Writing for the Love of It

It feels good to be writing a blog post again three months after taking a self-care pause from blogging, working on my book, striving to grow a platform for a book proposal and struggling to build my coaching practice. Although the stressors that precipitated the pause are still present, it has become clear to me that I need to start writing again.

Earlier this week, I finished reading Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. Its effect on me has been profound, and I believe that it is one of the most personally important books that I have ever read. I have known about Cameron’s classic book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Creativity for years, and, although I skimmed it at some point in the past, I thought her recommendations weren’t really for me. Maybe the time just wasn’t right. I bought It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again about four years ago on Kindle. My reading list is (happily!) long, though, and I just got to it last week. Reading it in the middle of my crisis-induced self-care pause was a fortuitous blessing.

Despite the subtitle, the book is really about crafting a retirement of purpose and meaning. Retirement is still several years away for me, but I am looking toward it and thinking about what I want to create for my future—especially in light of pulling the plug on all my passion projects. Initially, I thought the book might be more applicable a few years down the road, but it is so beautifully written that I kept reading, still thinking that I would enjoy reading it now but would implement the tools in it later, closer to retirement.

While not quite ready for retirement, I recognize that I am at a different kind of crossroads.

Gradually, as I read, inspired by Cameron’s ideas on creativity as a life force, I began to see that I could make her tools my own and benefit from them immediately. On July 5 I began to incorporate my personalized version of her Morning Pages into my life as a writing meditation. Reading and reflecting on her words, I realized that, as a passion, writing is key to my self-care.

Reading It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, doing my writing mediation and riding my bike over the past week and a half, I decided to resume writing my blog, but with no pressure to keep to an editorial calendar. I will write when I am moved to write. I will write for the sake of writing, because I love it, because it heals me—not to build an audience for a coaching practice or book proposal. I have been humbled by the helplessness I have felt in the face of the still-present issues that led me to the pause, so my writing will be introspective and descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

I will transition my website to a simple blog. My emotional energy for coaching or even for my book is depleted. Maybe I will return to the book at some point. Maybe I will use some of the nearly 60,000 words I have written in that manuscript for something else. Maybe it was just meant to move me part of the way down the road on my journey toward becoming the person I need to be to make the contribution I am charged with making in the world. I don’t really know, and I have decided that is okay.

As I return to my blog and reclaim the power of writing in my life, I plan to break all the rules around blogging and building an audience and internet marketing. I’m out of energy for all that. I will write for the sheer joy of writing. Hopefully, my words will bring some good to the world and will add value to people who read them.

Journalist Cyril Connolly said, “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

That’s how I feel at this point. I will write because I need to write.

Reading Cameron’s compelling book helped me to see that the things that make me who I am—cycling, reading, writing, veganism, commitment to health, compassion—are my keys to serving the world. Maybe it is much simpler and much more joyful than I have been making it. I have decided to settle in, emphasize my passions and pay attention to ways that I can make a positive difference.

Julia Cameron conceptualizes God as “Good, Orderly Direction.” The more I sat with that description, the more I loved it. I think that is what I have been given toward the evolution of my blog—Good, Orderly Direction—and I am grateful. I have an idea for a way my blog may grow into something more someday (perhaps in retirement), allowing me to serve the needs of our world in a deeper way. But, again, no pressure. I am writing for joy and healing and hope right now.

Starting today, my website will transition to a simple blog. My new title is: It’s Just Wind: An occasional, evolving blog celebrating plant-based pedaling for health and compassion.

I will keep my current web address (https://justwindcoach.com/) at this time, even though it has the word “coach” in it, and I am no longer working to build a coaching practice. Keeping the same website is easier than changing it, and easy is what I need right now.

Gabby Bernstein says, “Obstacles are detours in the right direction.” Although I really, really want to be finished with the obstacles that are constantly looming in front of me at the moment, I can see that the pause they enforced positioned me to make decisions that leave me with a sense of peace.

In this new evolution of my blog, I will write and publish as frequently or infrequently as I feel inspired to do so. Julia Cameron has such a gentle, encouraging way of nudging her readers toward action. I intend to emulate her gentleness with myself.

I highly recommend It’s Never Too Late to Be a Beginner. For me, it is the right book at the right time, a much-needed spark of hope.

