Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl (Karen Burns)

If YOU just so happened to have held 59 different jobs in your life, you’d hope that you’d have a few interesting stories and pearls of wisdom to pass along, wouldn’t you?  Well Karen Burns certainly does!  The author of this new book (subtitled “Real Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use”) has written a very fun and refreshing little book on the subject of occupational success, showcasing hundreds of short vignettes from the  nearly 60 distinct jobs she has held in her life to date — ranging from ditch digger to envelope sorter to working as an English instructor in Paris.

What sets this book apart from so many career-related works out there, first and foremost, is its digestibility.  The author (who I had the good fortune of recently meeting for coffee) is not striving to write a Doctorate thesis on any one aspect of career success, but to share a stream of small, pithy observations that derive from her near-endless series of employment roles.  Think of the writing style employed by the books “Who Moved My Cheese?” or “The Tao of Pooh” as an example of what to expect.  Or “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko” if you wanted to compare it with a book in the career advice genre.  At any rate, we enjoyed the punchy and entertaining writing style Ms. Burns embraces throughout the book, including the way she peppers her prose with little boxes containing “Eternal Truths” such as “Life is supposed to be a little bit dangerous” and “If you refuse to tell the little lies, no one will ask you to tell a big lie.”  True statements, those!

Another element we loved about “Working Girl” was the thread of mischievous humor that runs throughout the book.  Ms. Burns seems to be able to find the silly side of ANY work situation, even cases from her past that involve abusive bosses and mild forms of sexual harassment.  In fact, it seems to me that a large part of the advice she gives throughout the book for dealing with work challenges is to rise above them and to employ laughter as a tool for defusing conflict, getting ahead, and accomplishing one’s goals.  Clearly, Ms. Burns is a highly resilient individual.  She’s adaptable.  She’s a survivor.  She’s not afraid to try new things or to risk failure in an unfamiliar environment.  And these are all qualities that many professionals today could benefit from displaying, as well.

In the end, The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl may not be for everyone, as many experienced (aka older) professionals might already have picked up a lot of this advice the hard way, on their own, through their own tapestry of diverse career experiences.  The book is still a great read, however, both due to the quirky storytelling it embodies as well as the range of hard-won work wisdom that it encapsulates.  And if you have a younger friend or family member just entering the workforce, as I do, it might make a perfect graduation gift, since it lays out a terrific, approachable roadmap for those embarking on their own occupational adventure for the first time!

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