5 Career Lessons I Learned From TV

I watch too much TV. It’s a sad fact, but I’ve accepted it, so you (and my mother) should too.

But when it came time for me to write my latest blog, I realized that the stories I love offer more than just a way to waste time; some of them actually offer life lessons.

Read on for five classic character fails that you can learn from in your business life. And then call your Mom and tell her all that TV you watched in college was worth it.

Know your limitations.

Game of Thrones

No matter how good your intentions, sometimes you’re simply out of your depth. Prime example: Catelyn Stark. She almost exclusively made the worst choice for the best reason every time she got the chance. She let hostages go (more than once) and struck deals with people who were clearly her enemies. Sure, she was motivated – your husband’s decapitation will do that to you – but she didn’t have the skills to strategize on her opponents’ level.

The moral of the story: Know when you don’t know enough to be the shot-caller and ask for help. Most likely your coworkers can offer the expertise you need, or they can help you find someone who can. In this situation, honesty and teamwork may just save your neck.

You're gonna make it after all. If you just calm down a little.
You’re gonna make it after all. If you just calm down a little.

Read the room.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Despite what they tell you at cheer camp, there is such a thing as too much enthusiasm. Mary Richards was wide-eyed and energetic; that was her shtick, and many people dug it. But when she interviewed with the king of curmudgeons, Lou Grant, she overplayed the positivity card.

[For those of you who don’t know the exchange, it’s 45 seconds in on this clip, but it goes something like this:
Lou: You’ve got spunk.
Mary (smiling and clearly proud of herself): Well… yes…
Lou: I hate spunk.]

The moral of the story: Use the first few minutes of a meeting with new people to size up the vibe and adjust yours accordingly. If the room is sterile and the mood is serious, shelve the sarcasm. If the boss appears to be cracking jokes, you can afford to be more laid back. Always be yourself, but be the right version for the situation.

Don’t set unrealistic expectations.

Saved by the Bell

When the pressure’s on to deliver something quickly, go-getters look for any way to get an edge. For Jessie Spano, that meant bumping up her lip-synching game with caffeine pills. And while being tweaked on speed is the only way anyone would agree to these leotards, eventually the excitement turns to fear, and it all falls apart. And you may not have Sensitive Zack Morris In A Blazer to talk you down.

The moral of the story: If you get ahead using sneaky tactics or shortcuts, you’re setting yourself up for future failure. Take the time and put in the hard work  on the front end so you can continue to deliver a high-quality product long term.

Be surprising.

Newhart & The Bob Newhart Show

When Newhart ended in 1990, the show took a risk: Dick Loudon, the show’s protagonist, woke up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, the actress who had played his character’s wife on his 70’s sitcom, indicating to the audience that the entire series had been nothing more than a dream. (Read the whole explanation here.) Flipping the script so dramatically at the last minute shocked and thrilled the studio audience, and this clever, unexpected twist gave them something to remember.

The moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of surprising your clients with something that lets them know you’ve been paying attention. If your client jokes that they want an ice cream and pizza party at the close of a big project, make a note and make it happen. A surprise doesn’t have to be big to be effective, and the more unexpected it is the better.

If you have to cry, do it in the bathroom.

Dawson’s Creek

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but anyone who came of age in the 90’s knows that few things should be kept more private than the “ugly cry.” In this episode, Joey tells Dawson she’s making the (100 percent correct) decision to date Pacey instead of him because Dawson is socially awkward and Pacey is the True Hotness (my words, not hers). Everyone has days where they get dumped on, and no matter how great your workplace is there will come a day where it will all come down on you.

The moral of the story: There is a happy medium between emotionless robot and screeching drama queen. If you feel like you’re about to lose it, take a timeout and do it somewhere private. As Dawson Leery (painfully) taught us, the only way to make weeping worse is by doing it in front of people you have to see again.