So, I initiate this new phase, trusting that I am guided by Good, Orderly Direction. I believe this blog will help me navigate the uncertain roads I am traveling in this season of life, and I hope sharing my thoughts and experiences will help others and add positive vibrations to the world.


Guest Post: Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

by Dianne Waltner, Author of Evolving into Wholeness: A Journey of Compassion

No matter what kind of growth or change we desire to create in our lives, it is necessary to step outside our comfort zones—whether dipping a toe outside that cozy space or plunging all the way into the scary unknown with a swan dive or cannonball. Today we are treated to a guest post by my good friend Dianne Waltner. Dianne published her first book Evolving into Wholeness: A Journey of Compassion last month. In it she highlights her own dips and plunges outside her comfort zone as she followed her heart and the voice within to evolve into a life of authenticity, sharing her journey in order to help others find courage to live into their own whole selves. We are privileged today to learn from her reflections on stepping out of our comfort zones. Enjoy! Sheri

“The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ― Roy T. Bennett

Growing up as a bullied child, I seldom felt comfortable around others and preferred to spend time alone. I often sought refuge in my room, surrounded by books, which were my comfort. I didn’t want to be seen or heard. I never wanted to stand out or to call attention to myself. I just wanted to blend in, to conform, to hide in the shadows. I certainly never wanted to make a scene or cause conflict.

As a highly introverted adult, interacting with others was often draining and difficult.  I never wanted to make waves or challenge the status quo. I would have liked to stay in my comfort zone. Until that itself became uncomfortable.

At various times in my life, I’ve become too uncomfortable to stay where I’m at; times when I’ve felt the calling to change, sometimes for personal health and wellbeing, sometimes out of concern for others. 

Going vegetarian (and eventually vegan), quitting smoking (and eventually quitting drinking), and publishing (and promoting) a book all required me to do things I didn’t initially feel comfortable doing. They all involved big steps outside of my comfort zone. Each time, I tried to ignore the inner voice that was encouraging me to make changes or to speak out. But I couldn’t shake it. And it forced me to make some of the very best and most important decisions of my life – decisions which helped me become a better person.

Living in alignment with one’s values often involves stepping out of one’s comfort zone. That was certainly the case for me. It was difficult going against societal norms. However, I found that, once I gave in and listened to that inner voice, I felt a profound sense of inner peace and joy. Although uncomfortable, I knew that I was doing the right thing.

“To be compassionate, you have to forget your own comfort zone and live well because you live beyond yourself.” ― Sunday Adelaja, The Mountain of Ignorance

I knew that I could never make the difference I wanted to make by playing it safe and staying comfortable. I needed to be willing to be vulnerable and follow my heart. It’s not always easy, and I make plenty of mistakes.

Over the years, I’ve learned several important lessons about leaving our safe place and taking risks.

It’s important to be gentle with ourselves, to forgive our mistakes as we learn, knowing that we’re doing the best we can.

We can give ourselves permission to not be perfect. We can be proud of ourselves for being willing to step out of our comfort zones. We can celebrate our successes and our willingness to take chances. And it’s so important to be compassionate with ourselves. We can become our own best friends.

And remember – At the end of your comfort zone is where adventure begins and life dances with trembling joy.” ― Debasish Mridha

You can connect with Dianne on her author website and her author Facebook page.

Her book is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.

You can connect with me on my JustWind Coaching Facebook page.

You can join the dynamic JustWind Community private Facebook group for a dose of daily inspiration and the current free class Spring into Action Move for Your Mind.

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“Happy in Spite of” vs. “Happy If Only”

“Karl Pillemer of Cornell makes the distinction between ‘happy in spite of’ and ‘happy if only,’ the former being a benefit of old age, the latter a vexation of youth. ‘Happy in spite of’ entails a choice to be happy; it acknowledges problems but doesn’t put them in the way of contentment. ‘Happy if only’ pins happiness on outside circumstances . . ..” –John Leland

After reading these words in Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old a couple weeks ago, I went for a pre-dawn walk in a high wind warning. As the crosswind threatened to push me sideways, and the headwind occasionally stopped me in my tracks, I thought about this idea of being “happy in spite of” vs. “happy if only.” It brought two concepts, to mind.

