Tag: laura gassner otting

Change Your Life With These 7 Books by Badass Women

I love men, I do. And I love reading their books that tell me to hustle and crush it and kill it. But, here’s the thing: I’m not a man, and that means that I get to operate with a much broader and well-nuanced set of tools that I am afforded as a woman. Sure, we get paid pennies on the dollar (#equalpay!), but we also have multitudes within us that we let lay fallow if only take advice from one sex.

Watching the USWNT win the World Cup got me reflecting lately about how I learned to be a leader, how I found my voice, how I shaped an identity that was forged in my own experiences but modelled after those I admire. Time and time again, I came back to the women in my life. It got me thinking that we could use a Badass Women’s Book Club fashioned around these lessons, not just the ‘what’ of our goals – money, title, power, prestige – but a more layered look at the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ too, things like impact and flexibility. These are my suggestions for a starter (wolf)pack. Some are old, some are new, all are transformational:


Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts


Robin Roberts
Image Via Amazon


I wanted to start here because Robin Roberts starts her own book by passing along a key piece of wisdom from her mother: “Everybody’s got something.” And by that, she means that no one is perfect, no matter how much they make it seem so from the outside. This is beautiful; each of us is unique, both in the challenges we face but also in the strengths that we bring to the table as well.

In this book, Robin takes us on a journey through her life so far, which includes triumphs over barriers, but also the difficulty, pain, and heartache of beating breast cancer only to then five years later go through a bone marrow transplant to overcome a rare blood disorder. She chose to follow her mother’s advice to “make her mess her message” and let us have a front row view of it all, live and in real time. In that process, we got to see how her “something” could have stopped her in her tracks but instead gave her even more strength.

Presence by Amy Cuddy


Image Via Amazon


So, you’ve got something. Now, how do you galvanize it so that you can show up in those biggest moments in your life? They say happiness is an inside job. Guess what? So is presence. The problem, however, is that we are only shown one model: big, tough, brute strength. What is there was another way, your way?

Harvard professor Amy Cuddy teaches us how to use our body language, our behavior, and our mindset to quiet the inner demon and find our inner champion, whatever that might look like for you. You might remember her internationally acclaimed TED talk on “power poses” but in this
book she goes beyond that and brings both the science as well as the techniques we need to perform at our best, and help others perform at theirs, too.


Fearless Leadership by Carey Lohrenz



Turning to the kick in the ass portion of the list, I’d like to introduce Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 fighter pilot in the Navy. If you look up the word “badass” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure Carey’s picture is right there. And I’m pretty sure she’s in a leather dress, too.

Carey knows a thing or two about high performance environments and fearless leadership, and she’s boiled it all down in this book to three fundamentals that we can all live into: courage, tenacity, and integrity. What’s special about this book is that Carey translates these lessons not just for Fortune 500 executives, but for everyone, at every level of their career, offering advice on how to set a bold vision, bring people together, executive effectively, and stay resilient.

On the Edge by Alison Levine



Another member of the badass pioneer club is Alison Levine, who captained the first all-female American expedition up Mount Everest. She’s also climbed the highest peak on each continent, and skied both the North and South Poles. Casual. Alison tells the story of the climb up Everest, coming so close to the top, and having to turn back around just a few hundred feet from the peak.

She describes the decision that she had to make as the captain whether to try for the top in rapidly declining weather conditions, making a life or death decision that getting to the top isn’t success, but getting back down (alive) is. That’s not a decision made with ego, it’s one made with nuance. And, oh, yeah, she went back up again, and this time made it all the way. Both times were successes, and her explanation of why will leave your interpretation of your own goals forever changed.

Own It by Sallie Krawcheck:


Image Via Amazon


Listen, if you are going to grab the power, you are going to need some money. We as women have a complicated relationship with money, mostly because money has also been a male construct in our world. But why is that? Why do men get marketed to differently than women by financial services companies? And what are the effects of that on our long-term financial security?

Sallie Krawcheck, who had an enviable career on Wall Street before founding Ellevest, a company redefining investing for women, answers these questions and provides the understanding you need to own your own future by having control of the financial part of your story. And, in the process, also talks about how the future of work includes women in different ways than ever before and that, if fact, it is up to us to show up with everything that we are as women in order to ensure that the workplace fulfils its transformation. I, for one, am ready to take up her challenge!

