Discovering Courage & Community in the Written Word

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

–James Baldwin

While I certainly don’t think my pain and heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, a couple of recent books have awakened the realization that I’m not alone in certain experiences that, admittedly, I had previously believed were unique quirks. This has caused me to think about the many ways that we can find both courage and community through the written word.

The biggest a-ha moments occurred while I was reading Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, by Melissa Dahl. I was drawn to this book because I hoped it would help me to understand and release certain experiences of embarrassment and shame that have continued to haunt me. Initially, I was disappointed, and, I have to say, I struggled to stay focused reading it. I even skimmed some parts. Then, I encountered Chapter 8.

“Cringe attacks” That’s what she called them. As soon as I read the words, I had the thought, “So, it’s not just me? Other people do this, too?”

Cringe attacks are the name that Dahl gave the experience of suddenly, out of the blue, being blindsided by a memory of an embarrassing or shame-filled experience. It is something that I have never discussed with anyone, but it has nagged me for as long as I can remember. Certain memories have been perennial pests, popping up time and again, year after year. The time in 2001 when I made a poor choice about what to wear to work. The time when I was about 15 that I still can’t bring myself to state publicly. The cringe attacks come in vivid flashes, utterly unbidden, usually causing silent or out-loud exclamations and shaking of my head, in an effort to quickly usher the thoughts away.  

In recent months, my biggest tormentor has been an experience of mistaken identity at the beginning of fall 2019 semester. At a University social event, I saw someone from the back and thought it was someone else who I knew had fairly recently started working at the University. She’s someone I like and was happy to see. I think I called her name (well, the name of the person I thought she was) and touched her on the back. She turned, and I continued to talk to her, as I looked at her face. I knew this other person, too, but, for some reason that I still don’t understand (and, believe me, I have analyzed it ad nauseam to try to figure this out), it didn’t register until she said something, clearly trying to signal politely that she was not who I thought she was, about the location of her office. This woke me, and I made a hasty and ungraceful exit. Immediately, I wondered, “What is wrong with my brain? Is this early-onset dementia?” Was I spaced out from the stress of being in a social, mingling setting, which I hate? Whatever it was, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t immediately realize, when she turned, that I was talking to the wrong person. If I hadn’t known the woman in front of me, it would have been embarrassing and awkward, but not as mortifying as this was, since I knew her (and, worse, she knew me), too. For months it has popped randomly into my head. There does not have to be a trigger. Seemingly out of nowhere, the memory will barrel back into my consciousness, and I will feel a visceral clench of shame in my stomach, in my face. A cringe attack!

Reading about this phenomenon, I felt a sense of community with the unknown others (Does everyone do this? Even if it is just some of us, knowing that it is not just me helps.) who are tormented by cringe attacks. Until reading this, I thought I was the only person who suffered such attacks. More than anything else I have done to try to dampen the shame and embarrassment I felt around the mistaken identity, knowing that others have cringe attacks and witnessing their courage in sharing them, has helped me find both community and courage. I have had more healing and release since learning this and since starting to think about sharing my story in my blog than in the preceding months of trying to banish my negative feelings through Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or tapping), meditation (not just for that reason, of course) or any other strategy, like hard intervals on my bike. Although finding out that I was not alone in the cringe attacks did not change the original experience, it seemed to normalize the whole thing for me—at least enough that I could write about it, further diluting some of the poison. It may seem silly, but the anguish has been real.

“Mind pops” are cringe attacks’ benign cousins. These aren’t particularly bothersome, but, again, I thought this regular occurrence was just part of my weirdness. A mind pop describes the sudden, apparently random, appearance in our conscious thoughts of less painful recollections. They aren’t upsetting, but they have often left me wondering, “Where did that come from?” A common form of mind pop for me occurs in the middle of something entirely unrelated. For instance, during my yoga practice on Thursday morning, I suddenly found myself mentally at the intersection of 151st W and 109th N, north of Bentley, Kansas, on my bike. Why? I don’t really mind, especially when it is a cycling mind pop. It’s just puzzling. There is nothing particularly unusual about the locations that show up as cycling mind pops. Why there? Why at this particular moment? I could understand if I had experienced something emotionally significant, but they usually just represent routine bike rides. Odd. But maybe normal?

My mind pops don’t only happen around cycling. That is just one of the more common forms for me. While reading about mind pops in Cringeworthy didn’t provide the same emotional release that learning that others have cringe attacks did, but I felt a little less alone, a little less weird. Others have mind pops. Interesting.

Listening on Audible, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, by Ada Calhoun, gave me a different type of feeling of community. As a Gen X (roughly those born between 1961—or 1965, depending on the source—and 1981) woman, I have never really thought about myself as part of a generational community. You hear a lot more about Baby Boomers and Millennials, and I never really gave that much thought, which was part of Calhoun’s point. I have always thought that the angst I have felt over my path in life and over some of my choices were uniquely mine, unrelated to my position in history. And they are, in the specifics. But Calhoun pointed out that a lot of women my age experience this existential angst to a greater degree than some other generations, and that this suffering has often gone without recognition. While hearing many stories from other Gen X women who grew up with similar messaging, in a particular, shared historical context was a bit depressing, it also helped me recognize that my generation is one form of community for me, beyond just having grown up listening to the same music or, on a micro-level, gone to school together.

