Read Well: The Defining Decade

DSC_6011

I can't believe I'm saying this, but the best book I read in 2014 was a self-help book.

I know you're rolling your eyes right now (I'm looking at you, dad). I get it. But stick with me here.

I picked up The Defining Decade after hearing its author, Meg Jay, on an NPR program and then seeing the book on the shelf of my favorite neighborhood bookstore shortly thereafter. And I'll be honest - I picked it up with an agenda. I read this book to validate all of my life choices. More specifically, I read it to remind myself that the things I'm doing in my twenties right now are the right things for my life, something I have not always been convinced of.

Back when I was 21 years old, engaged, and committed to a post-graduation banking job, I had about 5% confidence that I was on the "right" path. I got plenty of raised eyebrows and "wow..." reactions when telling people at Rice or at Stanford (where my husband went to school) that we were getting married right after graduation. I dreaded working a desk job while all my acquaintances traveled the world. I feared that making those decisions would commit me to a life where I never traveled, never made good career progress (because I was always sacrificing career for my husband, you know), and just generally lived a boring life.

Hopefully the contents of this blog have provided ample evidence of just how wrong I was about that.

But I can't blame myself for thinking those things at the time. Almost everything you're exposed to as a twentysomething tells you that early marriage and conventional jobs do not a well-traveled, independently successful, happy person make. It was so refreshing to hear someone (an expert!) say otherwise.

When I picked up this book, I didn't really expect to learn anything new. I mostly expected to nod in agreement while the author said that people need to start thinking about marriage before they turn 30 (check) and that working a full-time, demanding job will move you toward the kind of career you want (also check). And she does say those things.

What I didn't expect was how empowering her treatment of those subjects would be. I think that is a very hard balance to strike, especially when you're giving advice on finding a relationship. Her love is tough, yes, but her advice is practical, actionable, and attainable.

 I also didn't expect how illuminating the third section dedicated to twentysomething biology would be. She dedicates a significant portion of the chapter to how intensely stressful your job can be due to your low position on the professional totem pole combined with young brains' relative inability to absorb surprise, criticism, lack of agency, and other unpleasant workplace experiences. Before reading this book, I thought that the intense stress I frequently encountered at work was unusual and just plain bad for me. After reading this book, I know that the kind of intense stress I face is a sign that I'm in the right job. Jobs that go nowhere aren't stressful. Jobs that make you into an interesting and successful person are. Did anyone else really need to hear that?

Finally, what I REALLY didn't expect would be how much I would think about this book after reading it, and how often I would feel the need to recommend it to all of my friends. So I think you know where I'm going with this - READ THIS BOOK! Pick it up yourself, buy it for your daughter/son/sister/brother/friend/foe/next door neighbor/WHOEVER, but read it. It will take you two or three hours, and you'll come away feeling like you can conquer the world. I'll leave you with the author's call to action as proof:

There are no guarantees. So claim your adulthood. Be intentional. Get to work. Pick your family. Do the math. Make your own certainty. Don't be defined by what you didn't know or didn't do. You're deciding you life right now.

Have a great day.

Live Well: 2014 Resolutions Scorecard

IMG_0796

A few of you may remember that one year ago, I wrote a post about making specific New Year's resolutions. The best thing about specific resolutions, I argued at the time, was that you can measure your success or failure. Because how can someone know if they've truly succeeded in their resolutions to "work harder" "be happier" or "get in better shape"?

As a result, I think the only fair thing would be to actually go ahead and see how I did on my resolutions. Here's how:

Resolution #1: By the end of the year, be able to run up the Lyon Street stairs without stopping.

Result: Success!

This one was a bit of a surprise, even to me. I chose to make my resolution about the stairs because I have never, ever been able to run the entire length without stopping. (They are LONG. And steep. It's hard to describe - you'll just have to come visit me and I will show you!). I also chose the stairs because it's very measurable - you can either run them or you can't. However, I did not spend my year working out on the stairs. I spent my year going to Crossfit. And while that should have made me more fit, I wasn't sure if it would make me a better stair runner.

Last Friday, I decided to go test myself. And I made it, much to my own surprise. While I know I'm in better shape now than I was a year ago, I think at least 50% of my success came from a determination not to quit once I hit that final flight! Either way, I'm happy. (The photo above was my celebratory photo from the top.)

Resolution #2: Read 18 books by the end of the year.

Result: Success!

