7 Great Books—and 1 Documentary—for Career Inspiration
Before she came to goop, Stacey Lindsay was a news anchor and an investigative reporter covering the Four State Area in the Midwest. As an editor at goop, Stacey covers career and financial health. She also happens to be the nicest person on staff. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question you want her to get into.
By the last page of a great career book, I’m a different person. I know more; I’m more productive (or at least I know how to be more productive); I’ve honed my voice; I can work more collaboratively. I’ve also learned how the smartest professionals have made it. In other words, I’m incredibly inspired. That’s why I’m always reading a new one that’s landed on my—or anyone else’s—desk.
In this poignant book, journalists Elizabeth Wallace and Hana Schank explore women’s ambition and where it leads. They interviewed forty-three of their sorority sisters from Northwestern University, their alma mater, about career paths and dreams. The result is a series of narratives that cull life advice on big topics. Wallace and Schank, both in their early forties, came up with the idea for the book several years ago when they both found themselves in “a crisis of faith,” a quagmire of doubt about where they fell on the spectrum of success. Were they happy? Successful? Had they fulfilled their college dreams? And what about their peers? These questions prompted their multiyear quest to find out.
When I spoke to Wallace, she said one of the most profound elements of the book is how it gives a voice to ordinary, hardworking women. “They’re not CEOs or A-listers, but they’re all ambitious and want to actualize their dreams and goals,” she said. “I hope that resonates with people.” Wallace also said the experience of writing the book was highly personal for her and Schank—and it shows. This nuanced, insightful read swells with stories that will resonate, comfort, and inspire.
Imagine you’re in a meeting when a coworker interrupts you, midsentence. Your heart begins to beat faster, and you feel an upsurge of negativity toward your colleague, a rush of spite. But instead of letting this continue, imagine you take a few intentional breaths and pay attention to your body. Your heart starts to slow to its normal pace, and a few moments later, you carry on—with grace.
That is one of many workplace mindfulness techniques Dr. Leah Weiss illustrates in her book, How We Work. Weiss is a Stanford University professor whose work centers around how our working lives impact our entire selves: our health, our sense of purpose, and our happiness. She posits that how we act and feel at work is symptomatic of the type of career and life we have. Looking at the negative, stressful aspects of work, she writes: “Should we just suck it up? In a word: no. And there is a way to make it better.” In her smart, sharp read, Weiss gives easily digestible ways to help us feel better—great, actually—while on the job. Her advice stems from her background in Buddhist meditation (she began practicing when she was fifteen), social work, education, and counseling. And while she backs her ideas with neuroscientific research, her writing is never esoteric or textbook boring. It’s fun, relevant, and applicable to any work scenario, for any type of professional. This book is a gift for anyone dealing with work anxiety, stress, or frustration.
Reading Katharine Graham’s dense autobiography is like having a conversation with your wise grandmother: You want to remember every piece of knowledge learned from her remarkable life. Graham, who passed away in 2001, published her book in 1997, on the cusp of her eightieth birthday. At the time, the world knew a lot about her: She was the publisher of The Washington Post, a role bequeathed to her by its previous publisher, her husband, Phil Graham. (The Post had been in Katharine’s family for the previous decade, during which she worked there first as a copy assistant and then a reporter.) But despite the public’s knowledge of Graham, her autobiography, Personal History, divulges her rather unknown personal side—and it’s riveting. Graham takes us through her upbringing, penning an honest look at what it was like growing up in a public family and being the daughter of a petulant mother. We read about how she learned self-discipline at Vassar, traveled the world, formed her sharp political eye, and honed her skills as a journalist. She writes with acuity about falling in love with her husband, dealing with his mental illness and affair, grabbing the reins of The Post (as the first woman to hold the title of publisher) after his death, and riding out its many storms. As I read this book, I thought of so many power phrases: never say never, women power, go for it. Graham is an absolute force and her words, although now decades old, are prescient, smart, and endlessly empowering.
I have yet to read this book, written by Philip Delves Broughton, a former journalist for The Daily Telegraph—but so many of my respected colleagues have, including fellow goop editor Rachael McKeon. (I pump McKeon daily for her latest reads—she’s a literary arsenal.) Here’s her sell: “Books around the topics of business and success can often be dull or overtly prescriptive. But Delves Broughton structures this business book as a memoir. And it’s a ride. He takes us with him to every seminar, through every case study, over his two years at Harvard Business School. He’s a student and a keen observer of his teachers, the lessons, and, most interestingly, his fellow students. I’ve always wanted to know the ins and outs of an MBA (without actually having to do one), and this book satisfied my curiosity—about one of the world’s most prestigious universities, nonetheless. It taught me the importance of accounting. And it made me laugh.”