That’s the power of the written word—recognizing that we are not alone in experiences that we may have believed were exclusively ours and because of which we may have felt lonely.

Our own writing can be a place for us to find and express courage and, by sharing our stories bravely, to help others find courage. I have a dear friend who is writing a memoir. Sharing our stories in full honesty requires forging through pain and shame and guilt and many difficult feelings. I have been privileged to read some of her early chapters, and she is taking on all the pain courageously, baring her feelings and her memories because she believes (and I do, too) that her story can make a difference in the world.

That is also the power of the written word.

There are so many ways, these days, that we can read and benefit from learning others’ stories and realizing that we are not alone. We can heal and gain courage and feel a kinship with others who have gone through similar experiences. We learn that other people have gone through the trials and torments and embarrassments that we have. We feel a sense of community. That gives us strength.

We learn so much from books. Books (albeit mostly Kindle, for convenience) are still my favorite form of the written word. There are other ways, too, that we can find courage and community in reading and writing. Blogs and social media have opened up whole new avenues of expression and connection through the written word. I think this is a particular benefit to introverts, like me, but we can all grow through our interaction with these forms of writing.

I’m so thankful for my literacy, my vision, my drive to read, my call to write, the countless authors and writers I have read—and will read 😊–in my lifetime.

Courage and community. Compassion is my highest core value. Courage and community help us grow in compassion—for self, others, the animals, our planet.

What are some of the books that have made the biggest difference for you? How have you discovered courage and community through any form of the written word? How can you use the written word to make a difference?

I sincerely hope that my writing—whether in this blog, my in-progress book, my social media sharing, my soon(ish)-to-be-published essay or any other writing I do—will speak to others, at least occasionally inspiring courage and growing community.

Writing really is a superpower. Reading really is an amazing gift. I am grateful for both in my life.


My Favorite Books of 2019

I am thankful to have enjoyed many great reads in 2019. This is my annual post highlighting those books I gave four or five stars on Goodreads during the year. Goodreads shows my entire year in books here. As always, nonfiction is my preference.

It is always fun to reminisce about my literary year as I write and refine this post. As I read the brief reviews I wrote about each book that earned a spot on this list, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I was reading each book. In some cases, I recognize evidence of my evolution from who I was when I read a book to who I have become with exposure to additional books and new life experiences. It is nostalgic, enlightening and exciting.

I am almost finished with a book right now that I know will go on next year’s list. I also plan to give it as a gift. (Tune in next January to find out what it is. 😊) That is the wonderful thing about reading—there is always another terrific book waiting to be read and more to learn and discover.

I am making good progress on my own book, and I look forward to completing the writing and learning the publishing process in 2020. I have submitted final revisions for my essay to a forthcoming vegan cycling anthology, edited by Carol J. Adams and Mike Wise. I am not sure of the publication date, but I am hoping it will be during 2020. Writing, editing and revising my essay has been a tremendous learning process. As I work on my own book, I am grateful for the experience.

These are the best books, alphabetical by category, that I read in 2019. This year, maybe more than most, some defied straightforward categorization. In those cases, I went with my gut instinct on where to place them. Please excuse any funky formatting in this post. I’m trying to correct it, but I want to get on my bike, so I don’t plan to spend too much more time dealing with it.

Here’s to another great year of reading! I’m so grateful for my literacy, my vision and my access to wonderful books.

I hope you find some of your next reads in my list below.

Business/Career

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future, by Chris Guillebeau—This book was encouraging and helped me believe that I could really make my coaching business thrive. It offers practical business advice as well as many case studies from successful entrepreneurs. If they can do it, I can do it! I was at a different place with my coaching practice when I read this than I am now. I have determined in the last month that I will be evolving to a different model and taking an approach that more fully resonates with me. Still, this was a very good book, and I like the author.

The Answer: Grow Any Business, Achieve Financial Freedom, and Live an Extraordinary Life, by John Assaraf & Murray Smith—This book inspired me in several ways, including a modification to my daily mindfulness practice, which was meaningful to me. In some ways, it is two books in one—the first part devoted to putting Universal Laws (Attraction, Gestation, Action, Compensation) into action in our lives and the second part spent detailing business practices. I found value in both parts and have implemented actions from both.

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do, by Chris Guillibeau—As I mentioned above, I really like Chris Gullibeau’s writing. This book may be even better than The $100 Startup. Guillebeau provides both advice and inspiration for finding and/or creating work that is the right mix of joy, money and flow, the combination he believes creates the work we were born to do.


Wellpreneur: The Ultimate Guide for Wellness Entrepreneurs to Nail Your Niche and Find Clients Online
, by Amanda Cook—The more I read, the more I realized how well-organized and information-packed (in a manageable way) this book is. I used her suggestions to create a more regular schedule for my blog. I utilized some of her other recommendations and still find them to be very good. I think they would have worked more effectively for me, if the model I was pursuing for my coaching practice had been right for me. I have since figured out that it is not, but I do recommend this book.

Health/Nutrition

The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons From the World’s Happiest People, by Dan Buettner—I am a fan of the Buettner’s Blue Zones work. This book examines happiness, which, of course, is an aspect of health. Buettner gives information and practical tips from what he has learned from the happiest places on the planet.


