overreaching wellness meetings, rambling coworker monopolizing trainings, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Overreaching employee wellness trainings

I work in a public facing setting. Today was the first of 12 monthly training sessions focusing on employee wellness. I know our administration means well, but today’s topic and subsequent sessions I regard as triggering, cringey and irrelevant to my job (think fitness, nutrition, body image, suicide prevention). I’m middle aged now, but I spent decades suffering from an eating disorder that I have learned to manage. To me, today’s “wellness” is updated code for the exercise and diet craze of the 80s that ruined my youth with distorted thinking.

Past staff meetings have focused on topics and issues related to our work, such as improving our research or customer service skills, implicit bias awareness and even public safety issues such as active shooter or CPR. Attendance is always encouraged but never required, and people miss the trainings for all sorts of reasons. For today’s session, our director sent an email stating that attendance was expected except for a work conflict or urgent deadline, or if the topic is triggering or causes distress, but we are to reach out to him in advance to discuss.

Is it just me, or is wellness in the workplace overreaching and paternalistic? Do I really have to share my past with my boss, who is 20 years younger? I should add that I am a supervisor, and as such feel it is my role and duty to provide guidance and help staff by addressing work-related problems and mitigating situations that are inherent to public service, hopefully to prevent burnout and malaise in the first place! Please let me know if I’m out of line here.

It’s not just you. It is indeed overreaching and paternalistic — and being required to discuss your reasons for opting out is invasive and inappropriate as well.

One option is to simply say, “I won’t be attending today’s session for personal reasons.” And then if pushed to discuss your reasons: “With highly personal topics like these, I don’t think we should push people to share what might be deeply personal reasons for opting out.” If you want, you could add, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring fitness and body image into the workplace at all and would like to see a return to work-related trainings.”

2. Rambling coworker is monopolizing our trainings

I recently started in an office job that requires several months of on-the-job training. One coworker in our group of about 20 constantly asks long, rambling questions that are often not related to the current topic. It’s so bad that I’ve begun timing her — she talks for a minimum of 25 but often up to 50 minutes every eight-hour work day.

It is driving me crazy, but our trainers seem to have been told to answer any and all questions. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question” is their mantra, but I think it’s out of control. It’s making me genuinely hate the training. How can I bring up this problem in a professional way? For the record, everyone else in the class notices this and is frustrated by her too, but nobody wants to speak up.

Those trainers are failing at their jobs; they need to be managing the training time for everyone, not letting one person dominate it. They’re almost certainly losing the attention and engagement of the rest of their captive audience. Frustrated, on-edge people do not learn well.

Are you willing to talk to the trainers privately and say that your coworker’s monopolizing of the class is getting in the way of the rest of you learning, and ask that they lay down ground rules about sharing air space and holding unrelated questions until another time? If you can encourage some of your frustrated coworkers to do the same thing, it’ll be harder for your trainers to ignore.

Read an update to this letter

3. Can I create my own writing samples?

Is it okay to make your own writing samples for a job? Despite having multiple degrees and several years of work experience, I don’t really have any articles I’d want to share. First, sometimes there’s contractual reasons I can’t (e.g., it’s internal work I did for an org). Second, one of my degrees I graduated from almost nine years ago, meaning the writing feels a bit dated. Third, my MA is theology so I’m not wild on supplying theology writing to a secular organization because it may color their opinion of my ability to be unbiased, even though the specificity of this degree means that I actually have a lot of training in “secular” things like community organizing, psychology etc. I know I can’t expect an employer to necessarily know that, especially if they’re getting a writing sample that talks a lot about Jesus in the process.

Anyway, I want to create some of my own writing samples. I figure one way to do this is to create my own academic writing (say by creating 2-3 academic styled essays) and reports, proposals, etc. But maybe it’s a problem if no one has scrutinized the work before? Before I go ahead, I figured I’d run it by someone else.

It’s fine to create your own writing samples if you don’t already have anything well suited to use. But don’t create academic-type essays unless you’re applying to jobs that specifically request those. Academic writing tends to be quite different from professional writing, and typically the sort of writing samples employers want to see are ones similar to what you’d be creating on the job. Generally that’s more likely to be press releases, briefing papers, blog posts, articles … or whatever is closest to the sort of writing you’d be doing in the job.

4. Books with competent, polished professional characters

Due to a series of sad, traumatizing events (deaths of several loved ones, financial setbacks, my own you-could-die-from-this medical diagnosis) in 2022, I’m finding it hard to find my focus and get back on track at work.I floundered in the second half of 2022 and it’s obvious to everyone I work with, especially management.

I am having trouble keeping my mouth shut about myself (no one wants to hear sad stories about their coworkers) and my “cheerful” facade is coming out all wrong. I think I’m being funny, but it’s just … weird. I’m realizing that my emotions are so messed up that I am finding humor in things that the average person very much does not think are humorous.

I want to pull myself out of it and *fast*, so I can’t wait the amount of time it will take to find the right therapist and get to the part where she and I have productive conversations. A thing I’ve noticed about myself, however, is that I can take on the personality / thought patterns of characters in books. (Pity my long-ago ex-boyfriend when I was reading Game of Thrones and identified with Cersei!).

So I thought I’d ask if you had any books, preferably fiction, whose character is someone you would like to see yourself or an employee emulate in the workplace? Doesn’t matter if the character kills vampires, solves murders in the 17th century, or is just living her life in the 21st century. Whatever. I just need to borrow someone else’s inner voice for a while until I stabilize.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with all this! This is a fascinating question and I thought I’d throw it out to readers for ideas.

Read an update to this letter

{ 1,104 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Let’s put suggestions for #4 as replies here.

    Updated to add: The letter-writer has noted downthread (here and here) that she does not want/need suggestions of characters who are badasses. She wrote, “I need to model a boring, stable, competent person who has exactly zero personal issues and not so much as a whiff of drama about her.” And, “right now, the last thing I need is to emulate the person with the zingers or who steps in and kicks ass. I lean toward being a smart aleck anyway, but combining that with emotional and physical trauma means that I end up being offensive instead of funny.”

    (Lots of the suggestions below came in before that addition, but please keep it in mind for any additional recommendations.)

      1. BattleCat*

        just what I was going to say – I always tried to pretend to be her going into spoken exams: supreme self-confidence and absolute poise

        1. Completely Misunderstood the Assignment*

          Unrelated – but thank you for bringing this to my attention. Just bought the first one :D

        2. BlueSwimmer*

          Love Corinna and everyone in the apartment building that to me is like an extra character in the books.

      2. Inkhorn*

        Another vote for Phryne. I would love to have her confidence and quick thinking and social adroitness.

        And her wardrobe. (Actually, if I had to choose just one of those things, I’d be tempted to choose the wardrobe.)

      3. Silence*

        Phryne is a great character but more an example of the advantages of financial independence then professionalism

        1. bamcheeks*

          Bwahaha, this is very true. And Cordelia Naismith is an example of the advantages of marrying into the top level of an imperially-extracted aristocracy (sorry, warrior caste). As she would admit herself.

          1. Ariaflame*

            Though if she hadn’t met Aral she would likely have been just fine in the Betan Survey. I think the advantages were all on Barrayar’s side there.

          2. Girasol*

            This was where my thoughts went. Read this and you can compare characters between Cordelia, Aral, and Miles, which is instructive too.

          3. Random Dice*

            I disagree. Cordelia became regent of an entire planet because she was an amazingly well educated, competent, experienced, and wise leader… and a decent person.

            She is a great example of a very level person who dealt with absolute insanity swirling around her, but was the calm at the center of the storm.

      4. RagingADHD*

        She would be fun to be, but does she meet the brief of a good employee who isn’t going to come across as weird, and who doesn’t blurt out awkward TMI?

        I don’t think so. She is a flamboyant, eccentric rule-breaker who speaks her mind. As I say, fun to read or pretend, but kind of the opposite of the request.

        And, as pointed out upthread, she gets away with everything because she’s financially independent.

        1. LW4 Here*

          Thanks, RagingADHD.

          I posted downthread that most of the books recommended here (I haven’t gotten to all of them yet) seem like they would be really fun reads, but the main characters are *not* who I should be modeling at work right now. Or ever.

          I read sci-fi and fantasy in my free time and consciously choose books with strong female leads. Those books do boost my spirit, but they don’t give me scripts for what to say or how to think at work.

          I feel so broken right now that the best I can compare it to is when someone dies and we are at a loss for words and don’t know what to say or do that could be helpful, so we fall back on our social scripts (“I am so sorry for your loss.”)

          I have lost my work scripts. I have lost my work brain. I feel like a total failure and that I am going to be fired at any moment. Two of my managers have pulled waaaaay back in their interactions with me. No more joking, no more chats on Teams. Just, “Have you done X? What’s the status of Y?” sent via email.

          My brain is spiraling into how I’ve let everyone down and completely messed up as a project manager, which leaves me assuming that the distance from the managers is because they know they’re about to let me go. And with the state my brain is in, I can’t tell how much of that is anxiety or how much is reality.

          I need to model a boring, stable, competent person who has exactly zero personal issues and not so much as a whiff of drama about her.

          1. just a thought*

            The person you want to read about is hard to write fiction about – what if you read an autobiography or memoir written by the kind of woman you’re describing? I don’t have any examples I’ve read myself but I’m thinking maybe Michelle Obama? Had to keep it super-together in extraordinary circumstances?

              1. Majnoona*

                I didn’t read the memoir but yes the Light book is really about getting through difficult times written by a very grounded person

            1. sometimeswhy*

              I was having a really difficult time as a new manager (not young but younger than half my reports, woman in STEM, taking over after an absentee/neglectful manager held the position for over a decade) and read/listened to SO MANY biographies of powerful women to get me through. Some of them were useful models. Some of them were useful in a cautionary tale sense. Some of them were useful as examples of perseverance against entrenched the-way-it-always-has-been-ness. The ones that served me the best did so in a tactical sense so I don’t have specific recommendations for demeanors to mimic but wanted to chime in to second biographies and autobiographies as a potential source.

          2. My Cabbages!*

            I honestly recommend the Tiffany Aching books from Terry Pratchett. She is a girl who, due to a personal loss, has just been thrust into a job that requires everyone to see her as calm and competent, so she has to manage to stay even despite being surrounded by agents of utter chaos. Plus they are fun and a fast read.

            I think the first one is titled “The Wee Free Men”

            1. great a'tuin*

              I agree with this, and would also add that Lord Vetinari is probably an excellent person to emulate in the workplace. (Thud, Guards! Guards!, and the Night Watch come to mind).

              Not a book, but if you want a fictional character who is competent and likable to mentally cosplay, you might want to watch the West Wing? Donna in particular is a great person to put yourself in the mental state of (I know it’s a lot harder when you’re not getting their narration, though.)

              1. Little Bobby Tables*

                Personally, I’d take Carrot or even Nobby as a co-worker over Vetinari. Sure, Vetinari is good at getting things done, but I wouldn’t want to get in a disagreement with him. Best case, he’d manipulate me into thinking his plan was my own idea. Worst case… “Alas, he did not believe in angels.”

          3. KP*

            LW, can you take on the personality of the narrator/author in autobiographical or business books? Or does it have to be fiction?

            I ask because a lot of fiction relies on characters making choices that propel the story….and sometimes those are really bad choices. The other books, you’re more likely to be presented with a situation that’s difficult to manage and explanation of how a competent person worked through it and/or what they learned.

            I’m sorry you’re so stressed. You sound incredibly burned out. And not that you asked (forgive me if this is an overreach) – but would your workplace allow you to have a leave of absence?

            1. LW4 Here*

              Nonfiction is totally fine. And, yes, I can identify with the narrator.

              I can take leave, but my short-term disability pay is only 2/3rds of my salary and, thanks to expensive medical treatments and money lost trying to keep beloved pets alive and to save loved ones from themselves, I can’t give up 1/3 of my pay.

              1. wear floral every day*

                Dear LW, I’m so sorry you are going through this. I can empathize with your situation, as a few years back I was dealing with my own health issues, a developmental diagnosis for my kid and various close family members either being hospitalized or passing away. I was working in a toxic environment that did no favors to my mental health. As things felt like spiralling out of my control, I took solace in scifi books, especially those focusing on dystopias/end-world settings. Things working out in the end (in the books) gave me a kind of comfort and a more optimistic perspective. I loved Emily St John Mandel books, especially Station Eleven, and A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker. Recently I also enjoyed The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez. I loved that the female protagonists managed to remain calm and resilient among things falling apart without being smartasses. It is not exactly what you are looking for but reading about everyday people who deal with loss and disaster in a strong yet low-key and “mortal” way was very encouraging.

            2. Rose*

              I was thinking this too… I think another potential solution is books about detectives/journalists/other people who often have to keep secrets. I’m thinking of something like Harlan Coben where the main characters are broody, right lipped and there is always some past trauma (the only case I can’t solve is my missing loved one) that is never, ever spoken of.

          4. Sally*

            I’m not great with knowing what to say in work conversations, so I either come across as very private or I share TMI. I’m sure I find a happy medium sometimes, but it’s usually an accident. The times when it isn’t are when I’m remembering and using wording that Alison has suggested. It might be helpful to read through the AAM archives & pull out some of those scripts. I’m not sure how to find them by searching, but that might be possible. Best of luck! This sh*t is hard.

            One more thing – is there a way to tell people you’re going through something, & you’re temporarily off your game? Use Alison’s wording for that, too!

          5. transientmeow*

            A couple sci-fi/fantasy titles that might fit the brief of stable & competent leads (apologies if these are duplicates, haven’t read all comments yet):

            Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair (drama happening around the leads, but they are both supremely competent at their jobs. Bonus space cat!).

            the Innkeeper series by Ilona Andrews (again, drama around the characters, but Dina has her feet firmly on the ground at all times).

            I hope you find some helpful books and things start looking up for you!

            1. Serenity Now; Firefly Class*

              Yes, Dina DeMille of the Sweep series is outwardly polite, and follows protocol, and her heart is aching for her missing parents.

          6. zuzu*

            Not female, but George Smiley from John Le Carre’s spy novels might fit the bill. What makes him a good spy (and keeps him rising in the Circus) is that he’s competent, quiet, boring, stable, persistent, and basically so unmemorable that nobody ever thinks about him until he rolls up their networks.

            He does have personal drama in the form of his cheating wife, but she’s mostly offstage.

          7. JC*

            Are you familiar with the Honor Harrington series by David Weber? It’s been a while since I read them but she might be a good fit. They’re sci-fi/space/military based and they get a bit too formulaic after a while so I never finished the series but I really enjoyed the first several. There is drama because fiction but it’s not caused by her and she’s generally rather stoic and takes her duties very seriously.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              I second Honor Harrington. She models a “get it done” attitude and really good ethical judgement.

            2. Anonomatopoeia*

              I came here to say this, but that’s a lot of words to get through and also Honor herself suffers a metric f*ton of loss in the series including loss of family, beloved friends, and catastrophic medical circumstances — I’m not sure if that’s better or worse? But she does pretty much narrate her process of behaving professionally.

              1. Little Bobby Tables*

                I was looking to see if someonr would bring up Honor Harrington when sf came up. She, and many other Manitcorians, demonstrate a lot of competence in difficult circumstances. But she does tend to have a lot of drama headed her way, and a lot of major characters die.

          8. run mad; don't faint*

            Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice maybe? Quietly cheerful and pleasant; obliging. Takes advice well and inclined to think well of others. Could be beneficial when dealing with others while stressed?

            1. My Dear Wormwood*

              Anne Elliot from Persuasion (the book, I haven’t seen the movie) fits the bill here too.

              1. Austeneveryyear*

                I was thinking Persuasion! Everyone around her is silly drama, her heart is broken, and she just stays cool as cream, serving consideration of others and manners — but still holding fast. I thought the latest adaptation got this aspect of her totally wrong.

                Was also thinking Captain Awkward has a great post on faking the everyday at work when you’re depressed.

          9. Alyn*

            Possibly the Wax & Wayne Mistborn books, by Brandon Sanderson – The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, and The Bands of Mourning. Not a main character, but two side characters – Steris and Marasi – I think would fit your needs.

            1. Sauron*

              Definitely would NOT suggest anyone in Stormlight to emulate at work – Shallan, Kaladin and Adolin would all be horrible desk employees!

          10. Rain's Small Hands*

            Unfortunately, books about boring, competent, stable people don’t tend to sell.

            But as someone who had a nervous breakdown from a PM job, yeah. BTDT, decided Project Management wasn’t for me since there was far too much I was expected to control and couldn’t (no one could have managed that project successfully under the parameters, it wasn’t me. I’d done successful project management for years, but not anymore – maybe cut your losses and move onto something like Business or Process Analysis, where you aren’t trying to push people – I brushed off my accounting degree and became an accountant – sort of by accident – but I deal very little with people).

            But some ideas – Hidden Figures (both the book and the movie) – since the African American women of NASA really couldn’t take a lot of risks and needed to stay more of less in their boxes. Jane Austen, the Bronte’s – and other fairly classical literature – because roles are constrained along with language and expectations. I should be able to think of more and my brain isn’t functioning.

            1. Humble Schoolmarm*

              Jane Eyre is pretty professional in the face of work place wildness, I’d avoid Katherine Earnshaw, though.

            2. Moo*

              Was thinking of Hidden Figures – they were extraordinary women for many reasons, but they kept going to work and getting it done, while facing a lot of shit in their every day live, and certainly not having much/any support from management. One of the things I profoundly admire about that story is how they also built community and shared their knowledge. The book is very readable.

              1. Little Bobby Tables*

                And if you’re into hard sf, a behind the scenes peak at real space engineering is something you don’t want to miss. Definitely a good choice.

          11. DC Kat*

            This is nonfiction, but “Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You” might fit your interest. Capricia Penavic Marshall was Obama’s chief protocol officer, so it’s a lot about paying attention to the small details and nuances that affect people’s perceptions of you/the situation, and how to navigate different – often thorny – relationships, dialogues, etc..

            Otherwise, on the fiction front, you could do worse than some Jane Austen. Obviously no one’s in a modern professional setting, but so much of the stories are women carefully considering their circumstances, choosing how to speak or act based on a host of variables of time/place, social hierarchies, and relationships. (OK, maybe don’t read “Emma” or “Northanger Abbey” – but “Sense & Sensibility,” “Pride & Prejudice,” and “Persuasion” would be good candidates.)

          12. Margaret*

            You mentioned liking sci-fi and fantasy, so I’m going to throw out Keladry of Mindelan from the Protector of the Small series – she is relatively serious, calm, dutiful, bites back ninety percent of what she would like to be saying but still refuses to back down to bullies, and never compromises who she is.

            Alternately, Morwen from the Dealing with Dragons series – cheerful, calm, competent, but refuses to allow anyone to bs or walk over her.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Keladry is a really good role model. She was trained as a diplomat’s child not to show emotion, so she is always outwardly calm, respectful and capable even when she struggles and faces people who provoke her.

              She’s the opposite of a drama-magnet.

          13. Menolly*

            Alternate explanation for the distance from your co workers – they know you are beyond max at this point and are trying to keep things short and sweet to reduce impinging on your limited resources. It sucks you can’t emotionally prioritize your job as you normally would. That’s ok, people get that and, were the situation reversed, they would also be focusing on their loved ones as you are doing

          14. whingedrinking*

            I don’t know if this is exactly what you’re looking for, but I’m a big fan of Sarah Caudwell’s mysteries. The narrator is named Hilary Tamar (no gender given), who’s a lazy but brilliant detective, kind of like if Sherlock Holmes were an Oxford don with a bunch of lawyer friends to mooch off. One of these lawyers is a barrister called Selena Jardine, who’s by far the most competent – she’s shown to be great at her job and immaculately cool under pressure, no matter how difficult the situation. (For example, her response to being invited to a “party” and turning up to find it’s an orgy? She sits down on the couch and reads a paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice, looking up only to accept more champagne.)

            1. STAT!*

              Love the Sarah Caudwell books! Such good fun. I’ve always wished she had lived long enough to incorporate new communications technologies into her books. (They are epistolary novels, where the most modern device used to push the plot along is the fax.) Fun factoid: her mother was the model for the Sally Bowles character in Cabaret.

          15. MM*

            Two things come to mind:

            1. Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde. It is SFF, but Thursday is a pretty chilled-out, restrained woman dealing with a bizarre situation, at least as I remember it.

            2. This might bore you, but the suggestion of memoir from “just a thought” in this subthread made me think: Irene K. Fischer was a scientist who worked at the US Army Map Service for 25 years. She did amazing things from my point of view (in an adjacent field), but most of it is doing math in an office. Her memoir is called “Geodesy? What’s That? My Personal Involvement in the Age-Old Quest for the Size and Shape of the Earth,” and while she’s certainly a personable narrator, it’s basically a story about professional success.

            1. MM*

              Oh, I should add that Thursday Next is not only a chilled-out woman dealing with a bizarre situation, but the situation has to do with crossing streams between her job and her family.

          16. vincent*

            The Goblin Emperor could work— the lead has been thrust into an impossible new world to him, and navigates it through kindness and a dedication to doing his best. Sending you all the good vibes in the world, and wishing you a better 2023.

          17. Random Dice*

            Eileen Wills’ world of the Lupi books.

            A female homicide cop who deals with ever crazier situations, but throughout is calm, professional, unflappable, and competent. She’s not flashy or edgy or wise-cracking. She’s steady and good at her job.

            1. STAT!*

              Speaking of females dealing with homicide, but as a private eye not a cop … what do people think of the Sue Grafton books? I’ve only read one, but many parts of it seemed to be almost literally laundry lists. Passages similar to “I got up, brushed my teeth, put on my sports top, running shorts & Nikes, & went for a 6 mile jog. I came back to my apartment, had a shower, washed my hair, & got dressed for the day. I poured myself a bowl of Cheerios, poured the milk over, & put on a pot of coffee to perk” etc etc.

              The protagonist Kinsey Millhone is matter-of-fact, calm, professional, stoic, & driven by the desire to earn money by doing a thorough job for her clients, not to have an exciting life. So the reader (this reader, anyway) experiences the laundry list descriptions as soothing & endearing (& interesting in my case, but then I live & die by writing long lists).

              1. STAT!*

                Also, Kinsey is most definitely not badass, whip smart, poised, zinger-ready & so forth. She’s just a decent & pretty boring person with an at-times interesting job (which the author describes in that same methodical, plodding, one-step-at-a-time manner as Kinsey’s morning routine). Though on further reflection, her job does bring lots of drama into her life, so maybe she is not such a good suggestion after all.

          18. Random Dice*

            LW4, stepping aside from the specific request…

            1) Your should talk to your managers. It would help them to know you’re aware of the issue and trying to fix it, and also when people give advice it helps get them on your side – and you’ll get workplace specific advice. Right now they’re thinking about discipline, and you want them to see you as self-aware and just needing a life preserver.

            “Manager, I would like to talk with you about something awkward. I’ve been dealing with a lot of trauma lately and it feels like it’s changed how I interact with people, in a way that seems to be impacting my relationships at work. I have been trying to come up with rules of thumb about how to act – such as “don’t even try to joke right now, they’re coming out badly” – but I’m not necessarily in the right head space to get it right. I was hoping you might have some pointers that I could use on how to project calm competent professionalism.”

            Secondly, eventually you do need therapy because trauma snowballs if not addressed, but here are some things you can do now.

            1) Your work hopefully has an EAP program (Employee Assistance Program). Reach out to them. (This also would help in your manager conversation – I have been pursuing EAP support.)

            2) For now, a trauma brain hack is to play Tetris on your phone. The back-and-forth eye movements are the basis for the EMDR trauma therapy, crossing the brain hemispheres to helps traumatic memories and feelings integrate back into your psyche. (You may like the app BitGram more, it’s less frenetic – but the trauma expert mentioned Tetris specifically.)

            3) There’s an app called “Anxiety Release based on EMDR” that my therapist recommended. It’s another short-term fix until you can get into an actual trauma therapist.

            1. Lanlan*

              wait wait wait, all those times I resorted to Tetris as a coping mechanism, you’re telling me I was doing primitive EMDR?

              coolest thing I’ve ever learned <3

              1. Random Dice*

                Right?! I too have always been drawn to that game, over others.

                If you have a traumatic event, play Tetris after, it may prevent PTSD.

          19. Librarian*

            Have you read House on the Cerulean Sea? It is about a man who is the perfect cog in the bureaucratic machine, who finds a way to look at what he is doing in a different way. He gets by in the work day, though he finds no joy in it. He finds joy through the book in leaving his work, but while he’s in it he’s doing what he needs to do.

            I’m a librarian and this is such an interesting question, I will throw it out to my colleagues. I mostly also read fantasy or science fiction.

          20. TeaCoziesRUs*

            In the fantasy realm, have you ever read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series? It’s an alternate Renaissance Europe and the main character is a courtesan-spy who finds pleasure in pain and manages to save her realm… once per book. It’s also a 9 book series set as three trilogies, and I absolutely adore how the characters struggle with how hard it is to love, to handle conflicting and competing loves, etc.

            In the first book Phedre is young but she grows in age and maturity. The second trilogy actually shows her as parent to her foster son. The gravitas she accumulates, as well as her level-headedness in dire circumstances might be a balm? Also, her mentor Delaunay would be worth emulating.

            Some of my favorite literary quotes come from this series:

            * All knowledge is worth having.
            * That which yields is not always weak.
            * [God] never cared for politics or thrones.
            * Love as thou wilt.

        2. Lydia*

          There isn’t going to be a perfect example of what the OP is looking for, but I think Phyne Fisher is a great place to start. If you find a book where someone is a perfect professional, that book is about a dystopian future and that character will eventually upend society, and while that may be a better role model, it’s still not a great example of actual professionalism.

          1. RagingADHD*

            There’s “not a perfect example,” and then there’s “the exact opposite.”

            PF, while a character I love to read and watch, is about as far from the brief given as possible before you start delving into morally questionable antiheroes.

      5. Seven If You Count Bad John*

        Given the update, I’m going to say Jack, Dot, or Mr Butler as a role model, from that series.

      6. Velawciraptor*

        For the “boring, stable, competent person” the Phryne Fisher books still offer the person you’re looking for–it’s just Jack Robinson, not Phryne.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oh yes. Smart, confident, empathetic, great leader. But not a know it all.

        “There are four things that lead to wisdom. You ready for them?’
        She nodded, wondering when the police work would begin.
        “They are four sentences we learn to say, and mean.” Gamache held up his hand as a fist and raised a finger with each point. “I don’t know. I need help. I’m sorry. I was wrong’.”

        1. Confrontation Wednesdays*

          Oooh, that guy! I agree, he’s great. And knows when to give the boot to problem employees, too.