The first is the JustWind mindset, inspired, of course, by the Kansas wind. The JustWind mindset asserts that we have the power and freedom to choose our perspectives, and that is really what Pillemer’s distinction is—a recognition of the “wind” that presents as challenges in our lives and the decision that we are not victims of circumstance.

The second was the Serenity Prayer, which teaches the wisdom of releasing the illusion of control where there truly cannot be any and accepting responsibility where we do have the ability to change our conditions.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Happiness is a Choice You Make felt almost like a sequel to the book I highlighted last week, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, although it was published about four months earlier, and by a different author, than The Happiness Curve. Much of the same research was mentioned, and the age group that Leland featured was a generation or two beyond that examined by Rauch. Leland followed a group of 85-year-old+ seniors for one year and shared stories of his conversations with them that were poignant and instructive. What really struck me was the wisdom these older adults had gleaned. Most were generally content, even happy, despite quality of life that most of us would find very disagreeable.

The “happy in spite of” vs. “happy if only” distinction was the most significant idea in the book for me. The seniors who made the choice to be “happy in spite of” recognized that life had problems and was not perfect. Maybe their conditions were not what they would choose, but they decided to control what they could and made a conscious decision to be happy in spite of life’s imperfection.

No matter our current season of life, odds are we can find flaws in it. There are things we wish were different—some small, others larger.

I think our responsibility lies in recognizing when there is something we can change and when we cannot change our circumstances. Just because we CAN change a situation that is less than desirable, doesn’t mean it is easy. Doing so requires the courage mentioned in the Serenity Prayer. Part of the reason it calls for courage is that creating change comes with no guarantees.  Making the decision to pursue change may come down to the choice I discussed in this post—that the risk to remain tight inside the bud of our comfort zone is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.

Legitimately, sometimes we may decide that the risk of blossoming is greater or that we actually have no control over a situation. That leaves us with one choice.

We can choose to wallow in our misery, or we can choose to be happy in spite of our circumstances.

That is both wisdom and power. Since we can’t control the situation itself, we are controlling our response to it, rather than allowing it to dictate our quality of life.

Living in a pandemic, there are many things we would like to change but can’t. We always have control over what perspective we choose, though, and we can make the decision to be happy in spite of the things we can’t make go away.

That is a very freeing thought. No one and nothing outside of us determines how we respond to what life gives us. We do.

It’s not too late to claim your free Quick Coach Power Session to help you take responsibility for courageously changing the things you can change.

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A Frank Discussion of Midlife Malaise

I like to think I am pretty good with words—at least on paper, if not always while speaking on the spot (a common characteristic of introverts). But, for the past several years, I had not been able to find a label that I felt accurately described the sense of internal unrest that that been nagging me. Sure, there are aspects of my life that I would like to be different, and I am actively working to improve some of them, but it was more pervasive, if subtler, than that. I felt guilty for my unsettledness. There was no good reason. What was the deal?

Just after the first of the year, I read Jonathan Rauch’s The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, and I felt like he was reading my mind. So often throughout the book, I found myself saying, “Yes!” or “That’s exactly how I feel.” And he gave me a new vocabulary for identifying and explaining—even if only to myself—this underlying nag of discontent.

Rauch found himself feeling the same way in his 40s. He was a successful journalist who was in a loving relationship. Outwardly, he had achieved so much of what he wanted to accomplish, and life looked good. Overall, it felt good, too. He appreciated what he had. That was why he felt so bad about feeling bad.

Yet he also felt like there was more that he should have done and achieved and that time to do so was running out. He decided to dive into this nagging feeling and learn more.

His own informal research and conversations with many experts in human growth and development, lifespan, aging, psychology and even primatology revealed that some level of this slump in the 40s to early 50s is not only common, but normal. We’re familiar with the stereotype of “midlife crises,” usually involving red sports cars, but, although, like most stereotypes, this one holds true in some cases, the reality is that for most people it is less dramatic than a crisis. It’s more like an underlying sense of unease and disappointment. In most cases it is not precipitated by any momentous event; it just sort of creeps in and makes itself known. There is even evidence that this midlife melancholy has a basis in biology. Experts who study our primate relatives have recognized that middle-aged chimpanzees and orangutans exhibit signs of a slump that resembles what humans experience.

