Career advice is easy to find. Good career advice, less so. But the most impactful takeaways might come from successful professionals who have waded through the trenches.
We’ve asked eight women executive and entrepreneurs across several industries to share the most meaningful book that’s shaped their lives—professionally and personally. From little-known finds to best sellers, they explain why these page-turners are worth a read.
For Feel-Good Inspiration: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
During graduation season, you see this beloved classic move to the front displays at your local bookshop, but its lessons extend far beyond the early days of your career, according to the managing partner of Cambridge Companies SPG, Polina Chebotareva. “So much of this book involves life’s lessons and almost a spiritual insight to life’s balance for a go-getter who dreams big. The story was simple, yet so relatable. As I kept reading, I applied lessons to my own life, like embracing fear, living in the present, and being brave enough to take a leap of faith,” she says. “It shaped new ideas, new feelings, new goals, and drive within me. It transformed me from a cautious observer to more decisive leader. It left a forever mark on me as a person, a forever-inspired entrepreneur and a seeker of knowledge.”
For Managing Work/Life Balance: Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years By Margaret Mead
A fully equal work/life balance is more a fable than a fact. That being said, fine-tuning your approach and your expectations is key for success—and sanity. For Marsha Firestone, the president and founder of the Women Presidents’ Organization, this book was instrumental in navigating family and career. “Fiercely independent, Margaret Mead came to symbolize a new kind of woman, one who successfully combined marriage and motherhood with a career,” she says. “She embodied, for me, many of the successful female entrepreneurs who are looking to accelerate the growth of their companies. They are passionate about what they do, and determined to take the companies they started to a new level of success.”
For Knowing Failure Is Okay: The Obstacle Is The Way By Ryan Holiday
As every entrepreneur or executive knows, no path to success is smooth and traffic-free. Rather, it’s the congestion and the U-turns that usually land you in a better place, as long as you manage your road rage. For the CEO and founder of Base Culture, Jordann Windschauer, this read helped her realize the vast importance of the journey, even if you have a fair share of fender benders. “Prior to reading this book, I perceived challenges or failure as something to avoid. Now I understand that it’s only through these troubling times that growth and success is found,” she explains. “What’s radical is that it applies equally to life and business. If we don’t allow ourselves to face obstacles with fear of failure, we would remain stuck, rather than learning, revising, and growing.”
For Focusing On The Long Run: Built To Last By Jim Collins And Jerry I. Porras
While quick wins benefit your ego—and inflate your numbers—it’s the investment in the endgame that ultimately moves the needle. In her early 20s, Leigh Rawdon, the founder and CEO of Tea Collection, read this book and changed her approach of merely getting by to setting “big, hairy, audacious goals.” “There is integrity in building a company that will stand the test of time. It isn’t about a quick flip or succeeding against someone else’s metrics. The principles of this book have consciously and subconsciously guided the business and our brand since the very first day,” she says.
For Focusing On Today: Happiness Project By Gretchen Rubin
Especially during those quarters when your “high priority” list just keeps doubling (and tripling), staying present in the day to day becomes more of a struggle. Even so, those who are the most fulfilled by their careers prioritize a positive mind-set. When Liz Eglington, the founder of Snapper Rock, first read this best seller, she applied two ideas to her company. “I learned that days are long, but years are short. This is an active reminder to enjoy each day because they whiz by. And I learned that if it takes under a minute to do something, then just do it, because it takes away the clutter and buildup of things to do the next day. Both of these I follow actively each day,” she explains.
For Creating A Life And Career That Makes You Happy: The Fire Starter Sessions By Danielle LaPorte
Throughout her career, chief marketing officer at ClassPass Joanna Lord has not only read and reread this book, but she’s gifted it to dozens of her employees. She says it has a big impact on nearly everyone who reads it, extending beyond the office and into their social lives. In addition to the brutally honest writing, she adds that it pushes professionals to get crystal clear on how they want to feel every day versus what they want to accomplish. “Reframing all the goals swirling around in my heart in this way helped me focus deeply on the life I want to live instead of the boxes I want to check. It’s one of those books that smacks you in the face with the brutal honesty your heart is dying to hear,” she explains.
For Sticking to Your Vision: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Before starting her career, Shaz Kahng, board director and chief executive at Ceiling Smashers, found inspiration from this famous novel. As an nontraditional pick for a professional development read, Kahng explains the storyline reminded her of the importance of remaining true to your vision, even if it ebbs and flows. “Regardless of the difficulties the character faced and despite the many temptations to just do what everyone else wanted, he stuck to his vision and held his integrity above all else. It was the first time I read a story where someone was doing pioneering work and bringing innovations to a field, and was ultimately able to succeed in their own way and with their integrity intact,” she shared. “It taught me to be fearless in innovating, and that if you believe in yourself, you can succeed with honor.”
For Navigating The Field As A Woman: How To Succeed In Business Without A Penis: Secrets And Strategies For The Working Woman by Karen Salmansohn
It’s not groundbreaking news that women have a different experience in the office than their male counterparts. Considering a wage gap still exists, understanding how to negotiate salaries, ask for the title you deserve, and build your confidence in meetings is an all-too-relevant and timeless task for many females. That’s why the president of the NYC chapter of the National Organization for Women, Sonia Ossorio, says this book is a must-read. “Women gaining more power to lead, green-light projects, and innovate does not come at the expense of men. In fact, women at the table make more successful businesses. This book gives you straight, practical liveable advice about how to navigate the workplace, put your best self forward and maintain your resilience, creativity, poise, and humor,” she explains.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Sonia Ossorio as the president of NOW, she is the president of the NYC chapter of NOW.