Sunday, March 8, 2015

Five Smart Women

In honor of International Women's Day I offer some inspiration from five great women who know they are role models, pioneers, trailblazers.  When a woman who has had an amazing life story takes the time to sit down and write it up for public consumption, we all profit.  This is especially so when they are mindful of the impact they can have on other women.  Give it to us unvarnished.  Give us something we can relate to.  The best authors take this task seriously... and the results are playing out happily in the lives of women everywhere. 

No one has done more in recent years to advance the cause of women in the workplace than Sheryl Sandberg.  With the kind of courage born of a strong track record, this highly-placed executive compiles oodles of social scientific research into a cogent case for gender equality.  In Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead Sandberg gives it to us straight. The world needs more women to choose the public life, to be involved, to participate.  For those of us who are already convinced, she has chapter after chapter of practical guidance.  We could all do worse than to follow Sandberg's lead.  Check out my two-page summary here.

Arianna Huffington is another woman who is worthy of emulation... and another woman who has felt isolated in the sea of men at the top of the ladder. Six years before Sandberg, Huffington published a book with pretty much the same thesis and pretty much the same advice.  She just went at the courage thing directly. On Becoming Fearless: in Love, Work, and Life is a call to action.  She wants more company on the journey to improve the world: "We build up our moral muscle by exercising it. We become virtuous by the practice of virtue, responsible by the practice of responsibility, generous by the practice of generosity, and compassionate by the practice of compassion. So, the moment we begin to change, the world starts to changing with us because we are all interconnected."

The advice Myka Brzezinski provides in Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You're Worth is more pointed but not less grounded in personal experience or less informed by research.  This one should be required reading in high school.  Every girl, no matter what her interests or pursuits, would benefit from these simple lessons in clearly defining what you need from your life and not settling for less.  The ugly truth is that we rarely gain much by giving and giving beyond the expectation that we will continue giving and giving.  Giving in and giving up, that is.  I was 48 when I read it, but benefited much.  Thanks, Myka.  My two-page summary of this one is available for download here.

Before any of these women dreamed of a successful life in business or journalism, Barbara Walters was already doing it.  She broke a dozen glass ceilings the old fashioned way: with a smile, a smart plan, and a great pair of high heels.    Audition: A Memoir isn't meant as advice to younger women, but Walters is clearly conscious that she is now leading by example.  Her story is easy to relate to precisely because she makes the effort in her writing to make sense of the life she describes.  More than a disparate collection of great stories, Walters' memoir hangs together as a cohesive whole.  That's why it inspires like it does.  

Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee

I've always liked Hoda Kotb.  She's smart and funny and different from the usual run of TV news readers.  So I was glad that she wrote this little book... These kinds of memoirs from strong and successful women can be a pleasure to read and as long as I can avoid comparing myself unfavorably to the writer, there is usually something to learn. 

Here's what I learned about Hoda by reading Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer and Kathie Lee: she was rejected 27 times before she landed her first job at a local TV station.  Twenty seven times she put herself out there, sent in a resume, interviewed or auditioned, only to be turned away.  A person has to want something awfully badly to put themselves through that. Since that first local news director took a chance on her, of course, her career progressed to the point where we all know her.  And somewhere out there are 27 news directors kicking themselves for not seeing her talent.  The best revenge is living well.

I also gave this book to my mom.  Part of Hoda's story is that she overcame breast cancer, which Mom is going through at the moment.  She read it in the week leading up to her lumpectomy and she says she enjoyed it. We like it that that part of Hoda's story is set into the context of a rich and full life - a pain-in-the-ass blip more than a drama-filled crisis. We can relate to that. So - Hoda's story is inspiring and her writing is witty and fun to read. Two thumbs up! 

Achieving great personal success takes determination and sacrifice in any field of endeavor.  Taking the time to chronicle one's experience and encourage others to pursue their own goals is an act of love and generosity.  These are some of my favorite great ladies.  Who are yours? 

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