The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People
, by Dan Buettner—Here, Buettner elaborates on the dietary aspect of health in the Blue Zones. The book has recipes, as well as information about these locations.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey–I listened to this on audiobook and really liked it, but it was so loaded with information that I think I would have preferred a hard copy. This is a comprehensive resource for using exercise to enhance so many aspects of brain health across the lifespan.


What the Health
, by Eunice Wong—I watched the documentary a couple years ago and really liked it. This book provides greater depth, detail and context. It covers the range of health, social, political and economic issues associated with our country’s obsessive consumption of animal products. Experts in the field of nutrition and medicine are consulted, and compelling case studies are presented. If people will watch a movie, but won’t read a book, show them the film. If they want more detail, this book should convince uninformed consumers of animal products of the harm they are doing to themselves, the animals and the planet.

10% Happier, by Dan Harris—This is an interesting discussion by a skeptical news correspondent and anchorperson of his journey to becoming a meditator.


14-Minute Metabolic Workouts: The Fastest, Most Effective Way to Lose Weight and Get Fit
, by Jason Karp—Karp presents a large menu of several different types of high-intensity, efficient workouts, covering all aspects of fitness. The menu can serve as a mix-and-match strategy for increasing fitness, while minimizing boredom. I have incorporated some of his workouts into my off-season training program.

Inspiration

The Awakened Woman: Remembering & Reigniting Our Sacred Dreams, by Tererai Trent—More than a memoir, this book is so full of inspiration and encouragement. Tererai bravely tells her story of courage and perseverance. The odds she has overcome to accomplish what she has accomplished are truly unbelievable. When I doubt my ability to accomplish something in the future, I will remember Tererai.


A Survivor’s Journey: From Victim to Advocate
, by Natasha Alexenko—This is Natasha’s courageous account of being victimized by a rapist in 1993 and struggling with PTSD ever since. She also shares the startling news that there are many thousands of untested rape kits in the US. Her own rape kit sat untouched for over nine years, while she believed the rapist hadn’t been caught because of her incompetence. When she learned the truth about the rape kits, she founded a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating the backlog.

Where There’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up, by Elizabeth Smart—I read My Story, by Elizabeth Smart, several years ago. In this book, she weaves aspects of her own harrowing kidnapping and rescue into a series of interviews with a wide range of people who have experienced trying (and sometimes tragic) times in their own lives. Her own healing is evident, and she brings out the lessons others have to share from their own stories. While some of the stories are horrific, the overall tone of the book is uplifting.

Language

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, by Gretchen McCulloch—The volume of research that must have gone into this book is incredible. Honestly, I debated about whether to award three or four stars in Goodreads, because the detail was so minute at times that it became a bit tedious. Still, I was so impressed with McCulloch’s broad scope of coverage and her obvious enthusiasm (I listened to the audiobook.) for all things language, especially informal language, the category to which she assigns internet language, that I decided the book deserved four stars. She presented a great deal of fascinating data on the many ways that the online world is changing language worldwide.

Memoir/Biography

Almost Anywhere: Road Trip Ruminations on Love, Nature, National Parks, and Nonsense, by Krista Schyler—This memoir is one of my favorite styles—a journey of personal introspection, written from the perspective of a physical journey. In this case Schyler travels for nearly a year in a car with her dog Maggie and her best friend Bill, trying to make sense of life after her boyfriend succumbs to metastatic testicular cancer at the age of 28. She tries to figure out what her future will look like, while traveling, hiking, appreciating natured and discerning the nature of her relationship with Bill.

 

Alpha Docs: The Making of a Cardiologist, by Daniel Munoz—I learned a lot about the world of cardiology by reading this book. I did not realize that the field contains so many subspecialties. Munoz tells multiple stories of patient encounters during his first year as a Cardiology Fellow at Johns Hopkins. Within these interesting case studies, Munoz shares what he likes and dislikes about each type (interventional, preventative, echo, etc.) His descriptions helped me to understand more about what each one meant.


A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal
, by Jen Waite This was an interesting story. More than anything, I liked it because it encouraged me that an average person still had a message to share that would sell books. Waite determined that her ex-husband was a sociopath, and that very well may be true. I’m not sure the evidence was always clearly laid out to support this, but she had an interesting story to tell of shock, survival and post-traumatic growth.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt—This is a very well-written biography of a transgender girl and her family. Nutt documents the family’s journey from Nicole’s birth as Wyatt, an identical twin to Jonas. The family was supportive of Nicole throughout her many challenges and heartaches. The story is both fascinating and touching. I learned a lot.


The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
, by Jonathan M Katz—This one was hard to categorize. It is a memoir because Katz lived through the Haiti earthquake and relates his personal experience, but it is also a meticulously-reported account of the earthquake and its aftermath. I found the detailed explanation of Haiti’s political more in depth than I wanted at times, but it is a legitimate part of the story, and the whole picture would be incomplete without this background. Among other things, this book is a reminder of how very fortunate I am.


Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected
, by Nnedi Okorafor—Okorafor shares her inspiring story of going from a college athlete to someone who had to overcome paralysis to learn to walk again, after the scoliosis surgery that was supposed to ward off future serious health problems went wrong. In her suffering, she found a way to make meaning and, as she says, become more than she would have been without it.


Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope into Action; A Memoir
, by David Fajgenbaum—In a similar vein to Broken Places & Outer Spaces, Fajgenbaum’s story is one of suddenly becoming deathly ill to finding meaning in his suffering. His story is different than Okorafor’s, though. I learned about Castleman disease, which has an incidence similar to ALS, but of which I had never heard. Fajgenbaum became afflicted while he was a medical school student, and the journey he shares of recovery and hope and perseverance is truly inspirational.

Climbing With Mollie, by William Finnegan—This Audible Original audiobook struck me with Finnegan’s obvious devotion to, and awe of, his daughter. They started rock climbing together when she was a teenager. She developed a high level of skill. His was not comparable, but they have enjoyed many years of climbing and travelling together. His discussion of their shared language reminds me of the language I share with fellow cyclists.


Feast: True Love in and out of the Kitchen
, by Hannah Howard—I really liked this book. Howard honestly and courageously shares her story of recovery from disordered eating and a series of unhealthy relationships. It was so enjoyable that I was sad to finish it because I will miss it.


Find Another Dream
, by Maysoon Zayid—This audiobook was wonderful. Maysoon’s story is inspirational, and her delivery was entertaining. I loved listening to this courageous memoir, sprinkled with Zayid’s comedic comments. I did not know who she was, although she has had a long career in stand-up and TV. She is a terrific advocate inclusion of all people, regardless of ability, health status, religion, gender, etc.

Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir, by Amanda Knox—Although I was aware of who Amanda Knox is, and I knew that she had been accused of murdering her British roommate in Italy, I really didn’t know much more. This is Amanda’s side of the story, and it is fascinating. She describes her decision to study abroad in Italy, her early days there and how she became entangled in the murder investigation and trial. She was imprisoned there for four years before being exonerated, but the mess didn’t end there. I really enjoyed this book.

Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom, by Ken Ilgunas— Besides being a fascinating and entertaining story, there are many lessons in this book. Ilgunas has chosen an unconventional path, and while it is not one I would follow precisely, his ideas about freedom, the value of higher education, debt, adventure and purpose gave me a lot to ponder. His adventures cover a wide range and vast geography—from lodge cleaner to AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer to tour guide to Arctic ranger to grad student living in a van to writer. I hope to read more of his work in the future. I am eager to see where his very interesting and unusual path takes him.

Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way, by Jimmy Wayne—This book contains an important message about the difference loving support can make in the life of a young person. Jimmy Wayne tells his poignant story of an unpredictable and dangerous childhood, abandonment by his mother and the critical intervention of a loving older couple who inspired him to walk halfway across the US to raise awareness for foster children, after becoming a country music star.


The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and A Life-Changing Journey Around the World
, by Kim Dinnan—I really enjoyed this book, although I felt like the story was more about the introspective journey than about the Yellow Envelope. I found myself impatient at times with the author because of her unsettledness and indecisiveness. I realized this was probably because it triggered anxiety about my own feelings of unsettledness. The story was very interesting, however, and it felt like a great escape to read.

Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman’s Quest for Balance, Strength and Inner Peace, by Kathryn E. Livingston—I found the first half of this book to be rather slow, and I wondered how I could be only 50% finished, according to my Kindle tracking. However, it became more interesting at that point, and I felt like I drew quite a bit of inspiration, including adding some Kundalini yoga to my own practice. Ultimately, I did enjoy the book, and I also felt like I grew through reading it.

Nature

Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals, by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz & Kathryn Bowers—I listened to this on audiobook, and it was fascinating! As the mother of a teenager, it was very interesting to understand that the adolescents of all species share common tasks and behave similarly as they strive to accomplish them. The authors explore how humans and other species approach status, safety, self-reliance and sex as they work toward becoming adults. It was enlightening.

Personal Development

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear—This book begins with a powerful, attention-getting story that sets the stage for James’ interest in habits. He has many good suggestions and explains the habit cycle (Cue-Craving-Response-Reward) a bit differently than several other authors.

The Best of the Happiness Project Blog: Ten Years of Happiness, Good Habits, and More, by Gretchen Rubin—I have read several of Gretchen Rubin’s books, plus an occasional blog post over the years, so much of the material in this quick read was not new. Still, it was enjoyable, and I found new tidbits of inspiration.


Everything is Figureoutable
, by Marie Forleo—I am a big Marie Forleo fan and had been looking forward to this book. At first, I was a little disappointed because it felt like I had already heard a lot of it. However, the ideas are so good, and Marie presents them so simply that I really did find value in the book. Essentially, the book is a collection of many of her lessons all gathered in on place, which is useful. I have a lot of respect for Marie and look forward to learning more from her.

Creative Calling: Establish a Daily Practice, Infuse Your World with Meaning, and Find Success in Work, Hobby, and Life, by Chase Jarvis—I first learned about Chase Jarvis when I heard him on Lewis Howes’ podcast. I was fascinated by his story and bought his audiobook. During the time I was listening to the book, I heard Jarvis on Marie Forleo’s podcast. His message is encouraging, inspirational and heartfelt. Probably the idea I most liked in his book was toward the very end, when he said, “The best antidote to negative feeling is creative doing.” I can relate to this, and I agree with it. In my own life, I feel most alive when I am taking some form of creative action. Starting my book and making it public enhanced my well-being. Jarvis provides both practical ideas and motivational stories to encourage creativity in every person.