Since “crisis” doesn’t accurately describe the more common—yet largely undiscussed—phenomenon, Rauch searched for a word that better captured it—slump, melancholy, dissatisfaction. All of those fit, but the one that resonated with me the most was “malaise”—”a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify,” according to Oxford Languages. While “illness” doesn’t fit my personal experience (another reason to be grateful!), “discomfort” and “uneasiness” certainly do, and there is no single, easily identifiable cause, which is why I believe it feels so shameful and ungrateful to discuss.

Rauch’s book convinced me that we need to be able to talk about it, though. Just knowing that it is common, even close to universal, albeit to varying degrees, mitigates the sense of shame. So, I decided to write about what I read in Rauch’s book and to own up to my own experience with this midlife malaise. And I also wanted to share hope.

Rauch’s research revealed that, while this midlife malaise is prevalent and unpleasant, those who study the phenomenon have consistently found that it occurs in the shape of a U-curve, with a peak in the 20s, a gradual decline to a nadir that varies from the mid-40s to mid50s, averaging around age 50 worldwide, to a gradual incline into the 70s. One reason for this seems to be the development of wisdom, an emerging area in science. Viewed through a lens of wisdom, midlife malaise can best be described as a passage from one phase of adulthood to another. It makes me think of a term we hear in higher education: “the murky middle.” In higher ed this refers to sophomore and junior years, when college students are most at risk for dropping out.

Midlife can feel murky but viewed as a passage to a state of greater contentment with the potential benefit of wisdom, it feels more normative and hopeful.

Monika Ardelt, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, is one of the experts Jonathan Rauch consulted. She studies wisdom and considers it to be a “combination of personal qualities” that she divides into three categories: cognitive, reflective and affective. She defines cognitive wisdom as “an understanding of life and a desire to know the truth.” In action this is a recognition of both the positive and negative aspects of life and an ability to make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Reflective wisdom is “a perception of phenomena and events from multiple perspectives.” This may manifest as accepting responsibility for one’s own circumstances. Finally, affective wisdom is “sympathetic and compassionate love for others,” which is pretty self-explanatory.

In a 2014 article in The Atlantic, Rauch gives a good synopsis of the topics in the book, including reasons why it is important to share this information. He says, “The story of the U-curve . . .  is a story not of chaos or disruption but of a difficult yet natural transition to a new equilibrium. And I find that when I tell troubled middle-aged people about it, their reaction is one of relief. Just knowing that the phenomenon is common can be therapeutic.” He notes that some of the experts he consulted agreed that the awareness of this normal passage can make an important difference in mitigating both the suffering that it can cause and the regrettable decisions that can result when people blame relationships, jobs or other life circumstances for their discontent. That’s not to say those things don’t ever need to be addressed or changed, but they don’t always, and making those changes should be well considered, rather than rash. Princeton researcher Hannes Schwandt said, “Part of your disappointment is driven by disappointment itself.”

As Rauch says, “People thrash around for explanations, which can lead to attribution errors and bad decisions. And those, of course, can bring on what really is a stereotypical midlife crisis, complete with lurching change and ill-judged behavior.”

Ultimately, Rauch recommends caution when making major decisions in midlife. He outlines this strategy:

  • Be careful: Because of the underlying sense of dissatisfaction, there can be a tendency to make reckless decisions, upending lives. This could be the right direction, but it very well might not be. It might be best to take a wait-and-see approach.
  • Step, don’t leap: Make changes gradually. Build on your life experience to this point, rather then abruptly throwing everything away.
  • Reach out: As is true in most things in life, shame is reduced when we can talk openly and especially when we realize that others experience the same thing.
  • Consider coaching: As Rauch describes, “coach and client work as allies to better align the client’s life and values. That approach is well suited to those who feel successful yet unfulfilled.” This can be very helpful in making reasoned changes that reflect the client’s growing wisdom as she/he progresses through the passage of midlife.
  • Forewarned is forearmed: It’s too late for those of us who are already working our way through midlife malaise, but being more open about this phenomenon can help those younger people who have not yet reached that point. Just knowing that it might be coming and that it is normal can minimize the misery it can provoke.
  • If in doubt . . . wait: Once again, the best approach may be patience. While it may be hard to tease out the difference between patience and complacency, it can be valuable to proceed with caution and wait and see what changes really need to be made and what actually is okay or even good.

