Read Well: The Defining Decade

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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

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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!

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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!

Read Well: Untouchable

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Two months ago I read a book I found extremely interesting: Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson.

I wasn't sure what to think about this book going in. It has the unique distinction of having equal numbers of five-star and one-star reviews on Amazon, with virtually nothing in between. It seemed like the only outcome would be for me to love it or hate it.

That didn't turn out to be true. While I certainly didn't hate it, I don't know if "love" is the right word either. Instead, I found it to be a very interesting, very detailed, and very compassionate look at the bizarre, often painfully sad life of a strange, strange individual.

This book is not for everyone. The alternate title could have been Lawsuits: There Were a Lot of Them. The book is 802 pages (although some of it is footnotes). And a LOT of it covers various lawsuits that were filed against Michael Jackson, by Michael Jackson, around Michael Jackson...etc. If you really enjoy reading biographies, then I would suggest it. If you enjoy the intersection of pop culture and the legal system, this book is for you. If you're looking for light reading to take to the beach? This probably shouldn't be your first pick.

While I thought the entire book was really good, there's one chapter that I think should be required reading for anyone exposed to the 24-hour news cycle in America. Chapter 21 outlines the 2003 child molestation case against Michael Jackson. Remember when you and everyone you knew were shocked that Michael Jackson had been declared innocent in court? I definitely do. Well, apparently there was a LOT of stuff we didn't see. That chapter was the single-best case I've ever seen against trusting the questionable individuals (à la Nancy Grace) who make their livings by discussing court cases on TV. The book describes how during that trial, the journalists stayed to tape the prosecution, and then ran out of the room and didn't cover the defense at all. What they missed in their coverage was nearly-undeniable proof that the family bringing charges against Jackson was a group of repeat con-artists who were at it again. As a result, all of us familiar with the news coverage were shocked when Jackson was declared innocent.

However, as we all know, a declaration of innocence wasn't nearly enough to clear Jackson's name in America. The whole high-profile ordeal in many ways completely ruined his life - and directly led to its early end.

Chapter 21 was the kind of chapter that leaves you stunned. It was a really forceful reminder that in life, and especially when it comes to TV, you don't know what you don't know. Of course every TV anchor and news organization wants to make it look like they're fairly presenting both sides of the story. But more often than not, they're not. And by influencing the population's opinion in such a unilateral way, they are often completely ruining the lives of the people at the center of the trial. I think that's something we all need to keep in mind the next time our country's obsessed with a high-profile trial. If you're not physically inside the courtroom, you most likely don't have the whole story. And it's probably not appropriate to pass judgment.

What's the other lesson I learned from this book? Don't trust the reviews on Amazon! Seriously, there are about 1 million better ways to find out whether or not a book is good. Don't let mass opinion dictate your own :)

Have a great Thursday!