Real Life Lessons I Learned From Parks & Recreation

NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” is the best thing ever. This is an established fact. With over 100 episodes and seven seasons under its belt, there’s a lot to applaud the show for. They have great plot lines, diverse sets, smart humor, and most importantly, amazing humor.

I recently found myself embroiled in a Leslie Knope versus Liz Lemon argument.

“I just see myself in Leslie Knope the way I can’t in Liz Lemon,” I insisted. My friend stared at me like I was crazy.

“No one except coked up soccer moms who do PR for a living sees themselves as Leslie Knope. Liz Lemon is the everywoman. Everyone relates to her, she’s so real. She’s a great character. No one can relate to any characters on Parks & Rec.”

“I object” is not a strong enough phrase to fully express my emotions and opinions on this subject.

The characters of “Parks & Rec” are not only incredibly relatable, they’re incredibly real. Unlike so many sitcoms, they took caricature, stereotype characters and built them out into flesh and blood characters with strengths and flaws and full storylines. And say what you want, but almost every main character on the show is a damn good person with a hell of a lot of wisdom to offer. Even the most unexpected of characters has something to teach us.

Garry/Jerry/Larry/Terry Gergich:

It’s okay to not find fulfillment in a career and to put family first.

Garry is the classic tertiary character, and yet unlike tertiary characters in all other shows, he has a full character dynamic and personality that extends beyond the all too easy digs and teasing. Garry is probably the nicest person on the entire show, constantly providing support for his fellow coworkers, and never snapping in response to their (sometimes cruel) teasing. Remember that time they gave him a heart attack? And he still totally forgave them.

Garry’s best quality trait is his unfailing commitment to his family. In an unusual move for TV, Garry is a male character who, while taking satisfaction out of his job, doesn’t live for it. His real passion and joy is spending time with a family who loves him and brings out the best in him. Compared to the incredibly motivated Leslie Knope, this is a great upheaval of typical character tropes. Well done Garry.

Andy Dwyer:

Success is in the eye of the beholder.

Andy probably has the most character evolution out of the whole cast, going from a slacker musician to a loving husband who’s living out his dream career. Yes, they absolutely made him more immature when they paired him off with April. But we’ll forgive that.

While many say that Leslie is the hardest worker on the show, I disagree; Andy is. He went from mooching off his girlfriend and literally living in a pit to writing and directing his own TV show. He worked tirelessly at the shoe shine stand in order to support himself and his music career. He expanded his horizons and went to the UK to work in a nonprofit. And finally he realized that he doesn’t need a big fancy career, because he found his calling: being Johnny Karate. In the end, he stopped trying to be everything that everyone expected, and finally settled into being himself.

Anne Perkins:

It’s okay to give your all to relationships, as long as you know when to get out.

Oh Anne, you beautiful tropical fish. Anne spends the majority of her run on “Parks & Rec” trying to find herself. She’s known for throwing her entire self into relationships, and sometimes letting them consume her. But she also knows when to say when, and she’s smart enough to get herself out of these bad situations.

Also, I respect the hell out of a woman who can actually put several years of “Project Runway” binge-watching to good use and crank out one hell of a last minute wedding dress.

Chris Traeger: 

Don’t get hung up on the little details. 

Chris is a cautionary tale; don’t sweat the small stuff. Despite being a guy with a bright attitude and cheery disposition, his penchant for obsessing over everything routinely landed him in a bad place. You can focus on your health, but don’t obsess about getting older. Chris also taught us to not get overly wrapped up in a routine, because sometimes things go wrong, and you don’t want to be in the hospital yelling at yourself to stop pooping.

April Ludgate:

Be true to yourself, but don’t close yourself off./Not all internships suck.

Being weird isn’t always a bad thing, as April shows us. She’s unabashedly unashamed of who she is and how she lives her life, and she doesn’t care what people think about her. But inside she’s a softie with a heart of gold. Once you’re April’s friend, she’ll do anything for you, even if you aren’t a dog. (By the way, what happened to Champion?)

However begrudgingly, April evolves from a surly teenager to a confident young woman, learning that you sometimes have to open yourself up to new experiences, because they might make all the difference.

Donna Meagle:

It’s OK to love and treat yo’ self. 

Not only is Donna a delightfully rounded out non-stereotypical minority character, she’s also one of the most badass women on the show. She manages to take things with vain or vapid connotations (obsession over celebrities, social media, reality TV, etc.) and unabashedly loves the shit out of them. If you don’t like what she tweets, don’t follow her. She loves her car more than most people, and that’s okay; she worked hard for that car, and you need to respect it.

Donna has full agency over her life and relationships, and doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do or what to think. She’s crafty, intelligent and a hard worker. She’s also a warm person and an incredible friend, especially to those who need it most (Garry when he loses his belongings in a sewer grate, Ben when he needs a serious dose of “Treat Yo Self”).

Tom Haverford:

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again until you aren’t bankrupt.

Despite his obsession with appearances and hitting it rich, Tom is a hard worker who is constantly churning out ideas and dedicating himself to his future. While he certainly loves to play, he also learns from his past mistakes and buckles down to hard work when he needs to. He’s created several business models (some more profitable than others), and learned through trial and tribulation.

Throughout the series, Tom also struggles to overcome insecurities that he has because of his appearance, ethnicity, name, job and more. As he grows as a businessman, he also grows in confidence, and his over compensating ego slides away the more successful he becomes.

Ben Wyatt:

No mistake is too large to overcome./Don’t let your past decide your future.

If the human disaster can come back from bankrupting a city at age 18 and eventually run for Congress, you can do anything. Ben is a lovable nerd with a cute butt and a ton of flaws (and obsessions), but he never gives up on anything—be it friends, relationships, projects or Pawnee. (Except for the stop -motion animation video, I’m pretty sure he never went back to that.)

Ben also almost always keeps a cool and level head, and is one of the few characters you can depend on to think through things fully and rationally. Unless “Star Wars” is coming out, nothing will slip past Ben Wyatt. He’s a details man through and through, and his dry humor and irrepressible friendliness makes him the go to guy for any problem.

Ron Swanson:

If you don’t have anything important to say, don’t say anything at all.


Ron is a man of delightfully few words. With all the wisdom of his (undisclosed number of) years, Ron has learned that few things in life are worth the energy it takes to say them. Ron is a man with a steel spine who sticks to his guns (literally and figuratively), and it’s difficult to walk away from a conversation with Rob without learning some life lesson.

Ron also teaches us that it’s okay to take great delight out of life, and not to be ashamed of those things that bring us untold amounts of joy; namely, puzzles and breakfast food.

Leslie Knope:

Don’t apologize for being tenacious, but also learn when to relax.

How does someone even describe Leslie Knope? Do you focus on her amazing love for her friends, or her kick ass pant suits? What about her incredibly impressive binder-making skills? In every meaning of the word, Leslie is an overachiever. She applies that level of dedication and detail to everything she does, from event planning to presents to sticking up for friends. This tenacity is impressive and effective, but, as John McCaine points out, sometimes terrifying.

Though she struggles with it, Leslie (usually with the help of a friend) learns to relax and control her manic behavior for a little while, which often yields her best work or best ideas. Don’t limit yourself, and overachieve to your hearts content; but don’t get burnt out or bogged down in the anxiety.

Lil’ Sebastian:

Follow your heart, never give up on your dreams, and love with all your heart.

Lil’ Sebastian needs no explanation. You guys all totally get it.

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