5 Lessons I learned from The West Wing


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The West Wing, whether you are interested in politics or not, is one of the best shows of all time in my opinion. You may not care which party wins the election, but The West Wing is about more than that. It’s about how you navigate through the world, where there is politics involved in nearly everything. The writing is exceptional, and the cast is perfect. It appeals to both the mind and the heart.

To look at it from a  higher level, it’s about how to have ideals, how to dream big, and then how work to make them happen in the real world which is inevitably full of constraints.

There were numerous lessons to be learned, but here I want to share with you the five main lessons that jumped out at me:

There is always enough time to live your purpose.

Bartlett and his staff manage to make decisions about a nation, attend parties, play chess, do press briefings, write speeches, read memos and God knows what. That’s fictional. But the same thing applies to Presidents and Prime Ministers all around the world. Leaders like Gandhi and Mandela who made a difference. CEOs of ground-breaking companies who get stuff done. Yes, they all have staff, but any manager with half-decent skills will tell you that motivating and managing people is a job in itself.

All of these people have the same time as you do. So how is that some of these guys manage to run a country in 24 hours, but some people don’t have time for that book they always wanted to write?

Everyone needs a support system

No one has all the skills. Your weakness is someone else’s speciality. Get the right people in the right roles, and let them get on with it. Don’t just create a team of people who agree with you. Create a team of people who believe in your purpose. Those are the guys you want on your side. They will challenge you, they will disagree with you, they might even yell at you….but the results will be better because of it.

Be Authentically Passionate

Authenticity gives credibility to passionate expression. When you speak about something that you wholeheartedly believe in, it shows up through fire in your eyes and enthusiasm in your voice.

Everyone has to compromise

Know when to accept defeat gracefully. The price of authenticity is that everyone has the same right, and as people are not the same, opinions differ. Your opinion will not always win. Your cause is not the only just cause.

Don’t be with people who block you

They don’t have to help you, but they shouldn’t hinder you. If you are driven to do something, then you shouldn’t have to give that up because someone wants you home at 5 pm. If that fire within you isn’t used towards your purpose, it will consume you.



Which one of these five lessons you need to work on the most? Journal about how you can do that. 

What steps will you take? Create your action plan.




17 thoughts on “5 Lessons I learned from The West Wing

  1. Be Authentically Passionate – this is the lesson I love the most!

    Don’t be with people who block you – is the one that I need to work on the most!

    I don’t know that I can not be with the people, but I must learn to not let them impact me.

  2. Great life lessons and the first one is probably the toughest. I know it in my heart, but I don’t always take the time to organize my day so I can accomplish more in my 24 hours. There are so many things that are taking up time needlessly. Things that don’t move me forward. Now to think of steps to work on it and journal it! Thanks, Dolly!

  3. Way to get some personal development insight out of a good TV show! These are all important lessons – it’s never too late has been resonating with me a lot lately. And so important to create your own support system!

  4. Lori,

    Exactly! It’s not necessarily possible, or even necessary to not be with those people. It depends of course on the relationship. But the major thing is not to let them impact you. Easier said than done, I know. But that’s why it’s a lesson :-)

  5. Sarah,

    There has to be a good reason for watching TV. I do believe that there are good lessons in almost every quality entertainment if we want to see them. The lesson of crappy entertainment is to not waste time on it ;)

  6. The one I most relate to is, “There is always enough time to live your purpose” since I write about well-known late bloomers :) But the one I need to work on is, “Everyone needs a support system,” since I find it hard to ask for help. Thought-provoking post, Dolly!

  7. I need to work on the first one…I could definitely be making more of my time. So I’m really excited to start up a morning writing practice once my move is over. =)

  8. Debra,

    I checked out your site, and like your concept. There is always so much focus on child geniuses and people who achieve everything from day one. That is commendable, no doubt. However, many of us grow up to live “ordinary” lives and then life and experiences teaches us our potential, so it’s an inspiring thing you focus on.

    I also find it difficult to ask for help, though I have improved considerably in the last year. I find that as you begin to surround yourself more with like-minded people, it becomes much easier.

  9. “So how is that some of these guys manage to run a country in 24 hours, but some people don’t have time for that book they always wanted to write?”

    That’s a great line! That’s the lesson I need to work on the most. I have days when I make great progress towards my long-term goals, and days when I accomplish very little.

  10. Love the West Wing so much, and love this post!

    My additions:
    – Do not let your ‘story’ (or the one that people tell about you) define you. Whether it was Leo’s alcoholism or Bartlett’s MS, they did not let seemingly overwhelming deal-breakers stop them from living their purpose.
    – Don’t listen to the haters. There’ll always be a plethora of people willing to tell you how crap you are, whether about your outfit (CJ) or how you’re running the country (Bartlett). Tune them out, it doesn’t help.
    – On the other hand, heed healthy constructive feedback. I loved how Matt Santos asked Alan Alda’s character to join him as the secretary of state. Santos recognized the strength of robust opinions, and embraced a rather unusual opportunity for growth.
    – Stand up for what you believe in. For me, CJ so embodied this. Whether she was speaking out against gun ownership or the situation in North Korea or advocating for the women of Qatar, her unbridled and passionate commitment to her beliefs, her ideals and her personal integrity were inspiring to all those around her (and all those cheering on from their lounge room!)
    – Believe in yourself. It took Donna six seasons to realize that she was better than the job she found herself in. Those around her knew it, but she needed to realize it for herself.

  11. Amit,

    That’s the struggle. Whenever I have productivity downtime, it’s incredibly frustrating. What I find is that the more focused I’m about keeping my goals in front of me, writing them down (even if I know them), and just reinforcing what tasks I am going to complete, the better I am at making the best use of my time.

  12. Jess,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. Always wonderful to see responses from some new people :-)

    I love your additions. Thank you for those as well!

  13. Hi Dolly,

    Although I do not watch the show (but it sounds like a great one), I totally agree with your list of important lessons:

    1. There is always enough time to live your purpose.

    2. Everyone needs a support system

    3. Be Authentically Passionate

    4. Everyone has to compromise

    5. Don’t be with people who block you

    I can see how taking a day to journal on each one, one at a time, would be VERY beneficial. I especially love #1, because NO MATTER WHAT you have to be doing SOMETHING. It may as well be living a great life on purpose!

    For me, the second one is the one I’ve had to make many adjustments for in my life. I have seen many peeps come and go over 20 years in business. There were times I had amazing support and other times I did not. It goes in cycles sometimes. I do think this one is crucial, because without a support system you can feel isolated. Your TEAM is not enough. You need friends who care! If you have none, go make some!

    Thanks for sharing!


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