        2. atalanta0jess*

          I couldn’t believe that the new amazon series (which I thought was great) didn’t include these!!

        1. atalanta0jess*

          Same here. When I thought about people in books that I’d want to emulate, Gamache is the clear winner. And the man deals with heavy stuff….with integrity, groundedness, and the correct amount of open-ness.

      2. Robin Ellacott*

        Agreed! Compassionate, fair, calm, a great mentor to others, and believes in his work. There’s a TV dramatization on Prime, but I think Gamache as a great boss comes out more in the books.

        They’re a good read, too.

      3. bookturtle*

        Strong +1 Gamache is the best boss/professional/person I think I’ve ever read about. And the books are still fictional, intriguing, and captivating.

      4. Helena*

        There have been tons of votes for these, so not to yuck someone’s yum, but – at least the first few are VERY heavy on talking negatively about people’s weight and bodies. I couldn’t get more than two in because of that.

      5. tamarack etc.*

        Welll…. the first 2/3 of the series, yes. I loved them. Then came the explicit ethical conflicts, and I quite disagreed with several times.

        1. tamarack etc.*

          (I tried to refresh my memory on Goodreads, but I deleted my low scores/reviews. There’s at least one where I got very very angry at the ethical implications of the choice. Also, if I remember correctly, the one where Gamache goes with Clara Morrow to look for her husband is super annoying because if they had just done *nothing* the bad stuff wouldn’t have happened. Also the one with the ICBM is completely bonkers as there is no actual danger.

          For a similar character with I think more ethical integrity, I’d suggest Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg. Her books are translated in English for the most part. The one set in Iceland is lovely, and the ones back in Paris give a lot of atmosphere of the city.)

    1. Double A*

      When I’ve been going through stressful times, Barbara Pym books offer some calm. “Quarter in Autumn” is specifically centered on a workplace, though I would not call the workers inspirational as workers per se, and it’s one of her more melancholy books. “An Unsuitable Attachment” has several of the characters working in a library.

      I’d also recommend “This Could Hurt” by Jillian Medoff about a corporate HR department. I feel like there were competent but complex characters and it was a story mostly about work.

      1. WestsideStory*

        I was also thinking of Barbara Pym – quiet women who have to deal with a lot of absurdity (and some personal sadness). The long ago settings are, as you say, calming.

    2. Jess*

      If LW#4 likes cosy fantasy vibes, I recommend The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard. The main POV character is a wonderful example of competence, aspirational (bureaucratic) goals, and succeeding in management.

      (It’s also a cosy hug of a book and a lovely option for someone who’s had a rough time.)

      1. Rainy*

        Oh jeez, that book is *extraordinary*. It took me about 40 pages to get into it but once I did I gobbled it down.

      2. TrixM*

        Thanks for the rec! I was saying to friends a few days ago that I’d love to see some kind of “badass administrator” fiction genre, and that plus the fantasy element sounds right up my alley.

        I have awful admin skills myself, but witnessing someone with high levels of competence there is just about as crush-inducing to me as badass librarians are. Extra bonus points if they have Machiavellian tendencies, but use their powers for good!

        1. Hanani*

          May I recommend the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman, for a badass administrator who is also a badass librarian?

          1. Reba*

            I adore this series! Though I’m not sure I’d recommend the protagonist as a model coworker, lol.

            The speculative fiction novel “Solitaire” by Kelly Eskridge is about a project manager (in a dystopia).

          2. Mandy*

            Came here to recommend the same! Maybe also Melissa Caruso or the Jodi Taylor Chronicles of St Mary’s. Even though the protagonists go through some stuff they do so with excellent attitude and problem solving

        2. Shirley Keeldar*

          Hench by Natalia Walschots for badass administration and research skills as superpowers! (Maybe…not so much for real life administration, though.)

          1. Empress Matilda*

            ++ for Hench, and I think Alison recommended it last week as a general read as well. It’s a good one!

          2. Sarah*

            In a similar vein, Myfanwy Thomas from The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley is a very competent worker who handles bizarre situations with sangfroid and aplomb!

            1. swingbattabatta*

              Came here to see if anyone had recommended this yet! Love Myfanwy, she’s remarkably cool, collected, and competant in the midst of some pretty bonkers circumstances.

          3. Hosta*

            I was going to suggest Hench! I think Tromedlov is a great example of professionalism in the face of terribly upsetting situations. She approaches her job with energy and insight, and is remarkably professional.

          4. Random Dice*

            I love Hench, and maybe it’s appropriate – it’s a book about trauma that was stuffed down rather than dealt with in therapy, as she continued to make the next best choice.

        3. Festively Dressed Earl*

          Myfanwy Thomas in The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, both old and new versions of her.

          Myfanwy is a quiet, shy, stellar administrator whose management-fu has landed her in the highest ranks of a government agency. The agency in question? The Chequey, Britain’s secret service of the supernatural. Unfortunately, she’s just woken up in the middle of a park with no memory. Fortunately, Myfanwy left her amnesiac self detailed instructions on how to do her job. And also find out who’s trying to kill her.

      3. AmericanExpat*

        another vote for this book, for everyone, but also for this particular question. And agree with the cosy hug – it’s nice to have a book whose plot is around normal things and not overly overblown melodrama

      4. OtterB*

        Agreed. Besides being an extraordinarily competent administrator, the main character also learns to balance being himself and being true to his culture with assimilating sufficiently to get things done.

      5. Jules the 3rd*

        I’ll be picking that up for me, and the sequel that came out in November too, _At The Feet of the Sun_.

        1. never not reading*

          Both are *awesome*, and once you’ve read Hands, be sure to pick up Portrait of a Wide Seas Islander, it’s a little companion piece to one section and really sheds light on other perspectives than Kip’s (much as I love him). Also don’t miss The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, but again only AFTER reading The Hands of the Emperor.

      6. I edit everything*

        Another great fantasy story is “A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking.” The heroine find herself in difficult circumstances and navigates her way through with creativity and aplomb. The author is T. Kingfisher.

        1. I edit everything*

          Also, it has dancing gingerbread men and carnivorous sourdough starter. Can’t go wrong with that.

        2. MsM*

          T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon’s protagonists are in general marvelous examples of “well, okay, this is weird and absolutely not what I needed today, but I’m not going to abandon my common sense in dealing with it.” Terry Pratchett heroines are pretty good for that, too.

          1. ferrina*

            Susan might be the best example for a professional setting. Honestly, Death or any of his compatriots are probably the most professional people in Discworld.

            1. ferrina*

              Oh, and Vetinari. He’s ruthlessly efficient (with an emphasis on ruthless). He’s a surprisingly good role model at work. He’s slow to take offense, always focused on solutions, appreciates that each person has a role to play, and understands the balance between optics and efficiency.

              1. My Cabbages!*

                I was thinking of Vetinari myself.

                Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching are good examples of staying calm in the face of chaos.

            2. TypityTypeType*

              Susan Sto Helit is perfect! No-nonsense in a universe filled with nonsense.

              Sam Vimes is a pretty good model too. When everything is going crazy and a million things are screaming for attention: do the job that’s in front of you.

            3. amcb13*

              I think Sam Vimes is useful for a model of how to be if your initial impulses…are ones that might lead you to do things you’d regret later. He is, in a lot of ways, a disaster, both personally and professionally; he has a lot of rage and a lot of biases, and he deliberately and explicitly works to overcome both of them in the workplace (and in his family) because he has a strong moral code. (Also I just have never loved a character so much.)

      7. Music With Rocks In*

        I recommended this as well before I even checked the comments! I’m so glad to see other fans in the wild.

      8. Robin Ellacott*

        I just bought this after a million articles compared it in tone to The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (another favourite). I’m excited to read it!

        Actually Goblin Emperor might be good too, as the protagonist is a shy person with no experience who is thrust into a powerful position and is unshakingly fair and well-intentioned even when he has no idea what he’s doing. It’s a rather wordy and action-light fantasy with a steampunk element, and I adore it.

    3. bookartist*

      Though not a book character I’m hoping this is still useful to LW4. Jessica Fletcher, Angela Landsbury’s character in “Murder, She Wrote” is the persona I emulate when I’m trying to keep myself together and above the fray. Even when arguing her point, she is always polite; in fact she demonstrates that polite does not equal pushover (see her argument with department chair Dr. Auerbach in the episode “Night Fears”).

      1. Anonymous MSW fan*

        I was thinking this! I always aspire to be as classy, polite, and well-spoken as Jessica when I feel frazzled or confronted at work. I also think the fact that she pretty much always assumes best intent but doesn’t allow herself to be walked over or blocked from her goals is worthy of emulation… in general, she’s an excellent balance of kind and empathetic with driven, clever, and goal oriented.

      2. Bookrecsallday*

        There is a Murder, She Wrote book series! A good number were written by Donald Bain and “Jessica Fletcher”. Some of them do a better job than others in capturing the tone of the tv series imo. It’s been a while since I read any, but I recommend them.

        1. Bookartist*

          I did not recommend them because the ones I read were quite frankly, just bad. I know there are many though, so I’m glad to know some are good reads. Thanks!

      3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        I’ve been looking for a cozy, feel good, familiar series to rewatch. This is my sign; it’s MSW!

      4. Here for the Insurance*

        How about the Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie? Kind of the OG Jessica Fletcher. Always polite, competent, and soothing.

      5. tangerineRose*

        I also like the way Jessica Fletcher can be polite and nice but still strong and stands up for herself. That can be a tough combo, and it’s nice to see how well she did it.

    4. Ranon*

      Julie James writes extremely competent professional characters, especially her heroines- they are romance novels so there’s more sex than is appropriate for the workplace but they’re all good at their jobs.

      1. Ranon*

        Oh, Celia Lake for cozy historical fantasy romance with competent professional characters mostly just getting on with doing their jobs properly and trying to treat other people well while they do. Lots of disability rep of a decent range as well across her books.

          1. Celia Lake*

            Thank you both! (Long time reader, occasional commenter under another name around these parts.)

            I was about to drop a self-rec in particular for Eclipse, because I’ve had several readers mention recently that Thesan in particular was a great model for them in figuring out how to forge through difficult professional situations with confidence. (She herself is very low drama.)

      2. nona*

        +1 for Julie James.

        Also adding any of Nora Roberts contemporary romances – the Innsboro trilogy comes to mind. Her heroines are always really really competent, which reads as professional to me. And Nora Roberts is an extremely prolific authors, so you’ve got a huge backlist to work from.

        1. Dona Florinda*

          Seconding Nora Roberts, specifically her In Death series as J.D. Robb. There’s a lot of sex and violence, so it can be triggering for some people, but the lead character Eve Dallas is amazing.

          1. Memily*

            Eve is amazing, but her inner monologue is pretty awful! I mean, not her fault but still.

            Roarke honestly does a better job with that than Eve does. He’s professionally warm and treats his employees well but takes no prisoners when he needs to.

        2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          Agree with Nora Roberts – most of her female protagonists are professional career women with a strong sense of self. My favorite trilogies are the Born In series, the Gallagher Brothers and Chesapeake Bay (Anna from Sea Swept might be right up your alley to start LW#4).

          1. TeaCoziesRUs*

            I love her series!! Most particularly the series like Inn Boonsboro or In the Garden, in which you see professional women running successful businesses, coming together to build more and better. The Key trilogy has a good mix of building a business with solving a supernatural mystery.

      3. Fluffy Initiative*

        Came here to suggest Julie James! Her characters are almost universally smart, good at their jobs, the women are unapologetic about being successful in their careers, and there’s not a whiff of phony “girlboss” about it.

      4. cleo*

        I had the exact same thought about Julie James.

        I particularly think the heroine in Love Irresistibly might be a good one for this prompt. She’s an assistant DA, is very competent, and part of her character arc is figuring out how to stay in her career, which she loves, while having a better work-life balance. The book is part of a series but it works as a standalone.

    5. Rainy*

      Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan. The mixture of take-no-shit get-it-done attitude and the sheer *humanity* she displays is very worthy of emulation, for me. She believes that the people around her are capable of greatness, and the people around her do their best to deliver because her confidence in them encourages them to be the best version of themselves.

      (Lois McMaster Bujold: Shards of Honor and Barrayar are the books focused on Cordelia.)

      1. Silence*

        Those are great but ‘Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen’ is probably the best for picking up your life after after tragedy

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Oh yes. But it works best if you read it after reading the others, so you are able to build relationships with the characters. At least read “Shards of Honor” and “Barrayar” first. “Barrayar” is also really good for dealing with some serious stuff. Though I wouldn’t advise anyone who is pregnant or who has had issues with pregnancy in the past to read it–at least, not unless they are in an emotional place to deal with some gut-punch feelings.

      2. Daisy*

        Yes! Cordelia is absolutely my favorite character. She has the emotional intelligence and strong moral center of a leader without ever being abrasive/angry/so caught up in her own emotions she cannot see others around her. She is compassionate without being a doormat, stands her ground while recognizing conflicting point of view, and strives for a greater good.

        1. Rainy*

          When we were writing our vows, I told Mr Rainy that I was closing with a favourite quote, and he liked the idea and said he might do as well. We didn’t share our vows ahead of time, so we were both hearing them for the first time. He ended his with “You pour out honour like a fountain”.

          I’d been very “everyone else is going to cry at my wedding but NOT ME” and that was what got me.

      3. Texas Rose*

        For Cordelia’s competence, family connections, and a delightful romance, try Bujold’s “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen” – the “go read it to the volcano” scene is amazing.
        And remember that Cordelia was captain of an exploratory star ship BEFORE she met and married Aral Vorkosigan.

        1. La Triviata*

          You might also try Bujold’s Chalion books – The Curse of Chalion and, my favorite, Paladin of Souls. The latter features an older woman protagonist who’s survived the deaths of (in order) her husband, her teenaged son and her mother and needs to do SOMETHING to get out of her rut.

    6. Gila Monster*

      The Invisible Library series features a pretty unflappably competent main character, her even more unflappably competent detective friend, and a multiverse of chaotic fae and rigidly orderly dragons.

      1. AmericanExpat*

        Agree with this one too! Riotous adventure with a cool-headed heroine who takes things in stride and deals with her ish

      2. Hanani*

        Thirding this suggestion; I ripped through this series in a couple months and want to be Irene when I grow up.

      3. ferrina*

        Vale is a great example of what it looks like from the outside (calm, reasonable). Irene is a bit more what it looks like on the inside- focused on the job, thinking about how to coordinate with coworkers (or not, if the coworker is a known hazard), mostly staying calm in *ahem* unusual circumstances

      4. Nesprin*

        Honestly, I liked Thursday Next more than Irene, but the meta-ness of Jasper Fforde is perhaps not for everyone.

      5. A Little Bit Alexis*

        This book is fantastic, but given the tribulations and identity issues the main character undertakes, maybe not the best book for the LW just yet as they could be potentially triggering.

      1. Not a fish*

        But she’s incredibly unprofessional and a terrible role model for how to work in any real life job lol

        1. torocita*

          I was just thinking Alicia! Whenever I’m facing trouble at work, I think of the episodes when she’s on the stand being questioned about Peter’s wrongdoings, and stays so calm and professional. The best role model!

        2. dot gov*

          If you like Alicia, I highly recommend the show Madame Secretary if you haven’t seen it already. Very similar vibes. Just a badass woman getting things done.

      2. Mark Brendanawicz gets a bad rap.*

        Leslie is idealistic but a disaster. I much prefer Mark Brendanawicz if you’re trying to model normal workplace behavior!

      3. Anonny*

        I would like to nominate Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart generally has a very dignified, statesmanlike air about him and this comes through in Picard. It’s also reflected in many members of his crew (Beverly Crusher, Geordi LaForge, Will Riker, Data) although they are more inclined to let their hair down.

        Deep Space 9 also has some interesting potential role models in Benjamin Sisko, Kira Nerys, and Miles O’Brien. Not because they are pinnacles of professionalism – they’re not, and a place like DS9 isn’t necessarily where pinnacles of professionalism is needed. However, Sisko is a traumatised person who manages to do his job mostly successfully and retain the respect of his crew and his superiors. Kira is *not* an example of professionalism, but she is an excellent example of a person who learns to manage their trauma and grow with it, and may also provide a model of how to deal with the aftermath of your trauma causing problems in the workplace. O’Brien is closer to what I’d call ‘blue collar’ professionalism, but he is a pretty good model for it, and his attitude may be more acheivable (he tends to be pragmatic, a little gruff, willing to muck in, with a side of practical optimism.)

    7. Voldemorts cousin*

      I think it’s a YA book, but I adored Ella Enchanted when I was younger. The heroine is plucky and brave and smart. My kind of girl. Word to the wise, though: don’t watch the movie. Completely untrue to the book and just kind of terrible.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Ooh, interesting suggestion. Ella has an issue that is a constant challenge in her life, but you could say the book is her figuring out how to live her life in spite of it. Like Voldemorts cousin said, she’s plucky, brave, smart, (the movie is absolute trash) and I will add Ella is also empathetic. It is YA but one I sometimes pick up when I just need a happy escape.

        (It is a reimagining of Cinderella, so do be aware that a parent dies early in the book)

      2. Mamunia*

        Hopping on the YA wagon to suggest the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Both Cimorene and Morwen and very competent, level-headed, and no-nonsense.

        1. MissElizaTudor*

          Cimorene was the first one to come to mind for me! Morwen is another great example, too!

          (I got my name from one of her cats)

    8. rotheche*

      #4: sorry you’re having to deal with so much!
      It sounds like you’re looking for the genre of ‘competence porn’–people who are good at what they do. The Martian by Andy Weir is a great SF example; A Fall of Moondust is a similar yarn but from the 60s. People in immensely stressful, dangerous situations, but they know what they’re doing and do it.
      Good luck! I hope things turn around for you soon.

      1. My Dear Wormwood*

        For a real-life version, try Ernest Shackleton’s South: The Endurance Expedition. He was leading an Antarctic expedition when his ship got trapped in the ice. There used to be a saying among Antarctic explorers: for scientific inquiry, Scott; for exploration, Amundsen; but when disaster strikes, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton.

        My favourite part is how suddenly they flip from “can’t bring myself to shoot an albatross” to “DAMN these are tasty.”

        1. Janey-jane*

          Ah, along that, “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing! I prefer his telling of everything. But the entire story no matter who tells it is just mind-boggling.

      2. Mangled Metaphor*

        Seconding The Martian.
        Our hero has numerous setbacks, but keeps going after each one.
        Most tellingly is where he gives himself permission to have a tantrum, pull himself together and get back on with things. Possibly the greatest part(s) to emulate – even the tantrum, as long as you remember the *end* of the process is to get back up again and keep going.

        1. pope suburban*

          Not just the hero of The Martian, either, but the entire team back on Earth. They’re all in an incredibly difficult situation- one that no one’s ever encountered before- and they have the whole world watching to see how they deal with it. A couple of the characters are a bit more impulsive, but most of them are professionals who are doing their best to model best practices for scientists and public servants.

      3. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        And if you like The Martian, then you’ll also probably like Project Hail Mary, same author. Listen to it on audiobook if you can, something special happens in the audio version that’s not possible in a written book.

        1. Robert in SF*

          Yes, Hail Mary is great…real eye-opening about astronomy and life as we know it! I enjoy it very much! Also Artemis: A Novel, another of his sci-fi-edge series, as a mystery!

      4. Hired Hacker*

        +1 for The Martian.
        I also recommend, as characters:
        1) Jonathan Livingston the Seagull, from the eponymous book by Richard Bach.
        2) William of Baskerville, from The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Huh, I would not have thought of Jonathan Livingston as a workplace role model. Though it has been a really long time since I read the book.

      5. Falling Diphthong*

        I love The Martian.

        I believe the show Leverage coined the phrase “competence porn” and that’s what I delight in when watching it.

        1. DrMrsC*

          +1 on the subject of the show Leverage! I swear watching that has improved my poise in tough meetings where I’d really like to just blow my top. Sophie Deveraux for the win.

        2. Polar Vortex*

          Heck yes Leverage. I’m usually one to recommend books over tv/movies because of my attention span but I have yet to meet a book series that meets what Leverage scratches for me. (And Sophie’s finding of a new normal post losing her world in the Leverage: Redemption reboot might be a good fit once normalcy is achieved.)

      6. Foila*

        Weird suggestion: Jamie from Mythbusters.

        While it’s not a book or even fiction, he seems to have a lot of the traits you’re looking for: restrained, no drama, calm in every situation, and knows how to get things done even if that means changing plans.

        And the show basically is his actual job, so he’s not a character who has a plot that depends on conflict (I mean, they tried a little, but it’s usually pretty chill.)

        1. Kit*

          When the alternative is Adam Savage… yeah. The Hyneman is very buttoned-up, both literally (unless safety gear requires something besides his usual outfit) and figuratively, which makes him the perfect grounded counterpoint to Adam’s off-the-wall antics! It’s why the show worked so well, and although I don’t recommend the late-series technique of creating an actual Jamie mask, Mission Impossible-style, you could do a lot worse for a model of behavior. He’s pretty unflappable, incredibly competent, and limits his exercise of humor in the workplace.

          1. All Het Up About It*

            This is such an interesting point, because recently I’ve been thinking about this show in relation to this blog and realized that Adam and Jamie are the epitome of good co-workers that aren’t friends. It’s weird to hear that they don’t talk now that the show is over and that they never went out to dinner just the two of them, but then when you think of them as actual co-workers, who respected each other (mostly), got along with each other (mostly) and worked together well, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses (again, mostly) then it, well it makes sense. They aren’t best friends doing a fun show together. They are two people working together and doing a good job of it. So when the work is done, they just go about their day. It almost makes me like the show even more.

      7. Zombeyonce*

        I’m going to have to disagree on this one. While I loved The Martian (both book and movie), I don’t think he’s got the personality that LW wants to emulate. He knows what he’s doing most of the time and when he doesn’t, he wings it with as much preparation as possible, but he’s very, very snarky and makes jokes in serious situations that often don’t land even in the book, which is exactly what the LW is trying to avoid.

    9. Peach Tea*

      For OP 4–
      I’m sorry you’re having a tough time these days. Books are my solace too
      My author suggestions are:
      J.A. Jance (especially her Ali Reynolds and Joanna Brady.
      Lisa Gardner
      Sue Grafton
      Patricia Cornwall
      — Note: these are all (murder usually) mysteries. But they have strong female characters. Though as flawed as the rest of us.
      Best wishes!

      1. JessaB*

        To add to the solving murders genre Kathy Reichs novels are wonderful (and nothing like the Bones TV show at all.)

        1. H2*

          I love these books (well, not the last few, but that’s a different problem), but I think that Brennan isn’t a great role model at work. She’s competent at her job, but she’s constantly saying and doing things that are inappropriate and unprofessional.

          LW, I just wanted to sympathize. I’m a professor in a stem field (so people are predisposed to think I may be weird) and I definitely feel like when I’m upset about something I often act a little bit off in ways that just make me seem kinda weird. I try to remind myself that I’m always harder on myself than others are likely to be. I love the idea of a professional role model. Thinking about it, Louise Penny’s Gamache is one I would second.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. I can’t even read the books anymore. And the way Dr. Kay Scarpetta blames every problem in her (work)life on misogyny gets tiresome very quickly. Misogyny is undoubtedly a challenge that most women will have to deal with in the workplace at some point in their career (or constantly if it’s really bad), but too much harping on it doesn’t help. That said, the reason why I stopped reading Cornwell’s books was that I couldn’t deal with the gore anymore.

        2. Confrontation Wednesdays*

          Same. The very first few books in her M.E. series, maybe. After that? Do not behave like that at work. I don’t care if you’re unfireable. I don’t care if you have more money than any of us working stiffs will ever see in our lifetimes. I would hate my entire life if I had a colleague like Kay Scarpetta, let alone a boss.

    10. nnn*

      Not a book, but I found Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager useful for similar reasons.

      (Note: It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve watched the show in-depth, so I can’t vouch for how well it stands up to the test of time)

      Most Star Trek characters are very professional when they’re on duty, with the caveat that not every aspect of every Star Trek stands up to the test of time.

      1. Stitch*

        I loved Voyager as a kid, but Janeway might actually be the worst boss out of the Star Trek Captains. Now there are circumstantial reasons for the way she is but she’s pretty notorious for overriding her subordinates, weilding power unilaterally and being inconsistent in her treatment of the crew.

        1. Catsforbrains*

          May I likewise recommend Dana Scully from the X-Files. She’s competent and knowledgeable, deals well with conflict and unusual situations, and maintains a quiet, sardonic sense of humor that lets her interface with local cops and DC bureaucrats alike. She’ll stand up to authority with integrity when she has to but isn’t easily persuaded away from her convictions.

          She’s what I aspire to. But I personally seem to land a little closer to Columbo at work.

          1. Quaremie*

            I was thinking of Scully too! I’ve admired her since I was a teenager and I’ve tried to absorb her demeanor, cool and calm in stressful situations and competent in my scientific career!

          2. Jaydee*

            Yes, and I think that as you work through the seasons you go from a Scully who is trying exceedingly hard to be all business and fit into a very tough, male-dominated work place even though said workplace throws truly the most bizarre things at her at every turn to a Scully who comes out of her shell a bit and reveals more and more of her weird side but without trashing her reputation at work. She can absolutely dish out witty banter with Mulder, and goof around with the Lone Gunmen but also be 100% professional in a meeting with Skinner or while talking to local law enforcement in a town where they’re investigating a case. I’m guessing the LW doesn’t want to completely lose sight of her fun, jokey side at work but does want to rein it in pretty sharply, and I think Scully would be a good role model for that.

        2. Water Dragon*

          I came here to suggest Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve heard it described as competency porn. Captain Picard listens to his staff and they collaborate well. He believes them when they say they are experiencing weird sci-fi stuff that no one else sees. It’s also the show with the most staff meetings on camera than I’ve ever seen.

          1. Sharpie*

            And if LW needs read in order to absorb the characters, there are plenty of books in the Star Trek franchise. Of course, being popular sci-fi, some are better than others.

            Also I recommend Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice specifically of Jame Austen’s books. Also Lindsey Davis’ Falco novels if you like historical fiction – detective novels in Ancient Rome.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Love _Persuasion_, but _Sense and Sensibility_ is probably better for professionalism than _Pride and Prejudice_. Lizzy’s entertaining but *not* business-like.

              1. fish*

                Yes, Eleanor from Sense & Sensibility is a great model for how to move onwards competently, with outward calm, and meeting all obligations, when nothing’s going right.

                1. Not my real name*

                  I love Eleanor, but Anne from Persuasion gently runs the show with unreasonable people very well.

              2. Allegra*

                Came here to say S&S and Elinor! I was just watching the movie last night and wish I could keep myself together as well as Elinor does.

