What Freelancers Can Learn From TV Characters


Freelancers have to be people of tremendous character — our own decisions rule our destiny.

Freelancing means more self-motivation, creating our own atmosphere and learning on the job .

They say art imitates life, but I’ve heard the opposite as well.

There is plenty of art we could look to, but who doesn’t love a little television?

Here’s a look at some life lessons to take — and leave — from some of our favorite TV characters, past and present.

1. Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad

Schrader is the DEA agent brother-in-law of Walter White in Breaking Bad. He’s a hyper-sincere and ever-vigilant seeker of the truth.

Take: Hank never gave up on his hunches about Heisenberg, the meth king of the Southwest. He did his homework, keeping the faith against the doubts of his colleagues.

As freelancers, we can learn from his resolve. Sometimes there are temptations to cut corners or to sacrifice quality of work in favor of trying to maximize pay-per-hour. As Hank kept working on a case that often looked doubtful, we should always do what we think is right, keeping our standards as high as possible.

This can also correspond to brainstorming for leads for work in less-than-obvious places, honing skills, learning extra and new abilities and beating the competition through hard work.

Leave: Because his superiors didn’t trust his judgment, Hank had to do some below-boards work. He found ways of rationalizing defying the orders of his bosses.

While that may fly on a TV show, it serves as a reminder to freelancers: Going outside of the wishes or instructions of clients can be dangerous, and keeping full transparency is the best policy.

2. Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation

Amy Poehler’s character on the long-running NBC series Parks and Rec may be a frazzled nutcase, but she has a heck of a work ethic, and there’s a lot we can take from her.

Take: Leslie cares deeply about everything she does. She endeavors to build a new park or put on a children’s concert out of a deep sense that her townspeople deserve these things. This service-oriented attitude will serve freelancers well.

Further, she’s the queen of showing gratitude. A freelancer may often be on the receiving end of thanks, but we should show thanks as well — thanks to a client for being flexible or organized, for hiring us in the first place, etc.

Leave: Leslie always commits a cardinal sin of freelancing: having way too much on her plate. She might pull off her excess projects through the magic of television, but you don’t have that resource. Be sure to know where to draw the line when it comes to having a full bill of projects.

3. Dwight K. Schrute in The Office

Take: How on Earth does Dwight from The Office have the energy to make sales calls all day and then go home and tend a beet farm? How does he know so much about Battlestar Gallactica and Dutch folklore? He’s the ultimate chameleon, keeping a balance between very disparate work and home lives.

Freelancers have to wear different hats, and endeavoring to do well at a wide variety of tasks is something we can all aspire to.

Leave: Schrute once said that what stresses him out is having to seek the approval of his inferiors. He feels he knows everything in any situation and doesn’t take kindly to disagreements.

This attitude just won’t fly for a freelancer. We have to always be learning, growing and receptive to varied perspectives.

4. Joan Harris in Mad Men

Take: When someone needs something done quickly and right, he or she goes to the henna-headed office administrator in Mad Men.

A freelancer can learn from her an attention to detail and a hard-nosed work ethic. Being known as a problem-solver is as valuable an asset as you can have.

Leave: Besides Harris’s reprehensible way of landing the position of partner in the ad firm, she gives freelancers a roadmap of what not to do.

She was in charge of a large secretarial pool and needed to make those under her feel small. For obvious reasons, her imperious attitude is just not for a freelancer.

5. Fiona Gallagher in Shameless

This young Chicagoan is in charge of a house full of siblings and is struggling to find her role on Earth and a path to a fulfilling future in Shameless.

Take: Fiona never graduated high school and bops from dead-end job to dead-end job. It’s hard for her to put bread on the table and take care of the wacky brood under her roof. She makes mistakes and is often frazzled, but she’s always moving ahead.

A freelancer can learn a lot not only from Fiona’s work ethic and can-do spirit, but from her way of not waiting for a road map. She’s a problem solver, knowing that even if solutions aren’t dropped in our laps, we have to move forward, even if the goal at hand is a bit ambitious.

Leave: While we can sympathize with Fiona’s impulse to take gigs as they arise, her lack of a long-term plan may not be best for freelancers. Fiona is good at working with whatever opportunities pop up, but she may have some help from screenwriters. In real life, it may be best to lay down a five and ten-year plan.

Your turn! What TV characters inspire you in your real life job?

(Photo by RTP / CC BY)

Jeff Maehre is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. His fiction has appeared in Story, The Northwest Review, Cutbank, and Phoebe; he often blogs and writes other copy about social media.


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