Oh, I adore Mindy Kaling. She’s like the poster child for all of us smart, awkward, brown kids who were [mostly] totally okay with being different. What’s particularly great about Mindy is that she grew up to be an intelligent, successful, confident mature woman whose underwear we have never seen, whose private ordeals have remained private, and whose focus has been on her talent, not her waist size. Today, that’s quite an admirable feat.
In her 2011 memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy offers something of a guide for us fellow awkward girls trying to make it in this airbrushed world. She doesn’t try to make her life sound more adventurous than it or make herself seem bolder or more outgoing than she is. Mindy is a person who eschews casual hookups, who loves comedy, and who unabashedly admires her parents’ hard work and drive. And yet, Mindy isn’t meek or apologetic about her success. One thing women have been taught to do is downplay their wins, but Mindy puts it all out there when talking about her work on The Office as “as writer and producer (and sometimes director, technically making me a quadruple threat, what of it?),” which I found refreshing and made me want to champion her success right along with her.
The peppy, chatty, fashion-obsessed side of Mindy that we’ve come to know through her shows is present here, but so is a quieter, more reflective side. In one of the best passages, she talks about the song “Jack and Diane” and her disgust with the idea that the only life worth living is the one you have in high school. Not only does she assure any potential young readers that, once you graduate, no one cares about what you did in high school, but that’s okay not to be the outgoing class clown that everyone reveres:
I just want ambitious teenagers to know it is totally fine to be quiet, observant kids. Besides being a delight to your parents, you will find you have plenty of time later to catch up. So many people I work with – famous actors, accomplished writers – were overlooked in high school… grow up, take everything you learned, and get paid to be a real-life clown, unlike whatever unexciting thing the actual high school class clown is doing now.
As a fellow quiet kid (and adult), I found this so wonderful, coming from someone who is seemingly the opposite of everything I perceive myself to be.
I suppose what I love most about Mindy’s book is that she champions the notion that there is a place out there for all of us. Success is not just for those willing to go to extremes and humiliate themselves for their 15 minutes of fame. It’s not just for people who fit into a certain size dress or who have the right parents or who never make a mistake. While it can certainly seem like the opposite is true, Mindy shows that fortune smiles on hard work and self-acceptance, when you’re not trying to be anyone but you. Just writing about these ideas would set her apart from many of her Hollywood colleagues, but the fact that she is damned funny while doing it makes her so important, especially to ambitious young people looking to find their place in the industry.