15 Career Tips From Smart Women


When I was teenager, my stay-at-home mom started her photography career. I remember assisting her on a shoot. Our backyard was filled with baby cousins waddling in every direction, and she had rented a cherry picker (!) to try to capture the scene from above. Now, as I grow older and shape my own career, I’m inspired by my mom and other hard-working women around me. Here are 15 quotes packed with genius advice that have given me a kick of inspiration…

On working hard:

“People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster chambermaid on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work.”
Mindy Kaling

“Work harder than everybody. You’re not going to get it by whining, and you’re not going to get it by shouting, and you’re not going to get it by quitting. You’re going to get it by being there.”
Barbara Walters

“Success is not easy and I think everyone should know that hard work and perseverance and being open to giving back are so much more powerful than stepping all over people to get to the top.”
Misty Copeland

On perfectionism:

“I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (Ha ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!) But we women must break this habit in ourselves — and we are the only ones who can break it. We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it. (There are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud.) At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is — if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart. Which is the entire point. Or should be.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
Anne Lamott

On learning from failure:

“Don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands. You are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever.”
Nora Ephron

“Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”
Rosamund Stone Zander

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On dealing with criticism:

“Too many young women I think are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant. They are too often selling themselves short. They too often take criticism personally instead of seriously. You should take criticism seriously because you might learn something, but you can’t let it crush you. You have to be resilient enough to keep moving forward, whatever the personal setbacks and even insults that come your way might be. That takes a sense of humor about yourself and others. Believe me, this is hard-won advice I’m putting forth. It’s not like you wake up and understand this. It’s a process.”
Hillary Clinton

On knowing yourself:

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith.”
Cheryl Strayed

“You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”
Amy Poehler

On vulnerability:

“I’ve cried at work. I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. And it’s been reported in the press that ‘Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder,’ which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs. I try to be myself — honest about my strengths and weaknesses — and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.”
Sheryl Sandberg

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
Brené Brown

On finding success:

“What if joy is my only metric for success?”
Sarah Jones

“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
— Michelle Obama

What career advice do you have?

P.S. 15 career tips from smart women, and how to be a boss. Also, good advice about life!

(Rosamund Stone Zander and Sarah Jones quotes via Swiss Miss. Top photo by Norman Jean Roy for Vogue.)

    • Oops obviously this was meant to be on Stella’s apartment post… oh well :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Awww, thank you, Laura!!!!! <3

  1. Thanks, It’s very Helpful

  2. I would actually love an entire post or short series on the topic of investing, and investing at all income levels. Lots of articles I read assume that you don’t have student loans/other debt, or that you make a ton of money. It’s hard to know how to invest or where to start when you have other financial considerations. Thanks!

  3. Really inspiring, even on a sunday!

  4. you look so beautiful.. nice dress..

  5. Simone Watkins says...

    Love the fast food swimsuit in black on the boob website and so practical! ❤️

  6. I agree I really really love your mom’s photos. Such an interesting perspective. I’m an artist and I spend a lot of time looking at art on the internet. The amount of inspiration that can be found is overwhelming, and at the same time it kind of blends together. But I’m still thinking about her photos days later.

    • It’s like, she turns ordinary scenes into something extraordinary. And beauty in imperfections.

  7. KD says...

    Just chiming in a bit late to say how utterly awesome your mom’s photography is, Stella! I’m entranced.

  8. Catharine says...

    I love these bits of advice from strong women. I love Cheryl Strayed’s quote, as I often spend much of my time worrying about the future and where I am going instead of focusing on the present. And as usual, Michelle Obama hits the nail on the head. I unfortunately witness those at the top trying to cut the ladder that they had to climb out of selfishness and greed.

  9. Catherine says...

    As I was finishing medical school 17+ years ago, I came across this Albert Schweitzer quote which has guided my career:
    “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
    Making sure I love my job has led to fulfillment and success. It is also a wonderful thing to pass along to your children- focus on finding what you love to do and the rest will fall into place.
    More recently, the quote “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” has helped me to try to empathize with everyone.

  10. I really needed to read these words! Writing a ton of them to post them on my mirror someday!

  11. Nichole says...

    I need to frame all of them and put them on my bedroom wall.

  12. my advice, one i wish i had taken, if your company has a 401K, sign up. if they match or contribute, all the better and even if they don’t, STILL SIGN UP. i was 28 when i finally signed up for a 401K, that’s 6 years i had been working professionally and not had a retirement plan of any kind. a male coworker caught wind that i wasn’t signed up, cancelled all my meetings that day and sat my ass down and walked me through it. when i moved onto another job he made sure i signed up for a 401k there too.

    michelle obama’s quote really resonated with me. why not help others? whatever industry you are in, it’s a small world, who you help now could possibly help you later. and even if that isn’t the incentive, WHY NOT BE KIND?

