Girl Talk: When I Grow Up, I Want To Be Tami Taylor

There’s a lot to love about “Friday Night Lights,” a TV show about so much more than just high school football. My interest in the show was initially sparked by the sight of Taylor Kitsch, sweaty and shirtless, but it struck an unexpected chord with me. I came for the hot guy— I stayed for the honest and realistic portrait of long-term monogamy and lessons on leadership and compromise. For those reasons, the character of Tami Taylor has resonated with me the most. I often find myself asking, What would Tami Taylor do? Here’s why.

In a world where women are often wondering if they can “have it all” — successful career, happy relationship, children — Tami has demonstrated that it is possible, but not without the support of a loving partner and the willingness to compromise along the way. It’s a balance I’ve worried about finding in the future.

At 31 years old, I’ve had one very serious relationship, a couple of short-term relationships, and, well, quite a few casual things I wouldn’t call relationships. In the grand scope of things, that’s not very much experience. In the meantime, my professional career has thrived. The last few years have been a journey toward discovering who I am as an individual that’s no longer part of an “us,” About figuring out what kind of partner I want to have and desire to be in the future, and maintaining the independence to fulfill my dreams.

With so little relationship experience of my own, I’ve found myself looking elsewhere for clues. I’ve thought a lot about my parents, who split up when I was 19, and what made their relationship work and then not work. I’ve watched my mom date and then finally find love again in her 60s. I’ve seen close friends get married. I’ve watched them struggle and then thrive, heard their frustrations and shared in their joy. But couples in real life keep much private — as they should. So I’ve found myself looking to Tami Taylor and her husband, Coach Eric Taylor, for lessons on partnership. Tami Taylor is just the kind of wife/partner, mother, and leader I would like to be.

It initially struck me as odd that I, a liberal feminist unsure about whether matrimony is for me, would find inspiration in Tami, who is a seemingly traditional (not to mention fictional) woman. As the primary breadwinner, Eric’s coaching opportunities have long taken precedence over Tami’s aspirations. But after landing a job as Dillon High School’s guidance counselor was able to thrive outside the home, proving she is so much more than just the great woman behind a good man. Coach Taylor may lead the young men of “Friday Night Lights,” but Tami is the show’s moral compass, guiding everyone, Eric included, towards their true potential. “You are a teacher first, and you are a molder of men,” she tells Eric in the third season. She is his number one fan as well as his teammate, her cheers the ones he hears the loudest on game day.

I, too, am looking for my teammate, someone to cheer on and bring out the best in. For him — that mysterious him — I would go hoarse. As my relationships with “not him”s have faltered, I wondered what Tami would do to make things right after a disagreement, how she would weather through disappointment, and which battles she would choose to fight. I have also wondered when Tami would opt to walk away and not look back. More often than not, thinking about what Tami would do has given me a shocking amount of clarity.

Tami’s influence on my thinking extends beyond the realm of romance.

In a world where women are often wondering if they can “have it all” — successful career, happy relationship, children — Tami has demonstrated that it is possible, but not without the support of a loving partner and the willingness to compromise along the way. It’s a balance I’ve worried about finding in the future.

When Tami starts working at Dillon High, she struggles with being stretched thin. Her role at the school is not one she takes lightly, telling bad girl Tyra in season one, “It’s part of my job, to make sure that you don’t grow up stupid. It’s bad for the world.” Tyra, of course, eventually realizes her potential outside of the path laid out by the other women in her family and goes on to college. Tami lit the way.

As a molder of men and women, Tami’s style of leading is quiet and serene, but you never doubt her resolve. She rules with what I call “an iron fist of flowers.” Compassion is her strength—not her weakness—and understanding what makes individuals tick is her trump card. As The Frisky’s founder and editor, I have held a leadership role, somewhat awkwardly, for the last 3.5 years. It’s not a role that comes naturally to me. Authority has always rubbed me the wrong way, due in no small part to the fact that I was raised to question it and, upon questioning, have seen many authority figures be downright wrong. So the prospect of having authority — being a leader —  has always had a bit of a grimy film on it. It fits me like a suit that desperately needs alterations.

Like Tami, I am an innate nurturer. I have a burning desire to see those around me be happy and content—my weakness is that I do this often to my own detriment. Leading a group of all women has been a particularly interesting challenge; there are feelings and individual sensitivities to consider, especially since overlapping the personal with the professional is part of my job description. A former Frisky staffer recently remarked that she noticed I often took on too much myself in order to spare those working below me. What she didn’t say, and what I know is true, is that a martyr, by definition, can’t be an effective leader.

I’ve learned a lot over the last few years, mostly through trial and error, but also, again, by wondering what Tami Taylor would do. Do I tell someone to put up or shut up? How could I put it more kindly but without mincing words? When times are tough, how do I keep everyone thinking positive? How much do I protect them from the negative happenings? How do I continue to inspire and motivate?

Tami has taught me that you can believe wholeheartedly in someone’s potential, but only they can realize it. Tyra got to college on her own terms, thanks to her own hard work. Tami just kept telling her she could do it, even when Tyra refused to believe she could. Tami listens to excuses, but doesn’t think they suffice. Tami knows that many problems have easy solutions, but that the biggest lessons lie in trying to find the answers yourself. Tami has shown me that to be a good leader, you have to believe in yourself first.

And, without giving away tonight’s finale, Tami has shown me that to be a good wife, partner, and teammate, there comes a time when you must have the courage to put yourself first, having faith that those you love will have the grace to follow you.

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