If you’ve never seen the 1988 movie Working Girl, you are missing out. It’s got everything — big ’80s hair, best friends, a very charming Harrison Ford, and a girl with a dream and the drive to make it happen. If ever there was a smart girl’s guide to success in movie form, Working Girl is it. The movie is all about Tess (Melanie Griffith), a secretary in New York who dreams of bigger and better things for herself. Well in typical movie fashion, a big idea comes this secretary’s way and she knows her brainchild has the potential to take her straight to the top. What’s the idea? It’s a radio and television merger (remember, this is pre-Internet and apps). Unfortunately, a whole lotta red tape stands in her way, and it’s no easy task to get her voice heard by those above her on the career ladder. But good ol’ Tess never gives up when it comes to chasing her dreams, and you shouldn’t either! Here are eight powerful lessons about success that this ’80s classic taught me. I hope you can apply them to your own life too, because always remember: You go, girl!
Surround yourself with positive and success-minded people.
In Working Girl, Tess and her best friend Cynthia (Joan Cusack) are thicker than thieves. Even when times are tough, they know they can look to each other for encouragement and support. When Tess’ boyfriend Mike (Alec Baldwin) leaves her for sleazy Doreen DiMucci (Elizabeth Whitcraft), Cynthia is there to comfort her. When Tess decides to go after her dream of leaving behind her life as a secretary for bigger and better things, Cynthia is there to cheer her on.
It is KEY to surround yourself with people you both trust and respect — just like Tess and Cynthia do. Also, make sure to keep company with people as ambitious and positive as you are. As Queen Oprah once said, “Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.”
Dress for the job you want.
As the saying goes, “dress for success.” When you look good you feel good, and when you feel like you look good you feel good. And when you look like you feel good, you . . . well it all feeds off each other.
Tess’ terrible boss Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), may end up being kind of horrific, but she does dispense some brilliant style advice courtesy of Coco Chanel: “Dress shabbily and they notice the dress. Dress impeccably and they notice the woman.”
Tess takes that theory to heart and when she realizes she has big, awesome ideas she decides that it’s time to step up her style game and dress the part of an executive rather than a secretary. She goes from an ’80s manic mane and shoulder pads, to what she defines as “serious hair” and a much sleeker style.
Basically, wear what makes you feel confident, and authentic, and you will be golden.
Also can we talk about this movie’s HAIR.
So much HAIR.
Be open to new ideas and inspirations.
You never know where the next great idea is going to come from. So read. Read a lot. Watch movies. Watch television. Talk to people. Watch interviews with people who you find interesting and inspiring that are doing the thing that you want to do. Ideas are in the air and they’re yours for the taking if you are open to receiving them. Tess gets her great business idea while reading The New York Post. Maybe you’ll get yours while watching The Bachelor. The world is your oyster. Your mind is a garden. Find inspiration and plant the seed. You never know what sort of genius will grow.Stand up for your ideas even when no one else believes in them.
Tess has a big idea, but as a secretary she plays what executives see to be a small role in the company. As brilliant as her idea is, no one wants to listen to her because, in their eyes, she is the lowest rung on the office ladder. But Tess, girl-power icon that she is, doesn’t let anyone or anything stop her from believing in the genius of her idea. And that, my friends, is a lesson to be learned.
In the world of success, believing is more important than anything else. It’s been said that if you believe you can, you will. Truly, all successes must begin with belief. Belief isn’t just thinking an idea is nice or cool, it’s knowing deep down that it’s absolutely awesome and it’s going to work. No questions asked. So, ask yourself — do I believe in my ideas even if no one else does? If the answer is “no,” odds are you won’t succeed. If it’s “yes,” success is guaranteed!
Project your power.
Tess is a secretary pretending to be an executive. When she teams up with Jack Trainer, he sees her as the executive she introduced herself to him as, even though she is officially still a secretary. Tess knows she is a secretary pretending to be an executive, but she also knows that she has what it takes to be an executive, given the chance. Because of this confidence, she is able to project an inner power and inner belief that she really is an executive. When it comes time to share her idea with the big shots she nails it. Like a projector playing images on a wall, she projected her own inner power by owning herself and saying, “Here I am! I am a success! I believe in my ideas and you should too because they’re great!”
Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” In order to succeed, projecting your power is key. Know what you’re capable of and radiate it to the world.
Take ownership of your genius.
You are the only you in this world. Everything about you is yours; from your thoughts to your looks to your personality. What not everyone knows is that your genius is also uniquely yours as well.
Everyone’s got a genius, but not everyone really owns their genius. In order to own your genius, you’ve got to know what yours is. Maybe it’s singing or maybe it’s writing or maybe it’s an incredible knowledge of deep-sea creatures. Whatever it is, it’s yours. Don’t treat it like a stray cat on the street, treat it as your loyal feline best friend. This genius of yours is there to help you know where your future success lies. What’s the thing you do when you don’t have to do anything else? Make funny videos? Dance like nobody’s watching? Make up crazy recipes? Odds are that the thing you love to do when you don’t have to do anything else has to do with your genius. Discover what your genius is, cultivate it, own it. It’s yours and it will take you to heights beyond your wildest imagination!
Never burn bridges.
Tess’ boss Katharine isn’t a nice lady at all, but like we said, her advice isn’t all bad. One of her advice gems is this: “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner.” In the world of success, you never know who’s going to be on top next, or when you’re place in the pecking order might shift. You also don’t know who will one day be working on projects you’re interested in. So treat everyone with grace and respect — you might cross paths with them in the future. Try to understand and forgive people who have let you down. Apologize to people you’ve hurt. Do your best to see the potential in everyone.
Even when Tess’ sleaze of a boyfriend, Mike, cheats on her, she finds a way to make peace with him. Yes, it takes time for Tess to heal, but she is able to keep the bridge intact and in the end there are no hard feelings or grudges held onto. Plus, dating Harrison Ford probably made things a little easier.
Make your own rules.
Tess follows her own rules. Early in the movie she says, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my a** off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.” Amen, sister! If Tess had followed the rules in place at her office, her story would have been veeeerry different.
It’s been said that history is made by those who break the rules and create their own opportunities. When you know what you want to succeed in and you have the drive to make it happen, the best way to get to your destination in the wild jungle that is opportunity is to pave your own path. Yes, some careers seem to have formulas you can follow, but even the greatest doctors have to break rules to make great discoveries. In order to achieve what you’ve never achieved, you must become the person you’ve likely wanted to be but never fully been. So, take chances, break barriers, make mistakes, and keep at it. As Tess proves, success will come!