5 Things Amy Poehler Taught Me About Confidence

Image courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Image courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

I’ll never be famous. That’s probably a good thing. There are several female celebrities who I admire, but more that I don’t. The ones I like are Get-It Gals. They earn fame because of boundless talent (unlike their glossy and hollowed counterparts). They work really hard and refuse to succumb to Hollywood beauty standards. They’re bold and pithy. When they write books, I read them*. Here are five lessons that Amy Poehler taught me about confidence in her recent memoir Yes Please.

1. Don’t swim upstream if you don’t want to. Even if all of the other salmon are doing it.
“Good for her! Not for me,” is a mantra that appears several times in Amy’s book. I’ve been muttering it to myself, and holy pomegranates…it works. These six words can save you. We ladyfolk tend to pile pressure on ourselves to be and look our best. Sometimes we feel guilty if we don’t do things the way we think we should (because all of the other women are doing them that way). There are a million examples of this. Dieting. Exercising. Getting engaged. Getting married. Getting divorced. Finding love again. Being a stay-at-home mom. Being a working mom. Being a single mom. Being a mom at all. Organizing. Dressing. Decorating. Entertaining. Nurturing. Aging. Plastic surgery. Comparing generally leads to despairing. So don’t do it.

2. Refer to yourself in the third person when slaying your demon.
We all have invisible jerkwad demons that follow us around and tell us that we’re not worthy enough, smart enough or pretty enough to seize our dreams. Amy had the bright idea to stick up for yourself in front of your demon as though you were a close friend.

“Hey, cool it. [Insert your name] is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.”

This advice is gold. It will make you smile and feel superhuman.

3. Define yourself by a few specific character traits.
Or as Amy puts it, “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”

Amy’s currency is her personality, which she uses to be a writer, sketch comic and improvisational artist. Choose a few characteristics you’d like to be known for that have nothing to do with your appearance or socioeconomic status. Being a painter, gardener, book nerd, movie buff, yogi, educator, nurturer, philanthropist, animal lover, scientist, activist or amateur pastry chef speaks volumes about your spirit and your legacy.

4. It’s ok, and actually constructive, to be ambivalent about your career.
According to Yes Please, ambivalence is an essential ingredient for success in your professional life.

“Try to care less,” Amy says. “Practice ambivalence. Learn to let go of wanting it. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.”

This confused me at first. Aren’t we supposed to kill ourselves at our jobs? Isn’t our main goal to constantly strive for perfection? Not necessarily.

“Creativity,” she writes, “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.”

Instead of hoping for praise, jump into experiences that bring you to life. You know what those are. Focus on the stuff that energizes you and remove the weight of the quest for recognition. The stakes are still high, but your inertia will shift.

“I’m at the point in my life now where delivering a B-minus performance on a televised show with some of my comedy heroes doesn’t ruin my week,” Amy says. “I don’t know if that is the most inspiring or most depressing sentence I have ever typed, but there you have it.”

Um, inspiring.

5. Let yourself be a sap sometimes. It makes you human.
Amy is part of my favorite live TV moment. It happened in 2004 when U2 was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. I watched the episode live and assumed it would end like every other show. You know, when the cast members assemble on stage hugging and high-fiving each other. But as the house band strummed its usual farewell number, The Edge suddenly started playing the opening chords of “I Will Follow” (from the 1980 album Boy) and Bono ran back on stage to perform. I did what I always do at rock shows when I hear a nostalgic song: I cried. It was the most exciting thing an SNL musical guest has ever done. EVAR. Bono walked back to the actors and hugged Amy, who was crying and swooning as much as me. In that moment, she wasn’t famous — she was just a giddy fan of vintage U2. Her reaction was only recorded for a few seconds, but it’s deeply raw. I still watch it when I need a pick-me-up. And yes, she mentions this incident in her book.

Thank you, Amy for making women laugh and for encouraging us to keep our heads held high.

*You do, too? Might I also recommend Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) and Tina Fey’s Bossypants?