5 Important Work-Life Lessons You Need to Know from Les Miserables

Reading has become a chore in our digital age. We want information broken down into Instagram feeds or at the very least 140 characters.  However, I discovered the beauty of reading. Forget skimming through the dailies or watching E! to see what Lupita Nyong’o wore to the Met Gala. Reading has become a chore in our digital age. We want information broken down into Instagram feeds or at the very least 140 characters.  However, I discovered the beauty of reading. Forget skimming through the dailies or watching E! to see what Lupita Nyong’o wore to the Met Gala. I mean relaxing on your favourite couch with a nice cup of tea while you get engrossed in the story.

I know the word “classics” brings to mind, dusty old books that would fall apart with the slightest turn of a page and the Shakespeare English does not help the situation.  Les Miserables has changed my perceptions of classics.  Just to bring you up to speed, the story centres on the life of Jean Valjean who is released after being incarcerated for 19 years. He breaks parole and begins a new life as Monsieur Madeline but his former prison warden Javert makes it his life mission to hunt down and bring him to book.  Victor Hugo weaves in the life of single working mother Fauntine, who tries to support her daughter, Cosette whom she left under the care of the greedy Thenardiers.


After watching its 2012 movie adaptation, I am convinced this story has a wealth of lessons not only for literature geeks but also for the Career Girl:

  • It is important to have someone in your corner: In the story, Bishop Myriel prevents Jean Valjean’s arrest after stealing his silver candlesticks because he believes in giving people second chances. Valjean uses this chance to make a fresh start and eventually becomes town mayor!

Find someone who will empower you to reach the next level. Let’s demystify these three terms. Mentors focus on the continuous development of a person. Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In emphasises on building natural and mutually beneficial relationships.  Coaches provide short-term interventions to achieve a desired goal. For instance, losing weight or achieving work-life balance. These days, there are coaches for hire. Sponsors are people who use their power for the benefit of their protégées. Normally, a sponsor would reach out to a Career Girl that reminds her of her younger self.  But do not be afraid to approach someone with the potential to propel your career in the right direction.

  • Have a voice of reason. Enjorlas was there to show Marius that he needed to have realistic goals especially after discovering that he was in love with Cossette. Every Career Girl needs a friend who will give her a (friendly) smack down when she is not staying on the straight and narrow. This friend will provide her honest opinion with your best interest at heart. Here, I am not talking about those frenemies, but discovering rather someone in your circle of trusted friends who can keep you accountable.
  • It is important to forgive yourself: Through the years, Valjean tries to move on under various aliases but he is haunted by the ghosts of his past.

Do not let your past define your future. Career Girls can make mistakes even when they have the best intentions. However, we need to need to separate ourselves from our actions and remedy the bad situation. Otherwise, we will always suffer from the Imposter Syndrome. You know, feeling like a phony and that you will be exposed despite actually being intelligent and highly successful. Isaiah Hankel, author of Black Hole Focus offers some remedies.

  • He’s just not that into you: There’s nothing as painful as unrequited love. From poor Eponine, I learnt that there is no need to stay glued to someone who does not add value to your life. In an article, Jason Womack provides tips on when to fire your mentor. I have encouraged you to get someone in your corner, sometimes relationships do not work out. There is nothing wrong with that. That person may have been in your life to help you go through a particular phase. So move on.
  • What are your values? Let’s also look at the Thenardiers. They milked Fauntine dry while mistreating her daughter Cossette.  A few years down the line, the tables are turned and they end up as common thieves while Cosette finds a father-figure in Valjean and marries the man of her dreams.

 “The accounts of these universe are probably well kept; everything finds its place in the long run” -C.S. Lewis

Be careful not to burn bridges and always treat people fairly regardless of their social status.  You never know whether the girl you bullied in high school will become your boss in future and have her revenge.

Editor’s note: Originally published on Career Girl Network

Photo credit: Goodreads


About Lillian

I am a proud student of the human experience which provides me with the perfect excuse for being a bibliophile (read: book hoarder) and the unofficial patron of Nairobi Inama bookshops. But in my past life, I was a recorder player. You can also find me on Medium (@lillianyamongo) where I discuss sustainable finance.
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