Things I Learned from The West Wing

The West Wing graced our televisions from 1999-2006 with the story of a charismatic president who led an administration that united the American people, knew when to compromise, and always “served at the pleasure.” These awesome change-makers are people we can all aspire to be, so here are some lessons I learned from President Bartlet, C.J., Josh, Sam, Toby, Donna and the crew.

  1. Trial by fire is a good way to learn. When it comes to being the president, or working for one, the only way to fully know how to do the job is to be in it, a life lesson for anything you do.
  2. If you have a dream, do not let others stop you from pursuing it. There are points in the show where characters move on to new opportunities, and when people told them it couldn’t be done, they proved them otherwise – like winning another presidential election, for example. 
  3. Find a career where staying late at the office can be fun. Obviously, running a country might require just a little bit of overtime, but Bartlet’s staff always seems to make the best of it through friendship and a whole lot of coffee. Photo courtesy of Eric Bailey
  4. Some things just aren’t other people’s business, even when you work in the White House. Especially in the media age, everyone wants to know what’s going on with your life, but these characters have each others’ backs to ensure certain areas of a private life can stay private.
  5. Anyone can make a difference. One of the greatest things about this show is how it highlights the value of each character, from assistants to legislators, in the process of running the nation. They taught me that no matter the type of position I end up in, even working as an intern, I have a place and a purpose.
  6. You don’t have to be defined by significant others. I always appreciated that no character on The West Wing has a perfect love life – and it’s accepted that it’s okay. No one is seen as worse off than another for being single, a lesson that we do not receive from Hollywood and the media enough.
  7. Women can demand equity to men in the workplace, including within government. When watching The West Wing, it is easy at first to see a few stereotypes; although you have women in major staff positions, you also have assistants to whom someone will ask a question like, “Don’t you have some typing to do?” As time goes on, however, these women fulfill bigger roles and do not allow themselves to be looked down upon in such ways, possibly due to a change in mentality of the writers or the network, making the show an actual display of women overcoming odds.Photo courtesy of Dmitry Ryzhkov
  8. We never have to sacrifice our ideals. Although political times would change and letting go of one’s core ideals would have sometimes made life easier, the Bartlet administration would always find a way to stand by what they believed.
  9. Family and friendship should come before work. Although their careers were practically everything, family and friendships would always come first, and if they let these responsibilities slip, things would go awry, highlighting the importance of balancing work with personal life.
  10. No individual is unimportant. In the show, President Bartlet has the ability to make every person he comes in contact with feel valued. This is something the government should always strive for, granting a voice to all, but it’s a good practice for the day-to-day

**Cover photo courtesy of Ryan Pouncy.