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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Mohapatra

Book summary of: Mistakes I made at work or “Living is a practice of learning to make better mistake

Updated: Mar 26, 2018

I hinted a friend to give this book for my birthday because I have no limits on the number of books I can buy for me to eventually read. This was an inexpensive paperback and sounded interesting when I heard of it on a podcast! After reading this book which I so LOVED and so HIGHLY RECOMMEND I feel I should listen to more podcasts to discover such gems.

The book basically interviews famous women professionals who you would have heard of but maybe not known their backgrounds. Each professional has wonderful life lessons to share. So here’s my summary of it:

Laurel Toby: the freelance writers who sold her online media company, Mediabistro, for $23 million. Her first job almost fired her for being herself. Her tips include:

  1. Wherever you are, whatever job you take, you always want to be working on skills you can take with you.

  2. Know yourself, and don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t try to shove down your personality if you have too much personality for the corporate environment.

  3. Even in your own business you have to deal with office politics because you are managing people.

Rachel Simmons: An author, educator and coach helping girls and young women grow into authentic, emotionally intelligent and assertive adults.  She is also the author of “Odd Girl Out”, which was on Oprah a week after being published.Her tips to embrace failure were:

  1. Listen to your “internal voice”, listen to it now before you get in too deep.

  2. Life is not a game that you always need to be winning.

  3. Don’t privilege how you appear to others over how you feel inside.

Corinna Lathan:  Is the CEO, Co-Founder, and Board Chair of AnthroTronix, Inc., a woman-owned biomedical engineering research and development company creating diverse products in robotics, digital health, wearable technology, and augmented reality. I loved her profile and write up. She wrote-

  1. Even if you do advanced studies within an academic field, it doesn’t mean you have to go into academia.

  2. Taking risks is hard; so think of the ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Failure doesn’t have to define you.

  3. Value your mess-ups and mistakes a little more and see them as part of the process of developing.

Lani Guinier- She became the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship at the Harvard Law School. Her tips for success at failing include:

  1. Sometimes it takes the wrong job to realize what’s a good fit for you.

  2. Sometimes being comfortable in a place isn’t good enough a reason to stay there. It’s okay to take risks.

Ileana Jimenez- For nearly 20 years, Ileana Jiménez has been a leader in the field of feminist and social justice education. In an effort to inspire teachers to bring intersectional feminism to the K-12 classroom, she launched her blog, Feminist Teacher, in 2009.  Her life lessons learnt through failure:

  1. If you are someone for whom it’s important to have your personal and political values align with those of your workplace, then take the time to find the right workplace.

  2. Being a whole person at work is crucial for feeling affirmed and productive.

Lisa Lutz- She is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels who never even earned a Bachelor’s degree. Lessons she’s learned:

  1. Be flexible in thinking about how to use your talents.

  2. Prepare for public speaking events. If you don’t know how to work a crowd, then get help.

  3. It’s easier going through life being honest and owning up your to your less-than qualities than faking it.

Kim Gordon: She started a band Sonic Youth with her former husband. She became  a role model for young girls and later young men who wanted to create music of an untested nature. This is what wisdom she has to share:

  1. My favorite: Even when you are certain of your path from a young age, it’s good to be open to opportunities. And to the idea that having a career doesn’t have to mean doing one thing for the rest of your life.

  2. Know and remember that almost no one ends up following the straight line of starting life with a certain idea and following it through.

  3. Work-life balance may not be an attainable goal for all. If you are immersed in work and raising a family, you might feel a lot of good things. But it may not include “balance.”

Reshma Saujani: She is an American lawyer and politician. She is the founder of the tech organization Girls Who Code. Saujani was the first Indian-American woman (and the first South Asian American woman) to run for Congress. Her thoughts on failure include:

  1. Failures are hard on the soul, and there needs to be time given and steps taken to recover physically and emotionally from it.

  2. Take control of the story you want to tell about yourself.

  3. Find a way to work towards a goal, even if its not the way you thought it would be.

Cheryl Strayed: Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir WILD. I never read Wild but I have read Dear Sugar and found it useful to say the least.  Here are some of her jewels:

  1. Being a writer means failing every day. it means following the wrong path to find the right one.

  2. Feedback is scary but it makes your work better

  3. Spend time figuring out what is ideal for you, not what others expect of you.

Danielle Ofri: Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, is a physician at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in country, and associate professor of medicine at NYU. She writes about medicine for the New York Times etc. I really loved her chapter. It was very heart felt and I could relate to it especially since I work at NYU SOM now. Here’s what she said:

  1. You and your bad decisions are two separate things

  2. Even when you are in charge, you can ask colleagues for their opinions.

  3. You don’t need to be the model of perfection to be good at your job.

Joanna Barsh: She is the director Emerita at McKinsey & Company. She is also the best-selling author of “How Remarkable Women Lead.” Her lessons were imparted through very memorable stories from the early days of career. Her tips include:

  1. If you are creative person, know that some tasks require sticking with the facts.

  2. If you don’t know what you want in terms of a career, focus on learning a skill.

  3. Always state what’s good and working before stating bad news that requires major changes.

Alina TugendHer first book, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, (2011) developed out of one of her Times’ columns. It has been widely praised and recommended by all. Being an authority in making mistakes, she says:

