Lessons from “30 Rock”

Toward the end of the “30 Rock” finale, Liz Lemon is explaining to Tracy Jordan how difficult he has been to work with, and how hard he made her job, but she says “because the human heart isn’t properly connected to the human brain,” she loves him anyway.

The “30 Rock” characters have change thrust upon them as the show ends; they experience love and loss, see dreams fulfilled and have wishes granted. Above all, the last episode is about how sometimes our hearts and our brains are at cross purposes. We think we want one thing, but when we get it, we find out it doesn’t make us happy. Or we discover that the thing that makes us happiest has been right in front of us all along.

Psychologist Daniel Gilbert has written, “We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present…We assume that what we feel as we imagine the future is what we’ll feel when we get there, but in fact, what we feel as we imagine the future is often a response to what’s happening in the present.”

The question is whether instead of always using the present to project a rosier future, can you stay focused on the here and now, the reality of what is?

In “30 Rock”, Liz gets the children she wanted and becomes a stay-at-home mom, only to realize that she misses work terribly. Her husband gets a new job, and is miserable because he desperately wants to be at home with the kids. Jack gets his dream job as head of G.E. and immediately starts questioning whether he is truly happy. Jenna and Tracy struggle to figure out their identities now that their show is over.

The only character who doesn’t seem to experience any angst in the face of change is Kenneth. As the intern who becomes the head of the network, he is the only person completely comfortable in his new role. Perhaps he was the only one who had stayed present-focused all along. With his sunny optimism and his homespun wisdom, he never lost touch with his inner compass.

In an article in Yoga Journal, Kate Holcombe wrote about the idea of getting to know your true self, and how we often mistake some external attribute for who we really are. The Sanskrit word “asmita” refers to this misidentification which “happens when you identify with the parts of yourself that change – everything from your mind to your body, appearance, or job title – instead of with the quiet place within you that does not change.”

It’s easier to accept change on the outside if we are more connected to our unchanging self, says Holcombe, and not identifying “too closely with the changeable aspects” of ourselves. That requires a great deal of self-acceptance because the answer to the question, “Who am I?” doesn’t change.IMG_0271

Accepting and connecting with the unchanging self makes it easier to see when you’ve gotten off course, easier to see what it is that serves your needs at any given moment. So, like Liz Lemon, you might realize that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t right for you; or like Jack Donaghy, you might see that it’s not getting the dream job that makes you happy, it’s what you can do in the job.

Sometimes you get your heart’s desire; sometimes you don’t. But “because the human heart isn’t properly connected to the human brain,” you might find that you’re very happy anyway, just because of who you are.

So maybe life is a journey

It’s amusing while driving on a long trip to read people’s vanity license plates and wonder about their messages. A couple of months ago, somewhere in the Carolinas, I saw this on a car:


The message has stayed on my mind ever since. I think it’s because it can be either very straightforward or deeply profound in its meaning. I speculated that it might relate to food or cooking – maybe a chef or a baker drives the car. But it also occurred to me that the driver is saying, “I’m not done” with life, that he has some sort of “bucket list” of things to do, and isn’t finished with it yet. That’s what keeps me pondering it.

When are we finished? When have we done everything we want to do, or think we should do? These kinds of questions can dog our daily life – the never-ending “to-do” list – as well as our overall feelings about achieving goals, making a difference, being satisfied with life. A young person struggling with what to do next told me recently that it surprised her when other people admired her for being so successful in her work. She didn’t feel successful; she felt as if she still had so much to do to get where she wanted to be. In her friends’ eyes, though, she looks like a success right now.

What is success? We equate it with fame and fortune, reaching some sort of end point, accomplishing something big or difficult. In my thesaurus, however, the first synonym for the word success is fulfillment, which to me implies that it is possible to be successful, while still being “not done”, if you feel fulfilled by what you do. The flip side is that someone could have all the money and fame in the world and still not be successful if a sense of fulfillment isn’t there.

Yoga teaches us to practice detachment from results. Detachment doesn’t mean a lack of feeling or emotion, rather a letting go of the outcome of events. As Kate Holcombe explains it, “…detachment means that you strive toward your goal, but if things don’t go the way you want them to, your sense of Self is not shattered…This has the effect of keeping you in the present moment of your action or practice rather than being distracted by thinking about the outcome.” In other words, focus on the satisfaction that your life and work offer right now, while still acknowledging that work remains to be done.

Another instructive lesson comes from Soren Gordhamer in his book, Wisdom 2.0. He relates the story of a martial arts student who goes to a master to learn everything he can. The student wants to work as hard as he can to achieve mastery as quickly as possible; but every time he says he’ll work harder in order to finish his studies sooner, the master says that it will take even longer. When the student asks why, the master tells him, “’With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.’”

I went to a time management workshop once where were advised to write our goals in the present tense, rather than the future. So a goal like “I will become a writer,” became “I am a writer,” and “I will exercise every day” became “I exercise every day.” It was a way of visualizing ourselves where we wanted to be. But it’s also a way of staying present-focused, of realizing that the person I want to be is here inside me right now, and that the steps I’m taking now are what will bring fulfillment.

So we may forever be “not done”, but by keeping both eyes on the path, with an occasional glance at the destination, we may find that the journey is quite successful.