With AMC’s Mad Men having recently poured its final glass of 9am bourbon, neat, I am left with a moment to reflect on the show whose legacy was always a little bit grander than its reality. And really, isn’t that sort of what we’re all aiming for in life? You’ll see a hundred op/ed pieces on the technical hits or misses of the show, but for me, even though the show was centered around Don Draper, the true protagonist of the series was Peggy Olson. Don’s was a journey that was focused on discovery on self (and probably more than a couple of STDs as well), but Peggy’s was a true battle. A David vs. Goliath struggle where sometimes her Goliath was the ultra-misogynistic corporate workplace of the 1960s and /70s, and sometimes her Goliath was herself. With that in mind, I present a handful of moments that Peggy brought us that will stick with me much longer than Don’s loose views on fidelity and identity theft. And so I present to you:
“When I was little, my mom would take a twin pop and break it in half and give one to me and one to my sister. We were completely equal in her eyes. Beloved. Everyone does this with Popsicles, but they may not realize what it means. It has nothing to do with an ice cream truck on a hot summer day. Or the flavor. Or the color. It’s a ritual. You take it, break it, share it, and love it.” —Season 2, Episode 12
• A central theme for Peggy throughout the Mad Men series was that of love. Not just romantic love, but familial love, love in friendship, love in a professional environment, and love of self (or at least learning to accept yourself for who you are). This mini monologue (minilogue?) is a great example of Peggy romanticizing her own past (to a fault, at times) for the sake of remembering the good and the love that surrounded her, rather than focusing on the negative aspects of life. Classic Peggy.
“Every time something good happens, something bad happens.” —s4,e11
• Peggy’s strength as a character (and as a person) isn’t that she’s blindly naive and ignorantly optimistic, it’s that she sees the world for the crappy, run down mess that it is…but chooses to hope anyway. Anyone can live a sheltered life and think the world a perfectly pleasant place, the real challenge is to continue to seek after your ideals in spite of adversity. If Peggy was a pro boxer, she wouldn’t be a one-punch wonder, she’d be the sort of marathon fighter who wears you out by taking hit after hit for twelve rounds and staying on her feet till the final bell. And in life you’re going to have a lot more knockdown, drag-out fights to endure than quick, Muhammad Ali-esque 15-second KO’s. Be built for the full twelve.
“Well, I’m fun! And I love to have…fun.” —s3,e4
• For the pitch perfect pitchman she became (pitchwoman? Pitchperson?), Peggy was always a little too humble to really sell herself, and we see that here in her awkward attempt to sound…well, fun, on a first date. Even though she struggles to really sell herself for the great gal she is in this particular instance, she manages to get to the heart of “free time Peggy,” which is that even though her work/life balance might have been a little uneven at times, at her core she’s still just a girl who wants to have fun, and be fun to be around to others. Despite how intense her career focus could be at times, you still get the idea that she found fun in her work, and wanted others to find the fun in theirs as well (as long as it didn’t compromise the quality of the final product). Remember kids: Be fun, have fun. It’s what Peggy would want.
“Don Draper: That’s how this works. I pay you for ideas.
Peggy Olson: You never say ‘Thank you.’
Don Draper: That’s what the money is for!” —s4,e7
• Despite her eventual rise to the top creative ranks in the ad agency world, Peggy was never in it for the money or the power or even the acclaim…she was in it for the respect that she knew she deserved and the recognition of her talent in a world that tried repeatedly to write her off. A recurring theme throughout the series is Peggy working out her daddy issues through Don (sometimes effectively, sometimes not), and ultimately having the revelation that we all need to have: someone else’s approval is never going to replace or validate our own self worth. I know a lot of us feel under-appreciated and even unloved in our professional and/or personal lives, but the moral of the story is that it’s up to us to know that we have value, rather than waiting for the accolades of the outside world that may or may not ever arrive. Easier said than done, perhaps, but worth the effort nonetheless.
“Don’t do anything stupid.” —s6,e5
• At the end of the day (one of my all-time most hated clichés, but gets the point across), we almost always know the right thing we should say or do or not do in a given situation, but the real test of mettle is whether or not we can act on that knowledge, to resist the easy path in favor of the more difficult one, even if it’s less rewarding or we won’t get any recognition for doing so. How many times in your life have you looked back on something you regret and thought, “Geez, that was stupid…I knew better”? And you’re right, you did! The difficulty lies in having the willpower to not do the stupid thing in front of you, no matter how appealing it might be in the moment. A daily battle for most of us (or at least me), but a battle worth fighting, even if the victories are more infrequent than the failures. But just know that in spite of your past mistakes, you have ability to make the right choice the next time. And the next time. And the time after that. I’m pulling for you. And so is Peggy Olson. I’ll even buy you a shot of bourbon when you get there. Good luck and God bless.
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