Is it possible to be both kind and a total badass? Yes—and Fran Hauser tells us how. She kills the tired clichés that nice equals weak and tough equals bitch with anecdotes and research to unveil a sort of mentor/friendlike manual on how to get to where you’re going without letting genuine kindness be an impediment. Hauser, a longtime media executive and start-up investor, takes you through her career mishaps (all of them so relatable) and fortunes, and follows them with digestible techniques. “I ultimately came to see that I didn’t have to sacrifice my values or hide my authentic personality in the name of achieving by success. I learned to own my kindness; it has become my professional superpower,” she writes. Hauser wrote this book with a friendliness and clarity that makes it a swift read. Each page is a fun ride, filled with advice for all facets of the working world, from collaborating to negotiating to taking risks. Of all the lessons Hauser gives throughout the book, there are several that stand out, including: True kindness and grace are strength and the main ingredients for a powerful career. You’ll close this book a wiser person.
The title alone had us hooked. And the book that follows is equally compelling—in it, Erin Falconer, a co-owner and the editor in chief of Pick the Brain, a motivational site, tackles the need for us to do it all. She renders the fat, shaving away at all the time-sucking things that thwart women from really doing what they want, and delivers advice on how to hone your voice and up your productivity. She gives tips for what to cut, like saying sorry too often (“The more you apologize for who you are, the further away you get from yourself,” she writes), and what to bolster, like productive habits. And Falconer writes it all in a fun, nonjudgmental way (no proselytizing). Reading it is like asking your smart friend for her give-it-to-me-straight advice. She’s honest and spot-on. “Don’t waste time with guilt,” she writes.
I liked the book so much, I gave Falconer a call recently to ask her about the response. “It thrilled me because the audience is much broader than I expected,” she said. “Women are really having this moment right now, no matter what their age. They want a way to find their voice and make their mark.” In the sea of career books, it’s a bright buoy.
Facing our dark sides is a daunting act, and it’s what drives Sally Kohn’s debut book, The Opposite of Hate. Kohn, a progressive commentator, went on a quest to dissect hatred: why we feel it, what fuels it, and how we can fight it. She researched near and far, long and hard, traveling across the United States and to Africa and the Middle East to talk with former terrorists and former white supremacists. She reached out to people who’ve made harsh comments about her online, and she divulges her weak moments when hatred suffocated her grace. The truths are enlightening; they’re also uplifting, as Kohn unveils the ethos that we all have the capacity to change, to hate less—or, perhaps, not at all. And she never preaches but rather approaches each story with humility.
Kohn has a bright, infectious personality, which has been amplified via many mediums: on TV, where she was a liberal news contributor for Fox News and is a current CNN commentator; on stage, as a progressive speaker; and on the page, as a writer for various outlets, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. And now, her confidence is evident in the pages of her book. Kohn’s wisdom can be applied anywhere: work, life, relationships. This book offers unique, smart, and poignant guidance for the emotionally mired times we’re living in.
The story of the Mercury 13 is one that elicits pride and frustration. Thirteen female pilots passed the mentally and physically arduous NASA endurance tests for astronaut consideration—the same exercises that the seven male astronauts of Project Mercury underwent. But when William Randolph Lovelace, the NASA scientist who headed the program, brought the women’s results to Washington, NASA balked. “They said, ‘We have no need for women astronauts,'” Gene Nora Jessen, one of the thirteen pilots, says in the film. “‘Forget it.'” This was 1961 and sexism was ripe, particularly in male-driven industries such as space exploration. It’s emotional to watch these women get rejected, even though they were just as—or better—suited for space exploration as the men. But it’s also motivating to see them handle their situation with grace. They continued to fight for the project, bringing it to Congress a year later. And for many, including Jessen, whom I spoke with, it wasn’t a loss but rather an incredible opportunity that led to another: “The whole business of ‘when a door closes and another door opens’ was very true in this case,” Jessen said, who soon after got a “terrific job” in flying. “It’s important when we’re talking to young people who want to get a job in a particular field that is tough to not to get discouraged. Always have a positive attitude and you believe in yourself. And it always helps to have mentors.” The determination of Jessen and her Mercury 13 peers inspired other women to pursue careers in space exploration and helped to lead to Sally Ride, the first woman to go into space, making the journey two decades later. This doc is a litmus test for our capability to push ourselves.