Friends is one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, and a large part of its appeal is its portrayal of the ups and downs of young adulthood. Since the main focus of the show is on the twenty-something experience, it makes sense that a substantial portion of the show is devoted to the work lives of its characters. While each of the Friends has their own career path, Rachel’s is the most transformative, and in my view, the most aspirational.
Over the course of the show’s ten-year run, she cycles through a number of fashion jobs and ends the series as an executive. But her career path isn’t a straight upward line, and we see the journey it takes for her to find success.
Rachel starts off the series as a rather spoiled young woman, who’s just run away from a wedding and a comfortable, yet unsatisfying life she’s decided she doesn’t want. Upon arriving in the city and moving in with her old high school friend Monica, the next thing she needs to do is find employment (“I’m going to go get one of those…job things!”)
Initially, Rachel approaches working life with eagerness and a commitment to make it on her own. She gets a job as a waitress at Central Perk (a coffeehouse and the group’s famed hangout spot) and though she isn’t very good at it, it’s a solid first step.
While Rachel slowly finds her footing in New York, she ventures into the unknown and pushes herself to take risks. After she’s spent a few years at Central Perk and realizes she doesn’t want to spend her life serving coffee, she decides to quit and pursue a career that she’s genuinely passionate about (even if she’s got no relevant experience to back it up) and begins to make her way in the fashion industry.
As her work life improves, she also learns how to recover from setbacks. While she’s working at Bloomingdale’s, her department gets eliminated and she’s demoted to a lower position. She toughs it out and eventually manages to find a better job at Ralph Lauren, and as her career progresses, she accepts each new challenge with enthusiasm and earnestness.
A key theme of Friends (and young adulthood in general) is about embracing not having everything figured out, which is why it’s satisfying to watch Rachel gradually establish her own identity and see how her personal growth is reflected in her career. Throughout the series, she advocates for herself, rises through the ranks, and finds happiness in her work.
“My work…it’s for me, you know? I”m out there on my own and I’m doing it, and it’s scary, but I love it because it’s mine.”
I’m not saying that Rachel’s meteoric rise was realistic. A lot of the time, opportunities arose for her based on pure luck and TV logic (and, looking back, the lower rent prices and the booming economy of the ‘90s couldn’t have hurt either.) But Rachel’s career path also involves a lot of common struggles—dead-end jobs, office politics, awkward interviews—and the reason why her journey is so enjoyable to watch is that it shows not every setback is forever, and that it’s possible to grow from negative experiences.
Rachel’s story is ultimately about doing what’s challenging, and how the initial uncertainty is worth it to build something for yourself that’s fulfilling. She shows the value of figuring out what you want and having the courage to strive for it. Shouldn’t we all dare to try that for ourselves?