  13. I love the Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton ones. More girls growing up are perfectionists and not taught how to deal with setbacks or failures. Constructive criticism is one of the best ways to hone our craft. So really, there are three things I take away from this: give back to others who are in the position you once were in, use criticism as an opportunity, and don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.

  14. Erin says...

    This is so inspiring. I love the Michelle Obama quote. Someone helped me in a HUGE way when I was in college. A gesture so huge and profound and selfless that I can never repay them. Instead, I choose to pass it on. (Which was actually their intent & didn’t even want to be repaid.) I work hard so that I’ll launch myself into a position to pay it forward, and show someone an act of loving kindness like was done for me. <3

  15. anna says...

    Love this post! The world seems to be directly lovely career advice from women to women this week :)

    Earlier this week I read this short article on how the smart driven ladies working for Obama made sure their ideas were heard

    Now I’m going to be sure to apply that in my field (mobile tech) where women are not as visible in a lot of situations

  16. My dad always advised “Never complain, never explain.” I think it’s important to always be a force of positivity in the workplace – big energy, humor, and kindness. The “never explain” part means (to me, anyway) to always take in criticism and use it to your advantage. Resist the urge to explain why you did something a certain way. It doesn’t matter, except to your ego. Just take in the criticism and learn from it. Don’t take it personally.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i LOVE that line. really great. i’m going to try to remember that.

    • Amanda says...

      Funny, my name is Amanda too, and your dad’s “never explain” advice is something I practice and preach. I’m so happy that others agree.

  17. Shannon says...

    I too must comment on the greatness of your mother’s photographs. Wow.

  18. one – your mother’s work is amazing! she is an inspiration. two – i adore this post and am saving it my favorites. three – being a working mom has been the greatest challenge of my life. i had a really tough time coming back to work. one day i realized there is no such thing as having it all. some days i am better at my day job, and some days i am better at being mom (and that’s ok!). and a side note, i was recently in a meeting at work and i noticed a younger, female colleague could not get a word in, so i blurted out “___ has something to add.” afterwards i told her, “if you don’t interrupt, your voice won’t be heard.” i was a little sad to have to say something like that.

  19. Lauren E. says...

    In a much more practical sense, my career advice is to be wise about investing. I’ve worked at a few different places and invested wherever possible but now I find I don’t really know where my money is or what it’s doing for me. I don’t want to be one of those women who is ignorant about her own finances so this is the year I’ve resolved to invest wisely and plan for my financial future so that when I want to retire, I actually can.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That is such smart advice, Lauren! I agree wholeheartedly.

    • Kristen says...

      Joanna, could you do a post (or series of posts) about this topic? I think a lot of readers, myself included, would love some advice on smart investing and even where to start.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      for sure!!!

    • Megan says...

      I would actually love an entire post or short series on the topic of investing, and investing at all income levels. Lots of articles I read assume that you don’t have student loans/other debt, or that you make a ton of money. It’s hard to know how to invest or where to start when you have other financial considerations. Thanks!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great idea!! thank you, megan. we will start working on one.

    • NSU says...

      As a finance professional, I’m SO excited to see women interested in their own financial well-being! Although my field is male dominated, all the women I know are their families’ breadwinners (the “41% and rising”), but also this is a basic life skill that every PERSON should know and it unfortunately isn’t taught to most.

    • karinny says...

      Awesome idea! It could be a series!

  20. Marianne says...

    Even when she has something serious to say, Mindy Kaling makes me laugh so much!

  21. Megan says...

    I just started a very stressful job that I am in the learning curve phase of. I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed everyday, but this post reminded me that my life is not defined just by my job. After 3 years of grad school, it’s disappointing not to immediately like this job, but hopefully it’s coming, and if not I’ll move on in a couple years. Thank you for this well timed post!

    • Kate says...

      I feel like I’m in the exact same boat as you! I keep reminding myself that it’s only going to get easier over time, and that before I know it, I’ll know it all. :) It still might not be a “dream job” at that point, but it will feel less taxing!

  22. Cathy says...

    Thank you Stella for this thought provoking post. All of the quotes are so great. My favorite is by Anne Lamott… a wise woman for sure….

  23. Marjolein says...

    Great post Stella! I’m at a crossroad in my career at the moment and the only thing I really need now is absolutely no career, to be able to build a new one. So I decided to take a break from working for a few months. That has been a very hard decision, because somehow I think I’m partly defined by my job. Which I now realize, isn’t the case. :)

  24. May says...

    Great post, thank you Stella.

    I want to learn these as well as I know the alphabet.

