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Episode #7 Karen Karbo She Breaks The Mold Podcast at

Episode #7: Karen Karbo – Author, In Praise of Difficult Women

Episode #7: Karen Karbo – Author of In Praise of Difficult Women – Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break The Rules 

This interview was a real treat to record!

Karen Karbo is funny, wise, engaging and fully passionate about women living their lives unapologetically. And it all comes across in our talk.

If you don’t already know her, Karen is an international best-selling author and her many books include: Tresspassers Welcome, The Diamond Lane and Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me. She has also written non-fiction works, including a memoir called The Stuff of Life about taking care of her father during the last year of his life.

Her Kick-Ass Women Series includes: Julia Child Rules – Lessons on Savoring Life; How Georgia Became O’Keefe: Lessons on the Art of Living; The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons From the World’s Most Elegant Woman; and How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living From Kate the Great. Her short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Outside, the New York Timesthe Los Angeles Review of Books, Condé Nast Traveler, Salon, Slate, The Nervous Breakdown and more.

Today we’re talking about Karen’s latest book which just launched yesterday (Feburary 27) called In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules. The book is a series of essays about Karen’s list of women, written to highlight the aspects of each that makes them “difficult” in the way they react to societal expectations, how they cultivated unexpected careers, and generally just showed up in the world ready to be themselves, regardless of who else approved.

As you’ll hear Karen say, these are her women – and they represent a cross-section of races, careers, marital status, sexual orientation and even eras in which they lived. As Karen tells us, you might choose a different 29 women for your list, but the focus she places on what makes them “difficult” and their bravery in expressing the full range of their humanity, as Cheryl Strayed puts it in the book’s foreword, is the real key. There’s a lot to learn from each of these women’s lives, even if you wouldn’t choose to befriend them.

This is a fun conversation about how we need to think differently about women who are unapologetic about the way they choose to live their lives. I hope it makes you think, laugh and examine the ways in which you could be more unapologetic about your own way in the world. Because the world needs more women like that.

What you’ll learn from Karen:

  1. How even if you don’t completely agree with them, there’s always something to learn and celebrate about another woman’s life when she chooses to live it unapologetically
  2. The importance of female role models in girls’ lives
  3. Why the definitions of difficult men and difficult women are so different and how this book exposes that


Highlights, by time:

  • 04:00
    – Karen’s Kick Ass Women series and how it came about after finishing a memoir about her father and the last year of his life
  • 07:30 –
    How her mother’s death, when Karen was 17, informed the decision to write this book. She had no other female role models in her life at the time and started reading biographies of fascinating women as a way of looking for those examples
  • 08:30
    – How in 2015, the book was originally meant to be a remembrance of the women who whose stories were stepping stones to the first female President of the United States….until that didn’t happen. And the framework for the book had to pivot.
  • 09:12 –
    What Karen means by "difficult" women and how Jane Goodall exemplified this in an interview with John Oliver
  • 13:15 –
    The huge difference between being difficult as a man vs. as women and how Cheryl Strayed summarizes this in her foreward for the book
  • 15:20
    – Why having women in powerful positions doesn’t mean women have to stop negotiating for their own power minute by minute in our own
  • 18:00 –
    How Karen chose her difficult women
  • 20:00 –
    How the book became a call to action after the 2016 US election
  • 22:00
    – We imagine a dinner party with all these very different women as guests!
  • 26:50
    – On balance and the idea that having a family often means our priorities aren’t related to our personal ambitions
  • 30:15
    On unapologetically brainy women like Rachel Maddow and what a White House intern once told Karen about why she loved working for Hillary
  • 37:50
    – How viewing these women through the "difficult" lens helped Karen identify with all of them, even those she doesn’t necessarily always agree
  • 42:50 –
    Karen’s take on ambition and lessons from her father on the necessity of being self-reliant
  • 48:15 –
    Who Karen is ambitious for will encourage you and break your heart at the same time

Links to organizations/people mentioned in this episode:

Karen Karbo

Karen on Facebook

Karen on Twitter

Karen on Instagram

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