A Few Life Lessons From the Wonderful Mind Of Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling

You probably already suspect you like Mindy Kaling. The smarty pants funny girl has carved a nice bit of niche fame for herself playing Kelly Kapoor on NBC’s much-loved “The Office,” and she did it all without a reality show, a divorce or public meltdown. But casual fans of the show may be less aware of her involvement behind the scenes. Not only is she a key member of the Emmy-nominated writing team that brings the show to life, she’s even directed a couple of episodes.

If you follow her on Twitter, you also know she likes Beyonce and online shopping.

I’ve long been a fan of Kaling. I can always be counted on to rally around smart, funny women, and am eternally more interested in the most mundane things about them (What is Tina Fey watching these days? Does Amy Poehler have a favorite brand of beer?) than I am in the most outlandish details of some boorish reality star’s private life. I’ve always thought Mindy has a unique talent for exposing the tiny sadnesses that add up to make something hilarious and human. I’m a writer too, so my admiration for the talents of other writers is limitless.

Kaling dropped her first book – “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)” – last week and it was exactly as I hoped it would be – funny, observant and weirdly educational. Yes, her book is similar to Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” in that it tells the tale of a perfectly sweet, well-adjusted and awkward childhood that gave way to a determined young woman with a passion who pursued it tirelessly until it happened, but – and it could well be Kaling’s age and where she is in her life (still single, no kids) – I found it far more relatable.

I’m sure that just about anyone will enjoy Kaling’s book, but if you are someone striving in the arts, it is going to hit you like a punch in the stomach. Kaling’s tale is deeply relatable, and she is standing on the other side as proof that if you are talented and willing to work hard, you can maybe make it too.

Below are a few bits of advice I gleaned from Kaling’s book that I think everyone can benefit from.

“If you are scared of something, that isn’t a sign that you should do it. It probably means you shouldn’t do it. Call Dad or Mom immediately.” (p. 29)

This life lesson came to our starlet as a child when she was forced by a lifeguard to jump into a lake against her will. He told her she wasn’t allowed to turn around and walk back off a diving board, that there was only one way off and it was jumping into the water.

Boiled down, you could take this as “follow your gut,” which is always good advice.

“… when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life.” (p. 31)

This bit of wisdom comes in a chapter entitled “Don’t Peak In High School,” and while it is a specific command, the rest of the chapter details why it is perfectly fine to not be some kind of star in high school. That you’re always going to be better served by being yourself, even if yourself is, as Kaling says of herself, a “respectful and hardworking wallflower.”

This chapter could fit broadly into the “It Gets Better” category of things and there’s a reason that message has resonated so thoroughly in our culture. (It’s because it’s true.)

“Because no one was hiring us to act or write, Brenda and I decided to create something to perform ourselves.” (p. 85)

Kaling extols the virtues of taking your professional life into your own hands a few times in her book and in the process made me feel bad for opting to watch the entirety of “Dark Shadows” (the 12-episode 1991 remake) on Hulu this weekend when I should have been working on my novel. It’s sound advice, particularly if you trying to break into a creative field. It can seem impossible to get noticed, but the thing is, if you’re good enough, someone will eventually figure it out … but they can’t hear how great your song is, if you never get up on stage and sing it.

“My parents get along because they are pals.” (p. 185)

Being pals, per Kaling, “mostly means they [her parents] want to talk about the same stuff all the time.” Liking each other seems obviously key to any relationship, but it’s the context within which she explores it – talking about how she’s not entirely certain that marriage should be this deeply analytical enterprise that a couple is always hard at work on – that makes it seem like a revelation. The point seems to be that she’s suspicious of couples claiming that marriage is so hard, and that even if it is work, it should be work you enjoy. She also notes that a pal is not a best friend (which you will forever think about with suspicion when a husband or wife refers to their significant other as their “best friend”).

She goes on to talk about a run-in with Amy Poehler, who called her husband, Will Arnett, by his last name when searching for him at a party. She admired that it came across like Amy was a “player on the same sports team Will was on.”

That seems like as good a metaphor as any for a good marriage. Players on the same team, enjoying working toward a shared goal.

Have you read Mindy’s book? What did you think?