Melanie Schmitz
July 08, 2014 8:24 am

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about how I was going to take over the world. I was involved in local and state political campaigns, I attended special lectures and conventions on the crisis in the Middle East, I made sure everyone I knew voted. . . and if they didn’t, I scolded them for it. I would be the first female president if it killed me. But by the time I was out of school, other things had taken the place of those idealistic daydreams, things like finding a “grown-up job” and paying off my student loans. And then, out of nowhere, in rode Leslie Knope like a blonde, half-horse/half-goddess, spearheading the wonder that is NBC’s Parks and Recreation. She changed everything.

Leslie spoke to my soul. She was a type-A, current events/news junkie with a lady crush on her fellow female politicians. She was a multi-tasking overachiever who stayed up all night finishing a project and eating cheap waffles. She was me. If Leslie Knope could become City Councilwoman, why couldn’t I submit that news editorial on the Libyan crisis to fThe New York Times? Why couldn’t I vacation in Washington DC alone and spend a week enjoying museums and taking selfies in front of the Capitol building?

Enough was enough. It was time to start thinking more like Leslie.

Every day, we’re faced with ridiculously impossible standards. “Do your best! But drop those ten pounds or boys won’t like you.” “You can be a diva! But don’t be a diva or people will think you’re a bitch.” “You can make your own decisions! Unless they’re concerning your body, your sexuality, your health, your clothing or your makeup choices.

It’s no surprise that so many of us are afraid to be leaders. Powerful women tend to attract mountains of criticism—the type of criticism we’ve been subjected to our whole lives, only worse. It takes strength—and a good sense of humor—to be an effective leader. Leslie is proof of that.

Be your own Leslie Knope and change the world on your own terms. If you’re unsure of where to start, here are a few Knope quotes to kick-start your campaign and get you headed down the right path:

“I’ve created a mob of little Leslie Knope monsters. I’m so proud.” Be a positive example to the next generation of world-changers. Show them that it’s okay not to be satisfied with the status quo—that generations of sexism are ending with you.

“I’m gonna be direct and honest with you, I would like a glass of red wine and I’ll take the cheapest one you have because I can’t tell the difference.” Be straightforward and honest. Don’t let anyone else make your decision for you, even if it means you look a little less cool in the process.

“How does taking risks make me feel? Amazing. Tingling sensation throughout my whole body.” If you refuse to take a flying leap once in a while, you’ll never know how much you can achieve. Be brave.

“We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.” The people who have helped you along the way to your Presidency/Nobel Prize/Pulitzer deserve the same kindness and respect that they’ve shown you. Don’t let the world make you cold. Make time in your life to be kind.

“Wait, just hold on! I need to remember this. I need to remember every little thing about how perfect my life is at this exact moment.” From the outside, Leslie’s life was perfect. She was in love, buying a house and was a newly minted city councilwoman. But she was also bullied by her fellow councilmen. She had lost momentum with the citizens of Pawnee and was vilified for wanting to improve their health. She was up against a pair of stubborn activists and meeting her idols in Washington had done the opposite of what she expected it to do, leaving her feeling like her best just wasn’t good enough. But there was no way in hell she was going to let any of that get to her. Leslie Knope’s trademark optimism isn’t limited to politicians in city government—we’d all do well to remember to focus on the good.

Too often young women today forget just how powerful they are. They let society tell them what’s “proper.” Not to be pushy or too powerful. To be cynical and to take off the rose-colored glasses because that’s what it means to accept your adulthood.

Put those glasses back on and get to work. Fight for the little guy and be kind to those less fortunate than you. Keep lofty goals. No one ever achieved anything important without first dreaming big. Be good to yourself. . . and ask for extra whipped cream if you feel like it.

When Ann Perkins walked through that door and told Leslie she had won the City Council seat, I started bawling like a baby (I still do, every single time I re-watch it, which is about 18 times a week). When I was a kid, I dreamt of a moment like that and now, thanks to Leslie, I still do. It’s hard work, and there are definitely days where I look around at all the work I have to do and I want to climb into bed and sleep for nine days. Instead, I take a short break and watch my favorite episode of Parks and Recreation and let Leslie inspire me all over again.

Featured image via Poached/NBC

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