            2. Mrovka*

              Lindsay Davis also has a series with Flavia Alba, Falco’s daughter. Competent, smart, and a badass. Starts with The Ides of April.

              Also, Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford series.

            3. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

              I’d like to jump in and recommend all of Diane Duane’s writing–not just her Star Trek novels, but her original works, like Tales of the Five and Young Wizards (the latter is YA, but 1000% holds up for adult readers. I’d have believed the series to be written for adults if I didn’t know it was YA.)

      2. Not a fish*

        I once worked with a female manager who told me she channels Captain Picard on the Bridge and that doing so helped her become a good manager. Specifically, she tried to model his capacity to calmly delegate jobs and bring it all together in stressful situations.

      3. Qadata*

        For competent and unflappable characters from Star Trek, I’d recommend Seven of Nine or Emperor Philippa Georgiou.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I don’t recommend emulating Emperor Georgiou! She’s a fascinating character but definitely anti-social and self-serving. Seven of Nine would be better to work with, but she’s still very aloof and bad at giving feedback without insulting people (at least in Voyager; by Picard she’s gotten better at social cues).

      4. action kate*

        If we’re sneaking in TV recommendations, Agent Peggy Carter from her eponymous show. Brilliant, inventive, nearly unflappable, absolutely no patience for fools or sexism.

        I do love Janeway (c.f. my username) but I’m not sure she’s the right person for this LW at this time.

        1. Robert in SF*

          Yes! Peggy Carter is amazing! She is the epitome of professional – competent, calm, cool, and collected (and classy!).

          I also like Agent Coulson myself in the movies and the Agents of SHIELD show, and especially in his short “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer”.

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          And Agent Carter has the bonus of an AH-MAZING New Look-era wardrobe that is utterly to die for, if you like that sort of thing. Which I clearly do.

          1. Festively Dressed Earl*

            Agent Carter is my go-to worksona for calm, confident professionalism. Early on I found out that her signature red lipstick is Besame 1946, and I keep a tube around for an extra cosplaying-a-responsible-adult boost.

        3. Satellite Gal*

          I LOVED Agent Carter, I was so sad when it got cancelled. Her line of “I know my value” has always been my mantra when going through a tough time at work.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I was also sad when it got retconned. (The ending of Avengers: Endgame pissed me off so much.)

      5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Also not books:

        When I’m struggling, I look to Harry Stone of Night Court. He functions, even thrives, without quashing his inner child, abandoning his passions, or losing himself in setbacks. I’m hopeful his daughter carries that on the newboot.

        I also look to Indiana Jones (specifically, Raiders of the Lost Ark). After I watched it two or three dozen times over the years, I realized that the movie is just a series of setbacks and failures until it reaches the end of the Mediterranean Island scene near the end. Every nominal success is fleeting. Yet Indy still pulls off the overarching goal by strategically failing his way to victory.

        I also look to Father Mulcahy of the M*A*S*H series. He’s stationed half the world away from his life, those whose needs he tries to serve are mostly indifferent to him (Klinger professes to listening to his sermons out of friendship and not faith. I want to say Hawkeye does as well. Potter is one of the few who believes in camp, but even he as a Protestant (Methodist or Presbyterian, depending on the episode) can only be so close to the Catholic Mulcahy). Those who do need him mainly need him due to needing the Last Rites. He’s literally surrounded by death, desperation, and misery, struggles with the limits of his own usefulness, yet his patience, compassion, and warmth are beacons in the darkness, irrespective of the faith (or disbelief) of whomever he’s interacting with.

        Finally, Mel Brooks. Most days I feel like my life could be one of his movies, so I often look to their characters for comfort. Often it’s Robin of Loxley or Colonel Kernel Sandurz. Lately, it’s more Mel Funn.

        1. Language Lover*

          I love the recommendation of Harry Stone.

          Competent. Playful. But also very kind, diplomatic and empathetic.

      6. Florp*

        I like Star Trek Discovery specifically for the way the characters relate to each other at work. They’re not just super-competent people, they also have these weird things called conversations where they explain their thinking and actually listen to each other. Some of them are a bit cantankerous or sarcastic, but they still manage to get along even when they disagree.

      7. Language Lover*

        Another good TV one is Sharon Raydor from Major Crimes.

        Her romantic relationship was possibly an issue but overall she was calm, competent and ethical.

    11. xandra*

      The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard is a fantasy novel where the main character is a delightfully effective public servant. One of the best books I read last year. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is another one.

      1. Sel*

        Seconding “The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison (I haven’t read “The Hands of the Emperor” so can’t comment on that). I would also recommend The Goblin Emperor’s two sequels: “The Witness for the Dead” and “The Grief of Stones.” The main character of those two is different from “The Goblin Emperor,” but he also embodies professional diligence and competence while going through some profound personal tragedies, so OP#4 might relate to that!

      2. Gingerblue*

        Thirding The Goblin Emperor; I was scrolling the thread to see if it had been recommended yet! Maia is such a fundamentally decent character that it’ a relief to spend time in his head.

        1. Robin Ellacott*

          Yes! His sense of justice is so entrenched he doesn’t even think about it, and he’s always kind to his staff and those “below” him. I love the book and read it often.

      3. OrigCassandra*

        I too was thinking about Maia, as someone who has absolutely Been Through It but works the entire novel on how not to take that out on everyone else (even a couple-three people who utterly deserve it).

        Csevet Aisava is also total competence porn… and we learn late-ish in the book that he’s Been Through It too.

        I wouldn’t recommend Witness for the Dead for this OP at this time. The tone of this book (and its sequel) is pretty relentlessly dour and grim.

      4. Mandy*

        Yes also to Katherine Addison. I was really moved by The Witness for the Dead and thought it was a very unusual book

      5. Pink Candyfloss*

        Seconding for The Goblin Emperor, it is my comfort read and I have been through it many times. Many competent people and the main character is absolutely just trying his best. Also enjoying the follow-up series, Witness For The Dead etc.

    12. lyonite*

      You may have read them all already, but Agatha Christie does a great job with an ultra-competent main character. Miss Marple in particular is always the equal to any situation she finds herself in.

      1. Kaye*

        I was thinking of Lucy Eylesbarrow (annoyingly, can’t remember which book she’s in! 4.50 from Paddington?)

        Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm is a tempting thought, though I wouldn’t advise getting quite so invested in sorting out other people’s lives for them.

        Actually, the consummate professional to my mind is Clorinda in The Comfortable Courtesan. That’s a very specific profession, of course, but I think there’s a lot in there about maintaining the façade and managing relationships.

        1. LittleBabyDamien*

          Yes, 4:50 From Paddington! And Lucy is very competent, and works well with Miss Marple.
          If we are going down the classic English mystery heroine, I would like to add Dorothy Sayer’s Harriet Vane in Have His Carcase.
          If you prefer something slightly more romantic and less mysterious, Mary Stewart’s books have very competent protagonists, although they are hard to find now.

          1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

            Too many of Mary Stewart’s heroines started out weak and only reached competence once A Man came along, though. I like the books, but they are now period pieces.
            For Agatha Christie, her character Henrietta Savernake in The Hollow is awesome. I think Christie decided to one-up Dorothy Sayers and create a character who out-did Harriet Vane in all aspects.
            I also thought of Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm. So self-confident and organized, and amazing at following through on a project.
            Granny Westherwax in Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books is the most badass, intelligent, empathetic character in the whole multiverse.

            1. Green great dragon*

              Granny Weatherwax is all those things, but I do not think she would thrive in an office environment. On the other hand, wouldn’t the Patrician be the perfect senior manager? Realism, focuses on what matters, uses all the resources available, often very creatively.

              1. Spooncake*

                Yes, my first thought was the Patrician. He’s already in an office environment, and he’s great at what he does- not just the running of the city, but also the stuff he does as a manager. If someone can make Sam Vimes take two weeks off, you KNOW they’re good.

                1. My Dear Wormwood*

                  I’m going to spend hours trying to wrap my head around Vetinari as a good manager. I mean you’re right, I’ve just never thought of it that way and it’s not fitting into my head.

                  “Don’t let me detain you” as a tool for managing your obstructive business partners is, however, *chef’s kiss*

                2. Jules the 3rd*

                  He’s a great manager (and character), I *adore* Vetinari, but he’s always a side character. And while _Going Postal_ is my favorite book, with _Night Watch_, _Guards Guards_, and _Fifth Elephant_ close behind, neither Moist nor Vimes are good professional voices. Same for Death, that intense practicality is… um….

                  Now, *Carrot*…. Calm, friendly, flexible, dedicated, hard to upset… Maybe _Men at Arms_ and _Feet of Clay_.

                3. ferrina*

                  Absolutely the Patrician.

                  Discworld can also be a good series to figure out where you are now. For example, if you most closely resonate with Ridcully or Nobbs, that’s valuable information about yourself. Likewise, if you resonate with Granny, it’s because you value solutions over people (but see solutions as being expressly for people), and you may even be intentionally cultivating a cantankerous reputation as an emotional safeguard.

              2. Squidhead*

                Susan (Death) Sto Helit absolutely rolls up her sleeves, gets things done, and takes no crap in Hogfather and Thief of Time (but I enjoy her when she’s younger, too).

                Magrat Garlick grows a spine in Lords and Ladies and Carpe Jugulum (also featuring the best and darkest of Granny Weatherwax).

                Sibyl Vimes always holds things together with class.

                Tiffany Aching learns to navigate the world–not without some missteps, but with a willingness to broaden her views.

                1. Data Bear*

                  I think Lady Sybil is a fantastic example of a boring, stable, competent character with no personal issues and no drama. (Or at least, as close to boring and drama-free as you’re going to get in fiction.)

              3. Mill Miker*

                If we’re going Discworld, and you feel up to a book with a lot of death in it, Reaper Man features Death himself dealing with losing his job and kinda having to rebuild his sense of self and self-worth.

                1. UKDancer*

                  I love Reaper Man. I think the ones involving Death are my favourite in the Discworld series. He’s such a fascinating character who always tries to do the right thing within the parameters governing his role. Also he calls his horse Binky which gives him extra awesome points.

            2. Exploding Soup*

              I have to beg to differ on Mary Stewart, the heroines of her thrillers tend to be seriously badass, but the only one set in a workplace that I can think of is Nine Coaches Waiting. It’s a highly unconventional workplace, I have to admit, but OP seems to be up for that. Our heroine, who was orphaned as a child, becomes governess to a little boy who has also been recently orphaned and does an absolutely brilliant job of it in difficult circumstances. The book riffs off Jane Eyre in really interesting ways and is both moving and gripping, a neat trick!

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                I have six Mary Stewart thrillers, and her heroines range from ‘totally useless’ (_My Brother Michael_) to badass (_This Rough Magic_, _Nine Coaches Waiting_), with 4 leaning badass and two totally useless. And even with the badass ones, the heroine is always working with / against men, the other women are mere scenery.

            3. Timothy (TRiG)*

              My Pratchett recommendation was actually going to be Daphne from Nation. She’s young, and traumatised, but very competent.

              Mary Stewart’s heroines are a mixed bunch. Madame Will You Talk and Airs Above the Ground both feature competent female heroines who depend very little on the men in their lives (though those men are also competent).

            4. OrigCassandra*

              I’ll put a word in for Sybil Ramkin Vimes. If there is a job in front of her, she will see it done, as graciously as possible.

              1. ferrina*

                I hadn’t thought of her, but you’re right! She’s diplomatic while also authentic, and she will take on any job needed. She’s a great advocate for herself.

          2. My Cabbages!*

            Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night is great too, and it shows her in a workplace recovering from a difficult personal situation.

        2. flora_poste*

          I was also thinking of Flora Poste (my namesake :)) – her interference is I agree a bit much for the workplace, but her ability to plan, strategise and take the oddest happenings unflappably in her stride is an inspiration to me every time I pick up the book.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Originally it was, but there’s a recent reprint with the title “4:50 from Paddington”; luckily either will bring it up when searching Amazon or your library!

        3. Sharpie*

          I remember when the Comfortable Courtesan was being published online, I hadn’t realised the writer had actually gone ahead and got into print!! Thank you for reminding me of her, Clorinda Cathcart is the ultimate consummate professional. Highly recommend.

          1. OtterB*

            I also highly recommend the Comfortable Courtesan. I re-read and re-read the series. For the OPs question, I think it’s good for the ensemble of the main character, her friends, and her household staff. There’s activity about various businesses- iron, agriculture, etc, efforts in Parliament to support the people, and a general focus on relationships.

          2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            The author has kept writing, including now about the children of some of the main characters from earlier in the series.

            It’s at https://the-comfortable-courtesan.dreamwidth.org but new readers should note that she’s posting the pieces blog-style on Dreamwidth, meaning the most recent (writing time and narrative timeline) posts appear first.

        4. Irish Teacher*

          Another good Agatha Christie character is Miss Bulstrode from Cat Among the Pigeons. And…I think it’s Miss Rich too, the English teacher. Miss Bulstrode is described as managing parents and teachers and students and knowing all the girls well and pointing them in the right direction for their future lives.

        5. penny dreadful analyzer*

          Flora Poste is actually one of my mental role models for dealing with local politics spaces (where there are lots of eccentric characters with grand passions and often little strategy): be polite, use your inside voice, and demonstrate interest in people until you can figure out who you can get on your side by helping them get what they want, and who needs to be redirected. Whether this worked out well or not is up for debate; I ended up in leadership for four years but also being in volunteer leadership is a special kind of dreadful.

          I know I’ve read a lot of competence porn for but at the moment I can mainly think of stuff I read as a kid/teen: Princess Cimorene and the witch Morwen from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles have been lifelong role models, as has Kel from Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small quartet. I’m blanking on stuff for adults except for the Witness for the Dead/Grief of Stones duology, which has already been mentioned. I don’t know if A Memory Called Empire would count, but the main character is a diplomatic, so her skillset certainly includes being diplomatic.

          1. Memily*

            Beka Cooper from the Terrier series and Ali from Trickster’s Choice are also level-headed “get it done” types. Ali specifically does a ton of organization too.

            Tamora Pierce writes such competent heroines, I love it.

          2. Bookmark*

            I was going to recommend Kel from Protector of the Small as well (she’s a fiction role model of mine too!), with the caveat that she’s an excellent model of competence and how to stand up for other people… and a more complicated model for standing up for yourself/finding some work-life balance.

            1. Bookmark*

              Also to nominate another character from the Protector of the Small series, Raoul in book 3 of the quartet. Best boss ever.

              1. No Egrets*

                Also forgot to say I agree re: Raoul! I actually started the series with “Squire,” the third book, where Raoul is featured most prominently in the series, so you could do that and still get the gist pretty easily if you don’t want to do all four books (my fifteen-year-old self thought the first two books were too babyish because Kel was 10/11-14, but I did go back and read them eventually).

            2. MigraineMonth*

              I think Kel is a particularly good rec because even when she’s furious, she stays outwardly very calm. She also doesn’t snark or quip (at least out loud) and has a quiet sort of confidence and leadership.

          3. Serin*

            I came up here to recommend Morwen from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles! I sometimes wonder whether the author was working on a private challenge to answer the question: “If my characters are neither incompetent nor stupid, can I still get them involved in adventures?”

          4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            Yes, Princess Cimorene is competent without being boring or complacent. I read those books SO many times as a teenager. The first book is Dealing with Dragons and the author is Patricia C. Wrede.

            1. Librarianne with an e*

              Yes! I was looking for Keladry of Mindelan/Beka Cooper from Tamora Pierce’s books and Inspector Gamache from Louise Penny, but Cimorene is an inspired recommendation! All books I re-read when I need to escape and calm myself.

          5. ermthebookworm*

            Mahit from A Memory Called Empire does make some kind of impulsive decisions, but she is a good role model for operating in an environment where your every move is being observed. So yes, I think this might fit!

          6. A Briar Rose*

            Another vote for Tamora Pierce! Her Circle of Magic series is for a younger crowd, but I think the character of Daja would fit the bill here. She was raised in a culture that emphasized stoicism, control over emotions, dignity, and practicality. She embodies these traits as she grows up, remaining calm and never retaliating even when faced with discrimination and insults. She shows more poise and maturity than even Sandry, who was raised among royalty and educated on tact and grace.

        6. RagingADHD*

          4:59 From Paddington, also previously published as “What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw” and in at least one edition as “Murder, She Said.”

          Probably why it’s hard to recall the title.

        7. Not Totally Subclinical*

          As a massive Clorinda fan, I am delighted to see her get a nod here. I love the Comfortable Courtesan series because most of the characters are decent and kind human beings, and Clorinda is extremely competent and professional in all her dealings.

      2. turquoisecow*

        I was thinking this too! Miss Marple is a great character, and most of the other characters don’t think much of her in the beginning.

      3. allathian*

        Yes, this. My only gripe with Miss Marple is her extremely demure style. It worked for that era, even in the last books that were set in the 60s, but not so much anymore.

        1. ferrina*

          Miss Marple’s strategies are extremely effective in the workplace (chatting with people to get information, being able to draw effective parallels to anticipate actions), but don’t ever tell anyone what you’re doing. Folks get annoyed about that (because it is a bit ruthless, socializing in order to extract information and anticipate actions).

          1. Albert Barenstein*

            Yeah, I agree. Miss Marple is a demure old woman who knows people will underestimate her because of it, so she plays it right up and lets them trap themselves in it. There are a couple of books with related stories themed around her becoming Nemesis! She’s quietly Machiavellian, honestly. I love it.

      4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Yes, I agree with Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot isn’t such a bad fit either; he has a big ego but not at the expense of anyone else (that is, he thinks he’s brilliant but doesn’t think anyone else is dumb, and he’s a good listener). Though if taking on the characters of the books you read includes picking up their speech mannerisms you might want to avoid Poirot so you don’t start calling everyone “mon ami”.

      5. Yay for Lucy*

        Agree with the Agatha Christie rec. for quietly competent people.

        Lucy Eylesbarrow in 4:50 from Paddington is great.

        Hickory Dickory Dock features the very socially competent sister of Miss Lemon, Poiot’s competent secretary.

        The Blue Train feature competent and unflappable Miss Grey.

        A Pocketful of Rye feature quietly competent Miss Dove.

        Mr Parker Pyne cannot be shaken, and can handle any problem.

        And for a different author: JEEVES! Wodehouse’s Jeeves handles everything, quietly, politely and efficiently.

        1. Bookbelby*

          I second Mrs. Pollifax, especially since she starts the book in a state of extreme depression but still maintains competence, and a genuine love of other people.

        2. BlueSwimmer*

          I love Mrs. Pollifax and want to be her when I grow up.

          The main character in Dorothy Gilman’s two book series The Clairvoyant Countess is also a good competence role model- an elderly woman who is clairvoyant, has lived through many tough times, and is unflappable, wise, and always kind.

      6. Office Gumby*

        Yes, Miss Marple! She’s competent, clever, thoughtful, and gets her job done. She would serve you well.

    13. RuledbyCats*

      If you’re okay with looking at things that may seem more YA (though I would argue not, or at least only in regards to main character ages), for someone in a series of weird, frightening situations and not exactly knowing what to do but needs to do SOMETHING: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher. It’s not a long or complex read, but you might find the young baker-wizard and her just-keep-it-together approach and sometimes sideways-on solutions something you could try to adapt and adopt.

      Good luck!

      1. Green great dragon*

        I was going to recommend her Paladin series. The central characters are dealing with the ongoing effects of a major trauma, each in their own way, but going forward and doing their work.

        Adult not YA. Not unusually explicit for an adult fantasy/romance, but unlike the Wizard’s Guide I am not sharing with my pre-teens.

        1. OtterB*

          Kingfisher’s heroines in general are known for being practical as things fall apart around them. Not part of the paladin series but in the same world there’s Swordheart, whose heroine Halla is good at, well, this sucks, let’s get on with it.

          Also all of the secondary characters associated with the Temple of the White Rat are great role models for competence and compassion. In particular I adore Bishop Beartongue.

          1. AceinPlainSight*

            I was thinking of Zale- they maintain that sort of professional demeanor even when they are obviously (and deservedly!) freaking out.

          2. UShoe*

            I came here to say Halle. She’s the first person that popped into my head, totally falling apart but concentrating on getting the job in front of her done in as calm a manner as possible.

        2. K.B.*

          yes, T Kingfisher came to mind for me as well, the clockwork series and paladins – so many people in those books who just know what their roles are and Get Things Done.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I massively disagree, and I love the West Wing, but the one thing that it absolutely doesn’t showcase is good examples of professionalism and boundaries. Except maybe Margaret and Ginger.

        1. SweetTooth*

          Oh yeah definitely don’t look at Josh and Donna. CJ is better but definitely doesn’t have great boundaries! I think Mrs. Landingham is the most professional and very capable at managing up. Margaret is mostly good except for how she practices other people’s signatures. And listens at closed doors.

          1. My Cabbages!*

            “You can forge the President’s signature? On the document removing him from power?”

            “Yes. Or is that a bad idea?”

            Paraphrasing, but I love that scene.

    14. ToS*

      The Personal Librarian by Benedict & Murray is a great read about passing-historical fiction about J P Morgan’s “curator” for acquisitions Belle, who boldly goes forth as a female in a competitive masculine world while navigating what people may think. I’m listening to it, which might add to the experience.

    15. SQLWitch*

      I know we’re seeing a lot of murder mystery fiction suggestions (and I’m intrigued by the reasons for that), but I don’t see Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell here. The series is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that continues the series after Conan Doyle left it off. Russell more than holds her own with Holmes for sheer competence, smarts, and sangfroid.

      I usually hate pastiches (do not get me started on the Nero Wolfe pastiches, but do read Rex Stout’s originals), but I have so much love for Mary Russell and her stories.

      1. nonnynon*

        I was thinking about this also and I think it’s that stories need conflict and a lot fiction that’s *about* a job/office gets conflict from the characters being bad at their jobs and/or acting very unprofessionally (think Succession or The Office). Whereas with mysteries the conflict is generally the protagonist trying to do their job in the face of external forces, so it helps with the drama if they’re unusually *competent* or talented at what they do.

        And for stories outside either category, often the protagonist either doesn’t have a “career” that could map onto what OP is asking for (e.g. it feels weird to ask whether the hobbits in LOTR are “competent” or good role models for this) or the conflict is tangential to their job so their competence or skill doesn’t come up much.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yeah, I was thinking that generally the main characters of books have a fair few flaws or are struggling, because competent, successful people don’t tend to get into situations that make such good stories (all the memes about how short books would be if the characters behaved sensibly). Detective stories are different as a good, traditional detective story doesn’t focus on the detective’s life at all (there is a reason Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple, Father Brown…are all unmarried, unattached, without children and with no evidence of elderly parents). The detective mainly observes and then sorts things out. They don’t contribute to the problem and are usually not even directly involved, unlike other protagonists.

          And ooh, I have another female detective, though the series is fairly niche. Sister Fidelma, a female lawyer and investigator in 7th century Ireland.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              She’s pretty good on the professionalism too, although she is young, especially in the early books and somewhat impetuous, but she has to maintain her authority and her brother succeeds as king of Munster and she has to establish herself as really deserving her job and establishing her own authority rather than simply being seen as a member of a royal family.

              1. 1LFTW*

                I’ve started it, and so far I am absolutely DELIGHTED that she’s a highly trained advocate within the Brehon Law system. It’s an aspect of Irish cultural history that’s always fascinated me.

          1. Sharpie*

            I recommend Lindsey Davis’ Falco novels. They’re set in Ancient Rome… And because they’re set so far in the past, the main character doesn’t know he’s not supposed to marry. Helena Justina is not going to be a nice sweet demure Roman wife, either, she’s going to roll up her metaphorical sleeves and get stuck in.

            The author has moved onto the next generation now and their daughter is equally a force to be reckoned with when it comes to whodunnit!

            The first Flaco novel is The Silver Pigs and the first Flavia Albia book is The Ides of April.

            1. UKDancer*

              Lindsey Davis also wrote a really good book called “The Course of Honour” about Vespasian and his relationship with a slave called Caenis who works as a secretary / scribe to a wealthy and powerful lady. Caenis is brilliantly drawn and shows the sort of jobs that slaves in Rome did as well as some of the issues and problems that people faced on a day to day basis. The political stuff is fun but she also makes the characters seem so realistic with the same sorts of problems everyone else has.

          2. Ariadne Oliver*

            Makes me think of another female detective, who is also great in her ‘workplace’ setting: Reverend Mother Aquinas from the Reverend Mother series by Cora Harrison. Set in 1920s Ireland; a mystery-solving nun, who is quietly authoritative and also kind and sympathetic.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              Having grown up in 1980s Ireland, where nuns still had a major role in our education system and as a history teacher with a fascination with the early years of our state, I think I need to find out more about this.

          3. UKDancer*

            Cadfael is also quite good for some of the domestic issues of living in a monastic setting, complete with office politics and disagreements and with the additional problems of having to live where you work so you can’t escape your colleagues after work.

        2. This Old House*

          I noticed that as well. I found myself giggling at the idea of LW going to work modeled on these characters – competent, professional, and following clues everywhere!

      2. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Ariana Franklin’s Mistress in the Art of Death series features a pretty competent 13th century pathologist Adelia (But it is mystery- thriller, so there is a bit of peril that may or may not help the op).

    16. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Oh no! AAM threads about book recos are never good for my Goodreads Want to Read list! I need to quit so I can read more.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Right? It’s also not good for my productivity at my actual job, as I keep refreshing the thread for more of these excellent recommendations!

    17. Lily Connors*

      Torin Kerr, the protagonist of Tanya Huff’s Confederation of Valor series, is an extremely competent woman who is generally just trying to do her job of keeping her crew of space Marines alive. No nonsense, practical, strong, and focused.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          I’d go for Torin more than Vicky – Vicky is effective, but can be a bit of a loose cannon (and has Issues), while Torin has to work within a rigid hierarchical structure as, effectively, a middle manager (aka staff sergeant). She has to manage up to keep enthusiastic but unseasoned lieutenants from messing things up, while directly managing the more junior personnel, and occasionally has to deal with political stupidity coming from above. While being shot at.

          Also, her introduction is AAM letter worthy, when she discovers her last night’s fling is her new boss.

      1. DameB*

        TORIN FOREVER! But yes, Torin gets the shit done and deals with her emotional stuff later. And frankly, she does deal with the emotional stuff and that’s important too. (She’s a bit stoic, just FYI).

    18. Shakti*

      When I’m in a work or social situation where I want to be extra poised and professional and maybe a bit witty when I’m feeling well super not, I read Jane Austen especially pride and prejudice. I find they help me

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          There’s also Susan Sto Helit from Discworld.
          Being Death’s adopted granddaughter (and occasional stand-in) helps.

