Book Review: The Rule Breaker's Guide to Step Up and Stand Out

Georgia Varjas, saxophonist, poet, performer, playwright and public speaker, has drawn on her multi-dimensional experience to write a self-help guide for women to overcome outdated role stereotypes. Her strategies are aimed to support women, both in the workplace and in other areas of their lives. The book uses a mix and match approach of memoir, case studies, lessons learned and a sprinkling of wisdom from experts and academics, including Professor Dame Mary Beard and former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

The Rule Breaker’s Guide dispenses constructive advice for women to use as a roadmap to the future and some of Varjas’s life lessons are hard hitting. It struck me as faintly depressing that some of the truths she recounts about men’s behaviour towards women in the workplace could equally have been written in the 1950s or 1980s. Varjas’s case studies from the music industry and show biz suggest that, even in the era of #MeToo, where more women are prepared to speak out, it comes at a cost. Varjas shows readers some simple and effective strategies to deal with uncomfortable situations and turn setbacks into triumphs. This book will give that extra ounce of courage to many who need it. From a personal perspective, I’m optimistic about the future. The millennials and young women I know always speak up for what’s right, not only for themselves, but for others they perceive as being bullied or discriminated against.

But there are some who might be tempted to remain silent and this book is for them.

There is one key aspect of contemporary life that seemed to me to be missing from Varjas’s book: social media. This may be because her expertise is in performance and the public arena. Social media, for all its benefits, can be a huge barrier for women in public-facing roles who are trying to be their authentic selves. Presenters, campaigners, politicians, actors and women in leadership positions can fall victim to haters and anonymous keyboard warriors who lurk in the shadows, hidden behind pseudonyms and fake accounts to harass, troll and threaten them. This can be a huge barrier to women who want to step up and speak out. I’d be fascinated to see how Varjas could adapt her life lessons to support women facing this dilemma, perhaps in a new edition of her book, or in blogs and articles to accompany the launch.

Varjas’s energetic style makes this book a pleasure to read, whether you decide to tackle it from beginning to end, or dip in and out to find advice on different topics.

My thanks to the publisher for an advance review copy of this book.

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