Women, Work and The Art of Savoir Faire

There are books that you wish were your life --- albeit, these are almost always applicable to fiction. I haven't yet found a story that makes me want to jump into its pages because it's a life I want to take over in real life, though I've read so many stories that resemble half the instances, bits and pieces of my life --- some of which I don't want to experience again. And then there are those books that make you wish: Hey, I want to have been the one who have written this. That book for me, is Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano.

My favorite book of the moment with my bills and day cream. I'm such a girl.

I admit that I have not much experience reading up on management books. In fact, I am hardly found in the management nor the self help section of any bookstore. I find it too intimidating and pretentious, seeing books with the authors' photos emblazoned on the covers like real estate agents. Nothing against that, it's just not me. So I stay away from it.

I received this book from my very good friend T for my 25th birthday. I only realized, halfway through the book that it belonged to the management section, despite reading the words "Business Sense and Sensibility" somewhere in the cover. However, prior to receiving this, I already chanced upon it on Mariel's blog and was thoughtfully interested. And Guiliano, author of bestselling French Women Don't Get Fat, and French Women For All Seasons taking up on business?

 "...I believe that life is lived in episodes and stages, and it is clear that some passions can fade while new ones emerge over time. Indeed, our first loves and passions can be overrated and it would be unwise to pursue them. Others are pursued earnestly for a time, then discarded. C'est la vie."

Whoa, I have to read this. And so I did.

Friends from work can attest to it: I could not shut up about the book. It was all I could talk about during breaks, during dinners and after lunch chats. Never have I read a book that talked about making it in the corporate world that didn't feel like it was an unreachable, let's-save-the-world MI:3-impossible mission. What I loved the most about Guiliano's WWTASF was that it felt extremely like its overarching message of mentoring women that we may be elevated from our current situation of not being at par with men when it comes to business leadership {I know a lot of great women leaders but statistics prove that we are still way underpaid than our male counterparts.}

One amazing thing this book made me realize is how much I love where I am now and what I do. I used to feel sad that I wasn't the only one starting a family, or building a business, or cultivating a meaningful relationship with a partner. And then, quarter life crisis happened and suddenly, I knew I was on the path that I have wanted to tread. And as what wise people say: Make the most of what you have and be the best version of what you can be. And so I try. During Christmas break, I toted this book everywhere and it prompted me to set realistic goals, acknowledge my passions and make them work to my advantage. I realized that I didn't have to pin my goals on other people's goals or dreams and that being different from the rest {most of the time I always feel like a square peg in a round hole}, would work best for me. As someone starting out in the corporate ladder {been in it only for about five years}, I need all the mentoring that I can get.

 Author, Mireille Guiliano

Mireille Guiliano, former CEO of Veuve Clicquot Inc., champagne label of the prestigious LVMH group, wrote about her experiences of how she came about to conquer a man's world and how she used her striking difference to work for her {She was a French woman handling the American operations.} In the chapter Paint Yourself Orange {I loved how Guiliano titled her chapters wittily and femininely at the same time}, the author talked about absorbing the brand  and incorporating the brand values into oneself. This is not necessarily to dilute oneself or to get drowned into the company that you work for. I interpret it as a marriage of personal attributes and brand assets, so much so that you become the brand's face. In one of the anecdotes she peppered all over the book, one LVMH executive gave her the compliment of her life, her "measure" of success as she defines it by telling her "he thought he was Madame Clicquot," founder of Veuve Clicquot. In another instance, while creating a peg for a radio commercial for the champagne brand, the radio executives couldn't find an apt voice talent because she did such a great job of encapsulating Veuve Clicquot in 30 seconds, that she too, became the voice {in all that French accent} of the brand.

What's your message?

Guiliano recalls two important lessons she's learned early on, but not to be confused, because Guiliano shares many of her own learning in this book, it's quite easy to read it again and again.

Perception is reality. Second lesson I learned is that you are judged by whom you hang around with. That is, when Veuve Clicquot is sometimes called the Armani of Champagne, that works for me. If you work for a luxury goods company where perception is reality and image is all-important, you just can't stay in second-class hotels {I know, that's tough work.} If you are Cartier, your stores must have extremely prestigious addresses. It's all about messaging, in all things. I am not suggesting that you present yourself as something you are not, because a brand is a promise and you'll have to deliver on your distinguishing characteristics.

