As a career coach to thousands of job seekers—many of whom are millennial women— I can’t help but pick up on the trends I notice in my clientele. Lately, it seems that everyone is reading #GirlBoss, a best-selling book published in May 2014 by Sophia Amoruso, founder of the Nasty Gal clothing empire.
When I picked up the book, I was prepared for a heavy dose of clichés. But after reading it, I understand why the hashtag #GirlBoss has appeared on more than 2.5 million Instagram posts: It’s not just a catchy book title, it’s a movement.
Kudos to Amoruso!
She speaks to the struggle of developing our dreams and our work ethic, which we can all relate to, whether we’re chipping away at a Ph.D. or building a brand. What Amoruso also does so flawlessly is leave the reader with the realization that our work can and should be rewarding at all stages, regardless of the dollars in our bank accounts or the external success of our ventures.
Here are just a few of the lessons I loved the most while reading #GirlBoss, and why you should read it now.
1. Strive for excellence with your customers or clients. Believe it or not, all that it takes to differentiate you from the competition is work that shows passion. We live in a noisy world where you’re being sold to every second of the week, and thus it’s no surprise that too many businesses often focus more on business development than they do on honoring the customers they already have. Amoruso says, “Nasty Gal would have surely failed had it been my goal to grow a business to the size that I have today,” explaining her focus on quality, not quantity. You don’t just evolve from a shopping assistant to the CEO of a multi-million dollar business without a passion for excellence! In Amoruso’s case, one opportunity for excellence was packaging. I felt such joy reading about her passion for the aesthetics of her product packaging; a seemingly small, yet important detail that has given even her most loyal customers a truly unique shopping experience.
2. Hold boundaries in your work life. Amoruso learned it the hard way, as so many of us do… She befriended one of her employees and as she talked about how she felt driving her new car, the employee retorted: “Well, you know, you’d better be careful, because people are saying, ‘Oh, now I’m doing my job to pay for a Porsche.’”
The lesson? Amoruso says it perfectly: “ Your boss is not your friend, and if you’re the boss, your employees aren’t your friends.”
I was inspired to read about her humanity in this situation—a very natural yearning to connect with the people around her—while balancing the way she honors her business. As an employer and an employee, I’ve been on both sides of this at various points in my career. When you are building a business, you’re excited and energized, and it’s natural that you want that to rub off on your employees. But getting them on board sometimes opens a door that leads to more than just shared excitement: Yes, you are establishing a space for friendship, inside jokes, and shared groans over late night bookkeeping, but you are also opening it to blurred lines. Whether you are a boss or an employee, you don’t want to lead with likeability in the employer-employee relationship; respect is primary. You don’t want to be answering intimate questions about your dating life when there’s a big pitch or a looming deadline. And having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings – or hiding your hurt feelings or frustration – adds a level of stress to the workplace that sucks up good energy on both sides.
3. Create a work/life balance. It sounds cliché, but we’ve all been there: You’re working (or networking) while your friends are out at your favorite bar or restaurant texting you to join. Amoruso learned the hard way that balance doesn’t always favor your social life. “Don’t get too caught up in partying,” says Amoruso. She lists the things she actually schedules time for, which include her love life, social networking, and yes, even shopping. “Create boundaries and structure […] be your own parent!” she says. As an entrepreneur, I’ve been accused of working too much. Usually, that kind of criticism is coming from people who don’t know me — or my circumstances — very well. No one else can tell you what balance should look like (but they try to)! I know super successful people who pound out four hours of high-quality work and then call it a day, only to be accused of not working enough. But that’s what works for them! I feel balanced and happy when I’m working a lot, even though that means I’m much more selective about who I spend my free time with, and how I spend it. Decide what balance means to you.
4. Compete with yourself. Amoruso has said “It takes a special kind of stubbornness to succeed as an entrepreneur,” and I totally agree. But what I loved in #GirlBoss is that she doesn’t just say it; she demonstrates it. She goes on to say that energy spent focusing on others is time much better spent focusing on you. “Be your own idol,” she says, simply. It is essential to set personal goals and be persistent (read: stubborn) on your road to achieving them. Revisit your goals, have your plan, execute, and repeat. It is a waste of time to compare your hustle or success to anyone’s but your own!
5. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch. As a fellow entrepreneur who has scaled a business, I can totally relate to Amoruso’s hesitation to count dollars before they come in. Stay modest, stay humble, and keep working. “Money looks better in the bank than on your feet,” says Amoruso… That says a lot coming from a fashionista herself! There have been times in my career when I’ve been tempted to reward myself for my hard work, especially during busy times when impatience sets in. But Amoruso is right: I can’t tell you how many beautiful shoes I’ve walked away from and how many vacations I’ve turned down. It’s fine to splurge here and there, but no pair of shoes can satisfy me in the same way as having the financial ability to invest in my company, take bigger risks, and fund the learning experiences that keep me at the top of my game. Amoruso is constantly encouraging readers to keep your focus on your work. Her story is a perfect and accurate reminder that money management (not just money coming in) is paramount to financial, and entrepreneurial, freedom.
In a society where social media makes success look so easy and attainable, I am always grateful to the movers and shakers who show the grittier reality of hard work.
There is not just one road to success, and I’ve been fortunate in my career to bear witness to so many incarnations of it. However, the undeniable truth is that there are a few common threads running through all true success stories — personal responsibility, vision, grit and patience.
Sophia Amoruso could easily hide behind her brand and share only the enviable aspects of her achievements with the public… But she’s bold and honest, which is why her book deserves to be crushing it! #GirlBoss is a gift to those who are in the more formative stages of dream chasing, but it also sends a message to those who are already innovating that sharing the stories of what went into our success is just as important. We can all learn from each other.
Sophia, my hat’s off to you and your hustle. Thanks so much for sharing your voice with me, and the world.