(This post originally lived at Work Brighter’s blog before its audience changed)
My nights and weekends are usually occupied by 2 things (probably at the same time): building my business, and Parks and Rec.
I’m the kind of person that needs a familiar TV show on at all times for background noise. I don’t want to brag, but I’m kind of an OG bingewatcher. Before Netflix streaming, I owned TV seasons on VHS and DVD as a soundtrack while I did my middle school homework.
So Netflix while I work? It’s more comforting than distracting, especially with a show where I’ve seen every episode 250 times.
Actually, 250 times might not be that much of a stretch. I usually run through all 6-7 seasons every 2 weeks. Yeah, I’m obsessed.
And you know what?
You can only spend so much time watching Leslie Knope while being a solopreneur, until you start to blend the two.
So Amy Poehler’s fictional character – a geeky, hyper, passionate mess – sort of became my solopreneur spirit.
Why Leslie Knope is a Natural Entrepreneur
Not necessarily a role model, because let’s be real. Lady Leslie is amazing, but the girl is flawed. But even her bad traits come from a good place, a big heart, and a brilliant brain.
Solo biz owners, we have a lot in common with Leslie Knope – both the good and the bad. And that is one of the highest compliments I could ever pay another human being.
(If you don’t watch Parks and Rec – bad decision, btw – here’s the lowdown: Leslie Barbara Knope was the deputy director of the Pawnee, Indiana department of Parks and Recreation. She also had brief stint as city councilwoman, and – spoiler alert – if we go with the time jump in the final season, eventually becomes the Governor of Indiana and then President of the United States.)
So, why would Leslie be the fiercest solopreneur in Pawnee? Let me count the ways:
1. Her career is her passion
First and foremost, “deputy director of the Parks department” is not just what she does from 9-5, it’s her passion.
She lives and breathes all things parks. And recreation. And Pawnee in general – she even wrote the book on the town. From memory! I have it, and it’s amazing.
She’s not there collecting a paycheck. She’s there because she wants to be.
Hell, during her suspension in season 4, she tried to sneak into the office and work. And when Chris caught her, she founded an entire volunteer organization so she could keep improving her town’s parks.
She voluntarily spends her Saturdays cleaning up the town’s rivers, donates her own money to fund the rec center classes, and spends her days off planning work-related surprises for coworkers.
She sits and does paperwork in bed on Saturday nights while listening to old Spice Girls CDs. (Girl, same)
And solopreneurs are the same way. We have to be. When you are the business, you’ll burn out quickly if you don’t love what you do.
Sometimes we don’t even know what to do when our business starts to feel like “work.”
2. She’s relentless in pursuit of success
“I have a lot to gain by being right, and I have severe tunnel vision when achieving my goals.” – Leslie Knope
Try to tell Leslie “no.” I dare you. Or try ignoring her – that’s even worse.
She will do whatever it takes, however it takes, to get her job done.
When she can’t get city council members to listen to her, she literally chases them around City Hall proposing plans to make the town better. (Sometimes via piggyback ride.)
When the government got shut down, cancelling a children’s concert, she re-planned the whole thing in one day.
She’s followed colleagues – yes, this has happened more than once – into the bathroom when they try to run in there to get away from her.
How often do you let something stand in your way?
When entrepreneurs hit a roadblock, we either figure out how to move it or find a new road entirely. But we’ll get to where we need to go!
3. She’s restless
“I could retire! But I wouldn’t – I’m going to work until I’m 100. Then I’ll cut back to four days a week.” – Leslie Knope
That’s Leslie for you. She actually decides a few seconds later to use that one day each week to go to law school.
I remember the moment I first realized that Leslie and I were basically the same.
It was in season 3 when she takes the department camping to brainstorm new ideas. She’s so stressed out about work that her coworkers have to physically lock her in a room with no escape to get her to sleep. And then she sleeps for 7 hours, which is twice her normal amount, so she gets a little disoriented.
That’s a little too close to my life.
For side hustlers especially, this is pretty literal.
Sleep isn’t always the priority it should be. I love it, and always get a solid 12-14 hours on weekends (holy crap, right?), after a week of 3-5 hour nights. But yeah, it would be much healthier if my week’s worth of sleep was, you know, spread out evenly throughout the week. 😉
For full-time solopreneurs who can work on their businesses during daylight, the restlessness is still there, but a little more metaphorical.
