In April 2015, we said goodbye to the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Price ad agency. Although we were head over hills with Don, it was the female characters that truly captivated our collective minds and hearts. Joan, Peggy, Megan and Betty may have been pretty different from one other, but they each made something of themselves. Sure, we loved the juicy drama and clever dialogues and pretty clothes, but this show deserves credit for teaching us lots of useful and inspiring career lessons. Read on to find out the best career lessons from the women of Mad Men. And if after this article you feel like binge-watching the entire series again, I don’t blame you – I’m right there with you.
1. Believe in Yourself
When the series began, Peggy joined the ad agency as a secretary, but it was obvious that she was definitely destined for career greatness from the first moment she appeared on screen. It soon became clear to everyone that she had a real knack and natural talent as a writer. Soon she climbed the corporate ladder and became a copywriter. She definitely faced sexism along the way along with tons of other challenges –and these were not the same challenges you or I face in our careers, these challenges had more to do with the assumption that women simply couldn’t do what men could- but she never stopped believing in herself and her talent. If you must only take away one lesson from Peggy’s character is that you deserve whatever success you want for yourself, and that you should always be your own advocate. Peggy had zero problem fighting for a certain ad idea or explaining why she was right. Remember how many times she marched herself into Don’s office to proclaim that everyone but her was wrong? You should definitely act the same way in your own job (within reason, of course – sometimes you have to pick your battles).
2. Never Sell Yourself Short
Joan is a super inspiring character because after years of working at the ad agency and practically running the place without any recognition for it, she decided enough was enough and became a partner. Joan refused to think that she deserved less than that and after all the sacrifices she was made to do for the firm, she took what was rightfully hers; she became a partner of equal standing. So the next time that you want to ask your boss for a raise, think of Joan and walk into their office with your head held high. This career lesson is a crucial one and it isn’t just about money or getting promoted. You shouldn’t sell yourself short when it comes to any aspect of your job. That means not saying no or turning opportunities down. If your boss wants you to lead a meeting with important clients, say yes and be glad for the challenge. If you’re put in charge of a certain project, don’t be afraid to fail. If you’re asked to do something you’ve never done before, learn what you need to know to succeed. It goes without saying that you don’t need to result into Joan’s extreme measures, but know your own worth and don’t be shy in demanding what you deserve.
3. Don't Be Afraid to Change Careers
The beautiful and stylish Megan started off working the front desk of the agency, and later left to become an actress. She did pretty well and was cast in a TV show which was a pretty big deal. While you may not become a famous actress, you can definitely appreciate the lesson that you can always change jobs or even industries if you no longer like what you’re doing and want to do something else. People do it all the time, after all, so why not you? It’s pretty rare to stay in one position for your entire working life so never feel weird about it.
4. Follow Your Heart
In the final few episodes, Betty decided to go to school and study psychology. It had always been a dream of hers and so she finally decided to just go for it, in spite of being the mother of three and having gone through a serious medical issue. This super inspiring message is one that you can take to heart, too: if there’s something career-related that you’ve always wanted to do, what are you waiting for? You should always act now and follow your dreams. Betty made it very clear to her ex-husband Don that she was going back to school no matter what anyone else thought, and that’s another super important lesson: you should follow your career dreams even if you don’t get tons of support from your family and friends. You know best and you don’t want to regret anything.
5. Spend Time Observing
It’s definitely important to be a good speaker and to know what you’re even talking about, but it’s also super important to be a good listener, and that involves observing what’s going on at your company. Joan and Peggy are very good at that. Because they’re in the advertising industry which was mostly populated by men, they weren’t always treated as they should have been or given a seat at the table, but they always did their best to learn and observe. They never stopped growing and that’s why they ended up so successful by the end of the series.
6. Start Your Own Business
In the series finale, Joan decided to start her own production company. If you’ve been debating whether you should go into business for yourself, take this lesson to heart: you know what you’re doing. Joan had been in the ad business for so many years that she really knew what was going on and had total confidence to strike out on her own. And if it didn’t stop Joan in the early 70s, why would it stop you in the year 2015?
7. Don't Be Afraid to Stay Where you Are
Also in the finale, Joan asked Peggy to go into business with her. Peggy debated it for a while and chatted with a coworker and eventually realized that she wanted to continue on the same path that she had been on. She’s a brilliant copywriter, she realized, and working at the advertising agency is where she truly belongs. Being able to stay at your position because you love it and keeping your head clear despite of all the temptations out there is important. It’s so easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side or that we should be changing jobs all the time in order to grow as professionals, but that’s just not the case, and Peggy shows that.
8. Keep Your Options Open
Before deciding to remain in her position, Peggy considered working somewhere else and even tried to see if she could get a job offer from another ad agency. That’s a good career tip: even if you’re happy where you are, it doesn’t hurt to see what else is out there. That way if you unexpectedly get let go thanks to money issues or your job becomes redundant, you’re safe.
Proof that your TV addiction can come in handy: now that you know the top career lessons from the female characters of the hit ad agency drama Mad Men, there’s no stopping you when it comes to where your career can take you. The next time you need some extra motivation or inspiration, just smile and think of Peggy or Joan, and you’ll be okay. Whether you want to leave your job for another field entirely or need the courage to start your own business, look no further than the women of Mad Men to show you the way.