        2. A Becky*

          Miss Hardbroom is a good teacher, and really shines in the later books. (The Worst Witch) but she’s not a good professional role model as it’s very much a children’s series.

      1. Yorick*

        This is a great suggestion for LW4. She would never overshare, she doesn’t try to appear cheerful, and she rarely jokes.

    19. Atomic Tangerine*

      The Wayfarer books by Becky Chambers are full of kind, thoughtful, and strong characters.

      1. Gingerblue*

        I’d recommend her Monk and Robot novellas in this context, too, which involve a lot of musing about characters finding a new equilibrium.

      2. astronoid*

        Seconded! I want all of them as best friends AND colleagues.
        If LW has no objection to books set on spaceships, Alastair Reynolds novels are full of highly competent women dealing calmly with increasingly catastrophic and complicated events (unwieldy asteroids, weird aliens, engine trouble, crew conflicts…)

      3. tamarack etc.*

        Yes, I particularly think of book 3 “Records of a Space-Born Few” (characters Isabel and Tessa fit the OP’s quest) and book 4 “A Closed and Common Orbit” (character Oolu). Ashby and Sissix from book 1 are also good professionals (and friends! at work! even though Ashby is the boss!) :-)

      4. Deborah*

        Seconded! Ashby (from #1, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet) and most of the adult main characters in #4 (The Galaxy and the Ground Within, my very favorite) seem like the best fit for what OP is looking for. (And the series is structured so that you’d do fine starting with #1 and going straight to #4.)

    20. esmaharc*

      Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus would be a great option. Main characters dealing with significant personal challenges against the sexist backdrop of the mid 50s/60s. Very relatable but empowering.

      1. fish*

        I enjoyed that book, but the main character’s thing seemed to be truly never understanding social cues. That can actually be a powerful weapon, I suppose, but for anyone who has a standard amount of sensitivity (or oversensitivity) to hints, I don’t think that path is possible.

    21. nonnynon*

      #4 is so interesting! I have three very different suggestions:
      1. the Three Pines (murder) mystery series by Louise Penny — the main character is a Canadian homicide detective, Armand Gamache, who’s methodical, detail-oriented, empathetic, and relentless. He’s also sort of a dream boss and has a knack for giving outcast/oddball junior officers the right conditions, mentorship and kindness they need to thrive. There are a lot of people on his team who are competent in different ways. There are also like 20+ books in the series currently and she’s still writing more.
      2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. The main character in this sci-fi is a runaway rich kid turned admin/translator on a small cargo ship — most of the plot is about various sci-fi things happening, but the protagonist has a mix of in-over-her-head fake-it-til-you-make-it and genuine competence going on that I think might speak to you. There’s a couple other books in the same universe but focused on different characters.
      3. the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. Commonly described as a Napoleon war naval drama but with dragons instead of ships. The main (human) character is a naval captain who unexpectedly becomes a dragon caption when he captures a French ship with a dragon egg onboard. He’s loyal, brave, honorable, a little stiff-mannered/awkward, treats his crew well, and stays calm under pressure. He also goes through a lot of character growth over the whole series, which is nine books long and finished.

      I hope you get some good suggestions from this thread and I hope you have a better 2023!

      1. Atomic Tangerine*

        I get what Chambers was doing (shifting perspectives and storylines with each book) and it’s interesting, but she writes such good characters in the Wayfarer universe that I kept feeling disappointed and frustrated I couldn’t spend more time with them.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        I recommend the Vorkosigan books wholeheartedly but you can DEFINITELY go wrong looking to the Vorkosigan family for career inspiration.

        Cordelia: yes
        Simon: definitely
        Aral: probably
        Mark: with some caution
        Miles: no. No no no no no.

        1. Meri*

          To be fair, Miles is an excellent boss, just a terrible subordinate. (I suspect young Arsl would be similar, we just never got to meet him.) Also, Lady Alys and Ekaterin would be good examples of competence.

        2. I take tea*

          Well, Miles is nothing if not resourceful… But I agree, that as a role model he isn’t excactly the best.

        3. Wahlee*

          I’d say Ekaterin, Gregor, and Galeni are all excellent examples of competence under pressure and after trauma. But yes, Miles is endlessly entertaining and would be a TERRIBLE role model for. . . almost everyone.

          1. Random Dice*

            I like Simon and Cordelia the best as role models.

            Simon is boringly competent, integrity-filled. and kind, while dealing with incredible internal and external chaos. He heads up a spy agency that in the past has been a hotbed of corruption and villainy… But instead of fearing torture or murder, his subordinates are terrified of his red pen edits to their reports, and of disappointing him.

            Internally, he has an eidetic-memory chip that drove most people crazy, and his job requires him to see (and remember forever) the most awful things every day. Despite this internal swirling chaos and trauma, he is calm, steady, quiet, and kind.

      2. Daisy*

        Bujold is my go-to read when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It definitely helps to read her various books in order.

      3. Again, why is it asking again?*

        That’s the absolutely wrong suggestion for this question. Miles and Ivan get the most book time and they would be terrible role models of professionalism.

        1. ronda*

          I think Ivan comes off showing professionally well in a civil campaign and Ivan vorpatrils alliance. under rather chaotic circumstances. Sure young Ivan did some stupid stuff, but he did grow up. (and he still has his moments). but those 2 books have quite a bit from his pov and he is competent.

          but I would probably recommend a different Bujold series for competence. The Sharing Knife books. beguilement is the 1st one and Fawn’s character might speak to the LW. but really all the characters show quite a bit of competence in the novels. It does have some dark elements so if you are triggered by some stuff, might want to check on that before committing to reading.

          1. Random Dice*

            Cazaril from The Curse of Chalion, and Penric from the Desdemona series are also good examples of kind decent people who navigate difficult circumstances with calm competence.

            Lois McMaster Bujold clearly has a bent for that kind of character, I’ve always thought that one can tell a lot about her character from the way she writes.

      4. Celia Lake*

        Cazaril, from The Curse of Chalion is actually a really good example of “getting on with it after awful times” and also doing his utmost to be professional (within the local standards for same) even when people around him absolutely aren’t doing their share of that.

        (Also one of my favourite books.)

    22. Forensic13*

      Myfanwy Thomas from The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is my favorite super-competent character! In part because she is actually NOT a physical bad-ass but a mental one (and maybe some other stuff; it’s a fantasy-ish book).

      1. magpie*

        Oh yes, this is a terrific choice. And Stiletto, too, which has some Myfanwy but also brings in two other heroines struggling to be good at their jobs. The whole series is a riot of ‘women struggling in the workplace and winning’ only the workplace is full of purple slime that eats people.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        Oh yes! Seconding this one too!

        And Myfanwy has some very deep seated insecurities and limitations, and she manages to work around them and have an astonishingly successful career anyway!

    23. JangMi*

      Not as a book with a character to identify with, but as a book that may help encourage with some element of pulling yourself out of the funk, LW4: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It’s quite heavy going (TW: the main character attempts suicide very early in the book, and it’s the catalyst for the concept of the story), but I found it really helpful on an introspective level and one that was encouraging to take life by the proverbial balls by the end of it.

      As for books with characters to emulate: the Dark Swan books by Richelle Mead come to mind immediately.

    24. sunshine*

      Jackal Segura from Kelley Eskridge’s speculative fiction novel Solitaire is my professional aspiration persona! She strikes a great balance between being warm and friendly but still maintaining professional boundaries and communicates directly but professionally about everything from project management to advocating for her rights. Also, her executive function skills are top-notch.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        Really? She’s a hot mess for like 80% of the book and doesn’t really pull it together until after she’s wallowed in rock bottom for ages.

      2. Reba*

        Ah I should have scrolled down before posting! Jackal is amazing and I feel like this book didn’t get as much love as it deserves.

    25. Silence*

      Honor Harrington from the series by David Weber though they are space military so may not be directly relatable .
      Most of Dick Francis heros are very competent at their job, usually involving horses.
      Not sure if the murderbot diaries series by Martha Wells is useful as it more of a floundering character putting on a facade of confidence so it may feel like where you are then where you want to be.

      1. AlwhoisThatAl*

        “Gurathin turned to me. “So you don’t have a governor module, but we could punish you by looking at you.”
        I looked at him. “Probably, right up until I remember I have guns built into my arms.”

        1. word nerd*

          You have just reminded me that I have only read one of the Muderbot books (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and need to go read the others…

          1. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

            Oh have fun-they are soooo good. I’ve reread Network Effect many times because it was so enjoyable.

        2. NetNrrd*

          HOORAY FOR MURDERBOT. Although one of my favorite quotes is from a different security bot in “Network Effect” that sort of sums up why I’d recommend the series: “There is a lot about what is going on here that I don’t understand. But I am participating anyway.”

      2. Dear Reader*

        I love the answer of Murderbot for this question. You see their interior struggles but also their extremely competent actions.

        Also the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie has her issues, but I find her character to be very calming and competent.

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        I scrolled down to find Murderbot!

        Very competent and professional, not that Murderbot actually wants to be working…

        1. Beka Rosselin-Metadi*

          Murderbot just wants to watch The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon. Is that so wrong?

      4. penny dreadful analyzer*

        Like a lot of the more fun competence porn characters, Murderbot is highly competent at some things and amusingly dumb as a stump at others.

      5. Florp*

        Yes, Murderbot! Not just for the central character, but for the people around them who try to do right by them.

        1. Properlike*

          Yes! This was my first thought. I have Murderbot tendencies, so I very much appreciated the people around MB, especially the commander whose name I couldn’t remember.

      6. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        Well the boss in those books, Mensah, is superb: calm, cool, intelligent, brave, inspires loyalty. If she’s too perfect, the lawyer, Pin-Lee is on her game, too, with more swearing.

    26. UpnUp*

      The Mercy Thompson series. Werewolves, strong female protagonist who persists against the odds, treats her friends well, and is clever. And likes herself.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Sounds similar to the Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn.

        Kitty’s a late night talk show host who survives a werewolf bite and goes on to juggle her career with various adventures that require confidence, competence, building alliances, and maintaining strong trusting relationships.

        1. irianamistifi*

          I love Kitty Norville AND Mercy Thompson and I would like to add Kate Daniels from Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. A badass mercenary in Alternate Universe Atlanta who wants to stay above it all but is drawn to aiding others because of her competency and magical ability.

      2. NotBatman*

        Mercy Thompson’s unflinching pragmatism always inspires me. Her approach to romance, to finance, to magical spells cast by angry gods… it’s all so wonderfully practical.

      3. no thank you*

        absolutely love Mercy – she is badass and (begrudgingly) manages to be the interpersonal mediator between multiple magical groups, but in a way that gets everyone what they want (or maybe not what they *want*, but an outcome they can all live with). And she does it all while running a business!

      4. postscript*

        Came here to say this! Love Mercy Thompson for a pick-me-up. Anna from the Alpha and Omega series is also a plucky, high-integrity heroine.

      5. Gracely*

        Yes! I was coming here to recommend this series. She also is a good boss who owns her own mechanics shop.
        And best of all, Patricia Briggs has been writing it since 2006, so there is a decent backlog to keep you reading for awhile.

      6. Kyrielle*

        Mercy is sturdy and strong and capable, but as far as professionalism – not so much; we don’t see a ton of her in her job role, she’s usually bringing trouble there (not on purpose, most of the time), and she’s a mechanic which already has different professionalism requirements than an office job. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the series and the heroine, but I don’t think she’s the right fit here.

      1. River Song*

        Regardless, I am totally scrolling this thread and adding to my To Read list left and right! AAM: come for professional advice, stay for the book recs, llamas, and cheap ass rolls.

    27. Varthema*

      Naomi Nagata from The Expanse! And if you get to book 5 you learn that her professionalism masks some pretty deep trauma of her own. Though really any of the four crew of the Rocinante – I wouldn’t emulate all of them in EVERY aspect of life, but they communicate clearly, respectfully, and professionally with each other. The books more so than the TV series, which tends to change and heighten behaviors to drum up drama.

      1. Varthema*

        Er, she does have one personal relationship which would be highly unadvisable. But it’s understandable given their context and they’re SO good at the communication and professionalism part that it doesn’t cause any major issues.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        But even in the TV series, you can see her intelligence, her courage, and her sheer enormous determination.

        1. Properlike*

          Yes! Even Carmina Drummer has her moments (but she’s too badass.) Let’s talk about the Shohreh Agadashloo’s character. Made me want to be diplomatic if I could wear those clothes.

    28. Felis alwayshungryis*

      It’s not a book, but if you can find it – the Beiderbecke series. It’s a 1980s Yorkshire Television production about two teachers that get dragged into all kinds of underground shenanigans. The female lead, Jill Swinburne, is exactly who I want to be when I grow up – whip-smart, deals with her shitty employer with intelligence and humour, and is as strong and independent a female lead as you’re likely to find in any tv show.

      It also deals with corruption on a local and national level that’s still really relevant. It’s a slow burn, and as much about characters as plot. And I bet I’m the only one here who’s seen it!

      1. Yorkshire Lass*

        You just lost your bet! I have the DVD boxed set. One of my favourites for a rewatch when I want something perfect in every way.
        Come for playing “spot the location” – all filmed within a few miles of my house, stay for the excellent acting, wonderful characters, and wry Yorkshire wit.

      2. UKDancer*

        You lose the bet!

        I love that series. When I miss Yorkshire especially it’s what I watch to feel connected to my roots. Jill is awesome and funny and clever and I love the relationship she has with Trevor. I also deeply like Big Al because he’s just great, principled and yet also pragmatic. He reminds me a lot of my grandfather in many ways.

      3. Kate, short for Bob*

        If we’re doing TV, Sgt Catherine Cawood from Happy Valley is all the goals – completely unflappable on duty, excellent relationships with co workers, knows how to manage her management, and more competent than anyone else while managing massive personal traumas. Funny too.

      4. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

        I remember Beiderbecke!

        Loved that show, though the first season was definitely the best one.

      5. SarahKay*

        Joining the chorus of ‘you lose your bet’ people. Watched it, adore it, have the box set and the books (it got novelised).
        And yes, Jill Swinburne is fantastic – in fact the books are very good for that because I feel like you get more of her inner voice.

      6. Felis alwayshungryis*

        I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to lose a bet! (I like playing spot the location too – I grew up partly in Kirkstall at a similar time, and later lived in Chapel Allerton.) The books are quite good, but I prefer the series.

        Oh, and +1 for Catherine Cawood! I love her. I’m certain that Sally Wainwright is channelling Alan Plater, especially when it comes to characterisation.

      1. fish*

        It’s entertaining, but they aren’t really that professional! If my boss ever said, “Don’t worry kids, Mommy will be back” … I would think she’d taken leave of her senses.

    29. Phryne*

      I will never pass up an opportunity to share my favourite book with my favourite heroine, so Uprooted by Naomi Novik. She gets taken by a wizard to his tower to be a servant, but she is no damsel in distress (and though there is some romance in the story, and the description sounds like a harlequin setup, the book is not in fact a romance but about following your own way and believing in your own power)

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I haven’t read Uprooted, but I came here to recommend any of the protagonists in Novik’s Spinning Silver. I think the inner voice of any of the three main characters would work–they all remain calm during a variety of stressful situations.

          1. Robin Ellacott*

            Me too – three women in situations were women don’t have power, who each create their own place and power in totally different ways.

      2. Pink Candyfloss*

        Uprooted and Spinning Silver are excellent, as is the Temeraire/His Majesty’s Dragon series also by Novik. Competent characters doing their best to get by, and also dragons, what is not to love.

        1. Phryne*

          To be fair, I pretty much love all of her books, including the latest, the Scolomance series. She has a real gift of worldbuilding and telling a rich and encompassing tale without getting too lost in descriptions or going off on tangents (unlike quite a few other SF/F writers…) And all of her characters have dept and agency too, no manic pixies or other placefiller cardboard cutouts.

    30. Laskia*

      This may not be 100% relevant, but when I was going through a rough patch a few years ago, I found it helpful to identify with Tamar from “Someone to run with” by David Grossman. She is a teenager, and not really in a workplace setting, but she has an amazing drive and willpower, and the ability to keep a grip on her emotions to keep it from interfering with her goal. (obligatory TWs though : addiction, death of a secondary character, teens being gaslighted into working for a criminal organisation). So again, not 100% in line with the question, but it helped me, so I hope it helps someone else :)

    31. Anonosaurus*

      I used to sometimes pretend to be V I Warshawski when I felt I wasn’t keeping it together as me. I haven’t read those books in a while though so not sure how current they would feel now.

      1. Hornswoggler*

        I second V I Warshawski – I reckon she holds up pretty well, and moreover she’s often surrounded by highly competent people – her sculptor friend Tessa, Murray the journalist, her lawyer, several of her more palatable cop friends, medics Lotty and Max,various classical musicians, academics, writers, sportspeople etc

    32. GingerHR*

      Since Cordelia Vorkosigan has already been mentioned, perhaps Kate Daniels or Dina DeMille from Ilona Andrews. Both (urban-ish) fantasy settings, so just moderate the swords and magic a little

      1. transientmeow*

        Should have scrolled farther before posting, but I definitely second the Dina recommendation! She’s just trying to run her intergalactic inn and raise her rating, for pete’s sake.

    33. Astfgl*

      Not a book suggestion for #4 but this just stood out to me:

      “I am having trouble keeping my mouth shut about myself (no one wants to hear sad stories about their coworkers) and my “cheerful” facade is coming out all wrong. ”

      You’re allowed to tell your co-workers that you’ve been having a bad time! There’s a big difference between constantly moaning about your life and letting others know you’ve had loss in the family/friend group/a severe illness/scary diagnosis/etc. If your co-workers are at all decent people they won’t take it badly, and it’ll also help explain why you may appear to be acting weird. I wish you all the best.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, the following lines stood out to me too:

        I think I’m being funny, but it’s just … weird. I’m realizing that my emotions are so messed up that I am finding humor in things that the average person very much does not think are humorous.

        Maybe give yourself a break from trying to be cheerful and funny. Lay off making jokes for a little while, if you can. Because you know your sense of humor isn’t matching your coworkers’ right now, I think it’s better to come off as a little reserved (for now) rather than weird.

        1. LW4 Here*

          Yes, Hlao-roo, I am 100% aware that my jokes are landing wrong and that my current version of “cheerful and funny” isn’t working. I have laid off from making jokes. Which is why I wrote to Alison.

          I am giving myself a break from trying to be cheerful and funny by asking about books so I can borrow someone else’s work style and thought processes until mine stop being so messed up.

          I know I need to be a little reserved BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE. I need a model to copy. Because there are ways to not talk/joke too much that come off as competent and reserved, and there a ways to not talk/joke too much that come off a bitchy, angry, and cold. And I don’t have the tools inside of me right now to come up with the perfect version of reserved.

          1. Menolly*

            I think looking to books to tide you over is an awesome idea. But what about clothes? Is there something you own that makes you feel amazing? Or something you can borrow from all the character suggestions that will serve as a visual aid to adopting your professional persona? I hope things start improving for you!

          2. Beth*

            If you’d like some TV recs as well, Stargate SG-1 was a wonderful source of competence porn. One of the four leads cracked jokes, usually lame ones, and the others just did amazing work and were superbly good at what they did.

            Since it was an ensemble show, although the plots called for badassery at regular intervals, this was basically shared out — so the team didn’t consist of one super badass with sidekicks; it’s more along the lines of How Just Plain Being Competent Is As Effective as Badassery And Much More Sustainable.

          3. Lanlan*

            I found James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series great for this – James is a gentle, serious, not utterly humorless, but not nearly as much of a disaster as either his boss or his coworker. Helen is also fantastic, a nice pragmatic farmer’s daughter who knows how to Get On With It.

      2. LW4 Here*

        I have told them about the deaths. I have referred to medical things I’m dealing with, though I haven’t given any specifics.

        And I have still factually dropped the ball on a lot of work things and disappointed people over a period of about six months.

        1. Red Wheel Barrow*

          I love some of the suggestions other people are making (Tiffany Aching, Lucienne). The characters who are popping to mind for me may not be quite right: for instance, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice does an an amazing job of tactfully navigating difficult circumstances, but her “job” is figuring out whom to marry, so that might not map onto your work experience closely enough.

          For what it’s worth, and I hope this isn’t presumptuous, I also want to say that I hope you can be somewhat gentle with yourself about having dropped the ball on some things at work. That is such a very, very, very normal and human thing to do in the midst of extreme difficulty and heartbreak. And it’s also really, really normal in those circumstances to express yourself to have emotional reactions and express yourself in ways that might seem weird to people who haven’t experienced similar things. I know that you need to figure out how to handle your workload and how to behave around other non-intimate humans around this, and I respect that, but I’m also full of sympathy for your difficulties and hope you can be sympathetic to yourself as well.

          1. felis*

            While I love Pride and Prejudice and specifically Elizabeth Bennet as a character, I’m not sure she fits the bill here. Jane Bennet would probably be more what LW4 is looking for, but if we’re talking protagonist, whose perspective we are following, there are other Jane Austen novels to consider. I’d probably go with either Anne Elliot (Persuasion) or Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility). For Anne Elliot the focus I think is more on kindness, especially when contrasted against the rest of her family, while Elinor Dashwood is quite literally the embodiment of “Sense” in the midst of her very emotional and turbulent family. And then there is also Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, who has been described as an anti-heroine in the genre because of her utter lack of drama, intrigue and caprice.

        2. Natalie Portman*

          I just want to say that I feel this very, very hard right now, and I’m sorry you’re experiencing it. I’m just … not all that great at my job right now and trying really hard to be. I loved your letter because it reminded me of a question my psychiatrist asked me several years ago when I was struggling with my sense of self. He asked me what actor I identified with, whose characters seemed to resonate with me. And when I wasn’t sure what to do in a situation, think what they’d do. It seemed ridiculous in the moment, but then … it was actually helpful. I hope you’re able to find calm and security in the coming months. <3

          1. LW4 Here*

            It’s a twist on the old “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”. Sometimes we just need a little bit more detail on what it looks like to fake it.

    34. Auntie Anarchy*

      The TV version of Lucienne from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is rather marvellous. Holds it together, pushes back when appropriate, knows her stuff. (I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read the original so don’t know how much the TV character aligns to the graphic novel.)

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Lucienne has some demographic alterations from the comics character, but in personality and competence they are quite similar.

        I’m a librarian myself. I sobbed like a baby at her reunion with Morpheus. A librarian holding together a rotting realm with perfect loyalty? Yeah, no reason that would resonate at aaaaaaaaaall…

      2. OrigCassandra*

        Though it must be said that Morpheus himself is an absolutely HORRENDOUS boss. The woooooooooorst. Alison could tackle him for another of her Fictional Management Advice posts.

        1. Gracely*

          LOL, Morpheus is a hot mess of a boss/anthropomorphic personification of a deity.

          Lucien/ne is the height of competence, though.

    35. Volunteer Enforcer*

      Doctor Kay Scarpetta from many a book by Patricia Cornwell. She goes above and beyond, is always calm no matter the crisis etc.

    36. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Meanwhile I’m the one who just deep dives the archives so I can behave more like Alison, especially in treating work with a consultant perspective. It has done wonders for my career!

    37. Gingerblue*

      For levelheaded narrators in an SFF setting, I recommend Andrea Host’s Touchstone books. The first one is Stray, and involves an Australian highschooler unexpectedly walking through a rip in reality and onto another planet. Cass spends a lot of time thinking about how to be, essentially, professional in the weird circumstances she winds up in, and it’s the sort of book where people are fighting a world-threatening menace but are mostly all pretty decent and professional and make sure they’re filing the right paperwork as well as fighting other-dimensional monsters. Also, there’s a lot of bits about building new towns, exploring, setting up comfortable houses, archaeological investigations, going shopping, and other just soothing but interesting parts, if that sounds appealing. It’s a nice balance of action/other stuff. The first one is free on Kindle.

    38. Lil*

      Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – the main character especially is so competent and brilliant – actually so is Irina! It’s also about love and going through hard things.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I’m in the middle of this right now and I’m consistently impressed by the main characters in the book and how they set their mind to a problem, think around it/about what needs to be done, and make it happen.

    39. AlwhoisThatAl*

      Murderbot series from Martha Wells. A half human\half robot Security Guard Bot made to obey all humans (who sometimes shoot him for fun) or he gets his brain fried by the Governer Module in his head. He breaks his Module, still does his job but spends all his time watching soap operas until an exploration group comes along he starts to like. Wonderful reading as he slowly starts to develop as a person, funny and emotional at the same time.

      1. AlwhoisThatAl*


        “I liked protecting people and things. I liked figuring out smart ways to protect people and things. I liked being right.”

        “There’s a thing you can do with these small intel drones (if your client orders you to, or you don’t have a working governor module), when the hostiles are dumb enough to get aggressive without adequate body armor. You can accelerate a drone and send it straight at the hostile’s face. Even if you don’t hit an eye or ear and go straight through to the brain, you can make a crater in the skull. Doing this would solve the problem and get me back to new episodes of Lineages of the Sun much more quickly.”

        “They were all so nice and it was just excruciating. I was never taking off the helmet again. I can’t do even the half-assed version of this stupid job if I have to talk to humans.”

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Mensah from the Murderbot books is a really great administrator. Super competent, calm in a crisis. There’s a point where she’s rescuing Murderbot and it realizes that she may in fact be a bold galactic explorer.

      3. Llellayena*

        This is a great series. I do want to clarify one thing though; MurderBot has no gender. The books were specifically written to avoid assigning a gender to MurderBot and it makes for some interesting discussions in a book club…

      4. Pink Candyfloss*

        Totally agree and devour the Murderbot series every couple of years regularly, but must point out that Murderbot has no gender and does not think of itself as “he”. It can be discombobulating because the reader for the audiobook series is a male voice, but the author has confirmed that Muderbot identifies as “they/them” or even “it”, is purposefully not mentioned as either gender by any other character, and does not ever mention any issue with being non-gendered.

      5. Random Dice*

        It. I keep calling Murderbot “he” too, I think because the audiobooks are voiced by a man, and the job / armor looks male. But Murderbot is nonbinary, which I think is important representation.

    40. Reb*

      Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric series. Penric’s a bit naive in the first one, but once he gets the hang of being possessed by a chaos demon, he deals with all kinds of chaos with competence and kindness. I love them.

      1. wendelenn*

        Her Sharing Knife series, maybe less well known, is one of my favorites. Fern is a wonderful, competent heroine.

    41. Sprocket*

      Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw. It’s about a doctor who treats the undead and supernatural creatures of London. Even in the oddest and most stressful of situations, the lead character is professional to the utmost.

      It’s also just a delightful read I’d recommend to anyone.

      1. Gracely*

        Oh yes! Greta Helsing is a great lead character. And there are two sequels, so that means more to read!

