Two degrees and nearly two decades into the American educational system, I suddenly realized a simple truth: I learned more about life from Clarissa Darling than I did from any of my teachers or professors.
For those poor souls who never got to know Clarissa like I did, let me explain. Over the course of four years in the early 1990s, a half-hour show starring Melissa Joan Hart took Nickelodeon by storm and dominated the lives of children who were looking for characters a little more relatable than Power Rangers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Clarissa Explains It All changed the way television was made, and how kids from the '90s on would live.
Not even counting the numerous conversation, style, and smaller life tips that anyone can pick up from spending a half-hour on Hulu these days (HBO Go has Goodburger, while you’re at it), here are five major life lessons I learned from Clarissa rather than any secondary education.
Lesson 1: Be Yourself
Clarissa had no superpowers, wasn’t particularly wealthy, and didn’t seem particularly popular. But there was one thing she undeniably was: herself. Whether she was picking out the perfect keychain, layering her brightly colored outfits, or snarkily designing her own computer games, Clarissa didn’t seem to change what she was doing for just about anyone.
Her sarcasm is virtually unmatched on children’s television, and Clarissa’s general attitude about tackling life’s problems is so cool and calculated (while still being semi-ridiculous) that she seems more suitable for the White House than most people campaigning to get there. You couldn’t grow up watching Clarissa without considering her one of the coolest people on the planet, and it’s all because she did her own thing and started the trends rather than following what everyone else was doing.
Lesson 2: Resources Are Valuable
Not even MacGyver could pull off some of the things Clarissa did with the few resources she had. First of all, she was programming computer games at the age of 14 in a time when most people didn’t even know how to use a computer. As if being television’s first cool programmer wasn’t enough, she was also incredibly good at knowing exactly what she would need to carry out her problem-solving plans and making everything work regardless of circumstances.
Next time you’re stuck trying to fix something in your cheaply made apartment or crafting dinner out of the few remnants of past meals left in the freezer, ask yourself what Clarissa would do. Channeling her ability to create (and sometimes fake) her way out of anything is always a lot more useful for getting myself out of unfavorable situations than anything I learned in trigonometry my freshman year.
Lesson 3: Work with the Powers That Be
As Clarissa will tell you nearly every time she breaks the fourth wall, her family is a little strange and doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with her. The Darlings were eating organic, unplugging from the TV, and rocking dad bods before many of today’s hipsters were even born, even if it wasn’t what their daughter (or their pipsqueak son) wanted.
Most of the time, Clarissa realized that her parents weren’t the enemy, instead targeting her little brother, Ferguson (who totally deserved it) or an outside force that was preventing her from living junior high life to the fullest. In fact, plenty of episodes feature Clarissa partaking in something she doesn’t want to do (eating tofu, playing charades, etc.) to improve her odds of her parents siding with her on whatever potential mistake she’s about to make. It’s the same thing in the real world. If even one professor had ever told me how far having drinks with your painfully boring boss can get you, I think college would’ve been a whole lot more productive.
Lesson 4: Never Underestimate Relationships
Now, this isn’t even referring to romantic or sexual relationships, but it can be applied across the board. If a dude is willing to climb up a ladder and into a window for you, he’s as ride or die as it gets. Considering that Sam did that seemingly every day to visit Clarissa (as friends, not like they were dating), says that he’s either a big fan of alternative entrances or the most committed friend you’ll see on television. Actually, he climbs through a window that’s basically guarded by a baby alligator named Elvis. That’s even more hardcore.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Aside from his entrances, Sam is also always willing to help bring Clarissa’s semi-developed plans to fruition, regardless of how little he seems to understand what’s going on sometimes. Anytime you see Sam interact with Clarissa’s dad, Marshall, it’s clear that Sam is a friend who’ll be there no matter how many ridiculous things happen to him or how awkward things get. In real life, surrounding yourself with people (or even just one person) like Sam is a key to success, much like how many of Clarissa’s plans wouldn’t work if not for him.
Lesson 5: Don’t Let Failure Deter You
One of the most relatable things about Clarissa (and life lessons you can learn at a very early age) is that things don’t always go her way. She may have the most thorough plan to have that little brat Ferguson removed from her life (temporarily or permanently), but they virtually never succeed.
Sometimes, you’re going to put your all into something and it’s not going to work out, and things will occasionally end up even worse than when you started. Failures never slowed Clarissa down, and consequences never prevented her from concocting a new scheme. Assuming the results aren’t too dire (see: prison, death, illness, etc.), what’s really the harm in trying something out and giving the old Clarissa shrug if it doesn’t happen.