Sam Seaborn – intellectual inspiration
My top pick for a TV show I could watch for days on end? The West Wing. My favourite character from that show (not an easy task, that – it is full of brilliant, complex personas)? Sam Seaborn.
I thought I wasn’t particularly unusual in this, but apparently in fan and tabloid ratings Sam often doesn’t hold his own against some of the other heavy hitters in the Bartlet administration (including the President himself). However, those of us who idolise Sam do seem to fall into a handful of camps. Some see Sam and wish they could find a partner that loving and passionate (not to mention rich, I dare say). Some see Sam and want to mould their entire lives based on his examples (I’m talking to you, Jessica at Hello Giggles). Me, though – I see Sam and I ask “How could I become that smart?”
Now, what that says about my personality I couldn’t say – we’ll get some insights from my future therapist at some stage, no doubt – but assuming I’m not the only one with this question in his head, let’s look at some possible answers.
Here’s a list of four things I think Sam does to be as smart as he is:
- Read lots
- Work long hours
- Never consider it beneath you to debate a point with someone, no matter who they are
- Don’t settle for ‘good enough’
Any time the camera pans to Sam in his office, he’s always doing one of two things: writing or reading. The writing is the bulk of his job at the White House, but it’s the reading that’s the important bit. To be able to comment intelligently on a topic, you’ve got to be well-informed about it, down to the level of being able to quote the fundamental statistics. And not only that, but Sam’s value also derives from his ability to link themes together, something that rests on him being widely-read.
Sure, there are other ways to absorb information – TV reports, being briefed in person – but reading is one of the most versatile and efficient means. Plus, I’m sure Sam would say that reading good writing helps him to create good writing, which is a nice spillover benefit.
Work long hours
This seems a bitter pill to swallow for me, as I’m still clinging to the idea of a permanent work-life balance, but clearly Sam gets so much done in the day partially because he is at the office for more hours than most people are even awake. And it pays off – he says that at his former job at a law firm, he was raking in over $400k, and at the White House he is directly shaping policy (as Ainsley Hayes quickly learns). Be that as it may, though, it still comes at the price of his social life and sleep patterns.
Never consider it beneath you to debate a point with someone
Whether it’s the President of the United States, a 19-year-old intern from the Audit office, or incorrigible Republican Ainsley Hayes, Sam never shies from an intellectual challenge. And he does so in full combat mode, too, chasing down whatever piece of legislation or archaic tome he needs to support his argument. This isn’t just to his credit as a liberal who practices the sort of egalitarianism he preaches – any would-be Sam Seaborn should relish the constant opportunity to sharpen wits against a worthy opponent.
Don’t settle for good enough
Have you heard the expression, “It’s good enough for government work”? Well, apparently Sam Seaborn hasn’t. Even the menial task of writing a birthday message to the Assistant Transportation Secretary can’t be put down until it is perfect. Not content with the ringing applause following a speech he wrote, he laments that there was no standing ovation. He views every piece of prose, every oration, and every policy initiative as an opportunity to shift the world into a better orbit. And that, I suppose, could help to explain why he’s able to commit to the first three points…