I have mixed feelings about the success of this resolution. While I made it to 18 books (19, actually) I purposely selected shorter books, and I didn't end up reading many books that I loved. So it ended up being 19 short, rather mediocre books. I'm happy I made reading more of a focus last year, but I think I can do even better. More to come when I talk 2015 resolutions tomorrow.

Resolution #3: Take an international trip (and no, our trip to BVI did not count).

Result: Fail

Yep - I failed at this one. We DID make it to Hawaii (which was amazing - I really need to recap that trip sometime soon), but we didn't end up going anywhere internationally. Just like with resolution #2, my main takeaway from my performance on this one is that there is room for improvement in 2015. Our trip to Hawaii made me realize how much I enjoy traveling, and how much more of the world I want to see. Expect to see this same resolution on my list for years to come!

-----

Well - we made it through Monday! All of us at work were laughing about how much yesterday morning felt like the first day of school. Most people had taken off at least one week for the holidays, a tiny timeframe compared to the average school winter vacation, but an eternity when you work a 9-to-5 (or 6 or 7...) job! Just like when I was going to school, I had trouble getting to sleep on Sunday, the night before my first day back. And just like school, the first day felt kind of long and kind of tiring, but at least I got to come home and celebrate with a delicious dinner + an episode of Gilmore Girls. Speaking of which...Gilmore Girls and Friends being on Netflix is simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to me/my productivity.

Back tomorrow with 2015 resolutions!

Live Well: Reliving Childhood - Eleanor & Park + Boyhood

rowell_ep_us

Entirely coincidentally, I spent this past weekend stuck firmly in childhood and adolescence. On Friday night I finished reading Eleanor & Park and on Saturday we went to see Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Each is a very well-regarded work on what it means to grow up - here's my take on them:

First up, Eleanor & Park. Truth be told, I was so excited to start reading this book after hearing rave reviews from many, many sources that I trust. A well-told teenage love story pulls at the heartstrings of everyone, so I couldn't wait to dive in. However, I have to say that I found most of the book underwhelming. The story was well-written and a very authentic depiction of what your first relationship is like when you're sixteen years old, but I wouldn't describe it as a masterpiece. And after everything I'd heard about it, I don't think I could have been satisfied with anything less.

All of that being said - the end was truly touching. But much of that has to do with my own personal bias (I think). Without giving away too much, the book ends with the two main characters being separated after one has to move. The description of how intensely sad each of them were in the move's aftermath hit too close to home for me - I cried myself to sleep after finishing the book just reliving what it was like when my now-husband (then-middle school boyfriend) moved away before eighth grade. Again, I think Rainbow Rowell did a great job conveying what those emotions feel like when you're that age and dealing with those changes...but I don't think I came away with a better understanding of life and love because of the book. And that deeper understanding is what I was hoping for.

boyhood-movie-poster

Luckily, a better understanding of life and love is exactly what Boyhood delivered. I know having a favorite director is probably the most pretentious thing on the face of the planet, but I don't care - Richard Linklater is my favorite director, and I will see everything he makes for the rest of his life. Y'all - Boyhood was spectacular. Run, don't walk, to go see it.

For those of you who haven't heard about it yet, over the course of twelve years Richard Linklater got the same group of actors together for two weeks every year to film a story about a boy growing up. Ellar Coltrane, the star, starts out as a six-year-old, and the movie progresses until he leaves for college. We watch Ellar, his sister (Lorelai Linklater, Richard Linklater's daughter), and his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) age in a time-lapse fashion - the characters get older, people come in and out of their lives, they make mistakes, they try their best, they're real people. The experience is something I can barely describe - you really have to see it for yourself.

This movie will be enjoyable for anyone who grew up during the 2000s, but it will be particularly enjoyable for everyone who, like me, grew up in Houston in the 2000s. Almost their entire childhood is filmed in Houston, which led to my husband and I whispering excitedly in the theater every time they showed a different Houston location. I would argue that the movie is even better than home movies for transporting you back in time - the music, the scenery, the props - for a few minutes, you are truly living in a year gone by, and each time it feels so good.

I could go on endlessly about my admiration of this movie, but I'm going to cut it off here. I hope you don't need more convincing that this movie is worth your time, money, and brain space - if nothing else, I can tell you that you won't see anything like it ever again (with the possible exception of the Before movies - another Linklater masterpiece).

Have a spectacular day, everyone.