But no matter what your employment status is, entrepreneurs don’t always know how to turn off their brains. You’re always coming up with a new passion project or business strategy, the problem is finding the time to finish them all.
4. She’s not always healthy
I told you not all of the similarities are good. I’m not afraid to point out Leslie’s flaws, or my own.
Leslie puts her work above her health way too often.
Whether it’s that moment I was just talking about – when a full night’s sleep was so unusual that it actually messed with her body – or when she’s pretending not to be sick so she can stay at work, she repeatedly proves where her priorities lie.
Let’s take a look at some of her offenses:
- Right after discovering how horribly unhealthy NutriYum energy bars are and trying to get them banned from being sold in the parks, she works through breakfast and eats one for an energy burst later in the day.
- She pulled 2 all-nighters in a row (again, thanks to NutriYum bars) to run a telethon for diabetes. Well, the first night she was just making her department custom t-shirts to wear at the telethon…
- During the flu season of season 3 (one of my all-time favorite episodes), she would not succumb to her illness until she made her pitch for the Harvest Festival to the Chamber of Commerce/Secrets. She broke out of a hospital to get there.
- There’s that camping moment I talked about earlier, where she basically had a panic attack at the prospect of not being able to work all night.
- When she stayed up all night trying to decide how to vote on her soda tax bill, she stayed energized by drinking one of the “child-sized” sodas she was trying to reduce consumption of.
- During the flu season of season 6 (although she didn’t have the flu!!!), she was so insistent on continuing to work that she was vomiting in bushes one minute, and shaking hands with famous musicians the next. Ewww.
And I know I’m not the only solopreneur with this problem. How often have you pushed back a meal to work longer, stayed up later than you should have, or skipped the gym in favor of getting more work done?
5. She’s hyper-organized and Type A to the core
This is my favorite thing about Leslie.
So, not all solo biz owners are so obsessive they’d write a 3,000-word ode to planners, but you have to be pretty organized to keep your business afloat.
And if there’s one person who could write a longer ode to planners than I could, it’s Leslie frigging Knope.
She’s my organizational role model.
She binders, she color codes, she charts.
Creates game plans for her best friend’s artificial insemination with uterine cartoons on the cover. 🤓
Buys her favorite color tab dividers through Mexican backchannels. (How many Staples and Office Depots do you think there are between Indiana and Mexico? At least a few, right?)
She’s color coding out the wazoo. Jamming on her planner. Creating index cards of conversation topics for her first dates.
And I love it.
While not all business owners are weird enough to love organizing and planning as much as I do, they need to be obsessed with it anyway.
As a one woman (or man) shop, you have to do almost everything yourself. When you do automate or outsource, you still need to manage that employee or process. Unlike other entrepreneurs, there’s no organizational hierarchy where you have other managers looking over parts of the company and reporting back to you.
I know most other biz owners I talk to are pretty attached to their calendar or to-do list, if not out of joy then out of necessity.
And many more…
Those are Leslie’s main solopreneur qualities, the strongest and most fun to talk about. (Some of the funniest episodes are when she’s making poor health decisions.)
But the lessons don’t end there. She also knows:
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC
Remember when she thought that she could take a lot from a pit/dump to a beautiful park in just a few months? And that the small lot would have a roller coaster and a zillion other things? I know what it’s like to dream so big that you lose sight of reality for a minute.
HOW TO BE FLEXIBLE
Okay, so she doesn’t handle it that well, but when there’s a wrench in her plans, she just makes new ones. Like when she moved the Freddy Spaghetti concert to the empty lot when the government got shut down, and turned Ann’s house into a public bathroom for the day. Solopreneurs also get thrown through loops and have to quickly figure out how to adapt.
THAT IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Even though she could have (and sometimes, maybe should have) ran the whole Parks department by herself, she always had her team with her. She build herself a network of friends and coworkers that are completely “ride or die.” They would do anything for her, because she would do anything for them. And solopreneurs know that when you work alone, it’s even more important to have a support circle.
So if she ever decides to ditch her path to president and start a one woman shop (or more likely, once she’s 105 and finished law school and looking for a new adventure), I have complete confidence she’d be amazing at it. I also feel pretty awesome for having so much in common with her!
Can you think of anything else that would make her perfect for the job?