10 Life Lessons from 10 Incredible Women


It can take a village to make sense of your sometimes messy life. So we’ve compiled this brain trust of ten life lessons gleaned from the personal stories of women we admire for the way they live — with talent, bravery, brilliance, and generosity of spirit.

From Cheryl Strayed’s extended and gritty solo climb along the Pacific Crest Trail to Kelly Cutrone’s domination of the glamorous New York City publicity world — each of these remarkable women’s stories is connected by a universal resonance.

Take this gallery of quotes about fears, secrets, love, work, and more as your own personal Greek chorus. Or a community of best friends and big sisters whose hard-earned and well articulated wisdom will fit in your fabulous handbag, if not your pocket. Use them to handle what comes your way — because soon enough, it’ll be your turn to offer invaluable lessons to the young women who look up to you.

Cara Cannella is the editor of the Random House site Biographile.com, covering biography and memoir from all publishers.

1. Cheryl Strayed

The father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse to ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so. If you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself.

— from Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

2. Kelly Cutrone

This is an important lesson to remember when you’re having a bad day, a bad month, or a shitty year. Things will change: you won’t feel this way forever. And anyway, sometimes the hardest lessons to learn are the ones your soul needs most. I believe you can’t feel real joy unless you’ve felt heartache. You can’t have a sense of victory unless you know what it means to fail. You can’t know what it’s like to feel holy until you know what it’s like to feel really fucking evil. And you can’t be birthed again until you’ve died.

— from If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You

3. Sarah Vowell

We are flawed creatures, all of us. Some of us think that means we should fix our flaws. But get rid of my flaws and there would be no one left.

— from Take the Cannoli

4. Nora Ephron

Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

— from I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

5. Julie Klausner

…I can confidently pass up opportunities that don’t make sense because there’ll be better ones on the horizon, even if I have to wait.

— from I Don’t Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I’ve Dated

6. Sloane Crosley

I do want to get married. It’s a nice idea. Though I think husbands are like tattoos—you should wait until you come across something you want on your body for the rest of your life instead of just wandering into a tattoo parlor on some idle Sunday and saying, ‘I feel like I should have one of these suckers by now. I’ll take a thorny rose and a “MOM” anchor, please. No, not that one—the big one.

— from I Was Told There’d Be Cake

7. Tina Fey

So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.

— from Bossypants

8. Ayaan Hirsi Ali

…Bear true witness, even if it be against yourselves, your parents or your family.

— from Infidel

9. Fran Lebowitz

Think before you speak. Read before you think.

— from The Fran Lebowitz Reader

10. Mindy Kaling

Sometimes you just have to put on lip gloss and pretend to be psyched.

— from Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Check out Biographile for all things Biography and Memoir related, including news, reviews, articles on the craft of writing, book excerpts, author Q&A’s, and more!

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