My Year In Books, Part Three: A Little Bit of This And A Little Bit of That

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed
Non-Fiction, Biographies & Memoirs, Travel, Nature

Retreating to nature in order to find oneself is a common theme in literature. Cheryl Strayed’s book follows many of the familiar themes: a wound, a period of losing oneself, a journey of physical difficulty and solitude, and an eventual spiritual and emotional healing. Even though the tale is familiar, there is much to love in this book and I found it comforted and nourished me.   

Cheryl hiked a large portion of the Pacific Coast Trail after her life and marriage fell to pieces after the death of her mother. She was unprepared both physically and emotionally for the stresses and dangers of the trail. Cheryl had to decide very quickly whether to give into her fear and retreat or to face the fear and walk through it. And she walked. And walked. And walked.

I too, have faced times in my life when I realized that I was carrying things I would have thought impossible and found liberation in the realization.
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.”

“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it. That I could bear the unbearable. These realizations about my physical, material life couldn’t help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.”

While I loved the book, there were times when the story wandered and I ended up skipping some pages to move things along.  
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Journey
By Rolf Potts
Non-Fiction, Travel

This book is difficult to explain until you read it. Half travel advice, half philosophy guide, Vagabonding is not easy to pin down. In this quick read, while quoting the likes of Thoreau, Whitman, and Muir, Potts endeavors to explain his approach to long term travel, teaching readers to view the experience “not as an escape, but as an adventure and a passion - a way of overcoming your fears and living life to the fullest.” Vagabonding is a way of engaging in low cost, long term travel with a minimum of planning. The goal is to take life as it comes, to travel slowly or quickly as the occasion permits and not be so caught up in checking experiences off a  list or meeting schedules and expectations.  

Dan and I both loved this book and found ourselves longing to sell our belongings, pack up our little family and travel the world. It didn’t help that while we read this book, some of our best friends were doing just that. I hope that one day we can find the space in our lives to embrace the vagabonding lifestyle.

The Sense of Wonder
By Rachel Carson
Non-Fiction, Nature, Relationships

Rachel Carson, the celebrated marine biologist and conservationist and author of Silent Spring, shares a new and stunning side of herself in these tender and personal essays. In The Sense of Wonder, Rachel relates stories of her adventures with her nephew Roger as he explores the natural world of her home on the coast of Maine.

Rachel uses these stories to instruct adults about the importance of encouraging wonder in the lives of the children under our care.  

“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.”

This is a beautiful book, a quick and soul-nourishing read.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By Marie Kondo
Non-Fiction, Self-Help, Cleaning

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”   

Many people wonder if reading another book about organizing is worth the time. After all, how much can you say about “tidying” and can you really claim that it is life-changing? Truly, the method Marie Kondo describes is incredibly simple: 1) Imagine, in detail, the life you desire. 2) Choose a category such as clothes or books and gather every article you own in that category. 3) Pick each item up and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” while paying attention to how you feel. If the item does, keep it. If not, get rid of it. The result, if you truly follow the method, is life changing. When you only keep or buy those things that truly bring joy into your life, your life cannot help but change. You shed excess, clutter, and the need to have more things and the results transfer over mentally and spiritually as well.

Not everyone will find it necessary to read the whole book, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the narration while I was cleaning. Although, the notion may seem silly to some people, I appreciated her respect for possessions and how she wrote about our clothes and books having feelings.

Her advice for saying thank you to things that no longer brought joy was especially helpful:

“When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure. To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”   

By learning to acknowledge the purpose that the item had served, I was able to let go of several things that I had kept out of obligation and not because I loved or used them. I am still working through our things and haven’t come to the point where we only have joy-sparking items. But, we are a lot closer than we were and I feel better already!

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
By Sheryl Sandberg
Non-Fiction, Women & Business

Guilt. That feeling when we know we have compromised our standards and bear significant responsibility. Guilt can be helpful, motivating us to do make amends for mistakes and do better in the future. However, excessively dwelling on perceived weaknesses and moral failings can lead to depression and resentment. I come from a place where an interesting mix of cultural forces leads many to carry excessive guilt. I fall victim to this mindset more than I’d like to admit. I don’t live up to my parent’s expectations, my religion’s ideals, or my own standards. I have made mistakes that will continue to affect my life for years to come.

I have also made choices that I felt were right for me, but don’t fit a cultural mold that is reiterated regularly. Most glaring, I choose to work full time and enjoy the benefits of full time employment. I felt inspired to take the employment opportunities that were places before me and yet I struggle with guilt and worry about falling short as a mother and as a member of the LDS Church.

Reading Lean In helped me examine my guilt, evaluating what was healthy and signaled needed changes and what I could let go of. The experience was transformative and I felt a great spiritual peace, an inner voice affirming my worth and the path that I have chosen.

Many of my fears were eased by listening to Sheryl Sandberg relate study after study showing that my choice to work wouldn’t lead directly to the destruction of my family. For example, she shared evidence that, “When women work outside the home and share breadwinning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.”

Her advice to “lean in” came at the perfect time for me, when I was praying about a possible career change. I was unsure of what to do with this opportunity to transfer to a more technical role in my company’s IT department and overwhelmed at the prospect. I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenges of the new position and was inclined to stay in a position where I had become comfortable. When I read these words, I knew that I needed to take a leap in the darkness and trust that I could grow and adapt to new challenges:
“There is no perfect fit when you're looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is packed full of information, suggestions, and motivation. Sheryl Sandberg is a passionate, intelligent woman. While she doesn’t demand that all women enter the workforce or work toward high level leadership positions, she does want to empower women who are capable and motivated to work toward those goals. She doesn’t want our insecurities or societal barriers to get in the way of women who have the drive to succeed in the business world. She also has a deep conviction that more women in leadership will make businesses and ultimately the world a better place.    

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