The Genius Habit: How One Habit Can Radically Change Your Work and Your Life, by Laura Garnett—This is another audiobook that I feel like I need to purchase in hard copy because there is so much I want to review. Garnett gave me a lot to consider in this book. One of her key points is that we each have a particular “genius” that allows us to excel in particular types of tasks. She challenges us to find that and then to apply it, along with our purpose, to our career paths. Her method for considering “purpose” is different than other approaches I have seen or taken. I need time and space to give her ideas deeper consideration.

Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals, by Rachel Hollis—I accidentally listened to this audiobook before I read or listened to Girl, Wash Your Face, because I got confused about which one came first. It didn’t hurt anything, although I wished I had done it the other way around. I still plan to read the other one. Rachel narrated this book and really made it come alive. Honestly, I was not familiar with her prior to listening. I feel like I know her now. She is very honest and very motivating. She speaks directly to women and gives us the pep talk and tough love to push us to pursue our dreams. I’m not sure I want to put in the hours she seems to have invested in her brand, and I don’t want to scale my business to the size of hers, but I did pick up a lot of good inspiration, as well as practical ideas for achieving certain goals. She talked a lot about her experience as an author, and I found that useful.


How to be Everything
, by Emily Wapnick—I learned so much from this audiobook! I listened to it at just the right time, when I was already in the midst of making some important changes.  This book emboldened me to own my power and my uniqueness in a deeper way. It helped me to honor my multipotentiality and to see it not as a source of wishy-washiness, but as a source of strength. I have a new definition of my professional self. I am grateful for finding this resource when I did.


The Leap of Your Life: How to Redefine Risk, Quit Waiting For ‘Someday,’ and Live Boldly
, by Tommy Baker—I listened to this on Audible and found good inspiration in it. I felt like the ending was a little weak, compared to the rest of the book, but I liked it. Essentially, the message is one I have come to believe is critical—We must live now. If we put off living or doing things that matter, we may miss our chance. Tommy Baker provides both inspiration and practical suggestions for making those things happen.

Someday Is Not a Day in the Week: 10 Hacks to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, by Sam Horn—Having recently refocused my coaching practice as a No Regrets practice when I listened to this audiobook, I found that Sam Horn’s book (to which I listened during my commute) resonated deeply with me. Her wisdom is apparent as she shares her personal stories and the lessons she has learned around living and being happy right now, rather than waiting for someday. She has an apparent affinity for quotes, like I do, and she shared so many in her book. I purchased a hard copy of this book, not just for quotes (although that, too), but because there are many terrific exercises that I want to remember. I was so moved by this book that I emailed Horn and ended up having a phone conversation with her. Although it was not specifically about my writing a book, her words provided some of the encouragement I needed to decide that this was the time to do so. She also helped me to own and honor my unique message.


You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable
, by Jen Sincero—I really do love Jen Sincero’s style. This is the third one of her books I have read. This one is more quick bites of motivation, but she says that from the start. Rather than just read a chapter a day or turn to pages randomly, I chose to read it through. It was a very quick read, but there are lots of good reminders there.

Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals, by Michael Hyatt—I was surprised how inspiring and valuable I found this book. Besides gleaning many great quotes from it, I found quite a few strategies that will enhance both my personal life and my coaching practice. Really good stuff here.

Let me know if you have read any of these, and please share your favorite book or books of 2019.


The First 10 Days: Proceeding as if Success Were Inevitable

Think about the last time you embarked on a big project or started working toward a major goal. How did you feel? Excited? Nervous? Overwhelmed? Calm? Confident? Maybe it was a combination of some or all those emotions, or, maybe it was a different feeling. Chances are, though, if it meant something to you, there were strong feelings involved.

In my last blog post, I announced for the first time that I am writing a book. At the time I wrote that post, I had several pages of notes and a working title, but I hadn’t officially started writing it. That changed over the last 10 days, when I developed a comprehensive outline on September 1 and then launched into content on Labor Day.

My Labor Day bike ride was full of reflection because launching into the writing feels momentous. I know there is a great deal of work ahead of me, and I have a lot to learn about publishing and even about the differences between writing a blog or an essay and writing a book. Yet, I realize that I feel calm and confident, as well as excited and encouraged. There are several reasons why.

I have a couple of mantras running through my head. One is Marie Forleo’s “Everything is figureoutable.” (I am really looking forward to reading her just-released book by that name.) I trust that I will be able to figure out the things I need learn about the publishing process. Somehow, I believe it will work out. I will learn what I need to learn. It helps me to remember that there are many, many books in existence and that all authors were once first-time authors. If they can do it, I can do it.

