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3 Career Lessons From Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler is an inspiration for a lot of working women, based solely on her performance as the resilient government administrator Leslie Knope on the sitcom Parks and Recreation. But her professional life also offers plenty of insight for both men and women who want to be successful while also being true to themselves.

amy poehler 

(Photo Credit: david_shankbone/Flickr)

1. Pay attention to the parts of your job that make you feel alive.

In a recent New Yorker essay, Poehler talks about her first part-time job, scooping ice cream at a local parlor in her blue-collar hometown. While there were less-glamorous parts of the job -- e.g., dealing with teenage boys who claimed that every day was their birthday, in order to get free ice cream -- there were also things that made Poehler realize her true vocation.

For instance, while banging a drum and singing to announce a customer's birthday, Poehler became aware that she loved performing.

"I wasn't sure yet that I wanted to be an actor," she writes. "I was planning to go to Boston College as an English major and maybe become a teacher, like both of my parents. But when I stood in the dining room and demanded attention I was reminded of things I already secretly knew about myself. I wasn't shy, I liked to be looked at, and making people laugh released a certain kind of hot lava into my body that made me feel like a queen."

Even if you hate your job, you can learn a lot about what you should be doing by noting which parts of your day are easiest, most fun, or most rewarding. And if you're lucky enough to like your job, paying attention to which parts of it make you feel most like yourself will help you plan a career that fulfills you as a person, as well as a professional.

2. Don't be afraid to be different.

Poehler and her brother recently sold a sitcom to NBC based on her brother's experiences living in Sweden.

"This show is a 'first' on so many levels,” said eOne TV's EVP Global Production Carrie Stein, in an interview with Deadline. "It's the first English-language comedy for TV4; the first television show Greg Poehler has ever created and starred in and executive produced with his sister Amy; and it's the first time NBC has been involved with a comedy shot in Stockholm with a large Swedish cast. The reason this comedy has attracted all these people is because its theme is universal -- love conquers all ... even if it means moving to Sweden."

The elevator pitch for this show sounds ridiculous -- fish out of water! In Sweden! Starring an unknown actor! -- but that's what makes it so potentially fascinating. Don't be afraid to work outside your comfort zone. You never know what might result.

3. Don't care if they like it.

In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey tells the story of how her friend Amy Poehler got into a mirror kerfuffle with Jimmy Fallon during her first year at SNL. Poehler was doing a bit that was "loud and dirty and unladylike," and Fallon objected.

"Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him," Fey writes. "'I don't [bleep]ing care if you like it.' Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit."

What does that mean? Fey continues:

"...So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: 'Is this person in between me and what I want to do?' If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. ...Do your thing and don't care if they like it."

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