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5 Life Lessons from Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please”

Book cover of Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please. Amy is wearing a white t-shirt and black pants sitting in front of a pink neon sign that says “Yes Please”.

Most people know Amy Poehler as the hilarious comedy queen and beloved friend of Tina Fey. Her career achievements are too long to add here, but let’s just be clear that she had made some of the funniest stuff on television. I have always felt that comedy is a great way to have hard conversations about what is going on in society and to also challenge social norms. Good comedy is about about punching up—challenging people and organisations in power. Other than getting a good ab workout, comedy can teach you a lot about yourself and it can also give you some pretty amazing life advice and rules to stand by.

Poehler’s memoir is a mixed-medium book with plenty of pictures, poems, and writing to keep you entertained. Her writing is witty and sharp and she knows how to hit a point home. So with that in mind, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to get some life lessons from a comedy great.

Apologise with you heart not your head

Most people suck at apologies. It is one of the hardest things to do and it can be really easy to make an apology about yourself and not the person you are trying to say sorry to. Apologies require people to own their mistakes and own their past and this is hard to do because no one likes to be wrong. Apologies have no guaranties or do-overs. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one shot and you better not screw it up. Even if you do everything right, it still mightn’t work because apologies don’t have to be accepted and they are definitely not clean slates. As Poehler puts it:

Apologies have nothing to do with you. They are balloons in the sky. They may never land. They may even choke a bird.” p. 76

‘Good’ apologies start by admitting that you were wrong, owning that you hurt the other person’s feelings, and not expecting anything in return after you apologise. If you go in trying to defend what you did, or if you disregard the person’s feelings you are putting yourself above the other person and also invalidating their emotions.

Tell people your birth story

It can be easy to forget our place in the world. It can also be easy to forget where we come from, who we came from, and what we came from. Poehler suggests that you should tell your birth story and tell it often. Once you tell your story, ask others to share their own stories with you. This felt like such a nice way to bond with people and remember where we all came from and that even though we might be tiny specks on the earth, we matter.

So to honour Poehler’s advice, here is my birth story.

A lot of people wonder why I am called Hope. A lot of people wonder if it is a ‘real’ name or if my parents were like those weird celebrities that call their children Celery. The answer is that Hope is, by your Western standards, a real name, albeit an old one. I have been told you can find it in the Bible. I am called Hope because of my how I was born. I was ten days late and my mother had complications, which resulted in an emergency c-section. My mother and I almost died. Thanks to my quick thinking father getting the attention of the right specialists, nothing bad happened to either of us. In that moment though, my Dad threw out all the other names they had thought about for me and decided to call me Hope.

When I was growing up, I hated my name. Mainly because people would make literally the worst jokes you can think of with it. And they thought they were so original. Now, I love my name and wouldn’t want to change it for the world. I like that I there aren’t many Hopes in the world and when I do meet one, it makes me smile.

Don’t do ’emotional drive-bys’

It is no secret that women are their own worst enemies a lot of the time. We internalise misogyny and patriarchal ideals about womanhood and femininity. When we see other female presenting people doing this ‘wrong’ we like to tell them about it. At length. Whether it is motherhood, dating, sex, life, work, hairstyles, fashion, or toe nail grooming, let’s all calm down a little bit with the judgement. Amy Poehler calls it “an emotional drive-by. A random act of woman-on-woman violence” and this sort of crap has to stop. So instead of heaping judgement on women let’s also remember Poehler’s words:

“Good for you, not for me.” p151

Have a healthy relationship with your career, so treat it like a bad boyfriend

“Ambivalence can help tame the beast. Remember, your career is a bad boyfriend. It likes it when you don’t depend on it. […] If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.” p.225

Truer words have never been spoken, if you ask me. I will be the first person to admit that I let myself think way too much about my career, my place in society, if/how I am contributing to society and my family, and if it is the right choice for me. I know that hell is on earth, because it is actually inside my head talking to me about my career choices ad nauseam. However, your career doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all of your life. I’m not saying to drop a job five minutes into your first shift (unless it is really really bad), but also know that you do not have to stay with a ‘bad boyfriend’ if you don’t want to.

No is not the being of a negotiation

Consent has been popularised in the media of late and I am glad that more people are talking about what it is and what it isn’t. The conversations around consent are usually related to sex and having consensual sex, and while I believe that this is extremely important we also need to understand that consent works for so many aspects of our lives. If someone says ‘No’ it does not equal an invitation for you to further harass a person. And before you start questioning what I mean, let me give you a concrete example from my own personal experience.

I was out with friends in Germany and someone from some religious group asked if they could talk to me about whatever it was they were ‘selling’. I told the person, “No thank you.” Instead of that person politely replying with, “Okay, have a nice day,” they kept asking me over and over again if I was really sure I didn’t want to talk to them. I just kept repeating “Not thank you,” but getting a bit louder and a bit more annoyed each time. The woman then asked me if I understood German, because I just kept repeating “No thank you.” I asked her, “Do you understand German, because I have been saying no thank you to you for the past minute and you don’t want to respect this?!”

When I told this story afterwards someone told me I was being rude to the woman. That I should have been kinder to her and maybe just listened to what she was saying. I want you to now change those words around and put it in the context of sexual consent and see if I should have just ‘done’ what the person was asking me to do, so I didn’t seem rude. Consent should happen everywhere and when people say no, in regards to business or sexual relationships this should be respected. You don’t get to bully people into doing something they do not want to do. Enthusiastic yes is the only way to do it. As Poehler says, “No is the end, not the beginning of a negotiation.”

So these are my five life lessons from Amy Poehler’s memoir. What celebrity memoir are you reading at the moment? And don’t forget to share your birth story in the comments below. As always, share the reading love.