Holiday Reading Review - How to Thrive, Lean In and just basically be a #GIRLBOSS

I have been collecting books to read on my Kindle for some time now. Over the last seven days having time offline and being away from the house meant I finally got around to some much overdue reading. Interestingly there seemed to be a bit of a theme, a theme which could loosely be called "women kicking ass online". Whilst I didn't pick them (consciously) for this reason, it is interesting that the role models I have picked are all in the online tech world - Arianna Huffington being the person who established The Huffington Post, Sophia Amoruso being the women who established Nasty Gal clothing (originally an Ebay shop that is now a $100 million e-commerce store) and Sheryl Sandberg who is the COO of Facebook. What actually drew me to these books were their messages and in particular the messages they had for successful women. 

Arianna Huffington has been on my radar for some time, I have followed The Huffington Post for a while and I really enjoyed her TED Talk 'How to succeed? Get more sleep' where she talks about how we can sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness — and smarter decision-making. She was also a name that kept coming up as I began to look more and more into the idea of wellbeing and mindfulness. Maybe it was turning 40 last year or maybe it was the fact that the last few years have been feeling busier and busier and I have come to the decision that if I am going to continue doing all the stuff I love doing, I was going to have to look after myself as well. I have always thrived on being a super busy "yes" person. I also struggle to do just one thing - I love being at HPSS but I love it even more if I can also be on the NZ Teachers Council, NetSafe board and so on. I am invigorated by the diversity, the busyness and the challenge of constantly learning in each of my new roles. However I am also aware that I need balance, downtime and calm as well. On that level I thoroughly enjoyed Thrive. She really does touch on some very real issues we have now about being "connected" 24/7 and the way we seem to have festishized the concept of busyness. And to what end? If we don't have our health (and happiness) then what do we have anyway. On this level, Thrive reinforced what I have in place for my New Year's Resolutions and my thoughts expressed in Mindfulness and the Machine. BTW - I am really enjoying my evening switch off time and daily meditation. 

The second book I read was an entertaining read, #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, in some ways she reminded me of a younger brasher Huffington. Both are American Greek Orthodox and make reference to their culture throughout their books. Amoruso, at 30, is less concerned with balance (I suspect she might write that book in another 20 years) and more concerned with being an individual. Her key messages (for me anyway) were that you needn't have qualifications to succeed (an increasingly common thought) and that you if you are willing to work hard you can do anything. She also likes to remind you to be proud of who you are and to let your "freak flag fly". Her story is pretty damn inspiring. As well as being being wry and witty it also makes some serious suggestions such as never taking out loans and always saving 10% of every pay check (whoops, not achieving those...unless KiwiSaver sort of counts?). I also like her attitude that shows the power of being brazen and working hard to prove yourself - before you get the promotion. She makes some excellent observations about her own generations' sense of entitlement and their expectation to be promoted and highly paid often before even proving themselves - I'm guessing Amoruso wouldn't touch them with a barge pole. As a teacher I really like this as a message to young people heading out into the world. We most definitely have a crew of #GIRLBOSSes at HPSS, I look forward to sneaking this book into their recommended reading list this year. 

The third part of my holiday week reading was an interesting compliment to the first two. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to do just that - "lean in" and "sit at the (boardroom) table". By this she means that women need to stop doubting them selves and become leaders in the business world. It was interesting to read the statistics to see just how unequal women still are, in pay, power and influence. It was also interesting because it made me realise that my personal approach is already one of "leaning in" and most definitely "sitting at the table", heck if anything I have stop myself from dancing on the table. It was a good reminder that I probably need to not assume everyone is the same as me, and that as a female leader in education I need to ensure that I am encouraging (and creating opportunities for) other women to do the same. It was interesting too to have my attitudes challenged, - that if I simply refuse to acknowledge my gender to be an issue it is a defence mechanism and could actually stop me from seeing the issue for others around me. Even though I know equality for women is still far off, and I do still refuse to see myself as anything but equal, this book was a good reminder that it is still an important issue and whilst it hasn't affected me in my career (yet...I think) it may affect others or may even affect me in the future. The other message I took away from this book was that motherhood should never be a reason to slow down in your career (if you don't wish it to be). Again, I never doubted this myself and heartily agree with Sandberg that having children and leaving work at 5.30 doesn't mean you are any less committed or efficient. If anything having two children have only made me more efficient (helped by the fact that I have an ace husband who always made lunches and seen the girls off to school). However I did feel like Sandberg could take on a bit of Huffington's advice and find just a little more balance. I kept getting the feeling that her message was very much one written from slightly shaky ground of a pathological workaholic - great advice throughout, but needs to be taken with a dash of Huffington.