Another mantra that really helps me believe that I can do this is Ann Lamott’s reminder that “A page a day is a book a year.” My life is VERY full. As I said in my last post, I am choosing to keep that fullness during this season of life. I may choose differently at some point, but, right now, there is no “spare” time (whatever that is). So, I could let myself become overwhelmed and think, “How can I even think about writing a book when I am so busy?’ Instead, I am calmed and reassured by heeding Lamott’s advice and setting a rough goal of writing a page a day. That seems doable. Even so, I am making some modifications to that goal. For instance, there are some days when it may be truly impossible to write at all. So, I will average seven pages a week, making up for lost days on Saturday and/or Sunday. I will also use some days for editing sections. All in all, I have set a loose goal of completing the writing in a year.

Much of the time, it is wise to set a “firm” deadline or target date for completing a project or achieving a goal. This feels different, though, because it is important to me to keep this a joyful project. That doesn’t mean it will be stress free or blissful every moment, but I don’t think I have much to gain by adding time pressure. I realize that there could be reasons to tighten up my deadline, as I learn more about publishing. For right now, this feels good.

There is value for me in writing publicly about this goal. When you launch a new endeavor, do you share your goal with others, or do you keep it to yourself? I do both, depending on the goal. Some people need to talk about their goal because they need external accountability. That is not the case for me. As an Upholder, according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I respond favorably to both internal and external expectations, meaning that I keep promises I make to myself, as well as those I make to others. I don’t need to feel obligated to another person or group to make sure I do what I say I am going to do. If you haven’t taken Rubin’s quiz, I encourage you to use the link above and take it to help you determine if you would benefit from having some external accountability when you take on a big goal.

In his popular TED Talk, Derek Sivers explains that there is some evidence that talking about our goals makes it less likely that they will be achieved because we experience a surge of satisfaction just by talking about them. There is gratification because we receive social acknowledgement when people respond positively to our pursuit of a goal. He recommends either not talking about our goals or talking about them in ways that minimize gratification. Instead of saying, “I am going to lose 10 pounds,” you could tell a friend or a coach, “I really want to lose 10 pounds, and I need you to scold me if you see me eating something I shouldn’t.” From the first time I heard or read this perspective on sharing goals, I was hesitant to buy in to it. It just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe that is because I am an Upholder. This may be a worthwhile consideration for those who have a different tendency. What has been your experience? Do you benefit from the accountability of sharing a goal, or have you experienced the phenomenon Sivers describes?

My husband Kenny has talked about how he felt when he was training to ride his bike across the United States in 1995, four years before we met. He told all the important people in his life. He said doing so created pressure, and it got to the point when he was just ready to get started and stop talking about it. He doesn’t indicate that he would do anything differently, just that it felt like pressure because so many people knew what he was working toward. Maybe that was a form of accountability for him.

For me the value of sharing my goal is that it makes it feel real. I am putting it out there for the Universe to support me and to position myself to start living as someone who is writing a book. I could do that in secret, too, but putting it out there feels a bit courageous. Of course, there is no guarantee that I will be successful according to any particular definition of success, whether that is completing the manuscript, getting published or earning money from my book. Yet, I feel that I am honoring myself and my vision by stating my ambition and letting the world know about this aspect of my life.

In general, I like beginnings. They feel hopeful and loaded with possibility. That is how launching into my book writing feels. It reminds me of how I feel at the beginning of a long bike ride, early on a weekend morning, when there is a flurry of excitement in my belly as I imagine the adventure the ride could become. Do you experience a similar rush of excitement when you begin working toward a goal? How we channel that feeling makes a difference. It could be recognized as either excitement or fear because the neurological response is very similar.

What strategies do you use to position yourself for success in your big goals and dreams?

How do you stay calm and avoid overwhelm?

I recommend a calming mantra, like “Everything is figureoutable.” I also recommend breaking down a big project into bite-sized bits. If you need help doing that, a coach or trusted friend could serve as a guide to creating a manageable plan. Depending on your goal, scheduling time to work on your project may be a critical component.

Exercise is a longtime lifestyle for me. I always schedule it into my week and know when I will exercise and what I will do (ride my bike, practice yoga, strength train, etc.) each day. It is too important to leave to chance.  I am not formally scheduling my writing at this time. I am going to see how my “page-a-day” strategy works. I might reassess scheduling, if I find that I am not making the progress I desire.

It is also worth considering whether talking about your goal will help or hinder your chances of success. Do you need the accountability of a coach or workout buddy or friend? Do you need to publicly commit, so that you will feel embarrassed if you don’t follow through? Do you think you would be less likely to succeed if you experienced gratification by sharing what you are doing? Or, like me, is sharing your goal a way of honoring the validity of what you are doing and of welcoming the support of the Universe?

The next time you begin something big, take some time to consider what conditions best position you to achieve what you set out to achieve. In my health coach training, we were encouraged to “proceed as if success were inevitable.” Part of that is to start with the right conditions in place. Let me know how I can support you in living with no regrets by helping you establish the right circumstances and strategies for accomplishing what you what to accomplish. (sheri@justwindcoach.com)


My Favorite Books in 2018

Happy New Year!

Reading continues to be one of my passions, right up there with cycling, so I am excited to share my annual blog post listing the best books I read during the year.

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” –John Locke

As usual, these are the books that I rated four or five stars on Goodreads during 2018. They are in alphabetical order by category.

