I’m a licensed therapist and a mental health journalist, but when I get home at night and my laptop blinks to life, I’m a fangirl. Fictional characters have transported me through more than one challenge in my life, from job interviews to bad dates to the death of my mother. Story is powerful, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s coming from across the table or from your Netflix account.
Last winter break, desperate to detox from graduate school, I went on a therapeutic TV binge. In a superhuman feat requiring years of fangirl preparation, I inhaled almost 100 episodes of CBS’s hit drama The Good Wife in just a few weeks. The show’s brilliant take on office politics and its pioneering female roles made me sit up straight. And before you could say “Christine Baranski” three times fast, I began to take notes.
Perhaps my professors might cringe and weep, but I learned more about my abilities and my goals in those two weeks than I have in five years of graduate education. The field of psychology is dominated by women, so you’d think that the following wisdom have come up once or twice. But the truth is that sometimes TV is the best teacher of them all. Here are five lessons the show taught me that have legitimately changed my entire life in the last seven months.
1. “I want what I’m worth.” – Diane Lockhart
It’s a novel concept these days for anyone under the age of 30 to demand their worth. We’ve been taught to be grateful for any opportunity, but gratitude and internship upon internship don’t pay those bills or those scary student loans.
When the ever so fabulous Diane Lockhart uttered these five little words in season 5, my life spun on its axis. I started turning down writing gigs that didn’t pay. When professionals emailed me for advice, I politely told them my feedback wasn’t free. Bold move by bold move, I started untangling myself from the professional relationships that expected me to do anything and everything for free. The kindness of my heart was officially closed for business.
And you know what happened? The moment I started valuing myself, other people were willing to pay me for my talents. I want what I’m worth, and there’s no shame in that.
2. “You’re a good lawyer, but you’re always waiting for people to give you things.” – Kalinda Sharma
One of the myths we sometimes tell ourselves professionally is that if you work hard enough, people will start to notice. This might be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be rewarded for it.
Kalinda is such a fierce and beautifully written example of how to ask for what you want. When she doesn’t like her salary, she says so. When she thinks she can do a better job than a competitor, you know it.
This January I stopped waiting around for recognition and I started asking for it. There’s a difference between ego and assertiveness, and I found that simply being excited and courageous enough to tell people about my goals and my projects could garner the respect I deserved.
3. “I want a happy life, and I want to control my own fate.” – Alicia Florrick
Our heroine Alicia hasn’t always had control over her fate, as demonstrated by the show’s premise. But over the show’s first five seasons, we’ve seen her gain back power over her career, her relationships, and her fate, inch by dogged inch.
Not everything is in my control, but I am most certainly am lord over how and when I choose to react to my emotions. Controlling your fate is about taking the time to define your values and your purpose, rather than be tossed about in the rat race that involves living and breathing the approval and praise of others. Alicia is the perfect example of how to be goal-driven but also live above and beyond the need to please or present yourself as perfect.
4. “I’m feeling a bit vulnerable, but I’m going to to use it.” – Elsbeth Tascioni
Speaking of not being perfect, guest actress Carrie Preston (True Blood alum) plays the delightfully quirky genius, Elsbeth Tascioni. I fell in love with Elsbeth from the very beginning, because she excelled at her job and commanded respect without fitting into any lawyer trope I’ve ever seen on TV.
Elsbeth lives outside the box, and she’s not afraid to fangirl a little over the ladies on the show. Always cheerful, she gives people the benefit of the doubt, but when they abuse that privilege, she doesn’t shirk away. Ms. Tascioni taught me that when someone stomps on my emotions, I should use it as fuel for my own devices. After all, the best revenge is living well, isn’t it?
5. “When the door you’ve been knocking at finally swings open, you don’t ask why. You run through.” – Diane Lockhart
These were the words that Diane told Alicia when she offered her a chance at partnership with the firm, and perhaps the ones that I keep the closest for retrieval. As much as women can doubt our abilities, we are even more susceptible to questioning our successes. No one can turn a victory into anxiety faster than I can, but day by day I am learning just to run through and not look back.
Two weeks ago I sent some of my writing to a literary agent. The bold move was part of my weekly routine where I practice getting rejected so I could get immune to the word “no” and not take it so personally. But I didn’t get rejected. I heard a yes. An empathetic yes. My brain was prepped to kick into worry mode, or to wonder what on earth possess an agent to take a chance on me. But Diane’s words were right where I needed them, urging me not to waste my time with explanations.
Season 6 of The Good Wife returns September 21, and you can bet I’ll be watching, ready to take notes. Perhaps it seems silly to spin such life lessons from television, but as a therapist, I always urge people to pay attention to what works. So if the doors keep swinging open, you can bet that I’ll keep running through them.