    Learn to negotiate the political climate of your work place as carefully as you do navigating in a wilderness area. Don’t turn your desk into a picnic table for bears or let them stand on your shoulders to grab your food. Think finesse and confidence.

  25. Erin says...

    I absolutely love your mother’s photography, Stella. So artful and profound!

  26. P says...

    I love all of this!

    My mom went to grad school when I was five and my sister seven. Most of the classes were at night and it was a two-hour drive to the university from our hometown, but it enabled her to launch her own business–which she has had for 25 years. I try to not get discouraged about my perceived failures or trying to choose between family and career, because I can still chase my dreams after 40!

  27. Stella your mom’s photography is something else. I am riveted! What talent. Her photos are familiar and nostalgic, but still contain a faintly eery and disconcerting tone. I can’t get over them.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you so much, Marie. I can’t wait to pass on your kind words. xoxoxo

  28. Lisa says...

    This is another reason why I love this wonderful space on the big internetz – a place where you empower women, celebrate badass women who are successful and not afraid to be proud about it. I especially love what Michelle Obama said about helping others. I recently changed career and had a tough time starting as my colleagues weren’t exactly helpful since no one had helped them when they started out, they all thought the hard way was the right way. Few months later we had some new people joining the team and I decided to spend a lot of time helping them and getting them on their feet – because I believe in karma, and because women should help each other, and because I need to stop that horrible trend of NOT helping each other. “No one will ever thank you for sacrificing yourself” is something I often hear when I offer to work holidays since my colleagues have kids and I don’t. Or when I work late so they can leave early and not miss bed time. But I also think that kindness goes a long way, and although I have no need of becoming the new Michelle Obama, I hope my kindness will one day inspire someone else to do the same – to me, to another woman, or just another human being. One act of kindness at the time, right?

    • Lauren E. says...

      You’re the type of colleague I would love to have. Thank you for sharing this :)

    • Marjolein says...

      You’re so right Lisa! And don’t forget the happiness it brings you to help others.

  29. I love this post so much, thank you for sharing these wonderful words of wisdom! We can never encourage each other too much to do better for ourselves, find what we love to do and to set examples for our children to do the same!

  30. R says...

    Oh! These quotes are brilliant! I ESPECIALLY love that Cheryl Strayed one ?? yes yes yes!

  31. Alison says...

    Stella – The recent profile of your mom’s work in the New York Times was one my favorite pieces…EVER. Her work is like opening a little secret door and having a portal into another person’s fantastical world.

    When I clicked on the link in this post I said out loud, “That’s her mom!?!” SO. MUCH. TALENT.


    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Aw, Alison!!! That is so, so, so kind of you. Your comment made my day. I can’t wait to tell her! xoxox

  32. Your mama’s work is inspiring. :-)

  33. Frankie says...

    What timing! Being thrown in to a super stressful high-pressure high-profile position very soon…. I remember a dear ex-colleague of mine telling me one day, long ago, “you know, you exude super confidence. you could do everyone’s job better than them.”

    Which is not necessarily true, but does help in that “fake it ’til you make it” mindset.

    WE GOT THIS, GIRLS. Is what I’m saying.

    Thanks for this post today!

  34. I am at a position in life where I can relate to almost all the quotations.. each a beautiful piece of advice, a perspective that you need to be reminded every once in a while and specially in a crisis. Thanks a lot… Have a good day!

  35. “You don’t depict fate. You depict will.” –from the documentary “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.” So many times we get absorbed in things we can’t control instead of what we can.

  36. Melkorka says...

    A very inspirational post, I loved Mindy’s quote about getting confidence from work – it so true. I also love love love your mom’s photographs – she captures that dreamy and chaotic mix that I feel like I am living every day now as a mom. Just fantastic and beautifully composed! thanks for sharing!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you so much, Melkorka. Means so much. xxoxoxo

  37. Alice says...

    Great advice! Thank you Stella!

  38. Ashley says...

    People don’t know what you don’t know! Take inventory of what your strengths are and LISTEN (really actively listen) to those who do know when you know something is a weakness. Find a mentor, official or otherwise, and say YES more than you say no… Especially when it’s outside your comfort zone.

  39. Lose the ego. And I mean it. That’s not the same thing as losing your pride. Hold that bitch up high. But seriously, believing you’re cool is the death of all that is good in life. And this is not career advice, but just something from a 42 year old to a bunch of younger women. You’re beautiful now. I’m not saying that in some schlocky way. I look at pictures of myself from 8 years ago…10 years….15 years….and I think, What was I so worried about?

    • Lauren says...

