We're still at the beginning of the year, which means resolution season is still in full swing (confirmed by how long I had to wait for a treadmill at the gym yesterday). For a lot of people, the new year is a time to rethink their work lives — whether it's totally starting from scratch, switching careers completely, going back to school, quitting a dull 9 to 5 to follow a dream, or making smaller changes like working harder for your current employer and asking for more in return.
Sometimes inspiration can come in ways you don't necessarily expect. While many women in the last few years have found it from leading business ladies like Sheryl Sandburg, I've found it by reading stories of witty and creative minds like Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling and watching exceptional movies by women like Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child.
From Lean In to #Girlboss , there are dozens of books written for women (by women) explaining different methods and opinions of how we should get ahead in our careers. But not everyone works in an environment in which these "guidelines" apply.
Here are nine books with stories that will inspire you to kill it at work, no matter what your "work" might be:
There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll by Lisa Robinson
Lisa Robinson is the female, real-life, grown-up version of William from Almost Famous. There Goes Gravity accounts four decades of Robinson's expansive music journalism career, which has included interviews with everyone from Led Zeppelin to Kanye West to John Lennon (and only weeks before he was assassinated). An aspiring female journalist amidst an exclusive boys' club, Robinson became a one of the most well-respected authorities in the biz. It's an inspiring read for music-lovers and pioneering writers alike.
Hack by Dmitry Samarov
I don't know if there's any job more crazy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants, and completely fascinating than being a cabdriver. Hack is a compilation of stories shared by Dmitry Samarov, an artist and painter trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who started driving a cab in 1993 to make ends meet — and he's been doing it ever since. Samarov recounts the hours he's waited at the garage to pick up a shift, delivering prostitutes to johns, and waiting with other cabbies at Chicago hotspots like O'Hare airport and Wrigley Field. Hack is certainly an unconventional "inspirational business book," but it's hard not to be motivated by Samarov's determination and stamina.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The story of an interracial family from the U.K. living in a small university town on the East Coast dabbling in ethnic, cultural, and political differences, Zadie Smith's On Beauty is a beautifully written novel and a must-read for those working in education and academia.
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
Gabrielle Hamilton spent 20 years working in other people's kitchens before she was able to open her own — the acclaimed Prune in New York City. Blood, Bones & Butter follows Hamilton from her childhood kitchen to Europe, where she got by from help and hospitality from strangers. Her story is honest, gritty, and altogether passionate. It may or may not make you want to be a restauranteur, but it will definitely make you feel like the rough patches of following your dream are worth it in the end.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu's The Art of War (which dates all the way back to the 6th century B.C.) was created as a Chinese military treatise and is commonly known as a definitive work on military strategy. That being said, there's a lot in this text about moving up in the rungs that's reflective in any business or professional environment. If anything else, The Art of War will leave you a little bit power-hungry (in a good way).
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich
I picked up this book based on a staff recommendation at my favorite feminist bookstore and never looked back. The Good Girls Revolt is Lynn Pavic’s telling of how she and her female co-workers at Newsweek sued their bosses for equal opportunity in the newsroom, as well as an exploration into the day-to-day for young female journalists at Newsweek today. Pavic details was has — and what hasn’t — changed since their revolt in the 1960s. Both accounts will make you want to fight for what’s right in the workplace.
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
To me, Lean In is the contemporary version of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Though this extended “essay” is addressed to women writers, its argument for women’s access to education and space in patriarchal literary tradition is relevant and essential for a woman in any work environment.
Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident by Bill Ayers
The former leader of the counterculture movement that opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Bill Ayers is best known for radical activism and recent involvement in education reform. Public Enemy documents his life post-being labeled a "domestic terrorist" by the McCain campaign in 2008. Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine's commitment to staying true to their beliefs in the power of protest and demonstration are inspirational for anyone, but especially for those who dabble in politics and the public sector.
If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young by Kurt Vonnegut
A collection of commencement speeches delivered by Kurt Vonnegut at nine different colleges between 1978 and 2004, If This Isn't Nice, What Is? is loaded with smart, original, witty, and heartening advice. Though it's often gifted to graduates, this book remains relevant to young adults in need of the refreshing feeling that world is your oyster.