    42. AmericanExpat*

      A few people have mentioned Naomi Novik characters, so just want to reinforce. Many of them make mistakes but they all have a strong inner moral compass that guides and explains their actions. When you’re tossed around by the storm, it can be helpful to emulate that approach.

    43. Reb*

      Jenny Crusie, especially Tell Me Lies, Welcome to Temptation, and Agnes and the Hitman. Competent women sorting their lives out, and very funny.

        1. BlueSwimmer*

          My favorite Jenny Cruise is Bet Me. Excellent competent main characters and also great side characters, who are each highly competent in their own way, while forgiving of their personal challenges. And super fun and a good romance too.

    44. M*

      Isabelle Lacoste from the inspector Gamanchr series (she’s more of a side character but comes up in every book I think). This series in general is good – balancing each with a good mystery, some personal insight into the characters, and a good atmosphere. Lacoste is professional, balances a high stress job with her family life, and doesn’t let others compromise her integrity.

      1. Emily*

        I think Isabelle Lacoste is a wonderful suggestion! Like you said, she is more of a side character in the book series (but Gamache is also a great character re: professionalism), but in the tv adaption that was recently released on Amazon Prime she has more of a central role, so if OP is interested in watching tv adaptations in addition to reading, Isabelle Lacoste is a great choice.

    45. I take tea*

      I quite liked Linus Baker in The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune. He is respectful of other beings, and he stands firm on his principles. He has a job to do, and he will do it with integrity, even when he is afraid.

      The House in the Cerulean Sea has been recommend several times in this blog, and I finally got around to reading it and thus add my voice to the crowd. It’s lovely.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I especially like this as an example of standing firm and doing the right thing even when your insides are going slooshy.

      2. NewJobNewGal*

        I got this book a few years ago and didn’t get into it. But now I’ll give it another try. Thank you!

        1. Gracely*

          I remember when I read it that the tone started out just completely gray and bleak and sad, but as you get further into it, it really becomes vivid and fun. It’s very well done, but it also makes those first few chapters difficult to push through. Definitely give it another go.

      3. Bossy Magoo*

        Yes yes yes! I can’t remember the last time I read such a feel-good book. I finished this while waiting in the airport after a business trip and I let out a huge sigh after closing the back cover. So delighted by all the characters, sad it was over.

      4. I edit everything*

        Oh, yes! Talk about a dysfunctional workplace and a good man doing his job well under…extenuating circumstances.

      5. Lcsa99*

        I just thought of this one myself. Both Linus and Arthur are so level headed with everything that’s going on around them. It is so beautifully written.

      6. Emily*

        Yes, this was going to be my recommendation! (And I also read this book after Alison’s recommendation.)

    46. Limpet1*

      Personally, I’d read a LOT of ask a manager and try to channel Alison (I think I attempt to do this on a daily basis anyway!)

      1. ursula*

        Seriously! I often do this when I have to figure out how to act right at work or what to say in strange or difficult situations. Her work persona occupies the same sort of category in my head as a fictional character that I’ve spent a lot of time reading, and it’s a helpful “voice” to revert back to whenever you feel yourself being weird. (And, huge sympathies, OP: it’s so cool that you’ve identified this for yourself and you’re coming up with effective and creative personal ways to deal with it.)

    47. Baroness Schraeder*

      If you liked Cersei Lannister, you’d love Mara of the Acoma from the Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts. Best admired for her ability to play the long game though, so perhaps not great for solving any immediate life concerns!

      1. Newly minted higher ed*

        I had forgotten about her! In the first book, she does a lot of finding her way through deep grief and untenable situations to not just protect her people, but allow them to thrive, often through creative workarounds to traditions. And she goes through some interesting realizations and transformations throughout the serirs about her society and what’s wrong, and is actually a successful administrator. She also realizes consequences of her decisions in poignant self-reflective ways. TW: domestic violence in the first book, though that ends up being sad as much as anything.

      2. Solitary Witch*

        I’m currently re-reading my way through this trilogy now and am getting to experience it through the lens of an adult instead of a teen. There’s a lot of life learning activities that Mara and her actions/reactions goes can be useful guide in how one does or does not wish to act.

    48. Katie*

      Another murder-mystery series with a really competent protagonist is the “In Death” series by JD Robb (pseudonym of Nora Roberts, whose more recent like post-2000 heroines tend to be really awesome as well). She manages the homicide division and trains new detectives, which adds to the workplace competence.

      If you lean more in the fantasy/YA direction, Tamora Pierce has some amazing protagonists that I definitely built some personality on when I was growing up. I love Alanna (Song of the Lioness series) and Kel (Protector of the Small series) especially.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Tamora Pierce yes – she wrote her books to get the strong capable female heroes she didn’t get to see enough of when she was growing up.

        1. BookishMiss*

          Another vote for Tamora Pierce. Her books have moved with me multiple times, and they’re Worth packing up, carrying the box, and unpacking.

          Specific characters from her books that I would emulate… Lark for sure.

      2. Keladry of Midelan*

        +1 to Tamora Pierce. My favorite is the Protector of the Small quartet. Kel is facing an uphill battle as the first girl openly entering page training in years and years, but is calm and determined and hardworking. (see username ;)

      3. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

        Came here to suggest Nora Roberts! I once heard her books described as “competency porn”. So many heroines who are just calmly amazing at their jobs. The Born In trilogy has a glassblower and an innkeeper, the Brides Quartet has 4 women running a successful small business together in a high-stress field… all feature details of day-to-day tasks done by someone smart and capable who I’d love to be my coworker.

      4. Pidgeot*

        +1 to Protector of the Small – Kel was specifically written to be the antidote to characters who “don’t play well with others” – and the speech Raoul gives her about the rareness and valuableness of commanders is spot on.

        1. Bookmark*

          Raoul is also a great character to look at in his own right if you’re looking for a good manager role model. Love the representation of how to have tough or awkward conversations with subordinates.

      5. Chainsaw Bear*

        Came in here looking for Kel! Her calmness and unflappability in the face of chaos and particularly stupid or bigoted people is tremendous, and also character traits I don’t often see romanticized, especially in women.

        That being said, I love Alanna, but she is perhaps not who I would recommend for workplace professionalism.

        1. Katie*

          Oh my gosh good point about Alanna! I got on a roll and put her in because I like her, but Kel is definitely the better choice here.

      6. Limotruck87*

        I came to suggest Kel as well! Of course I’ve always loved Alanna, but her temper and prickliness perhaps aren’t something to emulate at work if you’re trying to come off even-keeled.

        Kel is thoughtful, loyal, competent and stable. She doesn’t ignore her emotions, but she gives herself the space to feel them before simply reacting to things. I’ve often tried to be more like her.

        1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

          Well, adult Alanna as she appears in the Wild Magic series is great at her job and quite professional. Also, when I am at the beginner stage of something and feeling like I’ll always be bad it, I frequently think of her in The First Adventure borrowing a sword that’s much too heavy for her and practicing early in the morning, every morning, until she gets stronger and better. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. Extremely influential for preteen/teen/frankly also adult me.

      7. Polar Vortex*

        Tamora Pierce is my go to comfort person for reading – any of her books in any of her worlds are worth the read. Alanna and Daine were where my heart is at.

        Honestly I’d think the Beka Cooper series might be a good fit, since she’s trying to find her feet in her chosen career path.

    49. Mom of Five Cats*

      The team calling itself Charles Todd has a Scotland Yard detective named Ian Rutledge, a veteran of the recently ended Great War (1914-1918). He is dealing with PTSD, difficult office politics, and suffering people in a grieving country. He needs to solve the problems presented to him while coping with hard memories. These are some of the most deeply compassionate and human novels I’ve ever encountered.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I’ve not read these, but your description reminds me of the Maisie Dobbs series, which I’m currently 14 books into and still enjoying (not a given, most series decline in quality).

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          Maisie Dobbs are my “listen while knit” books – as fast as they come out. And Maisie is competent with good interpersonal skills. The books aren’t so heavy you feel emotionally drained.

        2. Mom of Five Cats*

          I got to Ian Rutledge via Bess Crawford (also from the Charles Todd team), and she was recommended by my book purchasing site after I had ordered some Maisie Dobson books. I am now reading books by the (real person) historian Ian Rutledge about the British and Turks in the Middle East.

      2. Wishbone Ash*

        I also thought of Ian Rutledge! One of my favorite characters and a wonderful set of books- I find I relate to him so much. Can’t wait for the next one.

      3. Ariadne Oliver*

        Upvote for Ian Rutledge, one of my favorite characters.
        And adding a plug for the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch — probably my favorite series, set in 1870s-ish England, Lenox also handles his career and his life with a gentle humor and compassion that is pretty unique.

    50. Why am I awake now*

      Fatma el-Sha’arawi from P. Djeli Clark’s works – impeccable style and unflappable whether dealing with idiotic bureaucrats or mythical creatures.

    51. Lady_Lessa*

      If you are up to thrillers (that end well) may I suggest Jo in “Falling” by TJ Newman. She is the lead stewardess in a plane where the pilot has to choose between crashing the plane or having his family killed.

      She shows both leadership, compassion and a willingness to work around the rules for the safety of all concerned.

    52. Hiring Mgr*

      Mr Roarke from Fantasy Island. He was the perfect combination of professional and friendly, was kind to staff (Tattoo) and would go above and beyond when necessary (when he had to defeat Satan)

    53. spruce*

      Among the classics, I would say Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Her personal life might be a mess, but she is the person everyone looks to in a crisis.

      1. Cat Herder*

        Also, watch the Emma Thompson Sense & Sensibility. Emma Thompson’s character has to take care of business when everyone is falling apart.

        Also, channel Tina Fey in Bossypants. B*tches get sh*t done!

        Joan Watson in Elementary.

        In real life, I’m in the same boat; everything is happening and I”m just trying to keep it together. Ive found that I just don’t talk to people because I’m afraid I will just information dump. So OP#4, I see you. too bad we can’t exchange anonymous emails.

        1. municipal government jane*

          Seconding Joan Watson in Elementary. Lots of chaos and boundary-testing around her but she’s composed, thoughtful, and is a great example for setting and maintaining appropriate/healthy boundaries.

    54. Very Much Anonymous*

      L.M.Bujold and D.Weber are both good options – actually, Weber writes a lot of badass hyper-competent female protagonists. In a very, very different mold though, one person that also comes to mind is Phedre Delauney from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel trilogy. Right upfront: this is fairly explicit BDSM-aligned erotica, so definitely not in most people’s wheelhouse. But the heroine is a very disciplined and level-headed woman – an exotic prostitute, yes, but also a skilled diplomat and spy, using the former to make people overlook or underestimate the latter.

    55. Roscoe da Cat*

      The Goblin Emperor which is all about maneuvering in a VERY difficult workplace in a way that allows you to succeed. You can either identify with the main character or his very efficient secretary.

      BTW – if you like Hands of the Emperor, give this book a try

      1. Arachnia*

        OK I was seeing recs for Hands of the Emperor above and I was like “I wonder if it’s like The Goblin Emperor [which is one of my favourite books]”- so I am delighted by this reverse recommendation. Adding Hands of the Emperor to my TBR list!

        1. OtterB*

          One of the things that sold me on trying The Hands of the Emperor was a rec that described it as like hearing the story of The Goblin Emperor from Csevet’s pov. Which is not exactly accurate, but not far off.

    56. Katrina*

      Sci-fi and fantasy nerd here. (Also writer, but I do middle grade, so not what you’re looking for. ^_^)

      Seconding The Martian by Andy Weir. This book has–for lack of a better description–gripping, edge-of-your seat math. I don’t mean you have to understand calculus to follow it, but the protagonist doing calculations somehow becomes this awesome, suspenseful, will-he-survive page turner. And I love it.

      On the fantasy side (and since you mentioned vampires), I recommend Skinwalker by Faith Hunter. Premise is that a group of vampires who are trying to keep the peace with humans have to hire a vampire hunter to take out a rogue. (The hunter Jane is the narrator.) If nothing else, I recommend the first chapter for one of the best employee-meets-employer scenes I have ever read.

      Also fantasy, but less action-oriented, is The Family Trade by Charles Stross. The protag is a reporter, but she’s particularly knowledgable in economics, and she discovers she’s part of a family that can travel between two worlds. They have a business enterprise that utilizes this ability, and she uses her job skills to revamp and optimize the entire thing, gaining authority and hopefully not getting assassinated in the process. (Unlike Faith Hunter’s series, this one doesn’t hold up as a whole, sadly, but the first couple books were good.)

      Hope these are helpful, OP. I’ve channeled some of my favorite characters from time to time when I’ve needed it. Sending lots of good thoughts your way.

    57. Asenath*

      Not fiction, and I’m not sure it would be useful, but Joan Druett has written a LOT of non-fiction (and, I think, some fiction) about historical sea voyages. In “Island of the Lost” she describes two shipwrecks om 1864 on the same island, but isolated from each other. One group handled things extremely well and the other did not (which might make it somewhat depressing), but the way the people who were in (or took) charge handled things made all the difference. The same author wrote “Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth-Century Women at Sea”, a fascinating account of, well, women at sea during a period when we tend to think they stayed at home embroidering, including taking over the command and navigation of the ship when their husband died. Which reminds me of female explorers, my favourite of whom is Mary Kingsley “Travels in West Africa” – not a professional botanist exactly, but an excellent organizer of her travels and studies.

    58. The Other Evil HR Lady*

      I read a LOT of paranormal fiction, especially WPF (Women’s Paranormal Fiction, which is geared towards women in mid-life), and the characters are, therefore, more mature. Hear me out: read Magical Midlife Madness by K.F. Breene. The main character is Jacinta (or Jessie) and she’s coming to grips with a new situation in life AND magical powers to boot. The way she speaks is funny, down-to-earth, no-nonsense and… most importantly for you: strong! I just want to BE her. It is a great, fun read, as well. It’s a whole series and it’s up to 6 books now, if you’d like to continue the adventure.

      I hope your 2023 is Smooth like the song by Santana. You need it!!

      1. Too Many Pets*

        Book Lovers by Emily Henry! The protagonist is an ambitious, successful literary agent. And it’s a fun, lighthearted read.

    59. LimeRoos*

      The Diana Tregarde series by Mercedes Lackey is pretty fantastic – she was my strong female inspiration growing up. I started with Children of the Night but Burning Water is awesome too! Jinx High is hard to find usually – its good but feels different from the first two. She’s not so much how to office, but definitely how to keep your sh*# together while battling with writing deadlines and psychic vampires or old gods. They’re pretty great and fun to read.

    60. Moira Rose*

      Thursday Next from the Jasper Fforde series starting with The Eyre Affair is a cool, competent career woman, even if she does live in a universe with genetically synthesized dodos and an evil toast corporation.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I was also going to mention Thursday Next! Also, Jennifer Strange in the Last Dragonslayer Series!

      2. I edit everything*

        I tried to reread this recently and found it not nearly as clever as I remembered it being.

    61. Aiani*

      I’m thinking Granny Weatherwax from Discworld. She’s usually the one in charge in every situation and it’s through sheer force of personality and determination.

      1. UK BA*

        Likewise, I was thinking of Commander Sam Vimes of the Watch. Moral, experienced, knows the value of building a diverse team, leads by example…

        1. Shirley Keeldar*

          If I wanted to emulate anybody at work, though, I think it would be Angua. Calm, professional, slightly ironic, a teensy bit detached, capable of biting your throat out but never actually doing it, and able to make, “It’s a point of view, certainly” into a devastating takedown.

    62. Sanity Lost*

      Clair Fraser from “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon. The show is actually said to be on point with her character. However, due to some of the scenes, I can’t watch it. But the books are fantastic
      Honor Harrington from the named series by David Webb. Alechia DeVries from “In Fury Born” by the same author. Futuristic Sci-Fi. He is one of the few male authors I have come across who writes believable strong women that aren’t cloyingly insipid or absolute men haters.
      The ship who sang by Anne McCaffery. She has a lot of books with strong female leads, if you like sci-fi fantasy. The Rowan series and the Acorna series especially
      The Daisy’s Tea Garden series by Karen Rose Smith if you prefer more murder mysteries
      Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Cruise is a fun read, but also a very strong confident character.
      If you want steady and concise there is always Mrs. Marple by Agatha Christie
      Those are the ones off the top of my head.

      1. Sunshine*

        Outlander is heavy on sexual violence, but I also agree with the Claire recommendation. Bonus points for her ability to keep the details of her personal life to a bare minimum – her survival depends on it!

      2. RumbaWaltz*

        Had to do a Ctrl+F for Outlander! Especially the later books (Drums of Autumn and after) for Claire; she sometimes can’t help herself, but she’s generally solid, competent, and analytical.

        But also, honestly, Jamie and Roger. They’re all also POV characters after book 1 and VERY thoughtful, calm, and reasonable.

    63. ABCYaBYE*

      Honestly, I’d go with anything Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot is one of my favorite characters in literature.

      1. ABCYaBYE*

        And non-fiction, I’d highly recommend “The Promises of Giants” by John Amaechi. His insights are incredible!

    64. Broom-Hilda*

      Whispering pines series Jayne O’Shea. The books are also quite calming and charming for murder mysteries.

    65. ticktick*

      Meg Langslow, from Donna Andrews’ mystery novels. She’s competent, sensible, hunourous and compassionate, and most of the supporting characters are as well – and since they’re mysteries that are more on the “cozy” scale of things, can help you to get into a lighter mood.

      1. No lizards allowed*

        I also recommended Meg below. Meg’s competence is very soothing to me when I’m under stress myself.

    66. Honey*

      I just read Hench at Alison’s rec from last week and that’s one you might read. It’s a fun book but the main character is also fierce, competent, and single minded!

      1. Potatohead*

        I was actually shocked no one mentioned Hench yet, especially since it’s already gotten a spotlight shown on it here.

      2. just some guy*

        I was thinking of that one, but it really depends on whether OP is able to snip out Anna’s professionalism and emulate *just* that bit, without also emulating the thing that drives it (obsessive anger) or its consequences to her personal life (disaster area).

    67. Terrible as the Dawn*

      PC Peter Grant, of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, is a model of young professionalism. He’s a relatively baby constable who discovers the existence of modern wizardry and is frequently having conversations with his boss about how to bring the antiquated tradition of the Crown’s sworn practitioners into line with modern policing practice.

      I would also recommend the Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie. The main character, Breq, is a model of calm and rational professionalism in the face of a galactic empire tearing itself apart from the inside.

      1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

        PC Grant is my very favorite lead character from the extremely important “wizards solving crimes” subgenre that got me through lockdown. He has a snarky inner monologue but understands when to keep his mouth shut and do his job. Also, his evaluation of the cleanliness of every single space he enters inspires me to keep my house a bit cleaner.

    68. Lore*

      To go in a completely different direction: Danielle Steel novels, at least the non historical ones, are chock full of women managing brilliant careers while their personal lives are a mess. They are deeply annoying in many other ways but do fit that particular niche. Also Isabel Allende’s last few novels (though perhaps especially the new one that comes out in a couple of months) feature strong heroines turning a lot of upheaval into success through competence. And NK Jemisin’s The City We Became and The World We Made (though I was disappointed by the latter) feature a group of people with different backgrounds both succeeding in their own spheres and working together to save the world.

      1. Bibliothecarial*

        I thought Essun from the Broken Earth trilogy by Jemisen, or the leader of Castrima from the same series would be good competent women to emulate. The Castrima leader in particular was kind yet competent.

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Andie J Christopher writes really bold, smart, capable women who manage major careers while being a mess personally (though what kind of mess depends on the book) – if romance is your thing and you want to read a really capable heroine I cannot recommend her books enough!

    69. Music With Rocks In*

      If you like fantasy, The Hands of the Emperor has some of the most satisfyingly competent characters I’ve read recently.

    70. Eeb18*

      I’d recommend the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce. It’s a YA fantasy series which may or may not be your thing, but I think the books hold up to being read by an adult. The main character is super in control of her emotions to the point of stoicism, but also has very clear boundaries about behavior she won’t tolerate. I think she’d be a great voice to emulate.

    71. ErstwhileReporter*

      How about Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” specifically modeling Bob Cratchit? Only insofar as he is also dealing with crippling personal circumstances combined with a toxic work environment, yet still maintains professionalism, courage, and compassion even in the face of his evil employer. A good dose of happily-ever-after never hurts either.

    72. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      This is a fascinating question! In general, fiction requires drama, and drama comes from conflict, and I’m not sure you want to adopt the persona of somebody who is mired in conflict.

      That being said, I think the answer is in detective fiction! Especially the golden age stuff from the 1880s into the 1920s. Miss Marple, Hercules Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey – all of them are reasonably well put-together and self-assured, they have both a public persona and an inner voice, they are able to look at conflict from the outside with a cool demeanor, and they get stuff done. Which pretty much describes the ideal office worker, right?

      1. Purple Llama of Doom*

        Second to all these detectives, especially Lord Peter Wimsey. Cool, collected, and still very human, dealing with his own issues.
        I also want to flag for when you are able to get into therapy, have you ever been diagnosed as neurodivergent (adhd, autism spectrum, etc.)? Neurodivergent folks often mask by taking on traits from friends, family, characters in movies and books.

      2. J*

        P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh series was the first one I thought of along the lines of detective fiction. I also lean even more cozy, there’s a ton of cheap series on Kindle Unlimited that I tend to binge when I’m feeling low.

    73. GIS without a map*

      The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal.

      The protagonists are flawed, they make mistakes, but they are well intentioned and supremely competent. I love the relationship between Elma and Nathaniel as well.

      1. gnomic heresy*

        Seconding this one! Also dealing with mental health stigma (1960s style) is a plot point, and I appreciated how the author and her main character handled it.

      2. Demelza*

        I also suggested this one. I think Elma’s competence, combined with her need to be as diplomatic as possible, fit what LW4 is looking for. In some of the situations she’s placed in, I’d personally like to go off on people; Elma, however, deals with everything thrown at her with grace and diplomacy.

    74. Squirrel!*

      The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. It’s a no-nonsense Victorian lady with a battle umbrella, it’s great!

      1. Max Kitty*

        The central character in Carriger’s YA Finishing School series is highly competent. As are the characters in the Custard Protocol series, which follows on the Parasol Protectorate. I started with PP but enjoyed the other series even more.

    75. LadyByTheLake*

      Courtney Milan’s eminently smart and readable romances tend to have strong, capable heroines. The Suffragette Scandal and The Duke Who Didn’t immediately come to mind.

    76. Thegreatprevaricator*

      The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. It’s like a slightly less literary Jane Austen. Huge fun, Sophy is eminently competent and manages chaotic family dealings etc. Caveats: you may end up picking up Regency slang. The book reflects the social attitudes of a) The Regency b) mid twentieth century when author was writing. But still. Great fun.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        Sophy may be my favorite Heyer. Though Fredricka is also very competent if you are looking for “I think I can manage to get through this.”

      2. Nitpicker*

        Except there is one extremely extremely anti-Semitic episode which was enough to make me look at all of Heyer with suspicion.

      3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        The Grand Sophy is an entirely delightful character and book, but I would not at all take her for my model of professionalism. She shoots a guy as part of matchmaking him to her cousin! Only a flesh wound, but still.

        A Civil Contract would be a much better Georgette Heyer book. It’s about a man who marries a woman for her money but ends up very happy with her. A lot of being polite even when you don’t really feel like it because it’s the right thing to do and approaching relationships with goodwill. There is one scene where he’s being yelled at by his father-in-law but keeps his temper because he promised his wife he wouldn’t quarrel with him.

    77. Lolli*

      Sue Grafton’s mysteries. Start with A is for Alibi and work your way to Y is for Yesterday. Sadly Sue passed before finishing the series with Z. The main character has been through a lot and is strong, independent, and kind. She is kind of bad a$$ but also shows flaws. I just adore the series.

      1. fish*

        I like this recommendation! LW has sh*t going on in her life and so does Kinsey. Seems easier to emulate someone who’s having a rough go but doing okay, rather than someone who’s got awesome professionalism because everything in their life is perfect.

    78. Kari from Up North*

      I’m going to give one Allison’s recommendations. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Just a delightful book about a true professional, love, acceptance. It’s so lovely. And I was so sad when the book ended and I couldn’t hang out with these characters anymore.

    79. Dr. Rebecca*

      The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman, and the Hell’s Library series by AJ Hackwith. Both have strong, no-nonsense, capable, female lead characters with healthy self-image, sharp but not morbid or awful senses of humor.

    80. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

      Firstly LW #4, I am sending you a huge virtual hug right now. It is OKAY and even NORMAL to develop a weird or dark sense of humor when you yourself are going through major you-could-die medical issues. I have had intensive management of those myself, and lots of ups and downs for 20 years now. It is the equivalent of how people who work IN The medical field have to develop dark (not acceptable in patient-setting) humor to survive and do their best every day. It will just take a little time to dial that in for the workplace, but DO NOT try to artificially eliminate it entirely but trying to act all happy and positive. Because there is nothing happen and positive sometimes about some of the things we have to go through.

      Be kind to yourself, and also recognize that some awkwardness on the part of your coworkers might be less a function of what you are doing, and more so that at times they may truly feel bad for what you have/are going through. It can register as awkwardness/helplessness when people interact with you and wish they could do something, but know they can’t.

      I will definitely be keeping your in my thoughts, and wishing you all the best.

      1. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

        Forgot to add… My personal character inspiration that has helped me along these lines is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because it embraces and does not sugarcoat that there are challenges that hurt and have to be overcome “in the line of duty” of daily life.

        “The hardest thing in this world is living in it.”
        “Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.”

    81. Kate*

      This is not quite what you asked, LW, but “Then We Came to the End” is a great workplace novel that features a very competent character who deals with serious health challenges and learns to receive help.

      I hope there are people in your life you can lean on in an ongoing way, even if they are your coworkers. Someone I work with regularly has an adult child who’s being affected, in a profound, ongoing way, by a crime of movie of the week level luridness. I don’t ask, but when this person chooses to talk about it I’m always happy to listen because I know it can be reassuring to talk to someone who knows the backstory, and I’m happy to be that person for them.

    82. Consuela*

      This is the question I didn’t know I needed! For me, Dorothy Sayers’ books (esp the ones with Harriet Vane) have been good companions in hard times. Esp Gaudy Night, where Harriet wrestles with her principles and choices. In all the books, Sayers does so much with people in distress holding it together and the subtleties of having principles strong enough to anchor you but not so rigid as to destroy or blind you. I liked her mode of questioning/questing … not general or insecure, but grounded and competent, even in the midst of renewal.

      Also heartily second the recommendations of Phryne Fisher and Armand Gamache. The Gamache books are balm to the soul.

