Don’t spend time chasing a right answer or a right path, but instead spend time defining how you are going to approach whatever path you choose

LAURA R. WALKER is president and CEO of New York Public Radio, the largest public radio station group in the nation. Under her leadership, New York Public Radio has increased its monthly audience from 1 million to over 26 million, has raised more than $100 million in long-term investment, and has been described by Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor as being on “innovation overdrive.” Laura was honored with an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the industry’s highest honor. She was named one of New York City’s “Most Powerful Women” by Crain’s New York Business, was chosen for the Crain’s New York Business special feature on “The 100 Most Influential Women in NYC Business,” and was one of Moves magazine’s “Power Women.” She holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BA in history from Wesleyan University, where she was an Olin Scholar.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
When I give a book, I always try to find something that I loved, and most important, speaks to the person’s dreams, yearnings, or challenges they are facing. For friends who have faced or are facing cancer, I often give them The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, because this beautifully written book weaves together science and story so elegantly, and helped me understand cancer—the history, causes, and innovative treatment—when my son had cancer.

For new cooks I give Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything because it delivers exactly what it promises!

For New York City geeks—and I know a lot of them—I gave Nonstop Metropolis by Rebecca Solnit.

For a great novel that I have read three times, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

For young women, I get The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, which I read when I was studying in Paris. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

And for those who struggle with productivity and taking control of their lives, The 4-Hour Workweek, of course!

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
I’m a bit of a pen geek. I recently found an erasable pen—the FriXion by Pilot in blue. It writes so smoothly, and being able to erase it gives me a sense of power and delight. I often use the pen with a “smart” notebook (like the Rocketbook Everlast smart notebook) that can be reused.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

Ever since my son got cancer several years ago, when I cleared my plate of almost all obligations but being with him and work, I have become better at saying no to invitations, especially those that don’t involve my family.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

In a tough situation, I try to remind myself that stress can make me stronger—if I believe it can. I breathe deeply and visualize, focusing that feeling of stress and being overwhelmed into positive, loving action. I was inspired to do this after reading some research by Kelly McGonigal of Stanford.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Get out of your comfort zone when you graduate. Ask yourself what you are genuinely curious about and explore it. Embrace the ambiguity and contradictions that life invariably will bring, and develop habits—exercise, talking with friends, writing—that help you do so. Don’t spend time chasing a right answer or a right path, but instead spend time defining how you are going to approach whatever path you choose. What values most define you? What questions do you want to pursue?

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