All three books were most enjoyable reads and read in such a short time frame seemed to form something a timeline or maturation of thoughts around women's success. Amoruso presenting a youthful slightly anarchic and aggressive view of how to get to the top, Sandberg encouraging us, somewhat feverishly, to get to the top and bring other women with you and Huffington rounding it all off with a more maternal calming tone to ensure we look after ourselves once we get there. 

Interestingly I feel like I have a foot (if you could have three) if each of their camps - still striving and scaling the mountain in my quest for greater leadership as Principal, Minister of Education, Prime Minister or possibly even Master (or should that be Mistress) of the Universe (and don't you worry I will most definitely let my freak flag fly when I get there) whilst also trying to find some balance and calm to ensure I enjoy the climb and enjoy the view on the way. 

I reckon I've got thriving, leaning in #GIRLBOSS written all over me. You?

Below are the book summaries from Amazon.

Thrive by Arianna Huffington

In Thrive, Arianna Huffington makes an impassioned and compelling case for the need to redefine what it means to be successful in today's world.

Arianna Huffington's personal wake-up call came in the form of a broken cheekbone and a nasty gash over her eye -- the result of a fall brought on by exhaustion and lack of sleep. As the cofounder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group -- one of the fastest growing media companies in the world -- celebrated as one of the world's most influential women, and gracing the covers of magazines, she was, by any traditional measure, extraordinarily successful. Yet as she found herself going from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion, she wondered is this really what success feels like?

As more and more people are coming to realize, there is far more to living a truly successful life than just earning a bigger salary and capturing a corner office. Our relentless pursuit of the two traditional metrics of success -- money and power -- has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses, and an erosion in the quality of our relationships, family life, and, ironically, our careers. In being connected to the world 24/7, we're losing our connection to what truly matters. Our current definition of success is, as Thrive shows, literally killing us. We need a new way forward.

In a commencement address Arianna gave at Smith College in the spring of 2013, she likened our drive for money and power to two legs of a three-legged stool. They may hold us up temporarily, but sooner or later we're going to topple over. We need a third leg -- a third metric for defining success -- to truly thrive. That third metric, she writes in Thrive, includes our well-being, our ability to draw on our intuition and inner wisdom, our sense of wonder, and our capacity for compassion and giving. As Arianna points out, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success. They don't commemorate our long hours in the office, our promotions, or our sterling PowerPoint presentations as we relentlessly raced to climb up the career ladder. They are not about our resumes -- they are about cherished memories, shared adventures, small kindnesses and acts of generosity, lifelong passions, and the things that made us laugh.

In this deeply personal book, Arianna talks candidly about her own challenges with managing time and prioritizing the demands of a career and raising two daughters -- of juggling business deadlines and family crises, a harried dance that led to her collapse and to her "aha moment." Drawing on the latest groundbreaking research and scientific findings in the fields of psychology, sports, sleep, and physiology that show the profound and transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging, and giving, Arianna shows us the way to a revolution in our culture, our thinking, our workplace, and our lives. (Source: Amazon)

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

The first thing Sophia Amoruso sold online wasn’t fashion—it was a stolen book. She spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and dumpster diving. By twenty-two, she had resigned herself to employment, but was still broke, directionless, and working a mediocre day job she’d taken for the health insurance.

It was there that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay. Eight years later, she is the founder, CEO, and creative director of Nasty Gal, a $100 million plus online fashion retailer with more than 350 employees. Sophia’s never been a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she’s written #GIRLBOSS for outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is winding as all hell and lined with naysayers.

#GIRLBOSS includes Sophia’s story, yet is infinitely bigger than Sophia. It’s deeply personal yet universal. Filled with brazen wake-up calls (“You are not a special snowflake”), cunning and frank observations (“Failure is your invention”), and behind-the-scenes stories from Nasty Gal’s meteoric rise, #GIRLBOSS covers a lot of ground. It proves that being successful isn’t about how popular you were in high school or where you went to college (if you went to college). Rather, success is about trusting your instincts and following your gut, knowing which rules to follow and which to break.

A #GIRLBOSS takes her life seriously without taking herself too seriously. She takes chances and takes responsibility on her own terms. . She knows when to throw punches and when to roll with them. When to button up and when to let her freak flag fly.

As Sophia writes, “I have three pieces of advice I want you to remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let The Man get to you. OK? Cool. Then let’s do this.” (Source: Amazon)

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential. 
Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.”  She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfilment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home. 

Written with both humour and wisdom, Sandberg’s book is an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth. Lean In is destined to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can. (Source: Amazon)


  1. So..... When are you writing your book Miss? Sounds like you are the missing fourth :-)


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