Have you experienced this midlife malaise? Are you on the upside of the U-curve? I feel, at 51, like I am starting—just starting—to ride up the other side of the U. Reading Rauch’s book gave me hope and helped to normalize my feelings. I still have moments when I feel ungrateful because of the discontent I feel, but I have released some of the unhelpful mental habits that tormented me more a few years ago, like comparing my accomplishments to those of similar or younger age. We all live our own lives and create our own paths as we go. No two of us are exactly alike. We are all strong in some areas and not as strong as others. But I firmly believe that we can all make positive contributions in the world and that there is a difference we are all meant to make. This may look dramatically different from one person to another, so comparing is pointless at best and masochistic at worst.

If you can relate with the concept of midlife malaise, I recommend Rauch’s book. It is excellent and enjoyable to read, and I found it tremendously helpful.

Whether you are experiencing a midlife slump or just feel like there is more you can do to optimize your life, I’d love to help. Claim your free Blossom 2021 Quick Coach Power Session by clicking the button below to sign up to receive a link to schedule your session. In this coaching call, we’ll get right down to business with a powerful coaching conversation designed to help you blossom in 2021.

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My Favorite Books in 2020

“ . . . the books we read are more than just things. Somehow they become a part of who we are. A little piece of our soul.” –Mari-Jane Williams

Along with cycling and writing, reading is one of my very favorite things to do. That is why I have enjoyed sharing this annual post with my readers for the past five years. You can check out all of them at these links: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019

I read a lot—66 books in 2020. As the quote from Mari-Jane Williams says above, the books I read become a little piece of my soul. I grow and learn so much through reading. It is one of the ways I continue to self-educate. What a privilege it is to be able to do this throughout life!

I read mostly on Kindle these days. While I love libraries and love the cost savings they allow, as well as the look and feel of physical books, Kindle fits best most of the time during this season of life.

My Kindle is not a fancy one, and the cover is certainly showing some wear. This is my second one, after Logan or his friend Dakota stepped on my first one, already several years old, in 2017.

I have been saddened to notice how the apparently irresistible force of Logan’s phone and the Xbox have pulled him away from reading. I notice this in many of my students, too. I wonder how many read anything long form these days. How many adults do? I know I still have reading friends, and, if you are reading this post, you are likely a reader, too. Maybe you will be inspired to check out one of these titles. I hope so, and I hope those who are under the spell of electronics (I know. I read mostly on Kindle, and I am typing this on my laptop, where I have conveniently recorded my favorite books all year.) can somehow regain a love of reading. Logan used to love to read. Until it became too much work. That makes me sad.

But this is meant not to be a lament for nonreaders but an ode to readers and fuel (“Kindling,” if you will) for their fiery passion for books.

I have included in this post those books I awarded four or five stars on Goodreads. I read almost exclusively nonfiction, albeit a wide range of genres within nonfiction. Some of the categories overlap—especially memoir and personal development or psychology. We can learn and grow so much from reading each other’s stories. Your preferences may differ from mine. That is great. The main thing is to keep reading!

Business/Career

Difference: The one-page method for reimagining your business and reinventing your marketing, by Bernadette Jiwa—This was a short, easy read with simple, yet useful suggestions for creating a business based on empathy. This was the gist of the book—lead with empathy for those we serve. If doing work with purpose is important to you, this book can help

The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning and Freedom Without the 9-to-5, by Taylor Pearson—I debated about whether to give this book three for four stars. Finally, I decided on four because there was a lot of good information, and there were useful questions and exercises in the book. In general, the book is written for prospective or aspiring entrepreneurs, but there is an odd section that feels like it belongs in a different book. It is a long chapter providing details about how to hire an apprentice. The book explains that apprenticeship is a potential path into entrepreneurship, but this section feels like it was written for established entrepreneurs who may hire others to work in their businesses. Still, the book has value and earned its place in this post.


Getting There: A Book of Mentors
, edited by Gillian Zoe Segal—This was a really good book, full of interesting first-person accounts written or spoken (I’m not sure which.) by people who have achieved big things in a variety of careers. I really liked reading their insights and gained some pearls of wisdom.

Health

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body, by Jo Marchant—This was an interesting and critical look at how our mind contributes to our well-being. It is written from the perspective of a scientist, not a New Age believer, yet she recognizes a place for mental wellness in physical health.

Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites, by Alexandra Levitt—Although written before the COVID-19 pandemic, I read this book during the early stages of our ongoing pandemic. It told an interesting story about the epidemiology behind solving tough outbreaks. I’m sure the “medical detectives” have been hard at work on this pandemic.

Even Vegans Die: A Practical Guide to Caregiving, Acceptance, and Protecting Your Legacy of Compassion, by Carol J. Adams—This book turned out to be different than I expected, but it deals with an important topic. I guess the subtitle should have been a clue. This book acknowledges that vegans may face guilt and shame if we have health problems. I can relate to the expectation (self-imposed or not) that I should have perfect health and stay effortlessly at a perfect weight, in order to represent vegans well. This is the first public discussion I have read of this issue, and I appreciated the discussion of it that Adams presented. Then the book did become the practical guide the subtitle claims, addressing things like wills and advanced directives. While unpopular, these are topics we should all consider, and Adams’ perspective and experience are useful.

Functional Medicine Coaching: Stories from the Movement That’s Transforming Healthcare, by Sandra Scheinbaum & Elyse L. Wagner—This book seems to have been written to recruit coaching students to the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, but there is still a lot of great information in it. I have already included some of it in a blog post and probably will in the future, too.

History

Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer, by Margalit Fox—I finished this book on New Year’s Day 2020, and I knew I already had the first addition to My Favorite Books of 2020. Fox does an excellent job of providing general information about Arthur Conan Doyle. I learned that he was much more than the creator of Sherlock Holmes, although that is remarkable enough. This is the true account of his two-decades-long quest to free a wrongly convicted man. I was so fascinated that I decided to purchase the book for my mom for Mother’s Day. She enjoys classic mysteries, and I knew the British element of this story would be of interest, as well. This was a great book to carry into 2020 to start my new list.

Facebook: The Inside Story, by Steven Levy—This was a very long book, and there were times I wondered if I should stick with it, but Levy presents an extensively researched account of Facebook’s history, including his personal exclusive access to inside information and happenings. Part of my reason for reading was to decide how concerned I should be about my privacy in Facebook. To be honest, I haven’t changed anything since reading this book, but at least I feel like my use is less naïve. The origin story and evolution of the company really is quite amazing.

Memoir

Becoming, by Michelle Obama—I read this book for the WSU Common Read Book Selection Committee, and it just happened to come in the midst of the social unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd. Obama covered so many topics—gender, race, socioeconomic status, education. She also shares details of the Obama family life very openly, including what it was like to live and raise children in the White House. It was very informative, and I admired her authenticity.

Contact Wounds: A War Surgeon’s Education, by Jonathan Kaplan—This is the second book, after The Dressing Station, by Jonathan Kaplan, that I read. I think I liked it even better than the first. It chronicles Kaplan’s fascinating career before and after the stories he covers in The Dressing Station. Kaplan chose an unconventional medical career, and he is open about the sacrifices involved, but it is clear that there are also many benefits.


Counting Backwards: A Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesia
, by Henry Jay Przybylo—I learned a lot about the world of anesthesiology. I didn’t realize there was as much potential for self-advocacy with anesthesiology as there apparently is. Dr. Jay, as the author is called, feels deeply that his mission is to alleviate all pain for all patients, to the greatest extent possible.


Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt
, by Kevin Hines—I gave this four stars because the story is so important and told so honestly. The writing is not the highest quality, but it is genuine and told with passion. I heard Hines speak at WSU a few years ago and was quite moved. After surviving a suicide attempt via jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, Hines has continued to struggle with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, but he is a passionate mental-health and suicide-prevention advocate. His story is important. I highly recommend attending a speaking event where he presents if you have the opportunity.


Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening
, by Manal al-Sharif—This is a very powerful book that shares the story of Manal’s coming of age as a Saudi woman. She transitioned from a traditionally raised Saudi girl to a fundamentalist Muslim to a bold and courageous woman who fought for women’s right to drive. This book touches on many challenging issues and can be hard to read at times because of her history of abuse that she shares, but it is compelling and important.

Downhills Don’t Come Free: One Man’s Bike Ride from Alaska to Mexico, by Jerry Holl—I loved this book. It represents my very favorite genre—what I call personal-growth adventure memoir. Even better, it was cycling specific. Holl’s story of his solo cycling trip from Anchorage to Mexico was so much fun to read and very interesting. His accounts of riding past grizzly bears makes my dog encounters seem pretty mundane. The simple daily journal style was easy to read and rolled readers along on his journey.