Biography

 The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, by Michael Finkel—I found this account of Christopher Knight’s solitary, 27-year stay deep in the Maine woods fascinating. Knight simply chose to vanish into the woods at age 20. He stayed there for 27 years, until his arrest for burglary. He relied on breaking into unoccupied cabins for his food and supplies. While I wouldn’t choose a path that entirely alienated me from society, required sleeping in dangerously cold conditions or necessitated theft for survival, I could relate to his desire for solitude. That aspect certainly holds an appeal for me and left me craving more solitude in my own life.

Health


The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You
, by Sylvia Tara—Tara presents fascinating biochemical information about fat. I learned a great deal. For instance, I had no idea that body fat is now considered an organ. She presented information about the individual nature of fat from one person to another, depending on a range of factors, including genetics, gender, age, microbiome and exposure to viruses. I did find Tara’s description, toward the end of the book, of her own strategy for keeping her weight manageable to be rather extreme, but she presents it as her own commitment, not as a prescription for anyone else. All in all, this was a very interesting and educational book.

Memoir

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls—I loved this book! I read it as part of the WSU Reads book selection committee, and I am always a little apprehensive when someone else “chooses” a book for me because reading is such an important part of my life and such a treasured escape. This one fully met my needs. Walls’ captivating narrative of her unbelievable childhood in a family with an alcoholic father and unmotivated mother contains so many lessons and could be an excellent selection for college students. It is a reminder that we have no idea what challenges and hardships other people are facing. Much like Ruth Wariner in The Sound of Gravel, Walls included her siblings in her escape plan. Despite the incredible disadvantages she faced as a child, she became a successful journalist and author. Great book!

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance—I read this book for the WSU Reads Book Selection committee and wasn’t too excited about it, but it turned out to be great. Using a combination of sociological analysis, storytelling and personal reflection, Vance illuminates the struggles of the Appalachian and Rust Belt poor. His deep love for his family—especially his grandparents—is obvious, and so is his honest acknowledgement of the personal responsibility the people in these regions must accept for their circumstances. He recognizes the complexity of the relationship between circumstances and personal choice. Although telling his story from “the other side,” as a lawyer, he clearly still identifies as a hillbilly. He tells his story with courage.


Rusch to Glory: Making the Journey from Ordinary to Extraordinary
, by Rebecca Rusch–Rebecca Rusch is a woman of remarkable athletic achievement. In her memoir of her long professional athletic career, which encompasses rock climbing, paddling, adventure racing and mountain biking, Rusch shares the lessons and wisdom endurance sports have taught her. Despite her incredible record of success, she comes across as relatable and humble. She is a multi-year winner of the Dirty Kanza. Although I am a road cyclist and haven’t ridden that, it was cool to see a home-state event described in her book.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, by Tyler Hamilton—This book grew on me as I read it. At first, I thought it was going to be interesting, but not great. By the time I got several chapters into it, however, I really liked it. Tyler Hamilton and his co-author, David Coyle, provide the most detailed account of doping in professional cycling that I have ever read. Tyler fully admits to his own role in the problem, while he shares his personal experience on Lance Armstrong’s team and, later, as Lance Armstrong’s enemy, when Tyler told the truth.

She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Boylan—This is the courageous story of how James Boylan became Jennifer Boylan. From the time he was a small child, Jim identified as female. Jenny Boylan shares the story of her personal struggle, her transgender journey and her family’s love.


Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward
, by Elizabeth Ford—Touching memoir of Ford’s devotion to the most unwanted psychiatric patients in NYC—those incarcerated in the NYC jail system, before sentencing. Ford sees them as humans, when many do not.

The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner—Ruth Wariner tells her amazing story of growing up in a polygamist cult. It is both tragic and hopeful and demonstrates the tremendous courage that was necessary for Wariner to escape the clutches of the cult and her abusive stepfather and to save her younger siblings. Hers is a powerful story that needs to be told.

Straight Pepper Diet: A Memoir, by Joseph W. Naus—Excellent memoir of Naus’ childhood, alcohol and sex addictions and incarceration. He is honest and shares what he learned. It was both informative and intimidating.

Surfacing: From the Depths of Self-Doubt to Winning Big and Living Fearlessly, by Siri Lindley—I found a lot of great quotes—inspirational nuggets of wisdom—in this book. Beyond simply sharing her fascinating story of her neglectful childhood and her discovery of triathlon, Lindley bravely tells her story of self-discovery and acceptance of all parts of herself, including her sexual orientation. Her book is a pretty quick read and left me with some nice motivation.

Performance


The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
, by David Epstein—This fascinating book taught me quite a bit I didn’t know about genetics, in general, but especially about the influence of genetics on athletic performance. Epstein does an excellent job of sorting out and explaining the relative contributions of nature and nurture in athletic performance. It was captivating from beginning to end, and I have shared it with my son to read because of his growing interest in running and his endurance background and exposure through our family. There is much to learn within these pages about individual athletes, cultures and ourselves.

Personal Development

Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?: The #100HappyDays Challenge, by Dimitry Golubnichy—I read this book because I enjoyed the online challenge so much and was preparing to implement the challenge again in my Facebook group. The book is a very quick, easy read, if you read it straight through. It contains lots of simple, useful happiness-building strategies. Light and pleasant.

Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, by Patty Chang Anker—I needed this book because I was struggling with my concern that I was being held back and limited by fear. I was feeling fear in areas of my life where I have not previously and/or to a degree much greater than in the past. Patty shares her own fears and her journey to overcome them. One of the things I liked the best about this book was that Patty did a lot of research and used other people’s ideas to help convey her message. I learned from them, as well as from Patty.


Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
, by Carmine Gallo—This is an excellent guide to delivering powerful presentations, whether on major stages, like TED, or in smaller, more intimate settings. Gallo has researched extensively the methods used by the best, most popular, most effective TED presenters. He shares their strategies here, in a way that is engaging, memorable and useful.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, by Chris J. Anderson—This is another really good book about giving talks that make an impact. Many of the same examples of excellent speeches were given in this book as were given in Talk Like TED. I guess that is because they are truly exemplary presentations. This book gives different details, however, about crafting your presentation. It is not conflicting information, just focusing on different aspects of great talks. Both books were useful, and this one is written by the current owner of TED, which adds an interesting twist.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, by Kelly McGonigal—This is a potentially life-changing book for me. McGonigal presents a “mindset intervention” aimed at helping the reader rethink stress—which it did for me. I admit that I was a hard sell, and I still need to process some of the ideas she explains. However, she was convincing, and I have come to view stress differently. I think the most powerful idea for me was this: “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” I realized that she is correct. Almost everything that has meaning in life is also a source of stress, on some level. I have begun talking myself through stressful situations by noticing the benefits of my body’s physiological stress response. The book was full of a lot of great research, including studies showing that it is how stress is viewed, rather than stress itself, that creates health risks. I think this is a book that will affect me for a long time, in a lot of different ways.

Wait, What?: And Life’s Other Essential Questions, by James E. Ryan—This short book carries some good advice and interesting ideas for introspection. It is not so much the specific questions Ryan suggests, but the ideas he shares around those questions, that inspired reflection.

You Are a Badass®: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero—I can’t even remember how or why, but I got this book as a free audiobook. Typically, I do not listen to books, but it felt like a particular gift to listen to this one, read by the author. I started the book and then stopped listening for several months. I started again after I made a firm and clear decision that I was on the right path with my coaching practice. This time, it was exactly what I needed to hear. The book is amazing! The author delivers her message with humor and passion and convincing, no-nonsense firmness. I was disappointed when it was finished. I felt lonely for her voice and the inspiration in her words. Read this book when you are ready to take big steps forward in your life.

You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth, by Jen Sincero—I just LOVE Jen Sincero. This was another terrific book. I liked the first one so much as an audio book, that I got this one as an audio book, too. Her description of her time house-, horse- and goat-sitting while writing the book made me laugh so hard, and her message is consistently inspirational, encouraging and motivating, while hilariously delivered. I will listen to this and her other book again and again.

Productivity


Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine
, by Michael Michalowicz—I learned about this book in the Wellness Business Podcast, and I felt like the presenter was speaking to me. I’ll be honest. I don’t fully understand why, but money scares me. The financial aspect of my coaching business was causing me great anxiety and befuddlement. I ordered this book on Kindle as soon as I learned about it. Again, being honest, I have made some modifications in the system (which Michalowicz recommends against), but just the part that I have implemented so far has greatly alleviated my stress and increased my confidence around managing my business finances.


The Prosperous Coach: Increase Income and Impact for You and Your Clients
, by Steve Chandler & Rich Litvin—There is so much to consider in this book, so many areas to examine how I can implement their ideas. In one of my business mentorship groups, there has been a lot of discussion and excitement about Rich Litvin’s work. After watching some of his videos, this book quickly rose to the top of my to-read list. I was surprised at how difficult it was to obtain a copy. It doesn’t seem to be available for Kindle, and the paperback and hardback versions are quite pricey. I listened to the audio book, which was a great way to get exposed to their concepts quickly. I really enjoyed that, but I want a reference copy, so I ordered one through interlibrary loan and ultimately purchased a paperback copy. Chandler and Litvn teach building a coaching practice through referral and invitation only. It is an interesting concept that appeals to me.

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg—In this excellent book, Charles Duhigg put to good use his experience as a journalist for the New York Times to uncover fascinating stories and situations that illustrate his research findings on the science of productivity. The thing that most impressed me was the level of originality in the ideas and recommendations in this book. He drew on research from gerontology, aviation and education, among other areas. It made for interesting reading and thought-provoking inspiration.

Social Justice

The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler—For many years I have heard about the performance of the Monologues, but I had never seen it. I decided that the 20th Anniversary book a good opportunity to read them. I felt like I was carried back to my days as a Women’s Studies minor as an undergrad. The Monologues themselves are powerful, but what impressed me most is how they have become a social movement, embodied in several forms. A great deal of money has been raised through the movement, funding a wide variety of efforts to protect women  from victims of sexual and physical violence and to help women worldwide who have been victimized.

 Work-Life Fit

Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, by Anne-Marie Slaughter—This is a very well-written book that addresses the important issue of work-life fit, specifically the need for the US to give equal value to caregiving and making money, for both women and men. Slaughter draws on her personal experience making the decision to step down as Director of Policy Planning for the US Department of State to return home to Princeton to spend more time with her teenage sons, as well as her expertise in public policy, to draw a complete picture—from personal to policy—of how this value might be more equally distributed.