One Year With the West Wing

The West Wing premiered in September of 1999, one month and fifteen short years later, I started watching. Why this show hadn’t been on my radar before this time I’ll never know, I do know, to paraphrase a friend, it found me when I needed it most.

To back up a bit, exactly one year ago today I was let go from my first ‘real job’. I came into work that Monday morning, finalized details for a project I’d been working on for weeks, and learned one of my coworkers had been let go before it was my turn. People say that when you work for a startup you always know being let go is a possibility, and I suppose that’s true. Some will say I was naive to not realize this could happen to me as easily as it did, and perhaps that’s true too. But to me this was so much more than any old job, and frankly, I hadn’t focused much on the bigger picture of the company or what I would do when the day inevitably came for me to move on. Hindsight of course being 20/20 I now see some things that could have gone differently, and yet, upon reflection, I still wouldn’t do it any other way.

To go back even further, I’d fallen into my position with this company through a series of happy accidents that started, in perhaps cliched fashion, with a chance introduction at a cocktail party. The CEO of this small company promised not to change my mind about pursuing a career in libraries, but told me to send him my resume. Now, this meeting has become part of a larger story about how my career trajectory, but at the time I had no idea how much this brief encounter would derail my plans.

The rest of library school flew by in a blur of schoolwork that felt at times like a distraction from my ‘real’ work with this startup that couldn’t possibly have had less to do with libraries. Finishing my degree felt wonderful but my focus was already elsewhere. The next year and a half was an adventure filled with smart and crazy coworkers, travel, victories, roadblocks, frustrations, and a steeper learning curve than I’d ever experienced. I learned about product, design, marketing, sales, how to stand behind my ideas when I needed to and when to compromise or constructively argue with coworkers. Some people go to business school, I worked for Yonder.

So what does any of this have to do with the West Wing, you ask? I’m getting there. Fast forward to October 12, 2015, the day I was let go. To put it briefly, some behind the scenes stuff hadn’t gone as planned, overnight our team of 14 was less than 5, and I hadn’t made the cut.

For the first time in my life I didn’t know what came next. I’ve always tended towards being a planner and up until that point I’d always had one. I’d been a student grades K-12, spent 5 years in undergrad (shoutout to NU and the 5 year program!) and after a brief 8 month break gone straight to graduate school. Grad school was spent juggling multiple jobs around a rigorous course schedule and I’d signed on the dotted line to join the team at Yonder months before completing my program. This sudden unemployment was not part of the plan. I’d always had a plan.

Ironically it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected it might be. Yes, it was a shock, yes, tears were shed, yes, I had some serious soul searching to do, but it wasn’t all bad. I knew, and still know, the circumstances that led to my abrupt dismissal were entirely beyond my control. I’d worked as hard as I could to ensure the success of our business and I don’t regret a second of it.

But that still doesn’t mean I had a plan. I spent the next three months reflecting, taking a breather, applying to jobs, reading, and watching the West Wing. Critics of this show say it’s porn for liberals and, frankly, they may be right, but I enjoyed every second of it. These intelligent, passionate, hardworking characters became my friends and inspiration. One of the overarching themes of the series is education, the idea that knowledge is power.

I could gush further on about my love for this series, and perhaps someday I will, but after an already lengthier than intended article I think I’ll leave it here for now. In the meantime, I might suggest (if you’ve made it this far) you check out the wonderful West Wing Weekly podcast with Josh Malina and Hrishi Hirway as they dissect each episode in turn.

The idea that knowledge is power is fundamental to the way I view the world. CJ, Sam, Josh, Donna and President Bartlett reminded me of this during a time in my life I really needed it. Nine months into my new role, as a librarian at an ivy league school, I’m still not sure what my career holds but for now I’m enjoying the ride and learning as much as I can along the way.

What’s next?