It doesn’t matter what time of year it is—a burst of inspiration to shake up your 9-to-5/freelance hustle/head-boss-in-charge/internship workflow is always welcome. And even though we all deserve a break over the holiday season, it’s also helpful to recharge and reignite some motivation when we go back to the grind in January. But we’re not talking “new year, new you” advice nonsense; instead, we’re looking to some of the coolest, boldest, most unapologetically authentic women we know who are killing it in the career world.
These leaders have earned their way into the biggest boardrooms in America by working hard and being themselves without forming to society’s expectations. They’re changing their industries by using their voices in the best ways they know how. Their words will inspire you—no matter your job title or experience level.
>Scroll down for the 12 of the most inspiring quotes to motivate you for the year ahead. Save your favorite one for a day when you most need it, or apply it to your life come January 1. Your career, your call.
“People make it seem way too hard, man. The truth is, and what I want the little girl watching those [humanitarian aid] commercials to know is: you don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don't have to be rich to help somebody. You don’t gotta be famous. You don’t even have to be college educated. I mean, I wish I was. …
“But it starts with your neighbor, the person right next to you, the person sitting next to you in class, the kid down the block in your neighborhood. You just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can. And today I want to challenge each of you to make a commitment to help one person—one organization, one situation that touches your heart.”
While Rihanna might not have attended classes at Harvard, she did give a rousing speech this year at the university to accept her Humanitarian of the Year award. She reminded us that despite our backgrounds or formal training, we all have the ability to make a huge impact on the lives of others.
“I’m turning 70 in April of next year. I think that women will be really inspired to see that even at 69 you can get a beauty campaign.”
Think it’s too late to land your dream job? We suspect this year’s new CoverGirl, Maye Musk, would disagree. And her New York Times interview proves it.
“Bring your whole self to work. That way you can bring full ideas—the wholeness of your unique abilities. No one else is going to bring that. You’re the only person who can bring all of that. You are the only you. So why not bring that?”
Bozoma Saint John, chief brand officer of Uber, delivered this powerful advice about staying true to yourself on the podcast No Limits With Rebecca Jarvis.
“Sometimes you’re confronted with an opportunity and it asks you to do something scary. You have to decide if you’re not even going to try or if you’re going to go for it. You might fall flat on your face … but this was my dream, so not getting on with it just wasn’t an option.”
Falling flat on your face for the sake of achieving your dreams is a truly underrated experience. And in an interview with Byrdie, actress Nathalie Emmanuel (of Games of Thrones fame) sounds like she’d agree with that.
“This industry can make you dream and make you inspired and make you strive to be a better version of yourself. But we need to first make it better.”
Model Teddy Quinlivan is a reminder that there’s a difference between loving our jobs and creating a legacy that changes the industry we work in.
“It’s not easy, and of course it’s messy. You have to be okay with failing and knowing that it’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I go through periods when I don’t want to try at something again. But failing and learning from my choices continues to guide my next moves.”
In her recently released book, It’s Messy: On Boys, Boobs, and Badass Women, Amanda de Cadenet shares her unfiltered personal accounts of failures and setbacks as well as successes and joy—all essential to one’s journey.
>“Whether you’ve been told no, whether you’ve been sexually harassed, whether you’ve had an issue with food, whether you’ve been discouraged by your family and called ugly, I have been there. And I have gotten exactly where I’ve want to be. I don’t want women to look at themselves and think they can’t do something because of the way that they look.”
Ashley Graham has made a career of refusing to maintain the status quo of the modeling industry. In a discussion about her book release this year, she continued to encourage others to go for their dreams despite any obstacles in the way.
“Don’t let yourself get caught up in the trap of comparison. Ignore the silly ‘30 under 30’ lists that the internet throws at you before you even have your morning cup of coffee. Those will be the bane of your existence post-graduation—trust me. Comparing yourself to others’ success only slows you down from finding your own. Remember, no one came here the same way and you won’t all achieve the success the same way.”
Honestly, we can’t think of better advice to recent graduates than this gem delivered by Octavia Spencer during a commencement speech at Kent State University.
“I think everyone in this room, if you’ve ever had someone help you—whether it’s a woman, a man, a professor, an aunt, anyone—should spread that energy outward to help other girls, women, boys, whoever. I think multiplying that positive energy is very important.”
>At the Glamour Women of the Year Awards Summit, Eva Chen of Instagram spoke on the importance of paying forward mentorship, endorsements, and good advice—especially if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to receive it yourself.
“Everyone has a purpose and everyone should have the opportunity to be able to do whatever they dream or to get in touch with what matters to them.”
Eileen Fisher and her successful company are a testament to this advice, which she delivered during a discussion at the 92Y as a part of the “Fashion Icons” series.
“I grew up with an understanding—no one ever told me that girls couldn’t do math and science, but there was an understanding—that it was for boys. I remember getting this script and being very upset because it felt like a dream was stolen from me. And it became my mission, and everyone’s mission who was involved with this film, to dispel that myth so that another young girl would not grow up thinking that her mind wasn’t capable of grasping math and science. If it were not for these women, we wouldn’t be in space.”
>Fittingly, Taraji P. Henson delivered this speech while accepting a Best Fight Against the System Award at the MTV Movie and TV Awards for her role in Hidden Figures.
“I’ve spoken up and lost jobs, but it’s a calculated risk because I’m at a place in my career when I can say no and it doesn’t make a big difference. I fear that sometimes I speak up because I’m the most powerful person in the room and there are no repercussions. And it scares me that in instances when I’m not, I don’t speak up. Because what does that say for [the people] who aren’t the most powerful in a room? I’m trying to learn to speak up no matter how powerful or powerless I am.”
Cameron Russell set an incredible example this year of using her influence and platform for good when she helped to bring #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse stories to light. And in an interview with Net-a-Porter’s The Edit, she helps us realize the importance of speaking up when faced with injustices—at work or beyond—especially when you’re in a position of power.
Next, take a look at more inspiring quotes to apply to your life next year.