Parks and Recreation, one of my favorite comedies of all time, airs its series finale tomorrow night. I thought for awhile about what type of post I might do to honor it, and this was the one I kept coming back to. Thank you, Amy and Co., for the lessons, the sidesplitting laughs, and most of all, the creation of Leslie Knope.
1. Optimism is not a character flaw. As an almost aggressively optimistic person myself, one of the things I most admire about Leslie is her unfailing optimism, despite the adversity that she often faces. In particular, I admire the lengths that she goes to to show that being that hopeful is brave rather than naive. Watching the show, I always know that no matter what is thrown her way, Leslie will make it to the other side, largely because of the positivity that she exudes.
2. Be good to your friends, not because you expect anything in return, but because you love and care about them and want them to be happy. Friendship plays a huge role on this show, and one of my favorite storylines in its entire run is Leslie’s campaign for city council. There was something so special about her friends coming together to get her elected, just because they genuinely believed in her and what she had to say, not because of what they thought they would receive in return. Additionally, the friendship between Leslie and Anne has long been one of the most realistic friendships portrayed on television, and that is largely because of how supportive they are of one another.
3. Never stop looking for love. Let’s be clear; being in a romantic relationship is not necessary for survival, and the show has never portrayed it that way. But just because you don’t need love, doesn’t mean that it makes you weak to hope for it. In the early seasons, Leslie bravely went all out in her pursuit of the one; she went on dates with all kinds of different guys and laid her heart on the line every single time. And she showed that no matter how old or tired or out of practice you feel (and trust me, sometimes I do), you should remain a hopeless romantic anyway, because you’re gonna find love where you least expect it.
4. When you find it, don’t be afraid to pursue it wholeheartedly (especially if he has a cute butt). By the time Ben Wyatt graced our screens for the first time, Leslie Knope’s heart had been through a lot. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing a relationship with Ben, despite the fact that he was her boss and that there were a zillion reasons that it might not work out. And she was rewarded for this bravery when she found in him her soulmate (in an episode called “Soulmates”, in fact). April and Andy, another one of my favorite couples, were so sure of their love for one another that they got married a month into their relationship. And like Ben and Leslie, they didn’t let fear of failure stop them from doing so.
5. Be passionate and unapologetic about the things that you love. One of my favorite things about Parks and Rec is how open the characters are about their passions. Ben is obsessed with Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Leslie loves waffles and the work that she does. Ron enjoys woodworking and delicious meats. April and Andy love each other and a variety of other weird, wonderful, and often unpredictable things. Donna and Tom get excited about pop culture and buying new stuff (and can you blame them?). But despite the variety in their passions, the one thing that all of these characters have in common is that they aren’t afraid to talk about them. They may get teased a little, sure (after all, this show’s friendships are about as realistic as they come), but they also know that they their friends respect them and the things that they care about.
6. Challenge those around you. As Leslie has done time and time again, don’t be afraid to push your friends and co-workers to be their best selves. When we first met April, she was apathetic about her future career, but Leslie encouraged her to advance in the Parks department and find projects that she could be passionate about. Leslie is also part of the reason that, this season, April realized that there may be something out there that she would enjoy more, because Leslie taught her not to settle for something that she doesn’t love.
7. In the immortal words of Ron Swanson, Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Leslie, it’s that putting all of your time and energy into something is the most effective way to get it done, whether it be turning a giant hole into a park or getting elected to City Council. So make a giant binder detailing all of your plans, be the last one left at work every night, and show everyone around you that you mean business. Bonus points if you whole-ass the thing with your best friend in the world, Anne Perkins (you beautiful tropical fish).
8. Eat waffles as often as humanly possible. Waffles are delicious. Leslie would not have spent over a thousand dollars of her yearly income at J.J.’s Diner if they were not.
9. Stand up for yourself and what you believe in. The characters on this show are eternal underdogs; whether they’re being impeached as the mayor of Ice Town, recalled as a City Councilwoman, or facing intense business competition from the Fonz, they are quite frequently down on their luck. But that never stops them from fighting for what they believe in. Ben went back to government because it was what he enjoyed, even knowing that he would be ridiculed when people found out about his brief run as a teenage mayor. Leslie made the most of her time as City Councilwoman to better the very town that voted to have her recalled. Tom worked hard to find another business venture that he could love just as much, if not more, than Rent-a-Swag. Whatever they’re up against, these characters never give up on themselves and what’s important to them.
10. Do what you want. This applies to everyone, but I’ve never had feminist role models quite like the ones on this show, so I’m directing this one to the ladies especially. Parks and Rec is chock-full of women who have made very different choices in their careers and personal lives and are happy because of it, because they did what they wanted, not what was right for someone else. And it’s worth noting, they have the constant support of the men in their lives. They have Ron, who loves strong, brunette women as much as he loves breakfast food; Jerry, who adores his wife and daughters; and Ben, who wasn’t named Woman of the Year for nothing. But it was Leslie, who has always been wonderfully unapologetic about her choices, who gave one of the show’s simplest and most important pieces of advice just a few episodes ago:
If you want to bake a pie, that’s great. If you want to have a career, that’s great too. Do both or neither. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t judge what someone else has decided to do.
So when I think about this show, this marvelous, marvelous show, I’m going to remind myself to do what I love. To do it with the people that make me happy. And hopefully, to make Leslie Knope proud.