The Dressing Station: A Surgeon’s Chronicle of War and Medicine, by Jonathan Kaplan—This is an amazing account of Kaplan’s assorted adventures as a doctor who traveled. He shares his experience in everything from war medicine to cruise ship physician. Quite a fascinating life!

Educated, by Tara Westover—I am late to the party on this one. I purchased this in 2018, but I just read it in May 2020. This is a wonderful book, with so many rich layers of social topics. Westover and two of her seven siblings overcame incredible odds, as members of a Mormon extremist family, to earn PhD’s, despite never having been sent to school as children. Learning to think for herself had a steep price for Westover, but her story is one that can benefit many, through the thought-provoking way she tells it.

E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality, by Pam Grout—There were a lot of good reminders about the power of abundance thinking and the Law of Attraction. She proposes nine experiments, and, honestly, I gave them up because I didn’t achieve “success.” Still, there is a lot of good stuff, and I liked reading this book by a fellow Kansan.

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe—This is a beautifully written book about a topic that could have been depressing but wasn’t. Schwalbe shares his mother’s last years and their journey together through the books they read and discussed. Not only was it a lovely testimony to the power of reading to shape and enhance lives, but it was a wonderful tribute to his mother and almost a guide to facing end of life with grace. A powerful book.

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, by Alex Hutchinson—This was a fascinating treatment of the psychological and physiological aspects of endurance. The author shares his personal experience, as well as the stories of many other athletes, plus hard science.

Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner—Weiner presented the history of the FBI and a fairly extensive biography of J. Edgar Hoover in this exhaustively researched book. It is long and dense. To be honest, I skimmed parts, but it was not difficult to read. It was particularly fascinating to read more recent history that I remembered in order to attain a better understanding of what really happened.


Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning
, by Leslie Odom, Jr.—This was a quick, easy and worthwhile read. Odom’s story of his rise to play Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton is inspirational and instructive. I’m not sure the title really fits, but there are some good lessons in this interesting memoir.


Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness
, by Suzy Favor Hamilton—I’ll be honest. The writing is not spectacular in this book, but the story is truly unbelievable, and the intention behind the book—illuminating the extreme behaviors that unmanaged bipolar disorder can cause, while removing the stigma and shame associated with mental illness—is a good one. Hamilton’s story is one I will remember. I probably bought this book because I love reading memoirs by endurance athletes, and I did enjoy reading about her running career, but the second half—her life as a high-end Las Vegas escort—was astounding. I can’t imagine how her husband stuck by her through it all. It is one that made me think.


Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It
, by Brittany Gibbons—I went back and forth about whether to give this three stars for four stars. I ultimately decided on four stars because of Brittany’s transparency and positive message. She tells the story of how she became an internet celebrity advocating for body acceptance. It is an entertaining, poignant and quick read.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer, by Heather Lende—This is another one where I found myself teetering between three and four stars. I settled on the higher side because, although somewhat depressing, I believe so strongly in Heather Lende’s core message to find the good in every life and situation. She uses the lives and deaths of members of her small Alaska town to illustrate the various lessons she has learned from them, and I like that. Her writing is not depressing. I think the heaviness I felt while reading it was my own.

Girl Unbroken: A Sister’s Harrowing Story of Survival from The Streets of Long Island to the Farms of Idaho, by Regina Calcaterra & Rosie Maloney—What an incredible story! I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but it quickly grew on me, and I loved it, although there was plenty that was hard to read. A family of five kids suffered unthinkable abuse at the hands of their mother. Rosie suffered at the hands of a stepfather and other men, as well. Two of the five teamed up as adults to share their story. It is brave and hopeful and deserves to be witnessed.

The Grace to Race: The Wisdom and Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete Known as the Iron Nun, by Sister Madonna Buder—What an inspiration Sister Madonna is! Like Downhills Don’t Come for Free, this book falls into my very favorite category, personal-growth adventure memoir. Sister Madonna, who is now 90 (https://triathlonmagazine.ca/personalities/sister-madonna-buder-turns-90-today/), shared her fascinating story of personal growth and her unique brand of ministry and mission in this wonderful book.

