Sunday Brunch: Life Lessons from HIMYM


It’s been three weeks since the series finale of the long-running situation comedy How I Met Your Mother. Whatever your feelings were about that last episode, I think we can all agree that for any show, a nine-season run is pretty impressive, a combination of great writing, a cast that clicks, and not a little bit of luck and magic.

For me, HIMYM was never appointment-viewing, but whenever I caught an episode I was usually entertained for half an hour, and sometimes I laughed out loud (I am not an ‘easy room.’) In anticipation of the finale, then, I binge-watched every episode (thank you Netflix and Roku Streaming Stick), and as I did, I realized that in addition to being funny, smart, and well-crafted (seriously, there were jokes from season one that had callbacks in season nine), the show was also surprisingly relevant, even to people like me who are a bit older than most of the cast, and a good portion of the target-demographic.

This, then, is a list of five things I learned from How I Met Your Mother:

Being Awesome is a Choice.

“When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead… True story.” – Barney Stinson

None of us can control the way we are perceived, but we can control the way we present ourselves, and that means choosing to be awesome. You can define ‘awesome’ any way you want, but, for me, it involves confidence mixed with a little bit of audacity and just a hint of risk. As an improviser (because in my life everything comes back to improve) choosing to be awesome is just one more way of saying, “Yes, and…” to the universe.

Big Decisions Should Never be Made in the Middle of the Night

“Nothing good happens after 2 A.M.” – Ted Mosby (quoting his mother).

It doesn’t matter if you’re choosing whether or not to sleep with someone, whether or not to take a new job, or any other life-changing choice. The middle of the night is not the time for heavy reflection. Your mind is foggy and your body is tired, neither of which leaves you in optimal decision-making mode. Sure, you may be nocturnal (I am) but even so, the best thing you can do is drink some water, jot down a note to yourself (on paper or on the electronic device of your choice), flip your pillow to the cool side, and go back to sleep. You’ll make wiser choices in the morning, with a clearer head.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

“There are certain things in life where you know it’s a mistake but you don’t really know it’s a mistake because the only way to know that it really is a mistake is to make that mistake and go, ‘Yup, that was a mistake.’ So really, the bigger mistake would be to not make the mistake because then you’ll go about your whole life not knowing whether it was a mistake or not.” – Lily Aldrin

Sometimes the only way you can tell if you like something is to try it. This applies to food, hobbies, careers, friendships, and fashion. It probably applies to a lot of other things as well. If we don’t try new things, we stagnate, but not everything we try is going to be successful. Whether it’s a “shitty first draft,” (to use Anne Lamott’s phrase), or that bubble skirt we were in love with back in college, we have to give ourselves permission to be wrong. Besides, sometimes a mistake isn’t so much an error, or a failure, but a nudge toward a different direction.

Sometimes You Have to Just Suck it Up and Deal

“The best I can give you is a fake smile and dead eyes.” –  Robin Scherbatsky

We all have those moments when we’d rather not see people. Maybe we don’t like funerals, or maybe we can’t stomach the notion of one more baby shower when we’ve never managed to carry a child to term. Sometimes, even when we feel empty, we have to just go through the motions – just show up, and get through it – especially if our presence is important to someone we love. We may begin an event wearing a fake smile, but chance are, there will be a bit of real warmth in it by the end of the afternoon or evening or weekend or…whatever. And if there isn’t? Well, we can always go home and hide under the covers afterward.

It Really IS About the Journey

“That’s life, you know, we never end up where you thought you wanted to be.” – Marshall Ericksen

For most of us, the life we eventually have isn’t the live we dreamed of. When I was nine, I wanted to be a jockey or a marine biologist. When I was fifteen, I wanted to be the next Jacqueline DuPres, and until I was twenty I swore I would never get married, and if I did, we’d have separate apartments (I’m still not convinced that last part is a bad idea.) The point is, it isn’t where we end up that makes us who we are, it’s all the things that happen on the way. Sometimes we choose the well-traveled route; other times we opt for the whole “road less traveled” thing, but either way, life isn’t a result; it’s a process.

As for the finale if How I Met Your Mother, I’m one of the few people in my circle of friends who thought it was appropriate and perfect, especially since the signs were there, all the way through the series. Will there be another series that captures the attention and imagination of so many? Of course there will. Does the fact that television is a transitory medium meant first to entertain make these lessons any less relevant? Absolutely not. The beauty of the human condition is that we learn from every experience, even the ones that we only watch on TV.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the e-zine All Things Girl on 1 June 2014, but the original link is referenced but not archived at the internet archive