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In Conversation with Exceptional Women


Monica Bhide is an exceptional woman in her own right and a prolific author of all sorts. Please, please check her out. You'll be glad.

Trying to make sense of the world

We're all trying to innovate at a mile a minute these days, aren't we? Sometimes, when I look at how quickly the world is whizzing by, I feel like I'd be happy just to breathe at a mile a minute. I keep having to stop myself from asking my friends with good organizational skills (and, you know, post-graduate degrees and stuff) whether any of them would like to be my wildly overqualified personal assistant so my girls don't arrive at school with their tights on backwards and I don't arrive back home at my desk with my head on backwards. It's a good thing I haven't taken a nap since May, 2011 (no, that's a lie, but let's say), because I might have slept through the end of the Space Shuttle program or the Iraq war or even my Pinterest invitation. And if I weren't on Pinterest, how would I know what I wish my life were like?

Trying to make sense of a world like this, and maybe even draw some inspiration from it once in a while, is a challenge. Ideally we would each have a standing Friday morning coffee date with the best and the brightest in our field, where we could ask them purposeful but slightly intimate questions and get candid, lucid, sometimes even poetic answers. That would be super-great, and if I had a wildly overqualified personal assistant, maybe I would've made more than exactly zero headway on setting that up by now.

In conversation with exceptional women

Luckily I have got my hands on what truly may be the next-best thing. Monica Bhide, the much-lauded food writer and cookbook author, recently published the e-book In Conversation with Exceptional Women: Seeds of inspiration to help you bloom where you are planted. In it she chats with more than 50 visionary women in food, writing, and media -- from Ruth Reichl to Padma Lakshmi to Susan Orlean -- to learn how they define success and how they've crafted their lives and careers to achieve it. (Also, what they eat late at night. Word to the wise: eat toast at 11 p.m. like Melissa Clark, and you, too, may soon be publishing your 31st cookbook.)

This book is light, breezy reading peppered with little bursts of profundity and resonance. It combines a touch of voyeurism with a touch of self-help in a charming and socially acceptable package. It's mildly addictive, because if you read just one more conversation, and then just one more after that, you might find that one inspired secret to carry with you for the rest of your life. I was surprised by where the sparks flew for me, and I bet you will be too.

Ringing in at less than five dollars, In Conversation is a whole lot of inspiration per unit price, so I'd suggest you head on over to Amazon without giving it a second thought and pick it up today. But because the only thing better than a whole lot of inspiration is a whole lot of free inspiration, Umami Girl is giving away five copies of In Conversation with Exceptional Women. Just leave a comment on this post before noon Eastern time on Friday, March 2 that answers the question: What is your definition of success? I'll choose five winners from the list of qualified responses. Good luck!


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  1. COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED. Thank you all for the inspiring thoughts. Winners will be announced very soon.

  2. Success, to me, is the same as satisfaction. The feeling of getting what I hoped for, and sometimes getting what I didn’t know you wanted. It’s a state of achievement that can’t be taken away, traded, or bought. I recognize success when I feel a sense of clarity, like there is nothing between me and the horizon.

  3. Mary

    I am a high school English teacher, and as corny as it sounds, success for me truly is helping my students learn how to be better readers and writers, watching them grow in their skills and abilities, and sending them out into the world to chase whatever dreams they hold dear. I always tell them that all I ask is that they go out there and make me proud–and they always do.

  4. Success is a feeling of joy, grace and gratitude for what you give and receive in this world. Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter – taking a moment to appreciate someone or something, and often that comes back in return. For me, it’s not about the money but what I can contribute to the world, without spending too much time caring what other people think about it.

  5. success for me first and foremost is to have a child that trusts me, knows that i love him and that he can talk to me. the other kind of success is to manage as gracefully as possible what comes with going back to university at the age of 40. there are little failures every day, but also little successes. i triy to be proud of them and see the failures as challenges, not threats.

  6. jackie

    Thanks for introducing us to this e-book – it sounds right up my alley! 🙂
    I love what everyone has commented about their definitions of success…this particularly resonated with me: “Success is feeling a content alignment with oneself and with one’s work. It is feeling fruitful and complete right in your gut. It is a peaceful night’s sleep knowing that you’ve spent your day working on your goals believing that you will accomplish them and enjoying the journey while you’re at it.”
    Can I steal that?
    I also heard this once (can’t remember where) and it has always stuck with me: “I want to make a living, not a killing.” When I was considering leaving an unfulfilling job recently, a friend said that we work to support our lives, not the other way around. So true.

  7. Success for me is remembering to stay in the moment, treat myself kindly and gently (and others), doing what i love (in work and in play) which leads me to feeling happy in my life, the ultimate success……

  8. Vicki

    Success, to me, is finding the route to happiness. Strangely enough, it isn’t as difficult to find as many may think – it is a matter of belief, and of recognition. A good understanding of how to define happiness is important to recognizing it when it lights on your shoulders. Formulating an attainable definition of happiness is important. Possibly, after years of pursuing the goal of happiness, one is lucky to discover it has been right there with them all along. Having someone to share with is important, too. Love, happiness, contentment, I believe those are among the keys to success.

  9. Luana

    Success to me is independence and freedom. It is shifting from guilt and should-dos to putting into action my want-to-dos.

  10. Lee

    Success to me is having enough time and money to do what I love. Enough. Not too much.

  11. Love Monica’s writing. It always helps to motivate me, have faith and makes me smile. I would be so happy to win this 🙂
    So to answer your question. I would say waking up excited every morning knowing you will spend the day doing what you enjoy the most is success.

  12. Success is the ability to do what you love and love what you do

  13. Gayatri Peshawaria

    Success is feeling a content alignment with oneself and with one’s work. It is feeling fruitful and complete right in your gut. It is a peaceful night’s sleep knowing that you’ve spent your day working on your goals believing that you will accomplish them and enjoying the journey while you’re at it. Success is being your own positive and constructive critic, never surrendering to praise or criticism from others while also distancing yourself from your own ego.

  14. erica

    the absence of second-guessing.

  15. Michelle

    Accepting good enough over perfect and knowing that I did my best.

  16. Hmm…
    lets see… as a stay at home mom, Success for me is often obtained through my daughter…
    Success is when I see her treat others with respect, use her manners, be helpful, etc… without being prompted. I absolutely love when I have an opportunity to view things things from afar without her knowing.
    That said… I also agree with Josh… doing what you LOVE and being recognized for it… that is a fantastic definition! 🙂

  17. Kim

    Success right now for me is … putting happy children to bed, remembering to be grateful, and slowing down enough to enjoy THIS moment, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.

  18. Amy

    I would love this! And am happy to buy if I don’t win. Awesome people like you & Monica & Joy…are what keep me going. I’m at a crossroads; deciding if I want my life/career/outlook to be more of what I love instead of more of what I have my degree in. Preach on.

  19. success, to me, is doing what you love and being recognized for it. in my field, putting together a perfect moment/plate/menu/experience that leaves the guest infatuated with the memory of that time spent is key.