During a summer of inordinate hot air (from the election cycle as well as the heat outside), Mindy Kaling’s down-to-earthiness is a welcome cool breeze. When asked about being brave, one of the only women to create, produce, write and star in her own network series—and the only one to put her name in the show’s title—is quick to contextualize her courage. “Have I been brave?” Kaling asks. “I’m not sure—I hope so. Bravery to me takes its form in women like Gabrielle Giffords and Malala Yousafzai. I have learned so much from them.”
Here, Kaling, who will be a keynote speaker at the 2016 Pennsylvania Conference for Women on October 6, took a break from working on Season 5 of The Mindy Project (premieres Oct. 4 on Hulu) to talk about the work lessons she has learned along her path.
HER FIRST PAID JOB
“My first paid job was babysitting. I’m not naturally good with babies, but out of sheer necessity I learned how to become good with them, and how to change diapers quickly. Becoming good at something you don’t particularly like was a good lesson to learn—and made me ache to get good at something I loved.”
HER WORST JOB
“I wasn’t crazy about working at a video store when I was a teenager. I think I learned nothing from it, which was a lesson in and of itself.”
THE BEST CAREER ADVICE SHE HAS EVER RECEIVED
“My friend BJ gave me an embroidered pillow when I started on The Mindy Project. It says, “Never Complain, Never Explain.” It’s actually a Benjamin Disraeli quote but it’s very useful if you’re a manager. Especially now when social media makes it extremely easy to both complain and explain, it’s a nice little reminder that doing neither is the best expression of power.”
ON BEING THE BOSS
“Being kind is important for everyone, but it’s the most important for the boss.”
HER ADVICE FOR WOMEN PURSUING CAREERS IN THE ARTS
“Develop a thick skin early on! And to quote Aaron Burr from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: “Let me offer you some free advice. Talk less.” So much of what we are taught as young women is that self-expression is the most important thing. I think being perceptive is the most important thing. What can we learn from looking outside of ourselves and our own experiences? That’s made me a better writer, and a better actor.”
Want to read more of Kaling’s wisdom? Her collection of essays, Why Not Me?, comes out in paperback later this month on September 27.