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mistakes i made at work book coverReviewed by Poppy Johnson

Women work outside the home in record numbers. Meanwhile, it has become increasingly more difficult to define our meaning of success; how women measure their own success today differs significantly when compared to a decade or two ago. Mistakes I Made at Work – edited by Jessica Bacal who worked at Smith College on the Women’s Narrative Project (WNP) – expounds on what it means to be successful for a modern working woman. Bacal began the project as an “experiment” to ask females about their goals, dreams, and values; she wanted give women the opportunity to later reflect on their narratives and help lead them to successes in their jobs down the road.

Bacal interviewed 25 (by all accounts) successful women. The women surveyed shared information about their lives and their personalities; they went into detail about the pivotal moments in their careers that opened their eyes to the window of success (or closed them off with a door of defeat).

In this book, every woman interviewed has an interesting story to tell. Some were fired for voicing their close-held beliefs, listening to their own voice, or following their dream. Others had to come to terms with quitting their jobs in order to take risks, embrace innovation, and learn to look for and find satisfaction in their jobs. Their advice? Don’t ignore office politics, find allies and like-minded people at work and don’t hide your flaws.

There are four parts to the book with sections on taking charge of your career, asking for what you want, saying no and being resilient. Each part highlights stories from real life women in similar situations who found unique ways to survive and thrive at work. Each narrative describes a work situation in the contributor’s own words, to show that workplace politics are never polite, often mean-spirited and always something to watch out for if you want to succeed. The book covers a variety of situations from women who were punished for taking calculated risks to women learning how to ask for what they want from their careers.

There are separated tips, lessons learned, and summaries of how to succeed in business in virtually every industry. The stories are enlightening because they relate the information in the women’s own words and allow the contributors to share how vulnerable they were at their jobs during past work related events. I’d recommend this book to women of any age who want to learn about and be better prepared for competitive work environments.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After a decade of working in several NYC law departments and teaching, Poppy decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.