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5 Things Mad Men taught me about life

I started watching Mad Men while commuting on BART. Watching TV series on my iPhone was a great way to make the long ride home pass quickly.


I was quickly hooked. I watched all the seasons multiple times. I think the show is very intelligent, the acting well done, but more than anything I love the historical references and cultural aspect of it. It is a unique peek back into a very interesting time in America.

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The show leaves me contemplative and I like that. It is not always a pretty show with pretty people (well there are a lot of pretty people), the people aren't all good and I like that. I was thinking about the show this past weekend and decided to write this post to share the 5 things that Mad Men has taught me about life (thus far).

[1] Always remember to be thankful to the previous generations of women.

It's the struggles of women like Peggy (and many others) that paved the way for me to have the fulfilling corporate career that I have today. I know that. But I didn't realize it really until I started watching this show. The way women were viewed, treated, and pigeon-holed is incredible to watch.

Both at the office AND at home. Every time I watch the show I am grateful, so grateful for everything they went through that has allowed me to be where I am. I know that this is not the case for every woman in the world. A fact I became acutely aware of during a recent meal in which I was completely invisible, it was a sobering experience.

[2] Don't be afraid to be good.

Don Draper is damn good at what he does and is not afraid of that fact. He uses it. He is confident and not shy about his talent. So often we think we have to downplay our capabilities when we should be proud of them as well as use them to our advantage (except to exploit others). I believe this is harder for women to do, another reason why I love Peggy, as the show progresses she becomes more and more unapologetic about her skills.

I think about how many times I have received a compliment on an item of clothing and my immediate reaction is to say, “This old thing, it's nothing.” It seems impossible to just say, “thank you.” Extrapolate that to work and it's even worse, it's very hard to just say, “thanks” when complimented on my work.

[3]  Glamour is always in style.

I know everyone loves the show's style. Who wouldn't? But you don't have to go around dressed like the Mad Men crew to have a sense of style, although that would be fun! Just take pride and care in the way you dress.

Follow a few of the French style secrets including buying classic clothes and mixing them up with a modern piece here and there. Buy good basics and they will last you a lifetime. The women's clothing on the show is sublime, but all those undergarments…we've come a long way baby!

[4] Further to that, you don't have to be a size 2 to be hot.

There aren't too many sticks on the show. There are plenty of normal size women and Joan…well, she is smoking. Sure there are episodes where the team is trying to come up with slogans, etc. for products that make women think they will be thinner or more beautiful, praying on the insecurities of women, but there are copiousness amount of regular gals getting plenty of attention on that show, most of them not a size 2.

[5]  Agency life hasn't changed much in fifty years.

Granted I have never worked at an agency, but in my work, I have worked with plenty of them and have many friends who have worked in one. It is a great place to cut your teeth and get broad experience in a number of industries quickly. But it is competitive, there is a ton of churn, expenses, and what you can charge the client rule.

Agency folks aren't sitting around smoking cigs, sipping cocktails, and taking naps, but a lot of the other dynamics that go on at Sterling Cooper (and Sterling Cooper Draper Price) still continue today.

How about you? Are there lessons you have learned from Mad Men?

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  1. I’m not much of a TV watcher but Mad Men has been on my list of potential shows to watch. Thank you for this review – it has made me want to get the first season on Netflix. For years I’ve been intrigued by the 50s and 60s and argue with those who say how “perfect” that era was as I know there was a dark current running through those times, especially with the treatment of women and minorities. I’m looking forward to my first episode.

  2. Love the post! Especially #1.

  3. Clarabela says:

    Another great post! I have been a fan of Mad Men since the first episode and you captures some of the best things about the show in your post. Especially, #4. Christina Hendricks who plays Joan Harris is what real women looked link in the 1960s. Keep in mind Marilyn was a size 12, which is almost considered plus size today.

    I also read that the producers of the show asked January Jones (Betty Draper) to gain some weight, because she was too thin for that era.

    1. @Clarabela, as I know you are a big fan, I am thrilled you enjoyed the post!

  4. My lesson: always dress for the job you deserve to have. I even posted my lesson, like you, for everyone’s benefit – http://resipsainsead.blogspot.com/2010/09/you-are-what-you-wear.html

    It took me a while to get into Mad Men (and it made me want to start smoking again…), but now I’m about to start Season 3 and I can’t wait to soak up that gorgeous and sinful atmosphere!

    1. @Res, that is a really good one!

  5. By the way, I saw that you are currently reading Little Bee, which I finished a couple weeks ago (in two days), have been passing along to friends ever since, and am about to declare as winner of my absolute favourite book of this year! Curious to hear what you think of it.

    1. @Res, a co-worker lent it to me, I am having a tough time initially getting into it, but my co-worker keeps saying to keep with it, forgot it on the trip I am currently on, going to bring with me to France in 2 weeks.

  6. Everytime I watch Mad Men I think of Number 1 and give thanks. I also agreen – agency work: churn, churn, churn and that scandalous billable hour.

    1. @Jen, ah yes, the billable hour 😉

  7. Mad men is a slow burn and takes a while to get into… but once you do, it is sooooo worth it! Watching Peggy grow is probably the most rewarding part of the show – love when she gets advice from Bobby Barrett to stop trying to be a man (since she never will be) and to own being a woman, as it is very powerful when done right (paraphrased, as I don’t recall the exact wording).

    1. @Michelle, the last season killed me though, hated the ending and it seems like we have to wait forever for the next!