Originally posted by Samantha Harrington - Women@Forbes
I know, I know. You’re an entrepreneur. You don’t have any free time. I know. Trust me. I can relate. But I promise you, you want to make time to read. In every way, reading helps me be a better teammate, a better businesswoman and a better person.
So I put together a list of the five books that have been most essential to me as an entrepreneur. Most are quick reads, all are unique and fun, and all have incredible lessons to share.
A quick disclaimer for all who are going to say that I’ve put together a strange entrepreneur reading list:
In entrepreneurship, like in any school of thought, there’s a canon of respected literature. It’s all the classics. It’s Simone De Beauvoir for feminism. Adam Smith for economics. It’s a young female writer’s Didion (guilty).
In entrepreneurship, the canon is made up of books like The Lean Startup and How To Make Friends and Influence People. The businesswoman canon is Lean In. And while I do think that those are important reads, this list is not canon.
This list is made up of five books have been essential to me both as a young woman and as a business-owner. Sometimes the books that I've found useful or enlightening as an entrepreneur have been business-focused, other times they’ve been memoirs of successful women. I find great value in reading voices from all backgrounds and pulling the relevant lessons from their lives and applying them to mine.
So without further caveats, here are my five essential reads for my fellow young, female entrepreneurs out there:
For starters, I’ll point out the obvious, Rebecca Solnit is an absolute genius. She takes issue with the term mansplaining but essentially she has written the seminal text on the subject. Through this collection of essays, Solnit inspired me to be more secure in my knowledge and more confident in my public expression of that knowledge. She also does an incredible job of tying essays on to essays on subjects of more serious matters like domestic violence. Men Explain Things To Me pointed out that when we perpetuate the silencing of women around the conference table, we’re contributing to the same systemic misogyny that puts women in physical danger.
In the title-track essay, Solnit writes of a conversation she had with a man at a party. The man was smugly telling her all about this very important book that he thought she should know about. As it turned out, it was a Rebecca Solnit book. And her friend interrupted the man to point this out four times before he finally heard her.
“Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped,” she writes. “I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass.”
This book by Patrick Lencioni was required reading for a workshop put on by the entrepreneurial media lab I worked at in college. Reading it completely changed the way I thought about teamwork.
It’s a quirky fable that follows the new CEO of a company (a woman!) as the company is falling into disarray due, mostly, to interpersonal conflicts. So she takes her mess of a team away from the office and walks them through the five dysfunctions of a team.
At the time I read this, I was part of a particularly dysfunctional team. Reading Lencioni’s book and talking about our team’s problems in relation to the fable was really helpful. All of the lessons from that experience became even more essential when I graduated and started my own business.
“Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal,” Lencioni wrote.
The queen of TV, Shonda Rhimes, is actually an introvert. One holiday, Rhimes’ sister complains that she “never says yes to anything.” This sends her on a year-long adventure in which she says yes to everything.
As an entrepreneur, risk is part of the job. So reading Rhimes take on new challenges and risks is inspiring and rewarding. She talks about her career successes and struggles as well as her family and personal life. She talks about the paradox of dreaming vs. doing and she shows you, by her own example, how to work really hard to build yourself.
“I am not lucky,” She wrote, “You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass.”
Molly Crabapple writes about womanhood in a way that’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Drawing Blood is her completely uncensored memoir. From her struggle to make ends meet, to how she believes in herself and her work and the world it’s an incredible story with a lot to say. And I’m pretty sure Crabapple isn’t afraid to say anything.
She covers really difficult moments and incredibly personal aspects of her life. She also writes really beautifully about the power of her female friendships. And the hesitancy among women to shout their ambitions from the rooftops.Perhaps my favorite passage in Drawing Blood is this story of a night with her friend Kim Boekbinder:
“In May, Kim played in a Village jazz club; she was the most gold-and-silver thing on its tiny stage. Afterward, as we sat on my apartment floor drinking, we told each other about our secret dissatisfactions, which we could never tell anyone else. We both wanted to make ambitious work, work that would sear the eyes. I wanted to do murals the size of buildings. Kim wanted to play to stadiums…We lay next to each other on a stained futon and whispered, for once without shame, about wanting to be Bowie or Picasso or any of those men who had stood before the world and taken it all with entitlement, never asking if he was good enough. They lived in freedom.”
I read this collection of Slone Crosley essays last summer when my startup was almost a year old. I was officially a year out of college and even though I had a dream job at a company I’d created, I still had that post-grad anchorless feeling (nevermind all the startup stress). These essays eased the vortex of all that.
Crosley writes about getting jobs, losing jobs, staying in touch with friends, and finding her place and herself. It’s funny, it’s lovely, it’s really complicated. It’s Crosley’s life with no frills but plenty of humor and it’s one of those reads that is entirely relatable but also makes you a little glad you’re not her.
I think most of all this book was important to me because it finds the stories in messy, everyday life. It’s full of good lessons and laughs for any young woman looking for her place in the world.
“The search for one's first professional job is not unlike a magical love potion: when one wants to fall in love with the next thing one sees, one generally does,” Crosley wrote.