      I found Freya Marske’s books to be wonderful — they are are magical mystery romances; a bit spicey and aren’t for everyone (hi mom!), but again — I’ve loved the theme of characters whose uniqe strengths emerge over the course of the book. Not general competence, but personal growth and purpose that comes with self knowledge.

      Ali Hazelwood writes STEMinist romances that center women who just know what they’re doing. The environment of strenth and competence they create is so so so so good!

    83. Applesauced*

      Natalie Barnes, in the Gray Whale Inn series by Karen MacInerney
      I love this cozy mystery series – she’s a parks department ranger in Texas who moves to an island off the coast of Maine to run a bed and breakfast after a bad break up.
      It’s an inn, so she does get involved in her guests lives a bit, but otherwise she does a great job running a business, solving problems and murders.

      1. Confrontation Wednesdays*

        She’s my favorite but not someone I’d really emulate in the workplace if I were looking for examples of professionalism and reserve.

    84. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

      Jasmine Guillory! I’m reading Drunk on Love right now and yes it’s about a woman who accidentally has sex with her new employee the night before he starts BUT she clearly knows this is a problem and there’s tons in there about her being a great boss who backs up her team in tough situations, takes meetings, networks, makes plans for new company initiatives, and is totally someone I would want to report to.

      1. KTinDC*

        I was going to suggest Jasmine Guillory, though I was thinking more of her interrelated novels starting with The Wedding Date. She tends to write competent, confident women in high-ish profile careers. The conflict in her books tends to come from the women’s dating lives, not their professional lives.

    85. Suzy D Harris*

      LW4 I suggest Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm. She’s patient but firm, has guiding principles but is able to think on her feet and is elegant and funny too. Slightly ruthless but romantic.

      1. STAT!*

        I think we all could benefit from reading the self-help book Flora herself turns to for spiritual comfort and guidance: “The Higher Common Sense” by Abbé Fausse-Maigre. Sadly, not in print.

    86. ZSD*

      Jasmine Guillory writes romances in which the protagonists are always hyper-competent and passionate about their careers.
      (You might not be in a place right now where you want to think about falling in love while having amazing sex, but if you’re up to that aspect of the story, I think the workplace themes would resonate well.)

    87. Anononon*

      This is a romance novel but The Wedding Date includes a subplot about the very competent main character’s work for local government. It’s a good read, too (NSFW though).

    88. DataGirl*

      Not fiction, but I definitely have asked myself “What Would Dolly Do?” when dealing with work situations. There’s actually a book I’m currently reading by the same name, and Dolly Parton has a couple of autobiographies out too.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I have read a couple of different Dolly memoirs and they are SO heartwarming. (And she is just such a sweetheart and a great lady.)

    89. I edit everything*

      Beth O’Leary’s books are awesome. Her characters are funny and bright, and generally have happy lives (or are finding healthy ways to deal with unhappiness). They’re technically romance, but are unusually structured and not the stereotypical Harlequin-style stories. And she’s excellent at characterization.

      If you’re more mystery-minded, Elly Griffiths is a good choice, too.

    90. Lady of the lake*

      Book recommendations are the only thing that will make me break my “never comment on the internet” rule.
      Maisie Dobbs, in the series by Jacquelyn Winspear. Very calm, competent, professional, and empathetic, even though she has personal trauma.
      Second Anne Elliott and Elinor Dashwood.

    91. BagginsAtHeart*

      Oh, OP4, I feel for you — 2022 was the worst year of my life for lots of similar reasons. I found a lot of comfort in rereading/rewatching The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Small ordinary people doing Very Hard things, with hope, humor, and resolve, and full of inspiring passages, went a long way for me. I hope it helps you too.

    92. Empress Matilda*

      Two more TV suggestions:

      Captain Holt and Rosa from Brooklyn 99. Holt is excellent at navigating a frustrating bureaucracy, and Rosa is a total badass who is great at her job and who doesn’t take sh!t from anyone.

      Also, Eleanor from The Good Place. She doesn’t want the job at first, and doesn’t think she’ll be good at it, but she turns out to be an excellent leader.

    93. AY*

      I’m not much of a fantasy reader, so here are some non-SFF ideas. Cromwell from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy. Maybe cool it on the framing-people-and-sending-them-to-their-death routine though? The Count from Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. He knows everything but still manages to put everyone around him at ease. He always makes the best of his circumstances. I also adore Lucy Barton from Elizabeth Strout’s books. Her inner voice is gentle and soothes me.

    94. Sara*

      I absolutely have this quality, but I’ve rarely articulated it this way – very funny to read it here.

      This is going to sound really really dumb but the Star Wars novelizations (the old, Legends, ones) X-Wing squadron series (Rogue and Wraith squadrons) have weirdly excellent models for strong, compassionate management and people with Issues negotiating how to be good employees and teammates. https://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Legends-X-Wing-10-book-series/dp/B074CGK5CT

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        oh, god, if you like Star Wars, jump on “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” by Claudia Grey. (Also, weirdly, the new Obi-Wan series on Disney+, baby Leia totally steals the show with competence despite being ten years old.)

    95. Non-profiteer*

      My first thought in response to this question – a little cheeky, but also totally true! – was the Baby-Sitter’s Club book series, or Netflix series. Those girls are DARN good at their jobs. Unrealistically so.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        The episode where Mary-Anne takes the girl she’s babysitting to the hospital and stands up for her to the doctors is seriously impressive. (I mean, I know it’s adults writing it, but the fact that it feels true to the generation is lovely.)

      2. ZSD*

        Oh, this is a good one! As a 13-year-old, Claudia could single-handedly conceive, advertise, and execute a summer arts camp for 20 7-year-olds.
        (But she couldn’t say “bra strap” in front of a boy.)

    96. Ormond Sackler*

      I’m on MST so coming a bit late here, but George Smiley from John le Carre’s spy novels is a good employee. Smart, methodical, kind, willing to come out of retirement and work long hours to finish his dead boss’s work and flush out a mole…can’t ask for more than that. Plus the writing is beautiful.

      Also, never underestimate Agatha Christie’s sheer readability. They aren’t the greatest literature but it’s so fun to watch the pieces fall into place. Great comfort reading and while Poirot is a little egotistical and Marple is a little gossipy they would make pretty good co-workers.

      1. ferrina*

        I adore Agatha Christie. I read her books starting when I was 12, and Hercule Poirot was one of the first characters to teach me the practical value of cultivating a personable demeanor in a work setting. When he’s on a case, he’s in work mode, and his chosen work mode is pleasant and affable because that gets him results.

    97. JasnahKestrel*

      Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series is incredible, and I thought of it for LW 4 specifically in case they journal – I’ve found journaling to be a great accompaniment to therapy, and have gotten a lot of good journal prompts from Sanderson’s books.

      1. Dragon_Tea_Smithy*

        Navani Kholin from these books is actually quite an amazing leader in her own right, but has difficulty seeing it and discounts her own contributions and brilliance. She leads teams, encourages them, nudges them in new directions and fully supports the results. She can collaborate with even very difficult personalities, but is queenly as well. You can see this most strongly in Rhythm of War, the fourth in the Stormlight series.

    98. JessicaTate*

      I’m going to suggest “Code Name Helene” by Ariel Lawhon. It’s historical fiction about Nancy Wake, who was an actual Australian-English journalist turned spy/resistance squadron leader in France during WWII. She’s a badass, extremely competent at everything put before her, and unflappable in very much a man’s world. She needs to be able to interact and speak with loads of people in different ways to get stuff done, so she’s a real example of strong, professional, and competent, and flexible – adapting to the circumstances and people around her.

      “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles is another that comes to mind. The main character isn’t exactly at work, technically, but essentially gets himself interwoven with the work of the staff at the hotel he’s been confined to. I loved his demeanor, tone, and way of interacting and treating people. It was calming, but still strong and self-assured, while compassionate and caring.

      “Girl Waits with Gun” by Amy Stewart. It’s set in 1915 New Jersey, with three sisters trying to continue to live independently on the family property after parents are dead (and not letting their brother take over their lives), and they get entangled in a mystery / conflict with the local semi-gangster. The lead character gets embroiled in solving the mystery, while defending her family and home. She’s self-assured, competent, stands up for herself, and compassionate to others.

        1. JessicaTate*

          Yes, re-reading the assignment from Alison, that is definitely the best choice for the LW. Competent, kind, reasonably boring, and even if his emotions are stirred up, he keeps them in check (because he’s a gentleman) in how he responds to things.

          That said, the other two books are of women who are badasses in their own way, but aren’t dramatic, snarky, or smark-alecky about it. That’s why I picked them. Especially “Girl Waits with Gun” — she’s generally trying to work within the system rather than burn it down. I think of her as having had a pretty boring, stable, competent life — until the necessary plot complications come in. And even then, she just wants to get back to that boring life.

    99. Arachnia*

      I will add Mma Precious Ramotswe from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series (by Alexander McCall Smith) to this list. She is calm, kind, patient, and open-minded. Incredibly cosy and relaxing books, with the possible exception of the first one (I think you could easily skip it.)

      1. CheerfulGinger*

        +1 for Mma Precious Ramotswe! And the books provide lots of her inner dialogue, which may be helpful for the LW.

          1. Agnes*

            Alexander McCall Smith in general has a lot of thoughtful inner dialogue, so he’s a good one if you’re trying to get that inner voice down.

            1. Clisby*

              Yes, Isabel Dalhousie and Precious Ramotswe can team up to run an inner-dialogue coaching service.

    100. Springtime*

      Supermarket by Satoshi Azuchi. This is one of a Japanese genre of novels called “business novels” in English. I don’t think that very many of them get translated into English, but basically, their plots are about people succeeding in business. Supermarket is the one I’ve read, and it is basically about a man starting to work at a failing supermarket and turning it around. And it’s more readable than it may sound.

    101. Dona Florinda*

      OP, if you’re into YA, check Meg Cabot’s books (the Heather Wells series and The Boy series, I think). There’s a bit of professional development for the (female) lead characters, a little romance and they’re overall a light reading.

    102. Eagle*

      I would love to work with Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen). If you’re not into Classics, Mercy Thompson (Moon Called Patricia Briggs).

    103. Emily S.*

      One of my favorite books is a novel called High Wages, by Dorothy Whipple. It takes place in the UK in the late 1920s. It’s about a young woman who becomes an entrepreneur. She’s really persistent, professional, and excellent at her job, and it’s a very satisfying read for a lot of reasons. The publisher is out of stock, but I’ve given a couple other links below to buy the book, as well as the book profile on GoodReads.


    104. No lizards allowed*

      The Meg Langslow cozy mystery series by Donna Andrews, which begins with Murder with Peacocks. Meg is so capable, organized and polite while dealing with her crazy family and whatever work or volunteer situation she’s in at the moment (in the first book, she’s organizing 3 weddings). Meg is my go-to when I’m stressed or upset.

    105. RagingADHD*

      It’s been a while since I read them, but IIRC, the main character of Leslie Thomas’ “The Last Detective” is very good and dedicated at his job. He eschews office politics and departmental PR, and focuses on the important details to close cases. He is empathetic and a good listener, which induces witnesses to tell him things that they would not share with a brash or overbearing officer.

      He’s certainly the kind of detective I would want to deal with as a witness or a victim. He gets flack from his co-workers, but that’s because in the books nearly all his coworkers are corrupt and self-serving.

    106. Eat My Squirrel*

      Captain Lucky Meas of the Bone Ships trilogy. Takes a ship that hates her and turns it into a ship that loves her, because she’s actually a good leader. Plus it’s a ship made of dragon bones, who wouldn’t want to read about that?

    107. ferrina*

      Judge Dee series by Robert van Gulik. It’s a mystery series, but the detective is the magistrate. It takes place in ancient China (Judge Di Renjie was an actual person, and accounts of his success inspired the series). Judge Dee is highly intelligent, professional, well-regarded by his peers, but also willing to do what it takes to solve the crime. He has a close team around him who each have different skills and approaches, and he does a great job delegating and using their skills.

    108. SarahKay*

      Brother Cadfael. He’s a monk in 12th century England, although he’s Welsh and the abbey is very close to the Welsh border. He’s been a fighting man in the Crusades before he came back to England and become a monk, so he’s seen a lot, and he’s practical, calm, competent and kind.

      I’d recommend starting with the second book “One Corpse Too Many” as the first book is a bit slow, and probably one of my least favourites. (And if you like that sort of thing, Shrewsbury Abbey is a real place and Abbot Heribert and Prior Robert were real monks from the history books – although only the names are historical, not their characters.)

    109. thisiska*

      Not a book, but I’ve been watching Madam Secretary on Netflix lately and am in awe of Elizabeth McCord’s calm focus, control of uncontrollable situations, ability to put powerful men in their place diplomatically, and that she manages to have solid personal relationships as well. She’s basically who I want to be right now!

    110. Mbarr*

      Poles Apart by Terry Fallis. He’s a Canadian author, and his writing is (usually) humorous. This is a funny feminist book from the male perspective.

    111. bookaholic*

      I think Robin from the Cormoran Strike novels would be a great person to work with, if she were real. There’s several books and they’re all long, so it would be on the longer end of an immersive experience.

      I totally get being the weird coworker . . . I’m pretty sure I am at my workplace.

      I wish you the best in healing and growing in 2023!

      1. Saturday*

        I thought of Robin too, especially in the first book where she is professional and discreet, while his life falling apart.

    112. noco*

      I am currently about halfway through Kikuko Tsumura’s “There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job” — it’s a novel (fiction) that reads a bit like a short story collection (in a good way) about the narrator’s time in a variety of roles at a variety of companies.

      It may not be exactly what you’re asking for, but it has been really interesting for me to reflect on my own relationship to my job and more generally to the experience of being a member of the salaried workforce. And it’s an enjoyable read, too! A+ recommend.

    113. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      For a hyper-competent character who has absolutely gone through hell but is pretending to be something she’s not (human) and succeeding wildly: Breq, the main character from Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. (The 1st book is Ancillary Justice.) Good for private freak outs masked by external badassery, and she’s a good boss to boot (in later books: Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy).

    114. LW4 Here*

      I’m LW4. I’m seeing a lot of recommendations for books whose characters are described as “bad ass”.

      That’s not what I need right now. I mean, those characters make for great reads and I have a lot of the suggested books already, and have enjoyed reading them.

      But, right now, the last thing I need is to emulate the person with the zingers or who steps in and kicks ass. I lean toward being a smart aleck anyway, but combining that with emotional and physical trauma means that I end up being offensive instead of funny.

      And maybe what I’m asking for doesn’t exist on a book shelf.

      I am, however, keeping a list of the books recommended in this thread for future reading because some of them sound delightful.

      1. ferrina*

        Joe Leaphorn from the Tony Hillerman mystery series. Calm, collected and very focused. He is an excellent co-worker and boss, highly respected by his peers.

        Judge Dee from Robert van Gulik’s mysteries. Diplomatic, highly intelligent, and adept at recognizing his team’s strengths and delegating tasks accordingly. An excellent boss who is very successful in his career for all the right reasons, also highly respected by his peers.

        er…hope you like mysteries?

        1. Rara Avis*

          Anne Hillerman’s continuation of her father’s mysteries might fit as well; Jim Chee and Bernie Manuelito are calm and competent. I don’t actually find the books super-exciting because of that, but I think they fit the request.

      2. e271828*

        The Great Sea, by Shion Miura, is about the work of a dictionary editing team. Miura’s The Easy Life in Kamusari might be appealing, also: it’s about a youth who is signed up for a job in forestry, about which he knows nothing. The manager/business owner is my favorite character. The theme of diligent, often uninteresting, day-to-day task work contributing to a higher goal runs through both of these.

      3. Alanna*

        I understand what you mean, and also why a book character might help. I wonder if looking to main characters is going to be somewhat futile because main characters need to be interesting, well-rounded people who get your attention, and part of having a professional demeanor and better boundaries at work often entails being less well-rounded and more boring. One thing I’ve started reminding myself is that I don’t need to be the main character in all my work relationships — it is actually OK if my coworkers don’t universally think that I’m charming and clever.

        Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books are honestly a pretty good suggestion, as they’re in large part about how he becomes the person his boss (the king) needs him to be.

        Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries have been the most inspiring thing I’ve read about working recently, although I’m in media so it has a special relevance for me. But she’s definitely a character whose head you can get into, and the headspace is Being Very, Scarily Good At Your Job.

        1. Alanna*

          Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway books also feature a protagonist (a forensic anthropologist) who is extremely competent amid professional upheaval, although the nature of her work isn’t office-based and she has plenty of emotional turmoil.

        2. El l*

          Exactly the suggestion I was going to make. His competence, calm, and insight are a model.

          The later books are also a good case study in what happens when you abuse power or focus too much on the money, but that’s a lesson for another day.

      4. Forty Years In the Hole*

        Rebecca Tope’s “Cotwold” series: murder mystery lite, with Thea Osborne as a professional house sitter-turned-accidental-amateur sleuth. A self-employed businesswoman, her gigs always start off as benign…until they’re not.
        Her character is a bit reserved, thoughtful, intelligent; she is able to discover all the bits by listening, observing and acting accordingly. Not Agatha Christie calibre but the books are an easy and enjoyable read, and carry an arc from one to the next. Thea grows on you.
        Best wishes for you.

      5. Falling Diphthong*

        I’ll reiterate Mensah from the Murderbot series. She’s an administrator and very good at her job and stays calm when things around her are falling apart, and this inspires her team, including Murderbot, to also be their best. Murderbot itself has a different, less emulatable skillset (and it’s not human).

        Also The House on the Cerulean Sea, where the main character is a bureaucrat who strives to be compassionate and do the right thing even when his insides are quaking.

      6. Not Totally Subclinical*

        I’m going to second the recommendation from above for Clorinda Cathcart in L. A. Hall’s Comfortable Courtesan series. She’s polite to peers and superiors, even when she secretly wants to tell them to f off; she’s a good boss to her household staff and respects them; she’s extremely competent and has great social skills; and when she does screw up, she’s able to admit it and try to make amends.

        If you have a week or two to devote to binge watching (and the brainspace to deal with a bazillion characters introduced very quickly, and the patience to watch until she shows up), the secondary character Concubine Jing from the C-drama Nirvana in Fire might also fit what you’re looking for. She is extremely competent and level-headed, good at coping with unreasonable superiors, and kind to her colleagues and her staff, and she knows how to play the very long game.

    115. ferrina*

      Joe Leaphorn from the Tony Hillerman mysteries is a great role model. He’s a detective with the Navajo Tribal Police. He’s really professional- calm, measured, patient, and very adept at dealing with a wide range of personalities (love how he handles Jim Chee). He’s also grieving the loss of his wife. I love any book with Leaphorn in it. Favorite books include Listening Woman; Skinwalkers; and The Fallen Man.

      Also recommend the book Hellspark by Janet Kagan. A team of scientists (both physical science and social science) are exploring an unknown planet to learn about the physical characteristics and assess if the life forms are sapient. The main character is a linguist. It’s been a while since I read it, but if I recall, most of the characters are professionals who are trying to do their job in new circumstances while dealing with the personality issues that can be found in most groups of coworkers. (oh, and murder. But that’s really secondary to the linguistics).

    116. Mill Miker*

      This might be an odd one, but “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. It’s technically a self-help book for management and team building, but the first half is in narrative form, and tells the story of a woman coming out of (semi?) retirement and getting a team in shape. I found that part of the book to be a bit of a page-turner, and the main character is making an effort to be on her best professional behaviour.

      1. LW4 Here*

        I bought the Kindle version of this immediately after seeing your recommendation and all I can say is THANK YOU.

        It’s not long or deep enough to carry me through the weeks ahead, but it was enough to take me from, “I should just call my manager and ask him straight up: Am I about to be fired?” all the way to, “Hi, Manager, I’ve got some good solutions for X, Y, and Z, and I think you’re going to like them. Ping me when you’ve got a free minute so I can show you.” And then I showed him. And he liked them.

        Doesn’t mean I might not still be fired, but I feel infinitely better about myself which is more important than any job.

    117. Florp*

      Sorry, meant to put this here instead of the top level.

      Roast Beef, Medium and two more Emma McChesney novellas by Edna Ferber, which you can get free on Project Gutenberg. Ferber is Famous for Show Boat, Cimarron, and Giant, but these little books are gems. The books are over 100 years old, but Emma is ahead of her times. I’m in the same industry as Emma, and I have asked myself “what would Emma do?” from time to time.

    118. Unreasonable Doubt*

      Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel);
      Sellevision (Augusten Burroughs);
      Chocolat (Joanne Harris);
      Hench (Natalie Zina Walschots – recommended by AAM!);
      ANY Inspector Gamache mystery (Louise Penny).

    119. yet another librarian AAM fan*

      The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune could work. Main character starts out as a very straight laced, work focused person. Jasmine Guillory’s characters (contemporary romance) also keep a good work-life balance in the books (or keep it together enough when they are at work for the most part).

      1. zen lynx*

        I thought of both of these too! Although for The House in the Cerulean Sea, part of the narrative is about him learning to bend the rules when required, so.

        LW4, Jasmine Guillory’s protagonists are generally competent and care about being good at their jobs, which is lovely. In particular, By The Book (a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast) is about a young woman who is feeling lost and incompetent at her job, but gets back to herself by refocusing on the parts of her job that she’s really good at. Might even help to think of the male protagonist as the “what not to do” version. :-)

        Good luck! We’re rooting for you.

    120. Freddy*

      I’d like to propose reading the Paladin series by T. Kingfisher (start with Paladin’s Grace) and consider Bishop Beartongue. Minor character but so kick-ass.

      1. J.T.*

        I love the paladin books, but might start with Swordheart – it’s the book with the most Zale who is probably the most businesslike character.

    121. Melewen*

      Terry Pratchett! Both Sam Vimes (of the Watch books) is perhaps not the model employee or manager at first glance, but a big part of his character is that he makes his anger work for him so that he can do his job well.

      Pretty much all of Pratchett’s characters are believably decent and flawed people just trying to do their best. If you are intimidated by the shear number of Discworld books, maybe start with Monsterous Regiment — it has some highly effective leaders here as well (and some in-effective ones too).

    122. Luanne Platter*

      LW4- Elinor Dashwood from Sense & Sensibility? She’s rather down to earth and practical, almost at the expense of her own heart.

      1. CatchTwentyTwo*

        Igino… sorry I must have been confusing with Princess Bride (who had a lot of experience in the revenge profession before getting into piracy).

        Bombardiers is a really funny look at bond trading (!) in New York.

        1. Properlike*

          Inigo Montoya isn’t a bad recommendation. Straight-forward, practical, kind, curious, and does his job(s) very well when he’s sober.

    123. Gracely*

      Black Wings by Christina Henry (I love everything by her, but this is a paranormal workplace series that’s great). Also, if you like your competent, intelligent characters trying to survive a plague-filled dystopia, The Girl in Red.

      The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is insanely long, but good, and has lots of competent women in positions of power

      A Wizard’s Guide to Baking by T. Kingfisher (and everything by her, all her characters deal with weird crap but competently even though others underestimate them)

      The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris is a bit more psychological, but the main character and the antagonist are both professionals in the publishing industry, and the book is centered around their workplace

      My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is all about the competent older sister who is a nurse, literally trying to clean up the mess that is her family, in particular her probably-serial-killer sister.

      Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler is dystopian, and the main character has her struggles, but she knows who she is and she knows what she wants to do to fix things.

      Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a non-fiction account of her work, interspersed with information about trees/plants. It’s a great look at the reality of working in a lab/research environment in several different places, by an author who seems pretty competent.

      The Girl from Everywhere/The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig –a time-travel duology set mostly in 1800s Hawaii, with pirates

    124. hi there*

      Not a specific book, but I find that cozy mysteries with a female, business-owner protagonist have good “stable, competent person” vibes with a flavoring of “dealing with lots of *** in realistic and growth-minded ways.” The Coffeehouse series by Cleo Coyle, Abby Colette’s ice cream shop series, and Isis Crawford’s catering-company series are good for that. For a different type of read, I thought Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming was a thoughtful journey of growth and healing. Again, the protagonist is a female business-owner navigating a lot of **** in her life.

    125. HannahS*

      Can you be Ma from the Little House on the Prairie series? [Insert all my heavy thoughts about critically reading LHotP as an adult which WOOF there’s a lot there.]

      She basically embodies the Victorian idea of the angel in the home. Quietly competent, accommodating, always gentle, modest, reserved. She was also racist, so obviously don’t do that part. The books are children’s books; they are quick, easy reads.

    126. Linguist*

      Yes! I just finished Alastair Reynolds’ House of the Suns, and all three of the main cast (and many of the supporting characters) are simply highly competent and empathetic people working together and making good decisions in the same vein as, e. g. Star Trek: The Next Generation.

      There are some “light childhood angst” chapters, but these are short and can be easily skipped with no bearing on the main plot.

    127. Editor Emeritus*

      Miss Kenton in Remains of the Day. She is quietly competent, but also has principles beyond her professional duties to serve her “betters”, which she is able to express to her difficult and clueless boss without excessive drama.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Agree with this – both reserved and caring, and remains so during difficult personal circumstances.

        1. Emma*

          Seconding this – it’s been a few years, but The Remains of The Day in general was my suggestion.

    128. Demelza*

      I think The Lady Astronaut series would fit this. It’s by Mary Robinette Kowal; the first book is The Calculating Stars. It’s like alternate history science fiction where the protagonist is supremely good at her job…but it’s also the 50s/60s so she has to be very diplomatic in how she faces various prejudices.

    129. Seven If You Count Bad John*

      Anybody who works for the Hotel Beaumont. Series written by Hugh Pentecost. They’re quite dated, written in the 70’s–some of my copies have cigarette and alcohol ads tipped in–but I love them for the milieu and the competence porn. They’re basically, well, cozy thrillers.

    130. marvin*

      I also struggle with calibrating my sometimes pretty dark sense of humour, OP4, so I feel you on this.

      I often try to channel Maddy from Code Name Verity as great example of a fairly ordinary person trying to do her best in very intense situations. I’ve thought about getting a “Fly the plane” tattoo.

    131. ticktick*

      Miss Read, from the Fairacre series (author is “Miss Read”, pseudonym for Dora Saint) is a good working protagonist with no real drama – the series is set in England quite a number of decades ago, in a small town, where she is a happily unmarried schoolteacher. It’s a slice of life type of series, very calming, and although she deals with problems and issues, they tend to be of the day-to-day mundane type.

    132. Pink Candyfloss*

      The Perveen Mistry Series by Sujata Massey! The heroine is competent, but not bad-ass. She is kind, but not a doormat. She is an ordinary person being excellent at being a female lawyer and finding her niche in a time/place where female lawyers are not common nor are they always welcome. She helps people who need it and solves problems that need solving. Highly, highly recommend. https://www.goodreads.com/series/213214-perveen-mistry

    133. Con Dar*

      The House in the Cerulean Sea
      by T.J. Klune

      The main character, Linus, is a very calm and dedicated employee who just wants to do a good job. He’s not about drama or ass-kicking; he just wants to do his job well. I think he would be a good role model, and as a bonus, this book is lovely!

