Take any woman whose career you admire—Serena, Mary Barra, RBG. There is a 100 percent chance that around her, there is a small army of people who support her, who have buoyed her along her path. In fact, a personal community that you can count on, that encourages you, is one of the markers of a great career. As Courtney Rowley and Theresa Bowen Hatch write in Trial by Woman, “When we make an effort to promote ourselves and one another, we foster our success and others’ success.”
It’s a solid reminder to prioritize the people in our lives, both in and out of the office—and it’s also a theme that runs through these six brilliant books. (Spoiler alert: Turns out that the most effective way to get ahead in your professional trajectory is also the way to get ahead in your life—nurture your relationships.)
In 2010, Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur, friends from their days at the University of Chicago, launched Of a Kind, a site that sells limited-edition clothing, art, and accessories. Visiting the site feels like shopping at a really cool West Village boutique, where everything is thoughtful and different and you kind of want to buy it all. Of a Kind took off, and next thing Cerulo and Mazur knew, they were being called tastemakers. Since then, they’ve launched a roundup newsletter, produced a thoughtful podcast, and most recently released this book. In it, the cofounders write about how their business was born out of friendship and how their evolving “work wife” relationship with each other became their greatest currency for building a successful company. It’s insightful and fun, which is on par with everything these women do. The topics are varied and important—setting boundaries, managing expectations, exposing vulnerability. And Cerulo and Mazur complement their stories with anecdotes from other successful “work wife” partners—Lizzie Fortunato founders Kathryn and Elizabeth Fortunato and Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs of Food52. Cerulo and Mazur told us that they hope the book awakens readers to the power of women’s work relationships. “There is so much that can be leveraged from them,” says Cerulo.
“Pivot” is a popular word. It’s used in the same sentence with “entrepreneurs” and “burned-out corporate leaders.” It’s become the modern answer to having more money, freedom, and happiness. But it’s also elusive. What does it mean to pivot? How does one go about a career pivot? And when should all this pivoting take place? Writer and journalist Sara Bliss breaks it down in Take the Leap. She interviews more than sixty professionals who made turns—huge, huge—turns to shake up their working lives. One went from administrator of a trust to safari ranger. Another from Wall Street trader to vintner. goop favorite Angie Banicki tells her story of going from publicist to tarot card reader. The stories are honest. No one claims change was easy or quick. And each story is wildly different. But the connecting thread is simple: The pivot is always worth it. And putting great relationships first is key. Take the Leapis a series of first- and third-person essays peppered with quick, digestible takeaways—an inspiring read for anyone who might be ready to move to Sayulita and open a fish taco place.
Anyone who has ever had a direct report knows one of life’s truths: Managing is hard. There’s no guide to becoming a manager. At least, there wasn’t for Julie Zhuo, which is why she wrote The Making of a Manager. A product design executive, Zhuo started managing her team when she was only twenty-five—and she really didn’t know how to handle the role. She figured it out—and lucky for us, she took notes along the way. Those notes became a series of articles—and eventually this book. It’s full of thoughtful advice on how to build trust, boost morale, and lead in an admirable way. Zhuo is generous. She gives raw examples of her mistakes and triumphs and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. We particularly enjoyed her take on imposter syndrome: “It’s so common that instead of pretending like we are all ducks gliding effortlessly on the surface of the water, we should own up to the furious paddling that is happening beneath.”
“The secret, dear sister, is that it isn’t a man’s world unless you believe it is.” And if that’s not enough to get your attention: “It’s a woman’s world.” Lawyers Courtney Rowley and Theresa Bowen Hatch say that Trial by Woman is a guide to women in the legal profession—but even if you never took the LSAT, there are real, valuable takeaways from their work. The book actually reveals a wider truth: The working world is not the clichéd old men’s club it used to be. We—all women—can own it. The book is meant to lead by example. Like so many of us, Rowley and Bowen Hatch learned some valuable lessons the hard way—whether by messing up an opening statement or taking on an abusive client. Some chapters are heavy on litigation specifics. If you’re not a lawyer, you might want to skip to the end of those chapters to the moral takeaways—they’re universal: Women need to honor their intuition, lean in to their emotions, and take time for themselves and their family. We also need to always be for one another because this “creates an abundance.” Our favorite one: “The power to be more, to do more, to give more, is all within you.” That is something we can all benefit from reading and hearing more often.
Who among us hasn’t wasted time obsessing over the small things in our career? What did that email really mean? Why wasn’t I invited to that lunch? We’d wager: not many. Marketing consultant Liz Fosslien and organizational designer Mollie West Duffy (she studies companies’ workflows) dissect the emotions wrapped up in our jobs and how they impact everything from our communication to our motivation to our health. Fosslien and West Duffy show us how to handle the emotions of it all by unpacking biases, work relationships, and, when necessary, burnout. One of our favorite segments dives into how emotions can spread through an office like a bad flu. “We can catch another’s feelings through an automatic process called emotional contagion,” they write. “Whether you’re chatting with a coworker in the elevator or reading an email she sent you from halfway across the world….” This book isn’t a panacea that purports to cure every negative thing—because really, “each workplace is different, and every person brings unique contexts and experiences to the office.” But it is a useful guide on how to be less stressed, more productive, and simply happier on the job. And who among us wouldn’t want that?
The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris
It was 1988. Kamala Harris and nine other clerks were arriving at the courthouse in Oakland for orientation for a summer internship before her last year of law school. Harris was one of two women. “In that male-dominated world, it was refreshing to have at least one female colleague,” she writes, telling us that the two became close friends. This theme of female camaraderie is fitting: Harris has been navigating male-dominated waters her entire career, during her tenure as the district attorney of San Francisco, then as the attorney general of California, and currently as a US senator. But she never tells her story as a fight against a dominating male energy (or racial biases, or corporate control, or systemic injustice). In Harris’s eyes and words, hers is a battle for something: a society that is just, safe, inclusive. Her vulnerability and honesty come through on every page, as does her connection with the women in her life—her constants, her rocks—who made her who she is.