  1. Even when you are grateful to have that first job, it’s still a good idea to negotiate.

  2. It never hurts to ask. Allow for silence after you ask. It’s a powerful tool.

  3. Asking for money can be easier over e-mail.

Selena Rezvani: She is a recognized author, speaker, and consultant on leadership. Her tips to succeed in life include:

  1. Embrace challenges. Usually people don’t expect you to do something perfect the first time around.

  2. At work if you find yourself asking for a new kind of policy, then ask for it. Make a good solid proposal.

  3. Failing is sometimes the only way forward. Learning through experience is key.

Carla Harris: It’s hard to describe her in one line as she is successful in so many things and therefore has multiple identities. She’s a successful career professional, author and singer. Her ‘pearls of wisdom’ for all include:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

  2. If you make a big public mistake, then own it in a big public way.

  3. Rarely is a mistake fatal. So ask yourself- How did I get here? What lessons did I learn? Learn and then move on.

Anna Holmes: Anna Holmes is an award-winning writer and editor who has worked with numerous publications. In 2007, she created the popular website, which helped to revolutionize popular discussions around the intersections of gender, race and culture. I liked her piece a lot too and here’s what she said:

  1. Whether you are part of the “cool kid’s club” or not- are not indicative of your wrorth.

  2. Do take risks if it’s financially feasible.

  3. Take care of yourself- both professionally and at home. Prioritize your needs a little more.

Luma Mufleh: She cobbled together a team, called the Fugees, over a decade ago. At first, she was involved in their lives as their coach but realized that coaching would necessarily extend beyond the soccer field. I found her life story very very inspiring. Here are her tips:

  1. Remember what got you here in the first place.

  2.  You have to remember that at some point you will have career struggles.

  3. Don’t compare your life to others; life is about doing what you love.

Ruth Reichl: She didn’t have a career in food.  Yet her belief in herself and not pursuing what she didn’t like led her to publish her first cookbook at 22. Till the recent past, she was a food critic for LA Times. She says:

  1. It’s very tempting to settle for security. But don’t settle.

  2. Doing work that you love can inspire others to do the same.

  3.  Get the broadest education you can.

Sharon Pomerantz: Hers is possibly one of the most inspiring stories. Her courage in working in a bad job and then finally quitting one day after she had given it enough of a try and sticking to her passion of writing. Her old boss told her she would never be a success at anything.’s her story and shares:

  1. Be brave enough to define your own future instead of letting a bad job define you

  2. Do what you can to not feel powerless and alone in a bad job

Judith Warner: She is best known for her 2005 New York Times best-seller. She speaks frequently on women’s issues and children’s mental health, and lives in Washington, DC with her husband and children. Her sage advice includes:

  1. Don’t let a difficult work situation stop you from getting the most you can out of the experience.

  2. When a blow comes your way, you don’t have to lie down and die.

  3. Be open to external validations that come from sources outside the usual ones.

Rinku Sen: A visionary and a pragmatist, Sen is one of the leading voices in the racial justice movement, building upon the legacy of civil rights by transforming the way we talk about race. Her life lessons teach us that:

  1. Resistance from colleagues is not the same as “no”

  2. Listen to other people without overinternalizing their resistance to your ideas

  3. We don’t control everything and not everybody will love us. It’s part of taking risks and doing the work.

Shirley Malcom: Education administrator and science education advocate Shirley has done her fair part and more in life in promoting STEM education for all genders and all races. Here’s what she learnt from her lifetime of work and achievements:

  1. If you take a break from schooling and plan to return, do it before you get bogged down from other life demands.

  2. The respect of collegues can bring its own set of issues. You may choose to ignore or ask them directly.

  3. Don’t take a no for an answer just because it hasn’t been done before. Don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer.

Ruth Ozeki: Ruth has 3 careers worth of experience, an author, a TV producer, and a buddhist priest. Her wise words include the following:

  1. Procrastination is not a good strategy for coping with perfectionism. Better to do, make a mistake and do it again than to never try.

  2. The art of bringing anything into this world and making it real,  means bringing it from the state of absolute perfection in your mind to a state of relative imperfection in reality. (possibly my second favorite one!)

  3. It is only through the making of mistakes we are able to live a creative life.

Courtney E. Martin: Courtney has two lifelong obsessions: storytelling and solutions. She has been called “one of our most insightful culture critics and one of our finest young writers. I have watched and loved her TED talk. Just watch that instead.

J. Courtney Sullivan: She is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Commencement, Maine andThe Engagements. Her stories and life shares include:

  1. Always say Yes to new opportunities.

  2. Keep in touch with people and be kind and generous.

Carol S. Dweck: She is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. According to her:

  1. Developing a ‘growth mindset’ can help sustain you when you are taking risks at work. It makes you understand that mistakes and setbacks are an essential part of learning.

  2. In order to grow into the person we want to be, we need to let go of our need for constant validation.

I hope you will benefit from this blog piece because I really did.

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