      Super quick intro:

      A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

      Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

      When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

    134. Constable George Crabtree*

      I’m a mystery lover, and Maisie Dobbs I think is a (titular) character that might work well. She’s been through darkness and misery but approaches life with humility, warmth, empathy, and calm.

    135. Pink Candyfloss*

      I am not sure this comment went through so apologies if you see it twice.

      Perveen Mistry Series by Sujata Massey!

      These are not murder mysteries or detective stories per se, though there can be some mystery element to them as it is usually a legal case needing to be made and therefore information to be uncovered. Perveen is a female lawyer living in a place and at a time in history when female lawyers are not common nor always welcome. She ends up taking cases that male lawyers cannot or will not take, representing clients who have not always had a voice or any power, she is competent but not infallible, she is kind, she is funny (but not sarcastic or kick ass or zingy). The stories are interesting but the key of the novels is Perveen herself navigating the best she can through a world where she needs to prove herself to others and her conduit for doing that is by serving as the voice for someone else. And it is always a pleasure to read diverse voices by authors of color.

    136. metadata minion*

      Becky Chambers’s “Record of a Spaceborn Few” (it’s the third in a series, but stands alone just fine) features several stable, happy people, in particular Tessa Santoso, who works in warehouse management and enjoys her some-would-say boring job that allows her to do useful work that she can leave there at the end of the day and then go take care of her kids. Depending on your definition of it she does develop some drama towards the end, but I think she’s a really good example of how to make a major life decision in a stable, clearheaded way. She feels her emotions about it but doesn’t spend a huge amount of time angsting or do anything particularly rash.

    137. Bess Marvin*

      The original Nancy Drew! Nancy is equal to every occasion — competent, polite, and firm when she needs to be. The books may be formulaic but I love reading them because they’re so relaxing and Nancy always finds a solution.

    138. wendelenn*

      #4, probably not for you, but for anyone who wants a little more of a religious/inspirational take on the question: Sister Julienne from Call the Midwife (TV), and Abbess Catherine Ismay from In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

      1. Em*

        For a secular character from the same show: Trixie goes through the wringer personally, but when she’s on the clock, her clients always come first and she helps them with a calm, steady professionalism. She’s very good at her job and highly-trained, and in more recent seasons also harnesses her anger at the various injustices facing her clientèle to effect positive change.

    139. Sarah in Boston*

      I’m reading a very unique LitRPG right now called “Re-Start” by Dan Sugralinov. I actually made a better choice about something Wednesday night because I had been listening to this book!

      “At thirty years old, Phil is an unemployed gamer who struggles to make ends meet. His only source of income is freelance writing (when he feels inspired enough to add another article to his less-than-popular blog). His wife has just walked out on him, leaving him without money, purpose, or food in the fridge.
      On the day his wife dumps him, Phil receives a mysterious piece of wetware. A game interface seems to have been implanted in his brain which allows him to see the world through the eyes of an RPG player. Now that Phil discovers his real-life stats, he can see they’re far below average. With 4 pt. Agility, 6 pt. Strength and 3 pt. Stamina, his most advanced life skill is predictably gaming.
      Luckily, real-life stats can be leveled up just like virtual ones. But will it help Phil get his wife back? Can he stop being such a couch potato? Would the new game help him become fitter? Or more successful? Can his gaming skills finally come in handy in real life?”

    140. Polar Vortex*

      I don’t think I’ve seen it mentioned here but the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix. (Also his other works are great too, so also all of those.)

      The two main female characters in the trilogy have the calming, somewhat unruffled inner voice you’re looking for. They’re finding their way in life, but they need to be competent at their job. No matter how much things go wrong, they just deal with it and move forward – short of a very small stumble at the beginning of book two where the character feels rejected and alone. I think there are still personal issues, because they are coming of age stories and that always has a bit of backstory to deal with, but that’s mostly just sorting out issues of fate more than anything.

    141. Fullaboti*

      I’m wondering about recommending the books written by Frederick Backman (A Man called Ove, Anxious People). They often focus on several different characters, some of which respond in not so great ways and some who respond in ways I want to emulate. Also The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, it is about a house run by caretakers for magical children and the adults are always guiding the kids in how to respond and model behavior they wish the kids to emulate.
      <3 Take care of yourself and I hope things get better.

    142. Maria*

      I just finished Remarkably Bright Creatures, which was a beautiful book. One of the main characters is a older lady who takes on a cleaning job at an aquarium to cope with being alone after losing her husband and son. She’s very thorough and precise and sometimes a little too logical, and also very kind and considerate.

      One of the other characters is a young man who has been fired from several jobs, who moves to a new city to start a new life and struggles a lot with self-doubt, imposter syndrome, self-defeating thoughts.

      Both characters grow and change over the book – there’s some miscommuncations and frustration between characters but IMO minimal “drama.”

    143. Purely Allegorical*

      The Anne of Green Gables series, but particularly the middle books when she’s a young adult forging a new path for herself in the working world. Anne of Avonlea, Anne of Windy Poplars (the latter is my coziest favorite). All about how a normal, hard-working person establishes herself, reacting with grace and empathy when troubles–or troublesome people– come her way. The epitome of class, serenity, and stability.

      1. wendelenn*

        Oh, good one! Anne becoming a teacher and her growth as a young woman are inspirational. I’ll admit to not caring for the later ones about her children. I generally stop after Anne’s House of Dreams (which I adore).

    144. ticktick*

      Oh, and also Zoe, from Troubled Waters, or Leah, from Unquiet Land, both by Sharon Shinn. (the other two heroines in that series, Josetta and Corinne from Royal Airs and Jeweled Fire, are also good, but not as relevant in terms of work life).

    145. Turducken*

      Try A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers. Actually, most of her stuff features competent characters that would be good to emulate (even if you don’t want to be a tea monk).

    146. Awesome Sauce*

      A Psalm For The Wild-Built and the sequel A Prayer For the Crown-Shy are quick reads and an incredibly soothing story. They’re not religious books at all, they’re sci-fi about a young monk in a post-technology society who decides their life calling is to be a travelling tea shop/counsellor. (There is discussion about the fictional religion made up for the books, but it’s very low-key.) And at first the monk struggles with finding the right thing to say, but they grow into it. Then they go on a personal quest, which I will not spoil, but throughout the book they are quiet and thoughtful while dealing with uncertainty. At at worst, if LW4 doesn’t find a helpful role model in there, she at least might have a couple of hours of escape.

    147. Heremione Danger*

      For real life capability, curiosity, compassion, an insistence on being herself –and on everyone around her being themselves as well–along with an optimistic approach to life, Mary Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa is glorious. Also, her own words about her experiences.

      A Victorian Englishwoman who believed the Africans she was interacting with deserved agency and respect (she wasn’t a big fan of the missionaries), she also refused to travel with the massive retinues typical male explorers took with them, and traveled with 4-5 other people and not a whole lot of gear. She writes with a wonderfully wry sense of humor, as well.

    148. Lcsa99*

      This might not quite fit, but what about The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes? He is a totally normal, boring guy that a lot of weird things happen to. He is not remotely a badass, mostly just a nice guy that’s good with numbers who happens to keep running into the wrong people.

      1. J.T.*

        Came here to recommend Fred as well. Dude is concerned with professionalism, growing his business, looking after clients. Being undead complicates some things, but he’s mostly just a guy trying to be a good accountant.

    149. Hillary*

      Nothing to See Here – by Kevin Wilson. Fiction. Lilian gets an urgent call from a boarding school friend Madison, now rich and married to a politician, to come care for the politician’s two children from his first wife. Plenty of monetary support, Madison appreciates it, Lilian isn’t doing anything else. Twist, when the children get upset or emotions get too high, they catch on fire. Lilian deals with this with utmost practicality, both the caregiving and the fire, respecting the children are their own beings and this isn’t their fault, trying to figure out Madison and the politician, and building her own skills. I channel Lilian when I am like “what is this new thing I have to cope with now?”
      The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – high fantasy. Main character is the fourth son of the Emperor, in a society divided by class (elves vs. goblins, basically), and he is half-goblin, product of a political marriage. Having three older brothers and no chance at the throne, he has lived a life in exile under a bullying cousin. His father and all three brothers get killed in an accident, and suddenly he is emperor. New place he has never lived, with new rules, new people, still no respect (he’s still a half-goblin), many subtle power plays through this elaborate court of classes and status. He also realizes his father and brothers were deliberately killed and he may be next. A great leadership read, and the main character is solid, handling all the changes and challenges (from a kidnapping and talking his way out of execution to having to learn to dance and meeting a girl) with calm focus.

    150. Molly Millions*

      If you like speculative fiction, check out William Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy: both feature competent, level-headed female protagonists who have to cautiously navigate intrigue while on research assignments for a powerful corporation. The MCs have inner conflicts but largely keep their emotions in check (and they’re not quippy badasses, either); a major element of all three books is how these characters protect themselves while delivering results for a boss they fundamentally don’t trust.

      For non-fiction, you may enjoy Indian in the Cabinet by Jody Wilson Raybould, who served as Canada’s first Indigenous Minister of Justice /Attorney General before becoming a whistleblower against her own government. She handled this situation in a very dignified and deliberate way, and her book has a lot of wisdom about compromise, consensus decision-making, and respectfully advocating for the common good in situations where people have competing interests.

    151. keiteag*

      Two of my favorite’s are Travis Baldree’s Legends and Latte. Viv is an orc who has finally retired as a mercenary. Her dream is to open a coffee shop in a city that doesn’t even know what coffee is. Pretty much any drama is resolved with baked goods. It’s sweet and a surprisingly realistic depiction of starting a business. My other favorite is Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. Maia is the half goblin fourth son of the elven emperor. He has only met his father once, at his mother’s funeral. When his father and all of his brothers are lost in an airship accident, Maia must leave the estate he was relegated to at the age of 8 and learn to become emperor. Maia is completely uneducated in politics and court behavior, but his is not naive or unintelligent. Watching him move through a journey of self exploration and a political education is fascinating. The writing is exceptional, too.

    152. Juniperfj*

      LW4, I’m sorry you’re going through this awful time. Sending good vibes your way! I thought of Mma Ramotswe from the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. She is a calming, soothing presence.

    153. Lizard Breath*

      What about memoir or nonfiction? Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” was pretty compelling to me. “Educated” by Tara Westover might be good in this vein as well.

      The main character of Martha Wells’s Murderbot series is an mildly depressed, antisocial android who really just wants to watch its shows but ends up committing many acts of ass-kicking violence in its role as bodyguard/security. HOWEVER, the people around it, particularly the wonderful Dr Mensah, and the rest of her team, are models of competence, leadership, and managerial skill. Start with All Systems Red.

      Mahit, the diplomat heroine of Arkday Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is sometimes doubtful, out of her element, or uncertain, but approaches all situations methodically and has strong interpersonal skills. So does her friend Three Seagrass.

      The character of Elizabeth in the Thursday Murder Club series is calm, discreet, forthright, formidably competent and a loving companion to her spouse with dementia.

    154. iiii*

      This is going back a ways, but the Emma Lathen mystery series starring John Putnam Thatcher is just bristling with functional, competent recurring characters. Thatcher is a highly competent banker. The usual cast includes two of his peers (also highly competent, but with differing styles), his even more competent secretary, his less competent boss, and a junior colleague on his way to becoming another highly competent banker.

      The one-off characters in the murder mysteries are often less put-together. Our Heroes and the narrative generally give them side-eye.

    155. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      My suggestions would be Elinor Dashwood from Sense & Sensibility, Charlotte Lucas from Pride & Prejudice or Anne Elliott from Persuasion. All sensible, calm, mature ladies who can handle nearly anything life throws at them.

    156. Natalie Portman*

      Recommending a couple of recent memoirs of extraordinarily competent, calm women who would otherwise have been anonymous if not for recent events. Heck even just watching their congressional testimony from early 2021 is a great example of what I think you’re aiming for.

      Lessons from the Edge by Marie Yovanovitch
      There is Nothing for You Here by Fiona Hill

    157. Books for All*

      I would recommend the Maisie Dobbs series by Jaquelyn Winspear. These are murder mysteries that are set befor/during/between WW1 and WW2. They deal with tough issues, but are written with a lot of empathy and the main character is very self-composed and grounded

    158. ijustworkhere*

      Amelia Peabody (Elizabeth Peters) She’s the heroine of an historical fiction series set in Egypt that doesn’t take itself too seriously. She’s a sensible, don’t tolerate nonsense, fun character.

      The #1 Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) a group of resourceful women who take care of business but not over the top.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I love Amelia Peabody too, but I don’t think she’s a good role model for an office. She has always been in charge and is a bit autocratic. More like the boss than the employee.
        I think the Amelia Peabody books set great examples for personal relationships though.

    159. Perhaps late part 2*

      This suggestion is a comic book, but I still think is great. Image comics Five Weapons. It is a good example of being the smartest person in the room and looking to solve problems in other ways.

    160. All That Glitters*

      Magic and the Shinigami Detective by Honor Raconteur. Basically a police procedural featuring an American FBI agent transplanted to a magic world.

      A lot of focus on the American building good working relationships and friendships and figuring out the new world. The actual narrator is a native, prides himself on his professionalism and innovating new processes at work.

    161. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Bunter,the valet from Dorothy Sayers’s series of mysteries about Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

      Always calm and competent, and he’s good at playing a role that’s a version of himself, in order to get information from people who don’t even know they have it: not suspects, but the suspect’s butler or the bartender who might have overheard a useful conversation.

    162. Reading a good book*

      Jane Eyre. She’s competent, stable, self-controlled (as an adult, not a child), and compassionate, but she knows her own mind and isn’t afraid of or intimidated by others.

    163. practical necromancy*

      LW#4 – Lois McMaster Bujold writes highly competent, organized, collected characters. The themes are fantasy, so if you’re okay with some world-building then the payoffs and inner voices are great. I read these books to calm down and feel like a better version of myself. The Curse of Chalion is great stand alone, it has a bit of magic, mystery and court intrigue. The hero is on the tail end of recovering from PTSD, and handles his problems with tact, gumption, and a collected whit that makes me laugh. I like that when he does make tactical mistakes he acknowledges to himself right away. I learned a lot from him.

    164. Marjorie Waniata*

      Sally Lockhart gets put through the wringer, including emotionally, but she’s highly logistically and professionally competent, and brave without being an ostentatious “badass”.

    165. Solitary Witch*

      Not sure that I’ve seen it mentioned, but the Sookie Stackhouse series (books. Not HBO). She’s nice, respectful, resourceful when she needs to be and stands up for herself. Makes mistakes, goes through hard times, deals with vampires and lycanthropes, but manages to be herself at all times.

    166. DJ Abbott*

      Miss Rossiter or Miss Metayard (sp?) in Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers. Or maybe some of the men – Ingeleby? Bredon?

      Or as someone else mentioned, Harriet Vane. I think she shows up best for an office in Gaudy Night.

    167. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

      Have you read Alison’s book? Reading lots and lots of stories and “corrective” responses with examples of why certain things are inappropriate might help you?
      As might reading the letters on the blog the applicable categories.

    168. Mad Harry Crewe*

      T Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) writes very practical, down-to-earth female leads. In general, they want to help, don’t want to be Heroes, and get things done with a minimum of fuss. Bryony and Roses is probably my best specific rec (a retelling of Beauty and the Beast), but you could also get on well with Swordheart (slightly more fantasy adventure with a bit of romance).

      Terry Prachett’s Discoworld books (specifically, the witches) – Granny Weatherwax or Tiffany Aching. Slight lean towards Tiffany Aching, the series is a little more self-contained and Granny Weatherwax is part of a larger cast that includes some rather more comical characters who would not serve you well.

      Several Robin McKinley characters could be good options – Rose Daughter and Beauty both feature considerate, down-to-earth women (also both retellings of Beauty and the Beast), or Spindle’s End (retelling of Sleeping Beauty and a favorite of mine).

      Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor – Maya is male, so I don’t know if he’ll click with you, but he’s a great option – he’s also not Modern American Masculine, his focus is on diplomacy and kindness. He is thrown into a difficult situation, very much unprepared, and does his best to build strong connections and make things better.

      John Scalzi – The Interdependency series – Emperox Greyland II is in a similar situation to Maya. She was never expected to inherit, so she lacks a lot of the training and political acumen that would be helpful. There are a number of different factions with opposing goals which she needs to balance and navigate, while also shepherding her empire through collapse of its major systems with minimal loss of life (this isn’t really a spoiler, the first book The Collapsing Empire). Note: this book has a number of viewpoint characters, some of them may be less appropriate for your needs.

    169. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I feel a little weird recommending this one, because I didn’t actually like it much, but Grace Bennett, from The Last Bookshop in London, might work. It’s set in London during the Blitz and a lot of the novel centres around Grace finding a job in said bookshop. I didn’t love it because Grace is one of those super self-deprecating characters who is kind of amazing at everything (a book character flaw I find kind of tiresome as a reader), but she is hugely competent and professional and pretty low key (see the super self-deprecating part).

    170. Wakehf*

      Books that I found put me in a different headspace:
      Ancillary Justice by Ann Lecke
      The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, both by Ursula Le Guin (bonus, from what or remember LHoD has a competent main character struggling with living in a society structured very differently than what he’s used to).

      Competent characters:
      Harriet Vane in the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers (Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, & Busman’s Honeymoon)
      Tiffany Aching in her series by Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepherd’s Crown)
      Really many Terry Pratchett books have characters in them who are just trying to do their best in difficult circumstances and his books are very good overall.
      Miss Lemon, Hercule Poirot’s secretary in several of Agatha Christie’s mystery stories— confident, unflappable, and devoted only to her filing system. She is usually a background character but does feature more in Hickory Dickory Dock when her sister becomes embroiled in a mystery.

    171. Burger Bob*

      I’m not sure this is a recommendation exactly, but I myself am a person whose “head voice” tends to adopt the narration/character of whatever book I’m reading at the time, and I can confirm that this turned pretty delightful when I was reading an Oscar Wilde.

    172. hobbittoes*

      I love Nadia Chernevsky from the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Art Randolph in the later two books. Nadia gets things done and solves problems pragmatically and cheerfully while engineering Mars. To get to her first chapter you have to read through a high drama, misogynistic, violent character’s chapter and a boundary-crossing, self focused character’s chapter, but I kinda think Nadia’s first chapter (“The Crucible”, third chapter in Red Mars) actually could stand on its own without those two if you want to skip them, and Art’s first chapter definitely can stand on its own.

    173. Emily*

      For an easy and super entertaining read how about Annabeth Chase from the Percy Jackson/heroes of Olympus series? A few others from the second series such as Piper and Reyna would also be fantastic role models.

    174. MJ*

      Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm. A sane practical woman surrounded by nonsense. And the book is a delight, so, so funny :)

    175. Dianna*

      Legends and Lattes!!! it’s a “cozy fantasy” with a wonderful set of characters who are lovely “head down and work and carefully problem solve without causing a fuss” characters.

    176. AnxietyRobot*

      If you’re opening to considering videogames (if you don’t like playing yourself, you can watch Let’s Play or cutscene compilations on YouTube), then I would suggest Jesse from Control. At the beginning of Control, Jesse has entered a seemingly abandoned government building, trying to track down her brother who was taken in their childhood. Due to a bizarre series of events, she becomes CEO within five minutes of entering the building. (Fortunately, the company seems to be prepared for this method of CEO acquisition, and gives the CEO the lowest level access card.) On top of running around and having a rich inner dialogue, we see Jesse step up to the plate as the new CEO, and do her best to meet with her new employees and have strong, calm conversations about how to get everything running. She’s a great role model for “oooooh I’ve got shit going on, but right now I’ve got to keep it together and be professional.”

    177. badatpseudonyms*

      To War With Whitaker, by Hermione, Countess Ranfurly.

      The narrator is just barely married when her husband is sent to war in the middle east; so of course, she follows and gets a series of office jobs working for generals, etc. This book is her journal and while there’s obviously a lot of drama in the larger situation, her days are about ‘making it work’ in spite of all.

      The part that sticks with me most is when she writes about a few days spent hosting some dignitaries, with all kinds of recreational activities, and then just slips in at the end that she is a little distracted because of waiting for her husband to escape from the Germans.

    178. Rae*

      For SFF books with that vibe, I’d second the recommendations for Becky Chambers’ wayfarers series – it’s a loosely connected anthology, but the main character in the first book is on a ship full of a wacky motley “found family” crew and her entire job is to make sure the business side of things is competent and professional.

      I’d also recommend the Neo-G series by KB Wagers for a similar vibe – one of the main characters, Max, is being competent and professional about her job and maintaining boundaries while she’s got serious family drama going on and the rest of her crew has some of their own stuff. (I would not recommend the main character of Wagers’ other series as a role model, though, because she does put together a competent exterior but also has a lot of struggles with some self-destructive tendencies)

      Most of the women in Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Lady Astronaut” series are also very good at the competency and professionalism thing.

    179. Lokifan*

      I think maybe Diana Wynne Jones’ “Howl’s Moving Castle”? It’s been a while since I read that one but its heroine Sophie is calm under pressure and very sensible – she has sarcastic thoughts underneath though so idk.

      I haven’t read “Vaxxers” by Dr Catherine Green, but she led the efforts to create the Oxford vaccine, so I imagine it’s a book at least somewhat about staying calm and working through panic and pressure.

    180. PT*

      Hey! I’d recommend Ann Lecki’s futuristic sci fi. Specifically Ancillary Mercy and Ancillary Sword (part of a trilogy that starts with Ancillary Justice but don’t start with that one because it’s the weakest book, doesn’t hit the tone you’re looking for, and isn’t necessary to understand the rest).

      The main character is a former ship’s AI that has been placed in a human body. What’s fascinating is how she navigates complex human scenarios with incredible calm, intelligence and forbearance. There’s drama around her: a class/race rebellion, corruption, etc. She navigates it for herself and the weakest people in society in a way that really shows empathy and responsibility.

      She has a sad backstory which is hinted at (and explored in Ancillary Justice so again: skip book one), but is really focused on navigating and setting to rights the world around her.

      I loved it because it was sci fi that wasn’t space battles but really about an optimistic view of what a responsible leader could do. I think it’ll hit the tone you need for the same reason.

      good luck!

    181. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

      There are so many recs already I may be repeating someone, but I would recommend reading some great literary butlers/valets: Jeeves from the P.G. Wodehouse series and Bunter from the Dorothy L. Sayers series stand out for me. They both are quite aware of when saying nothing is the most professional course of action, which I think you mentioned wanting to emulate. They both have very strong senses of what is appropriate and what is not and remain professional even in the most trying circumstances (Jeeves did quit over the banjolele but honestly who could blame him).
      Bunter is a bit of a ladies man and Jeeves does a fair bit of gambling, but maybe use that to remember nobody’s at work all the time?

      1. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

        I can’t believe I almost forgot Angel Tungaraza from Baking Cakes in Kigali! Angel has a business making fancy cakes for special events, and she spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a “professional somebody”, including what she should keep confidential, when it’s appropriate to refuse a customer, and when she should abide by the customer’s wishes over her own. She’s also a colossally kind character who listens to the difficult things people have to say (though fair warning those stories are pretty difficult).

    182. Teach*

      I see that Phryne Fisher was already suggested, but I wanted to put in a plug for old school detective TV dramas, like Colombo and Murder She Wrote. The detectives tend to be very emotionally stable, and the mild one-liners they use are appropriate for any work conversation. I also went to send my genuine sympathy to OP #4 for whatever you are dealing with, and I hope you find someone you can talk to soon.

    183. Jess B*

      What an amazing question from LW4, which shows incredible personal insight!
      I have been reading and loving the Laetitia Rodd books, by Kate Saunders. They’re set in Victorian London, and the main character, Laetitia, is a clergyman’s widow of ‘reduced circumstances’ who takes on private investigations from her brother, a lawyer.
      She is well-spoken, polite, intelligent, kind and incredibly discreet – this is what made me think you might like to use her as a model.
      Trigger warning: note that the books, especially the first and third, do contain descriptions of sexual assault, rape and more. If you were fine with Game of Thrones, I think you’ll be fine with these, but to be honest, I really struggled reading the third book due to the content (which is only explicitly revealed at the end).

    184. chocbuttons*

      I suggest Lucy Eyelesbarrow from Agatha Christie’s “4:50 from Paddington”. Calm, competent, sensible and nice. Obviously the story involves drama but Lucy doesn’t get dragged into it and acts as Miss Marple’s on-the-ground assistant in a very effective way.

    185. Not A Fish*

      LW4 – try Eleanor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. She personifies the “Sensibility” character really well. Eleanor has to keep her personal shit locked down in order to help her family through multiple crises, awkward social occasions and emotional breakdowns. One caveat if you know that you take on personalities from fiction – I’d say that by modern standards, Eleanor comes across as a bit ‘buttoned up’ and she bottles up her emotions to a somewhat unhealthy degree.

      BUT overall – I think that she personifies the type of competent, poised, level-headed-in-a-crisis type character that you’re looking for.

    186. Hester Theale*

      LW4: your question made me realize that emulating book/film characters helps me cope, too.
      Heyer “Sprig Muslin” has a quietly competent heroine.
      TV-series “Pie in the Sky” — it’s been a couple of years since I watched it, but the quiet calm of the main character helped me through a rough patch.

      Not the characters, but some key phrases that helped me in frazzled moments:
      Lackey/Arrow-Trilogy: “ground and center” (+breathe) reminded me, that centering myself without anchoring/grounding leaves me un-tethered.
      Parker/Jesse Stone: “I haven’t got into trouble for not talking yet”. I tend to babble when I’m frazzled — this reminds me that I can take my time to think about what I want to say (I don’t know that I’d recommend actually reading the Jesse Stone books – they are rather dark)
      StarTrek Next Generation: wonderful portrayal of calm competence – but I need to remind myself that TV shows set unrealistic expectations on productivity. Just because the story arc needs to wrap up doesn’t mean that in real life there is no paperwork,discussions,try-and-find-out-it-doesn’t-work-as-expected etc. .I will never be as good as Geordi LaForge because I’m not written that way!
      I’ll +1 all the recommendations for Goblin Emperor/Emperor’s Hands and T.Kingfisher heroines — common-sense compentence in the face of weirdness/chaos.

    187. Arm*

      Maybe try the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie doesn’t have *no* personal issues, but she deals with them in a more or less reasonable way while being very professional in her job. She is an army nurse turned private investigator in London; the series starts in the interwar period and progresses through WWII.