Wolfpack by Abby Wambach



And then there is the matter of the people with whom you surround yourself. Do you have a wolfpack? I do, and I’m lucky that it includes Carey Lohrenz and Alison Levine, above. Abby brings the lessons she learned as a two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup Champion, and the highest all-time international goal scorer for male and female soccer players, to bear in this manifesto on women in the workplace and beyond, introducing us to the new rules of leadership development which include harnessing our personal power and unleashing it through our shared experience. She pushes us to demand the ball, lead from the bench, make failure our friend, and champion each other. I’m down for this revolution!

Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon



What’s this? A cookbook and interior design book on the Badass Women’s Book Club recommendation list? Well, it’s Reese Witherspoon, champion of women and amplifier of women’s voices and stories, so you know there is more to it than meets the eye. Reese’s grandmother Dorothea always said that a combination of beauty and strength made southern women “whiskey in a teacup.”

They may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside they’re strong and fiery. So is this book, filled with fried chicken and biscuit recipes and instructions on how to hot roller your hair, but also all sorts of musings that will inspire you to find your power while also holding on to your femininity, in whatever combination and form that takes for you.

Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life, Laura
Gassner Otting




So, you know what you need to do, and you know how you need to do it. But, maybe you still feel like you can’t do it because there are people in your life who will have all sorts of feelings and opinions about your stepping out to be the very best version of yourself, and maybe one that doesn’t comport with their expectations? Look no further than my book, then, for permission to stop giving votes to people in your life who shouldn’t even have voices.

Worried this all sounds a little too much ambition, a word that has gotten a bad rap of late? If having more power, more leverage, more money, more access, more voice allows you to show up better for the people you love and the causes you hold dear, then I say it’s not your ambition, it’s your responsibility.

5 Ways to Ignore Everybody and Finally Be Happy

This past September, my teenagers were bickering with each other so much — okay, real talk, actually they were complete and total pre-frontal cortex psychopaths — that I couldn’t even get them to stand still for the picture that they knew I wanted to take, that I’ve moved heaven and earth as a working mother to be present to take, that I’ve taken for thirteen years. Every first day. For thirteen years.

They were horrendous to each other. They were horrendous to me. And, yes, I get it. They were anxious. It’s the first day. But their behavior towards each other and towards me was inexcusable in its lack of civility, humanity, or even just basic kindness. I stood stunned, questioning every sacrifice I’d made, and especially all those sacrifices I chose not to make.  I’d fallen prey to that insidious trap of the comparison game, the one where we define our own success through other people, not just on social media, but in life, as parents and in our work (whether paid or unpaid).  Oh, what would become of me if I didn’t post a photo? I made it about I lost my head, and let them have it at the top of my lungs. And then we drove to school —oh, what a treat to be able to be there for these important moments! — in stony silence, me (not typically a crier) choking back tears the entire way.


The Cage Match of Comparison

We run, walk, or even blindly stagger through life, collecting piles of rocks labeled “the right job” and “the right vacation” and “the right spouse” and drop them in our backpacks, running faster and faster on the treadmill of success, and then we wonder: If I’ve done all the right things, as defined by everyone else, why do I feel so burdened, so heavy, so stuck? We’ve stepped foot into the cage match of comparison, and the minute we did, each and every one of us lost.

Here’s why: It’s hard to grab hold of your own goals and dreams —to feel fulfilment in success—when we’ve handed over that very definition of success to someone else.  The solution is easier than we think. It’s as simple as ignoring everybody and their mistaken assumptions of what will actually make you happy.  Yes, I know… ignoring everybody isn’t all that easy, but here are the best ways to do just that:

Don’t give a vote to people who shouldn’t even have a voice.

Let’s face it: most of the people who give you advice — telling you to slow down, take smaller risks, dream a little more realistically — are doing so from a place of fear and anxiety, not about you life but about their own.  Stop letting your audacity be constrained by the limits of other people’s imaginations. Politely excuse yourself from taking every opinion as fiat, weighing them all with equal measure, and allow yourself to be your own dog, run your own race, carve your own path. And all those voices questioning your choices and telling you what you should do and need to do? They simply don’t get a vote—unless you give it to them. And that includes that voice inside your own head.

