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08/05/21 | Menu-Homepage

Book Review: Developing Your Swagger and Becoming What You Want

Below is a review of Leslie Ehm’s new book, Swagger: Unleash Everything You Are and Become Everything You Want.

Leslie has spoken with us before on how ambition can get in the way of your success. In this book, she identifies true swagger as it results from your ability to manifest who you really are and hold on to it in the face of all the psychological crap that will come for it every day. It’s part guidebook, part manifesto – and a little sweary.

We’ve included a short excerpt of the book as well. This review was completed by Maura Charles, Founder of Keep It Human.


Leslie Ehm’s Swagger is an inspirational guide to discovering (or re-discovering!) your unique authentic badass self. I came out of it with the knowledge of how to confidently go after what I want, while knowing that I don’t have all the answers as long as I’m willing to learn and grow. 

From the beginning I could tell that Ehm’s writing style would make it easy to absorb all the concepts she was detailing. She’s a gifted storyteller — using lots of real world examples — and is not afraid to drop an occasional F-bomb. And the short exercises that she incorporates throughout the book are actually useful and not just fluff as in so many other books in this genre.

Early in the book, Leslie’s story about being told she was “too much” is absolutely what resonated the most with me. As a kid and teenager, I was often told that I was too much and as a result felt like I had to dial it back all the time. But what I have since realized, and Swagger helped reinforce, is that being too much is really just being myself and playing big – and that’s what I actually need to be truly successful. When she said that the “big” parts of her were a gift, I knew I had found the book for me!

I also found the section on reclaiming your voice relatable. She describes how language is a powerful tool to connect with others in more authentic and memorable ways. A great tactic she shares is writing like you talk, which I have been trying to do myself for years so that I don’t sound like a corporate robot!

One of the best pieces of advice Ehm gives is about owning your power and taking up space in a room when you’re presenting. She suggests not putting a lot of information on your presentation slides and instead using your presence and your knowledge to really connect with your audience. I know when I’ve done this in the past those have been some of my best experiences with public speaking and feeling like a bonafide leader.

The book is lean on visual frameworks, which is great, because the concentric circle visuals the book does use are really helpful. They illustrate how your swagger blockers (the saboteurs that prevent you from becoming your most powerful self) prevent your swagger drivers (your truth, intention, and self-belief) from coming out and really help reinforce the messages from Ehm’s stories and exercises. 

When Ehm wrote about insecurity and perceptions I felt like she had written the chapter just for me. “Insecurity is rarely about the challenge we’re about to take on – it’s the history of self doubt that is the killer.” The big aha! moment for me was the part about how humans crave knowing the outcome of a situation so much that even when odds are neutral our brains automatically go to the negative first. Learning to retrain your brain to have a positive automatic thought instead of a negative one helps you accept what is true instead of what you’re imagining to be true.

Overall, Swagger is a unique and inspired take on how to approach your own confidence to really find your mojo. There were some similarities with other books I’ve read and mindset shifting frameworks I’ve learned, but not so much that I didn’t feel like I was learning something fresh and new. 

Some of my favorite lines from Swagger:

  • “To accept where we’ve been gives us power to own where we are.”
  • “Authenticity is more “how do I adjust my hat?“ than going out to shop for a brand new one.”
  • “For ambition to be legit, it should never come at the cost of your authenticity.”
  • “Pain is not truth. It’s haunted shadows and memories.”

Excerpt from SWAGGER:

We are all born with physical quirks, nuances, and differentiators. That’s what makes the breadth of humanity so freakin’ gorgeous. Yet most of us develop a serious hate-on for the very things that make us memorable and unique. (Thanks, adolescence. You fully suck.) We believe we’re too tall, too big, or too small. Our skin is the “wrong” color, our accent is “weird” or hard to understand. Our sexuality or gender identification makes us feel like a lonely castaway floating in a sea of “normal.” All the sh*t we cannot change becomes our burden when it could become our guiding light. As the great RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?” I’d add to that, “And how the hell you gonna get others to love you?” 

Isn’t that what we all we want—to be loved and accepted for who we are in all of our perfectly idiosyncratic glory? For the record, this concern for a persona of perfection never goes away. Apparently, when Oprah was nominated for an Academy Award for her brilliant work in The Color Purple, she almost didn’t attend the ceremony, and when she did, she actually hoped that she wouldn’t win because she was worried that she looked “too fat” in her dress. Seriously. Oprah. I’ve seen this manifest in CEOs and interns alike. The physical unchangeable stuff of us can be a constant source of angst and self-loathing. We convince ourselves that if we look and sound perfect, we can fool others into believing that we are perfect. Except that we aren’t, and we can’t, and there’s no such thing as perfection.

“Normal” is an equivalent fallacy, not to mention boring as hell. Can you imagine what the other horses said when they first saw a unicorn? “What is that thing growing out of its head? Look away, Seabiscuit, look away!” But that’s just the thing. What makes a unicorn so irresistible and unforgettable is its differentiator. The lesson here is to embrace the physical yumminess that we can’t change and instead turn it into our swagger advantage!

Remember, there is no one ideal version of swagger. It doesn’t discriminate. And for the real you to shine, it has to be the real you, not some glossy manufactured version. Otherwise, what’s point? Swagger means going beyond mere acceptance of all your quirks and idiosyncrasies into embracing and celebrating the crap out of them.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Maura Charles

Maura Charles

Maura Charles is the founder of Keep it Human, a digital innovation consultancy. She has 25 years of experience working in digital transformation and digital product roles for beloved consumer brands that inform & entertain. She advises a range of companies from early stage startups to global corporations on their digital business in three key areas: cross-functional team facilitation for innovation, establishing a new full-stack digital product function, and supporting teams through growth and change.

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