    188. Erin*

      Is it just books? I’m influenced in the same way, but also by TV shows, YouTube vids, podcasts…

      TV: West Wing (though it’s amazing how by looking 15 years into the past you can see the unconscious bias, and there are some zingers, but not constant)

      Youtube: Dr Mike, Dr Elliott (shrink), Mama Doctor Jones, Alexander Gater (home decor), Legal Eagle, Tom Scott…

      Podcasts: Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe , Ologies

      All of the above feature intelligent, capable, engaged adults doing a job, explaining ideas, or learning (or all 3) in respectful, authentic, appropriate ways.

      Humans are humans, and there are in-jokes, occasional teasing, disagreements – but I’d put them all in the category of being tonally SFW.

    189. wanda*

      Ursula Vernon tends to write books and stories featuring sensible, normal, emotionally solid women and girls who happen to end up in fairy tales.

    190. Paris*

      My heart goes out to number four, which is why I thought of some competent, but also tragic characters, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Bachman (although, trigger warning, while being extremely competent, Ove is also contemplating suicide throughout the novel, happy ending though.)

    191. Book lover*

      I recommend Into the Beautiful North. The main character sees a problem in her home town, devises an unorthodox solution, gathers people together to help her, and holds it all together through their chaos. And it’s a beautiful read.

    192. NetNrrd*

      Honestly, one of my models for that sort of thing (not a book, alas) is “Columbo” – very smart, very competent, disarmingly low-key, and not boastful or snarky at all. I’m trying to think of books that have that sort of protagonist, and I think maybe some of Christie’s mysteries might work? One of the things about (some of) the detective/mystery genre is that your detective comes in and is *not* part of the chaotic wildness of the situation. Instead, they parachute in and look at the situation and deal accordingly.

    1. Certaintroublemaker*

      First thing I thought of, too! Love that podcast—hearing the hosts sharing my opinions (and providing so much amazing research as backup) is SO validating.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I actually unsubscribed and stopped following Adam Ragusea (who typically does food science YouTubing) because he just *had* to make a podcast arguing with Maintenance Phase because it upsets him for people to talk about “Health at Every Size.” I have my own disordered eating problems that *just* got back under control in the last year and I don’t need to hear a bunch of fat-shaming concern trolling. He’s done some good debunkings of paleo, etc. but yikes.

        1. Violet Fox*

          Yeah, I was so disappointed with him over that, and that is really one of those cases where he isn’t any sort of nutrition or medical professional it really did go into the yikes category fast. Honestly I side-eye him talking about nutrition the way he does as essentially a home cook. I watched about 75% of that granted before I just noped out but also the comments were not good.

          Then again I also almost unsubbed from him when I saw that he didn’t wash his rice.

          To keep this at all work-place relevant, a lot of the wellness coaches for workplaces seem equally as qualified as he is, i.e. not, which can be super dangerous, especially for people with specific needs due to medical reasons as well as disordered eating and just plain fat shaming — which studies have shown is both dangerous and tends to actually lead to weight gain.

          Maintenance Phase on the other hand is really well researched and isn’t actually telling anyone what they should or should not do with their bodies.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’m glad it’s already been mentioned because I was coming here to recommend it. It’s so good! I’ve told several friends about it. I also loved Michael Hobbs and Sarah Marshall’s “You’re Wrong About,” which is how I started following Michael Hobbs.

    2. Melissa*

      Yes, although they sometimes don’t use good critical thinking. Hobbes said in total seriousness: “One person got into a workplace wellness program and ended up having a kidney removed because they got bad medical information.” Apparently somebody had sent them that story when they called for anecdotes. Like, huh? You can’t walk into a hospital and have a kidney removed.

      1. nona*

        My take was the wellness program promoted behaviors that ended causing kidney damage and that’s why the kidney needed to be removed. So the removal was medically necessary because of damage caused by bad information.

        1. kiki*

          That was also my take. Someone wrote in, “I went to my work wellness program and, long story short, ended up having my kidney removed,” and then elaborated with the details of a weird diet, unvetted supplement recommendation, etc. I agree that Hobbes should have been clearer around the circumstances. I hope no workplace wellness program is recommending unnecessary kidney removal!

          1. Properlike*

            A weird overlap with that ‘90s urban legend: “Go drinking in a bar, wake up in an ice-filled bathtub.”

      2. Ferret*

        Albeit I haven’t listened to this but based on what you quoted I’ve no idea why you would assume that they were suggesting someone had an elective kidney removal. Much more likely that it was a case of being recommended some dodgy supplements or disregarding legit medical advice or similar

        1. Melissa*

          You’re right, you haven’t listened to it. Apparently the story that this listener told was that there was some testing done via a workplace wellness scheme that did testing, which told her she had some rare kidney problem, when she in fact didn’t have it. So it’s not clear how the kidney removal supposedly grew out of that, but it wasn’t what you speculated.

          1. Observer**

            Yeah, but it’s still missing some pieces. Because no competent surgeon is going to remove a kidney based on ONE test, especially one that was not ordered by the person’s doctor or the surgeon, and in the absence of other symptoms. And no insurance is covering that either.

            I’ve actually had to have a kidney out, and let me tell you they do a LOT of testing before they do this stuff. They check, and double check and then check again.

          2. Giant Kitty*

            I’m assuming that some dodgy health supplement or vitamin that was recommended for their non-existent kidney problems is what caused the actual real life problems that necessitated removal of their kidney. That tracks. But not “I was told I had a non existent kidney problem so I went and had one removed, lol”

      1. Jessica*

        YES PLEASE.

        There was so much more to talk about there–I felt like it could have been a 6-hour podcast about workplace wellness and employer control over people’s bodies and they still would have just scratched the surface.

        And while they made a really great case for why workplace wellness programs are usually a very bad thing, there wasn’t a ton of practical advice about how to push back, in which I feel like AAM would be a really great discussion partner.

    3. Mbarr*

      I’m piling on on the Maintenance Phase podcast love. It brings me so much joy whenever a new episode drops.

      I also listen to the Satisfaction Factor Podcast. They deep dive into a lot of ingrained diet culture assumptions that I never thought to question.

    4. Jessica*

      Hahah I came here to say this.

      Highly recommend listening–it goes into the very, very dark side of workplace wellness, such as how often it’s a legal cover for paying disabled, fat, or chronically ill people less (you can’t legally pay them less, but you can provide discounts on insurance or other financial “incentives” to able-bodied, thin, non-chronically-ill people that amount to them being paid more).

      It also really highlights how having insurance tied to employment opens the door for all sorts of employer intrusion into areas that they have no business being in.

    5. GlowCloud*

      YES! When I listened to the episode, I was keen to read Alison do a takedown of Workplace Wellness at some point – because it is a now ubiquitous form of questionably legal healthcare discrimination, and it needs to be addressed.

  2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    Company wellness programs are out there. See matinence phase for a good overview. I wish we had more ‘ and so you CAN go to therapy if you want to punt a small child’ and WAY less ‘ let’s count how many celery sticks you eat ‘

    1. Splendid Colors*

      And that podcast is where I learned that Safeway (West Coast grocery store chain in the Albertson’s group) actively fought the adoption of the Affordable Care Act. They also publicized some corporate wellness figures that were bogus because they were based on results from (IIRC) full time NON unionized employees, which is a tiny fraction of the workforce. The FT employees are nearly all unionized and just PT workers are non-unionized (or ineligible for the union or whatever). There were other reasons the figures were bogus but implying it was for the whole workforce instead of 1% or whatever completely undermined that premise.

      1. doreen*

        It’s probably even worse – in most supermarkets that I know of (IDK about Safeway specifically ) part-timers are union members , so the non-union employees would just be store management.

      2. Elsie*

        Part time workers at Safeway are in the union. Only management is not in the union. I used to work there. Some of my colleagues chose not to move into management because they didn’t want to leave the union

  3. Hazel*

    Thank you to LW1 and Alison for articulating something that’s been niggling at me re: wellness type programs. I had put it down as a pandemic response of ‘if one more person urges me to breathe to cope with totally unreasonable circumstances I will scream’.

    I now realise it’s also a ‘if you let me go home away from work stress I can maintain myself just fine’ response to ‘corporate caring’. Meaningful corporate caring might be leaves and sick banks and healthcare plans and flexibility and reasonable work demands. This stuff appears well-meaning so it is hard to tease out why it is maddening and insensitive.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      The problem is that things that would actually help are expensive. Decent health care plans so you can see afford to see a doctor and get preventative care and treatment, good sick leave policies so you can rest when you’re sick (and not infect the rest of the office), a salary that pays well enough to afford decent food and a safe place to live, a work life balance that has room for ample sleep and exercise, vacation time and an office well staffed enough that you can take time off without being punished for it when you come back…

      A work shop where they tell you that vegetables and exercise is good is cheap. Telling you that if you’d just sleep well, eat better, exercise regularly and find time for meditation is also cheap, and has the added bonus of making it your fault if you fail, because you’re obviously doing it right. A lot of the wellness stuff has an underlying message that perfect health, beauty and serenity is in your grasp if you’d just [insert list of time consuming and expensive things here], and if you don’t achieve it all, you’re doing it wrong.

      1. Future silver banker*

        This. Not only are you not supported towards wellness, but the blame is reversed. I have given feedback multiple times during such workshops that the advice is not only basic, but extremely out of touch. Of course we know it would be great to stretch every hour or think about an issue during a lunch power walk. The reality is that these consultants are sat working 14+ hours 4 days per week (thank god for pubs on Friday) because they signed a waiver that removes the UK cap on max hours worked per week. And there is no such a thing as overtime, the norm is that you will work until or past the point of failure. The celery sticks have nothing to do with it.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Of course we know it would be great to stretch every hour or think about an issue during a lunch power walk.

          One of the earlier jobs in my career was an on-site programmer at a bulk print shop. Maybe once or twice a month I’d be chewing on a problem and getting nowhere, so I would don the ear and eye protection and go out onto the shop floor, walk the perimeter where it was safe and didn’t impact anything, and watch the machines run for a few minutes. Some of the friendlier staff befriended me, and would pull me aside if one of my jobs were running and show me the results. Even offered me advice on what I could incorporate into my work to make theirs easier and less troublesome. It was a thoroughly positive experience each time, and I usually returned to my desk a few minutes later in a different state of mind and seeing things differently.

          Until someone started complaining. Then I got written up for stretching my legs and thinking about issues during a power walk.

          1. Filosofickle*

            i had a (salaried, exempt) job where instead of larger breaks I took frequent mini breaks to do a lap inside the building. That’s it, just a few minutes to walk the floor, move a little, and re-orient my brain. I was really helpful for me! It didn’t add up to more than 15 minute breaks. Then I was told I could no longer do that — even though my boss said she was fine with it and I was objectively outperforming my peers, my grand-boss said there was a perception that I was never at my desk.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Management-by-perception has to be among the worst management techniques.

              It’s like, “We don’t care if you actually do your job, as long as you look like you are doing your job.”

          2. Lenora Rose*

            What exactly would they have to complain ABOUT? You could clearly and actively demonstrate that it had a positive impact on your job, and describe it as networking with the floor staff.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I don’t know who complained, let alone what complaints were voiced or why.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        And really, the “wellness” industry has no incentive to make people’s lives better in the long term. If a wellness self help book fixes your problems, yo don’t buy any more books or gadgets or prepackaged snacks and the companies and influencers don’t make as much money. So they have a vested interest in making you feel like you’ve improved a little bit, but you still have a long way to go.

      3. Onward*

        “Telling you that if you’d just sleep well, eat better, exercise regularly and find time for meditation is also cheap, and has the added bonus of making it your fault if you fail, because you’re obviously doing it right.”

        YES! THIS! Even outside of company wellness programs, articles that push this nonsense are maddening. The stuff especially shaming parents for things like nutrition, screen time, family time, etc. really grind my gears. How do you expect our kids to have these idyllic childhood experiences when their parents are underpaid and overworked with extremely limited PTO, daycare costs are through the roof, the cost of healthcare is bonkers, etc. etc. etc. I’m all for accountability and getting one’s own house in order, but ignoring systemic issues in favor of putting all blame on the individual for not living perfectly balanced lives in this type of environment is insanity.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Exactly! Both Sawbones and Maintenance Phase podcasts talk about this fairly often, how so many purported diet plans and other personal “health improvement” plans are so incredibly difficult to stick to, which inevitably leads to the plan not working for the individual, and then whoever is touting the plan can say that that’s the fault of the individual for not following the plan to the letter. (And, most maddeningly, that the plan absolutely works! When it actually absolutely doesn’t!) There needs to be a term for this; if there already is one can someone tell me what it is so I can start using it? Please and thank you.

          1. Lydia*

            One of the things that was a lightbulb moment for me was when Sydnee described cleanses and similar “detoxifying” programs as disordered eating. Whole 30 is one I hear a lot about because one of my friends does it in January. I muted that one and a bunch of other ones on Twitter, because every stupid January it all comes up again. As someone who is trying to sort out my own weight and body issues, I don’t need to be constantly reminded of these so-called easy fixes.

          2. marvin*

            Capitalism! Seriously though, it is a very common feature of capitalism to shift responsibility for solving problems it creates to individuals, particularly individuals’ consumer decisions.

            1. MeepMeep123*

              COVID is actually another one of those. That’s when I really started noticing the pattern. The solution to the pandemic would have been societal, not individual – ample and easily available sick time, easy access to medical care, easy access to PPE and quarantines if required, easy access to testing, workplace safety precautions like WFH for anyone who can do it, clean indoor air for those who can’t WFH, and so on and so forth. None of these are things an individual can do on their own.

              Instead, we get cheery reminders that the pandemic is “over”, as thousands of people keep dying of COVID, and those of us who are high-risk or otherwise unwilling to get sick “for the economy” have to take insane precautions and live like hermits in order to not get sick.

      4. Caramel & Cheddar*

        “has the added bonus of making it your fault if you fail”

        It’s always seemed really clear to me that this is why they push wellness stuff: so that it’s your responsibility, not theirs. It’s certainly cheaper, but at the end of the day it means they also don’t have to do any of the hard work of really looking at how their org is stressing their staff out.

      5. kiki*

        The number of times companies suggest meditation when somebody is in desperate need of childcare, therapy, medical care, or even just some time off… it drives me mad. I like meditation! It’s valuable! But it is not a magical cure-all that will make the practicer no longer subject to their human needs and limitations.

        1. My Cabbages!*

          Especially mental health! The number of times that someone has implied or outright stated that meditation will cure my ADHD…

          1. Some words*

            Just popping in to compliment your user name. That’s an exclamation that’s heard at my home at any opportunity.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Arrrrggghhh! I hate that.

            I have a childhood Dx of ADD. I meditate. Does the meditation help with the ADD? Not really. It’s just another thing I skitter into doing sometimes. No effect on whether I can focus where I need to.

          3. Ellis Bell*

            This is so funny to me because I’m the daydreamy, inattentive type of ADHD which makes going into a peaceful trance kind of unbelievably easy for me. In fact I’ve spent most of my life trying to stop myself from falling into it unwittingly when it’s not a good time for that sort of thing. If somebody were to suggest I *do it more* to make it go away forever (which I would not really want anyway, it’s certainly an inconvenient state but it’s like the comfort of home to me), I would be just fascinated at what their rationale is on that!

          4. MigraineMonth*

            Also, meditation makes some mental health conditions worse! If someone is coping with intrusive thoughts or psychosis, meditation might trigger an episode. If someone has experienced trauma, meditation can bring all that up at a time and place it isn’t safe to process.

            It’s a tool, not a magical panacea.

            1. Inksmith*

              Thanks for saying this! I end up crying every time I try to meditate, and it always makes me feel like a crazy person when everyone is saying that meditation is for everyone and will help with my mental health problems.

      6. MigraineMonth*

        Fortunately, my company’s wellness initiatives are all completely optional.

        Unfortunately, they’re terrible. The “nutrition education” I thought might be valuable to attend class was basically a list of myths. I wanted to stand at the back of the class with a “[citation needed]” sign.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      Mandatory wellness trainings are so inappropriate. Instead of being forced to attend what sound like awful so-called trainings, I’ve been lucky to work at nonprofits that offer genuine wellness options. Places I’ve worked have highlighted access for free to anonymous EAP support that the employer pays for, promoted using regular sick days for self-care and not just illness, and allowed employees the flexibility to create our own schedules whenever our particular roles can accommodate that.

      In other words, they treat us like adults who can make our own choices. I can’t imagine being in the position where your manager tells you have to go to a required training where people have to sit through–and worse, participate in–discussions about nutrition, suicide, etc. with their colleagues and managers. For all of you who have been in that position, I’m outraged on your behalf and wish I had a magic wand to put an end to such nonsense.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Appropriate meeting about wellness: “We have gotten a lot of questions about the benefits covered under our health insurance, including wellness options. We will be having a lunch and learn/Q&A about what is covered in the cafe on Thursday. Please attend if you have questions, and if you can’t attend we will circulate an email with common questions/answers and you can submit your question if not covered”
        Inappropriate wellness meeting: almost any other format.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Also — let’s take time out of our day to go attend a training that tells you all the things to do to feel better, then go back to your desk where you are know an hour behind in a day that was already overloaded.

        At least before the trainings were truly optional. With this new boss it appears you MUST attend or disclose personal information you might not want to disclose. Which really makes the advice given even worse because the cause of stress is the boss themselves and not a lot the employees can do.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          While completely ignoring the training required to, you know, do your job. Let’s not bother to send you to conferences or classes to brush up your skills, that would be expensive. You can figure out the new software from YouTube videos. But we will put you in a conference room for an hour to talk about the importance of breathing.

      3. Mark the Herald*

        I hear you. My feeling is that if you are mandating that someone have a conversation with you about suicide or diet or mental health – BY DEFINITION you are not a safe person to converse with about suicide, diet, mental health….

    3. Ellis Bell*

      My partner spent a good part of last year being hassled about wearing his mental health awareness badge. He doesn’t otherwise have a uniform or particularly strict dress code and the industry has nothing to do with mental health. It inevitably fizzled out. The ironic thing is that his employer really could have quite a positive effect on his mental health just by doing his job. My partner has a peer who not only postures as his boss but who harangues him to slow down and obstructs his work so the peer doesn’t look bad in comparison. He literally tells him in front of bosses to not work so quickly. The company loves gimmicks, but no one is interested in actually managing, or doing their job which is a huge stressor in people’s lives.

      1. Emily*

        I think you hit the nail on the head. One of the things that can be so galling about these wellness iniatives is that they are often being done by companies that otherwise do not care or are actively undermining their employees’ wellness. In OP’s case, trying to force attendance or demand very personal details for lack of attendance is negatively impacting their mental health. Most often these wellness iniatives are just to make the company look good.

    4. Snow Globe*

      The thing that makes it so maddening to me is the weird assumption that somehow being in a management position somehow makes a person competent to act as a health advisor or therapist. Almost none of these programs are actually led by anyone who is professionally trained (if they were professionally trained they’re know how inappropriate this is.)

      1. kiki*

        It’s especially wild to me because so many managers haven’t received any real management training, let alone training in these completely separate fields.

    5. Helen J*

      I agree with everyone else. We’ve had a company wellness program for years now and I have always felt it was a bit much. They sold it as if we participate in the wellness program, we’ll get a discount on our health insurance. The problem is this wellness program is the basically the same topics & suggestions every year and it is things people already know. The topic this week was Life in Balance and included discussion on career, money, healthy, friends & family, romance/significant other, personal growth/spirituality, fun & recreation and physical environment.

      Plus, if you participate, you have to have a wellness screening each year (lipid panel + height/weight/BMI), those results you get categorized as low, medium or high risk and that determines how many 1 on 1 coachings and “healthy breaks” you must attend to get the discount. Supposedly, the company doesn’t know your category and the coach is telling them if we met our requirements. Another frustrating element is the coach wants to come on the day we have all department meetings and we don’t have a lot of meeting space, but they must have a room with privacy since they are discussing private information, so one of our meeting rooms is taken all day.

      Since we are considered a small-ish company, our premiums are high. If I could afford the cost without the wellness program, I would decline the program. With the cost of everything going up and the fact that medical care has always been pricey, I suffer through each year.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        if you participate, you have to have a wellness screening each year (lipid panel + height/weight/BMI), those results you get categorized as low, medium or high risk

        Ohhhhhh, noooooo, that is not just “a bit much,” that is legit terrible. The coachings already sound like a dreadful waste of time (and space), but maybe a small price to pay for a discount on your health insurance. But your company should *absolutely not* be putting anyone in a position where they are being told their BMI (because BMI is BS). Sounds like your company is doing lip service because they can’t or don’t want to spend the money on services that would actually help its employees.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        One employer did that. I declined to participate.

        Warning: Discussion of diet culture.

        I don’t need to be told that I’m fat, or “coached” on a “healthy lifestyle”. The fat is genetic, but most of these idiots stubbornly insist that it’s all about “willpower” – as in being willing to torture yourself with severe calorie restriction until you are in first stage malnutrition in order to achieve the sacred weight loss “goal”.

        To me, most “diets” are masochistic self abuse. That ascetic, hair shirt, self denial and self abuse thing about refusing to eat when your body says you are hungry is disordered eating in my book. The fact that the entire diet industry demands that you do this is cringeworthy. Having grown up with this due to getting fat at puberty, and subsequently being put on diets “for my own good”, means that I have to avoid this like the plague. (Seriously, in high school I could easily pull my hair out in clumps due to “dieting”.) I dieted, played sports, and never got thin! I usually gained back any weight I’d lost, plus some. I am still wearing 50 pounds of post-diet gainback. My body is now really, really, really efficient at extracting all the calories out of what I eat, because I’ve trained it so well with diets in my youth.

        Sorry, rant over.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It turns out that one key to being thin is having a really ineffective digestive system. I wish someone had told me that 20 years ago.

    6. Jessica*

      *perky corporate voice*

      “You don’t need health care when you have SELF care!!!

      Hello, [insert company name] rockstars! It’s been an incredible year as we made record profits and refined our processes and team to be Lean(TM) and mean. We want to thank you for all your hard work and tell you about some innovations to your benefit plan that you’re going to love!

      We want to give you the freedom to choose your own ways to stay healthy rather than being confined by the *air quotes* “preventative care” options offered by our old plan, so we’ve upgraded from our former Premium Plan to a Flex Option with a creative solution called an “HSA.”

      Instead of the employer-funded options in our old plan, you can now put part of your salary into an HSA, which you can then use to pay for a wide range of health options.

      This includes over-the-counter medications to replace pricey prescriptions from those specialists you won’t be seeing anymore! The really cool thing about this is the portion of your salary you put into the HSA is PRE-TAX!!!!

      The second innovative new way we’re caring for your health is something I’m REALLY excited to tell you about. With some of the resources we’ve saved from pivoting from a quote-unquote “Cadillac” health insurance option to an HSA-supported model…

      …we’ve brought in a top-of-the-line marketing firm to design an internal Mindfulness website, because as we all know, even when you love your job as much as we all do, some days can get a little stressful. I mean, excitement about new projects is still stress, did you know that?

      So, if you’re starting to feel a little bit grumpy on Hour 78 or 79 of your work week, we encourage you to sit back, relax, and visit the Mindfulness website to take a 3-minute Guided Meditation Tour that’ll leave you feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work!

      These are just some of the incredible self-care options we’re offering to you as we look for ways to make our employer-sponsored health insurance plan more Lean and efficient.

      Remember: you don’t need healthcare when you’ve been doing your SELF-care!!!”

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Egad, this is waaaaaay too close to stuff I’ve actually seen at some companies.


          1. Giant Kitty*

            Considering that TPTB where my husband works have called our (union negotiated) health plan “the of Cadillac health insurance options” and bluntly stated that they think it is “too rich” for mere warehouse laborers to have, I don’t find it far fetched at all.

        2. Jessica*

          Workplace wellness, whether it’s contests or bonuses for being “healthy” or even company-provided “self-care” resources, makes me instantly, deeply rage-filled.

          It’s galling enough that we have a system where the most affordable way to get health insurance is through your employer, so they’re already in my private business that way.

  4. Eater of Cupcakes*

    LW2: As a person who likes to talk a lot, let me assure you that if somebody asks that many questions, it’s not because they actually wonder about the answer. At least not in 49 cases out of 50. I realize we all already know this, but it warrants repeating.
    (I say “likes to talk a lot” and not “talks a lot” because I keep myself reigned in, being aware that me liking to talk enormously much doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to actually do.)

    1. Allonge*

      Yes. To be fair, there are people who ask questions almost compulsively and don’t seem to have a concept of ‘wait a bit in case it becomes clearer’, but even then there is such a thing as situational awareness. As you say, preferences are not obligations.

      And for the trainers: of course there is no such thing as a stupid question, especially an induction type of training.

      There are however irrelevant questions, questions that will be answered later in the training and questions that are better answered in a one-on-one. Certainly there are questions that are asked without regard to other’s time. Trainers need to stop this person from monologuing for an hour / day!

      1. Observer**

        And for the trainers: of course there is no such thing as a stupid question, especially an induction type of training.

        There are however irrelevant questions, questions that will be answered later in the training and questions that are better answered in a one-on-one.


        OP please focus on this point. Because that’s the one thing that really is inarguable. And it’s the point that you can take to whoever is in charge of the training, if you need to get to that point.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Yeah the trainer should at the least feel empowered to say “we’ll get to that later in the session” rather than derailing on something out of order.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        We have a saying in my house “Land the plane” My spouse is self aware and knows he meanders when he talks or tells a story, including getting sidetracked into something totally irrelevant to what he’s talking about.

        He’s getting better though, sometimes he realizes in the middle of a verbal wander and says it himself: “Wakeen was walking down the street, I think it was Main St… It could have been Walnut… you know the one with that great bakery you know the one with the champagne cupcakes you like… I always liked the strawberry ones. Do you remember when that bakery used to be a deli that I would spend a lot of time in, they had the greatest pastrami sandwich and the owner was a really nice guy, he had a stroke last year I heard, oh yeah land the plan… anyway Wakeen was walking down the street, tripped, and broke his leg”

        I would not suggest using this phrase in a professional setting except under very particular circumstances! Work-wise I would use something like “There’s a lot of great discussion going on that probably needs to be explored more. But in the interest of time I’d like to get us back to the topic/decision that we’re meeting about”

        1. EPLawyer*

          UGh, my husband will do this. He will stop a story in the middle to sort out the address of the place he is talking about. Like DEAR I am never going there so I don’t need directions.

          I have started using hand gestures. No not that one. I put my hands out then move them together like squeezing something. Shorten it up.

          1. jane's nemesis*

            I like this! I’m going to try with my spouse who has issues with storytelling and meandering around the point