It’s time to say “Screw the Joneses.” 

When we play the comparison game, we all lose. Social media puts us in a position where we unwittingly judge everyone else’s highlight reel through our own klutzy bloopers outtakes. Of course we look like we don’t have it all together. Of course we feel like we should just do more of whatever it is that the brightest, shiniest friend is doing. Of course we’ll have what she’s having.  But here’s the kicker: You can’t be insatiably hungry for someone else’s goals. And you won’t be satisfied by them, either. Let’s stop, once and for all, believing the hype, and stop hoping that “I’ll be happy when” and decide what will make us happy now. The journey is long, waiting is for suckers.


Realize that your fourth grade teacher was wrong about you. 

Back in middle school, we were taught to pursue the gold stars, get the good grades, and shine across the board. We had no say in the skills that got rewarded; and often what we were rewarded for was different from what we loved. So, rather than picking a path based on what makes us special—what we like, what we do well, and where we shine—most of us are forced to pick our path early, based on values attached by others and on interests that aren’t our calling. Remember that fourth grade teacher who said that you should become a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant? They possessed no crystal ball, and yet we internalized their notions as predictions rather than simply suggestions. What if, just what if, that prediction based on nothing more than anecdotal information gathered at a specific moment in time, when we still let our mothers cut our hair and pick out or picture day outfits, was wrong?



Believe that Ambition is not a dirty word.

Ambition has gotten a bad rap of late. It’s a dirty word—even more so if you are a woman. (Oh, she’s so ambitious!) Part of the reason we’ve lost ownership of our unspoken dreams — those dreams so big and so scary and so exciting that we dare not say them out loud — is that we’ve been persuaded to allow our ambition to be subsumed into something that is more socially acceptable: faux humility.

But, I’d ask you this: How do you want to raise your family? Why do you want to get ahead? What do you want to do with that power? Do you want to change your family, your community, your country, your world? Do you want to make a mark, large or small, on this earth? What kind of life do you want to live?

What do you want your legacy to be? If being in that elevated position, with that increased salary and that greater voice of leadership, allows you to make more of an impact on the very calling that you hold dear, it’s more than just your ambition. It’s your responsibility.


Gather your “framily.” 

I’ve come to understand that in order for your life to feel right for you, it has to actually be right for you. The most powerful way to insulate yourself from the misguided, happiness eroding (and often uninvited) opinions of others is to stop doubting your own damn self, and that comes from having the confidence in the choices you make and the chances you take. And, if you can’t find that on your own, it’s time to call a meeting of your “framily,” that combination of friends and family that see your greatness, even if you don’t yet. Tell them what you want to do, where you are stuck, and what you think is in your way. And then let them help you walk through the walls, real or perceived that are holding you back.

Taking My Own Advice

I had achieved the type of enviable on-paper success, because I checked all the right boxes along that path— someone else’s path— and when I turned around and demanded that my kids perform like trained monkeys because I happened to be there for that one shining moment, it was obvious that I was still trying to make it about me. After spending the day considering all the ways I’d punish them — make them wear a giant t-shirt with two head holes, drop them twenty miles from the house and make them work together to get home, and other various social-services-on-my-doorstep type child abuse fantasies — I decided to do something different: I decided to give them a do-over.

I sat them down at dinner and I laid out how their behavior came across, how it affected those around them, and how it reflected on them and the people they hope to become. I told them about how I tried to create a life that allowed me to be there in those moments, but that I failed to see those moments through their eyes as well.  I told them that, rather than punishing them, I wanted them to consider overnight the relationship they wanted to have with each other and me, and what kind of person they were when they were at their best. I let them try again, and I allowed myself the permission to make their behavior situational to the morning and not definitional to myself as a mother.  Which made me wonder, how often are we defining our success through someone else’s lens? How often are we letting other people dictate what happiness should mean to us? How often are we letting the reactionary behavior of others decide our value, our path, our own actions when, really, most people in uncomfortable situations act like teenage boys without fully-formed frontal lobes?

I gave them a do-over. I have myself one, too. And, together we found a state of grace again.

Happy Second Day of School from my zoo to yours!



Laura Gassner Otting is the author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.  Want to live a limitless life? Take her quick quiz at http://www.LimitlessAssessment.com/  to see what’s holding you back, and what you can do about it.