This was the part where I have noticed myself nodding in agreement. In my job as a member of the Creative and Digital Marketing team for one of the top financial services companies in the Philippines, I learned the intricate process of establishing a company's brand and consequently applied it to myself and the people I have worked with and associated myself with {I can count a number of people whom I have had the pleasure of 'branding'}. It's true. There's a message in everything that one does. On both personal and professional levels, one's style, choice of scent, behavior, the walk, matters and sends a message. Each of these factors contribute to who you are in and out of work. It is basically your overall package. Not one less. Guiliano proceeds to break down in mini chapters aspects such as Clothing Maketh the Woman, Artificial Sweeteners {Ergo, choice of scents, which I wrote on extensively at work}, Manners and Training, all of which I have enjoyed reading tremendously even if I feel confident enough with how I dress and conduct myself in business.

And then there were those nuggets of wisdom in which I found myself enveloped in wide eyed wonder, that feeling of knowing you're in the midst of learning something valuable, that my toes tingled inside my socks.

Setting and managing your own expectations defines success and a path to balance and happiness. My advice is, don't get too caught up in long-term definitions; chew on manageable short term goals and benchmarks or you will only get frustrated, depressed, or worse. Be realistic. If you are the kind of person who worries in your twenties about how much you should be investing for your retirement, you need to think harder about living your life in phases and resetting your measures for success along the way.

I will always be a Carrie at heart but Samantha Jones is my career icon, even if she's fictional.

Taking into consideration Mireille's nuggets of wisdom, I remember taking a break from reading and proceeded to sit on my chair, face my desk, analyze my goals, both short term and long term. I realized that for me to make use of these things that I glean from books, I need to incorporate them onto my own system, marrying both branding and setting my success measures amongst other things. I have recently made amendments to my short term goals, but more on that in the future. This book just does that to me and more. I noticed that I have been happier executing my tasks, garnering more favorable results and my relationships have improved extensively. Now more than ever, I realized that I can see what I want clearer than I ever have and I have identified the steps that I need to undertake to be able to achieve them.

Being comfortable with ourselves is a better indicator of success than the handbag we carry, but that bag or our ability to own it is often tied to our self-actualization and identity. Therein lies the recurrent challenge of managing our expectations and psychological head games. One thing I know, mediocrity is the enemy of success, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking good is great.

I realize that this post is getting too long for a blog post--- I guess that's how much influential this book has become to me. If I would ever write a book, it would be something like this --- an Asian take, perhaps?

Effective leaders possess a self confidence that is contagious. And they are not afraid to hire highly talented people. They are not threatened by them. Who doesn't want to believe in their boss and their boss' ability to do what they say and achieve what they say the will? Effective leaders are not afraid to take risks. That's why they're paid the big bucks. Business cowards do not earn respect, and hypocrites when discovered are mentally written off.
The Not Always So Gentle Art of Coping

What separates men from women is our ability to care for ourselves and for others --- like it's the most natural thing in the world. Guiliano reiterates the importance of caring for oneself even if caught up in a sea of stress. She reminds her readers not to forget eating breakfast, dodging common stress causes such as check in bags {if an airline has lost your luggage, you'd be sympathizing to this}, lack of sleep, and not eating well, among others. I know the feeling of having to stay up late and lose sleep because we all have deadlines and deadlines are dead lines. But we aren't robots and our productivity will just go down the more we feel sleepy.


I recommend this to someone like me, who's been in the corporate world for a couple of years. There is much to learn {I cringe at the thought of Makati girls who show up at meetings in flip flops, unkempt feet and too sheer dresses.} Sometimes, we think we know everything but there's much too much left in this world to learn.

This is a great career guide, girls. I have learned so much from this and I will not hesitate to share the lessons I've gotten. I cannot say how much it has helped me, and affirmed me of the things I've been doing right, and the things I need to improve on. Grab it on the chance that you can.