the bureaucratic meetings and red tape that bog down every inch of the public sector.  I want to remember I'm here to serve the families of this community.  I want to operate as if I truly believe that I work at the best school in the whole country.
Things I can do to Leslify my work life:

1. Set goals.  Leslie wants to run for office.  Any office (actually, the highest office).  Each little project she completes becomes a careful documented stepping stone on her path.  While goals are set for me each year, I want to set at least one of my own.  I'm thinking something about children's literature or my classroom webpage- two of my favorite aspects of teaching. And I need to get some binders going.  Leslie loves binders.

2. Deck out my work area.  As evidenced during her many face-to-face interviews during the course of the show, Leslie's office is a shrine to her passions.  She has framed pictures of her idols, certificates of recognition, and little mementos that personalize her space.  Her desk is always clean and neat and in general it feels warm and productive.  I want some pictures of my family, pictures of role models, and systems to keep myself organized.  I'll walk in each morning after my hearty breakfast of waffles and whipped cream and get down to business.

3. Tone it down for no one.  Leslie is upbeat and on message no matter her audience.  When April rolls her eyes, Leslie hugs her tighter.  When Ron is disgusted with her gusto, she raises her voice slightly.  When Jamm spews hatred, she lifts her chin.  I often find myself shifting my voice, my views, even my values when I'm with friends or coworkers who might think differently than me.  I tend to be eager to please, at work especially, and I'm embarrassed how quickly I shape-shift with my work friends.  Leslie knows where she stands, and she bends for no one.  Here's the kicker: everyone loves her more for it.  

I'm not stupid.  I know that's easy and even acceptable to feel discouraged at work.  Leslie-levels of cheerfulness are borderline annoying if not finessed perfectly.  I don't need only 3 hours of sleep and I don't have all encompassing knowledge of every aspect of my job.  But I do work in a public service position, and I do have coworkers who are also my best friends.  I genuinely look forward to going to work.  And sometimes, when I'm being a little self-indulgent, I like the idea of using my teaching career to make my town a better place.  I like being part of what makes my school somewhere you want to send your kids.

I'm going to put a picture of Leslie Knope at my desk.  A token to Our Lady of Ambition. I'm going to try to channel her loving, infectious energy at least half of the times that I feel frustrated with some aspect of teaching in a public school.  I'm going to let Leslie give me permission to enthusiastically love where I live and what I do, without embarrassment. 
"Look, I'm not crazy, I know Pawnee isn't Paris or London or Chicago, but it's a great place to live and work. And serving the goofballs in this town is an honor and a privilege. And yes, every town claims its diner's waffles are the best in the world, but somewhere, in some town there really are the best waffles in the world. So delicious and rich and golden brown that anyone who tasted them would decide never to leave that town. Somewhere those waffles exist, why can't it be here?" -Leslie Knope

PS- This Etsy shop has some amazing Leslie Knope artwork and other happily feminist posters that I would kill for.  New wishlist: everything here.

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At August 25, 2014 at 9:56 PM , Blogger Sarah said...

Love, love, love! I may need to check this show out! (as The Office plays on Netflix)

At August 26, 2014 at 6:12 AM , Blogger ashlie said...

I highly recommend it :) But I will admit it took me a little time. Leslie doesn't come into her own until the end of season one, beginning of season two. I hope you like it! I'm headed over to check out your blog, so excited for your new coaching job!

At October 4, 2014 at 3:44 PM , Blogger Alicia | Jaybird: Home in Motion said...

I LOVE THIS ARTICLE! "things I can do to Leslify my work life"--amazing. I might have to make a "WWLKD" sign to put somewhere on my desk. ;-)


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