Notes from a Young Black Chef, by Kwame Onwuachi—I read this for the WSU Common Reads Book Selection Committee. Onwuachi tells his courageous story of breaking away from gang life to “hustle” (to use his word) to make it as a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America, who has worked at, and briefly operated, some of the most exclusive fine dining restaurants in the U.S. His perspective is an interesting one worth reading. In the unrest of summer 2020, it was timely.

What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, by Mona Hanna-Attisha—I also read this one for WSU Common Reads Book Selection Committee. Dr. Mona was the driving force behind breaking open the Flint, Michigan water crisis. In this memoir, she tells the story of the fight against institutionalized racism that had created the problem and threatened to keep Flint in danger because of lead in the water.

Personal Development

Badass Habits: Cultivate the Awareness, Boundaries, and Daily Upgrades You Need to Make Them Stick, by Jen Sincero—I love Jen Sincero’s work. I listened to this one on Audible because I have listened to one of her previous books, and she is just so funny. Humor aside, there is a lot of great material in this book. She has designed it to function like a course, and it makes adopting new, or losing old, habits very manageable. Jen tells it like it is and has a way with words that is uniquely her own.

Beginner’s Pluck: Build Your Life of Purpose and Impact Now, by Liz Forkin Bohannon—I read this for the WSU Common Reads Book Selection Committee and probably wouldn’t have chosen it, based on the title. The title just didn’t speak to me, although I can see why it might to college students. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out to have a lot of relevance for any age, and it was very well written and quite funny in spots.


Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
, by Chip & Dan Heath—This was an enjoyable read with lots of good suggestions for making better decisions. I gleaned some tips that I have already put to use and will in the future.

The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms, by Danielle LaPorte—There were quite a few good ideas and inspiration in this book. Any time I find inspiration to grow in some way, I get excited.


Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be
, by Rachel Hollis—This is another book where I was late to the party, reading it long after the hype settled, and I accidentally read her subsequent book first, a while back. I wasn’t thoroughly convinced with my four-star rating, but I ultimately settled there because I did pick up several good quotes. Hollis shares 20 lessons she has learned through life. It’s good, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, based on the hype or on Girl, Stop Apologizing.

Psychology

Cringeworthy: The Value of Awkwardness in a Put-Together World, by Melissa Dahl—The best gift of this book was the feeling of “It’s not just me!” that I got when I read about cringe attacks and mind pops. Until that point, to be honest, I was feeling disappointed in the book, but that chapter elevated the book to four stars for me. I wrote a blog post inspired by this chapter because reading that others share these experiences was such a relief to me.


The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better
, by Gretchen Rubin—Although I have read Gretchen Rubin, used her Four Tendencies in my coaching practice and had this book on Kindle for years, I didn’t actually read the book until November 2020. There is so much that makes sense here, and it is a helpful way of trying to understand ourselves and the people around us. I confirmed that I am an Upholder. Only one of the Rebels with whom I live would take the quiz. The other is too much of a Rebel for that. Understanding tendencies helps to depersonalize some behavior.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, by Ada Calhoun—This book is hard to categorize. Personal growth? History? Psychology? I’m not sure where it belongs, but I did appreciate it. It left me with some questions. I had not previously thought of myself, as a GenXer, as really being part of a community because of that—one with a unique set of challenges because of when we grew up. I’m still not sure I do. However, it did make me wonder if the angst and searching I have felt so often is generational or if it is just me, as I have always assumed. Maybe it is a little of both. This was an interesting discussion of GenX women at midlife.

True Crime

The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation, by Dennis L. Breo—This is one of the best true crime books I have read. It was so thorough in its coverage of a horrific crime and the exhaustive investigation and legal proceedings that followed. The investigators, prosecutor and star witness were clearly the heroes of the book, rather than glorifying the murderer. The victims were treated with respect, and their story was told with dignity. I had heard of this historic crime for years, but I didn’t really know the details until I read this book.

Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields, by Kathryn Casey—This was a fascinating examination of three decades of murders along I-45 in Texas, between Galveston and Houston. Casey examines these murders from a compassionate perspective and in the hope of generating interest in cold cases.

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” –Annie Dillard

I hope this list of my favorite books from my 2020 reading inspires you to pick up some of them. What was the best book you read in 2020? Let us know in the comments.

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