      I am 33, and I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this comment! ‘Believing you’re cool is the death of all that is good in life.’ & ‘You’re beautiful now’. Thank you, Jen!!! I needed this today :-)

  40. Rachel Beatty says...

    This post is so perfectly timed – thank you. I was going to write you, as a trusted source of all things motherhood, career and woman related, to ask how on earth one develops a thick(er) skin. I am in a new role in my career and am feeling terribly vulnerable instead of capable and competent. I’m so happy that after my long, not so wonderful day, I was able to sit down and absorb this post with wisdom from strong and independent women. Again, thank you.

  41. Kathryn says...

    My husband and I had a great conversation discussing the quote by Sarah Jones. He talked about how others might look at their careers and lives overall differently if they ignored monetary, status, and tangible measures of success and decided to only measure their success by examining how happy they are.

    I argued, however, that when you limit your measure of success to joy then you are reducing your success. When you ignore the difficult, bad, and downright ugly moments then you aren’t growing to your full potential. It’s just as Hugh Mackay said, we shouldn’t measure our life by happiness. We need wholeness, and that takes in a lot more than just joy.

    • Lauren says...

      I love that quote at the end of your comment. I feel it deeply in my life with some devastating struggles in the last year and a half. So glad you shared this!

  42. Katy says...

    This is such a lovely post! Thank you! I read your blog everyday!

  43. Laura says...

    I know this is a cliche but I really believe in “fake it till you make it.” I was just barely 22 when I started my career and completely clueless. I got subtle and not so subtle hints every day that I was too young, and couldn’t possibly know what I was doing. I used to joke that I was going to start wearing glasses so people took me more seriously. I quickly learned that seeming confident was half the battle. When you know something, speak up about it and when you don’t, find a trusted mentor who will help you.

  44. Such great advice!

  45. Megan says...

    really enjoyed this – i plan on sharing the quotes with my almost 17 year-old daughter who takes life very seriously and constantly makes fun of me for making her read quotes that I print off. Also, I am completely, totally, madly, in love with your mom’s work. I grew up in Kansas City and they just capture my heart. She and I are the same age, and I bet she is incredibly proud of you :)

  46. I just commented about this on the C&C blog! But I’ll say it again :) The #1 thing I’ve learned in the workforce so far (about 1.5 years in) is the importance of telling multiple people at work of your ideas. If one person turns it down, they can later (perhaps unknowingly) bring it up again and get the recognition for it, or they might be persuaded by another person that supports the idea. It gets more traction this way. Since then, I don’t feel as overlooked at the job. :)

    • I love that comment Laura, its a smart and positive way to contribute – what goes around comes around, you’re going to have a great working life with ideas like that!

  47. Nora Ephron’s quote spoke to me most (the idea of being stuck in one job or place FOREVER is suffocating to me), although each piece of advice here is pretty fab.

  48. ML says...

    I love these! Going through some set backs at work and the one from Hillary and Amy Poehler really helped. Thank you.

  49. Gina says...

    Perfect timing…I needed a good laugh and Nora and the others provided that.
    I have struggled recently and need to consider this great read. Thank you.

  50. I love the concept of our problems only seeming unsolvable when looked at though a specific frame of view, widen it and we can see a clearer picture. Amazing insight from wonderful women! I am always amazed at the wisdom you can gain by speaking with others about their failures. All great successful women have failures, its part of succeeding. Learning from them is how to learn to grow! We have 4 girls in our house from 17yrs -8months, and we try teaching them to celebrate failures as lessons towards success! It’s amazing how the 2yr old seems to get it more than the teenagers…somewhere down the line society seems to try and reverse that logic :/ Ahh, raising young women is hard work, I love the inspiration here!


  51. Paula says...

    Your mother’s pictures are so fantastic!!! It must be really interesting to grow up in a family with people involved in creative fields.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you so much, Paula! I’ll pass on your kind words. xoxooxoxoxo

    • Aidel.K says...

      I also love your mother’s striking work; I’m certain I’ll revisit it. The post was nice, too. ;-)

  52. Stella! Your mom’s work is amazing! Thank you for sharing her story! It’s so inspiring to hear about other women doing what I hope to do (not photography, but embarking on a creative career as an established adult/mother). I also really loved Nora Ephron’s quote!

  53. Megan Hillsborrow says...

    Thank you, I needed this today!

  54. I love the Nora Ephron quote, about how you won’t be “immutable you” forever. Reminds me of a quote from The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver): “To live is to change, to die one hundred deaths.” I’m reminding myself of this SO much this year as I’ve mourned my life pre-baby and am stating to get to know myself as a mother!

  55. Kate says...

    Your ma is the coolest! Her interview with The Cut was great. ;)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      That is the sweetest, Kate! Thank you so much! xoxoxo

    • tunie says...


  56. Geraldine W says...

    HRC doesn’t practice what she said in that quote.

  57. Melissa says...

    Had a career set-back last night, so this was the perfect read for today. THANK YOU!!