In 2012, Kate White quit her 14-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief of the US edition of Cosmopolitan to begin a new career as a writer of psychological thrillers. The gutsy move worked. With 12 novels and four non-fiction books under her belt, she frequents The New York Times Best Seller list. But The Gutsy Girl Handbook isn’t just about big, career-changing moves; there’s as much to be gleaned about the day-to-day workings of a successful career.
The basic premise is that there are two types of career women. There are, says White, ‘Good girls’ who ask permission, want to be liked and accept a job offer with a please and a thank you. Then there are ‘Gutsy girls’ who ask for more, take charge of their own opportunities and put their success first. White acknowledges the over-simplification, giving plenty of examples of her own ‘Good girl’ behaviour. This isn’t about overhauling your personality and becoming more forceful for the sake of it. It’s about making small changes, employing gutsy strategies in your everyday life in order to have a much better shot at achieving what you deserve.
Top five takeaways
#1. Ask yourself the ‘Four Bs’
Could it be better, bigger, bolder or more badass? These are the questions White asks herself every time she implements a new idea - and not necessarily big ideas, but everyday ideas too. A case in point is the work she did at Cosmopolitan around skin cancer. On discovering that rates were on the increase in young women, she decided to commission a feature for the summer edition. But after testing her idea against the ‘four Bs’, she realised there was scope to do much more. And so an awareness campaign was born that led to US legislation change, and many lives possibly saved in the process. The purpose here is not to create an unmanageable workload, pushing yourself to breaking point while juggling several enormous projects. Think of it rather as a useful check for those times you’re holding back from an opportunity to challenge yourself and show those around you just what you’re capable of.
There’s a fifth ‘B’ to be mindful of. Blankets. Wet ones, that is. White warns that as you work towards becoming bigger, better, bolder and more badass in your approach to work, you will undoubtedly come across naysayers who take exception to your positive, powerful outlook. We all know the type that shakes their head at any suggestion of change. Accept they’re a part of your working life, says White, and you’re on your way to building immunity against their negativity.
#2. Give yourself permission to be bad
We’re not talking bad as in badass here. We mean terrible, useless, hopeless. This is the one element of White’s advice on personal brand that really stands out from the crowd. She recalls attending a lecture at Harvard Business School about what separates good companies from great ones. The great ones, she summarises, don’t just figure out what they’re great at and then work at it. They also know what they don’t do well and then stay the hell away from it. The implications of owning your ‘bad’ are pretty powerful. You get to focus on and become known for your strengths. You recognise a great opportunity and a not so great one at a hundred paces. And in finding a way to communicate your bad as well as your great, you create a truly rounded personal brand that will linger.
#3. Get a side hustle
White is a former glossy mag editor turned mystery novelist with a strong track record in public speaking. No shocker then, that she’s a big enthusiast of what she calls a ‘side hustle’. Her thinking is that they provide options, a plan B in case one career takes a nose dive. It can also be hugely enjoyable too, since most side hustles are driven by passions or hobbies. Take care to keep it entirely separate from your day job, and enjoy the confidence that branching out brings. If your work-life balance siren is flashing red at this advice, take heart: White insists that to-do lists should always include a non-essential item—leaving work early to enjoy some fresh air, having a long lunch with a friend or booking a massage.
#4. Cut out bad language
Waffle. Preamble. Qualifying statements. How often do you use these in your workplace communications? If the answer is probably more than you’d care to admit, know that such language can undermine your power and impact significantly. White provides a list of vocab that you need to stamp out of your meeting talk. They include openers like “I kind of think...”, “Maybe we should...”, “I’m not sure, but...”.
Women, White argues, can be guilty of trying to persuade by showing the person we’re trying to influence that we’ve done our homework, offering up a ton of information, stats and research in the hope we’ll look thorough and informed. White’s advice is to cut to the chase, hook them in with a succinctly put idea and share the homework later.
#5. Learn to worry less
With all the acclaim to her name, it’s gratifying to learn that White is, or at least has been, big into catastrophising, prone to self-doubt and anxiously anticipating disapproval from others. Experience has taught her that worry can hugely undermine confidence and success. Thankfully she doesn’t just tell us that we all have to stop worrying but provides some help–drafted in by her executive coach—to show how key adjustments can neutralise a tendency to overthink.
Allow yourself to visualise the worst case scenario (unless your worry is borderline extreme anxiety—in that case, forget this advice and seek help from a coach). Often, the reality of the worst case scenario is nothing you can’t handle. As you imagine yourself in that situation, take note of the skills you’re using to manage it and congratulate yourself on your strength. Another option for worry management is talking to someone you count as a good listener. A neutral sounding board can spot when you’re overanalysing. And finally, take a leaf out of White’s book: “If there’s one thing I wish I’d known years ago that I know for sure today is that 99 per cent of things I worried about never materialised into anything I couldn’t fix.”
The Gutsy Girl Handbook: Your Manifesto for Success by Kate White is published by Grand Central Life & Style (April 2018).