Grit by Angela Duckworth

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth, Angela 05.2018
Cover image shown with permission by Scribner from Simon & Schuster

This book was recommended to me by a fellow librarian friend while we were working at a conference a few months ago. While I had heard about the book, I’ve often found self-help books to be hit-or-miss and am reluctant to read them. With her recommendation I decided to try it out.

This book starts out discussing the tendency in American culture to prioritize talent and “genius”. We believe in the value of hard work, but when someone is labeled as special, the narrative that they will be successful automatically starts playing. However, what about people (like myself), who haven’t been labeled a “genius”? Are we destined to a life of second-rate happiness? And what about those early prodigies that end up fizzling-out after all of their talent is overtaken by the pressures of success or the first encounter with disappointment?

Duckworth’s research demonstrates that innate talent isn’t the main driver of success, in fact in some cases it is quite the opposite. Often those to whom understanding and brilliance comes easily are not prepared for the moments of failure that inevitably come. At the same time, people who develop the habit of working hard in spite of repeated disappointment discover the value of Grit, and are more likely to finesse skills that take 1,000s of hours to master. Additionally, Duckworth underscores the importance of following your passion, as it is the innate love of something that will inspire you to get up and work at it, rather than chasing a dream that never was your first love.

I found this book really inspiring, and it did speak to me as the mantra of never giving up is an important theme in my own life. Of course, there are unfortunate aspects of our society such as nepotism, institutional racism and sexism, that will continue to block even the most hard-working of us from landing deserved successes, and this has been one of the criticism of the book. However, I want to point out that barriers like those may not spell the end for someone who has Grit, and I think that was Duckworth’s point. That it is people who can find the strength to keep going in spite of the odds that are more likely to ultimately find success, and that, I think that is something we can all believe in.

I read this as an audiobook (read by the author) and found it really easy to listen to, which is a strength in a researched-based non-fiction title. This is a great book to recommend to a student, someone early or at a turning point in their career, or a parent, as she gave lots of advice for how to instill grit in your child (hint: don’t tell them they are a genius!) This book has helped me re-focus on my own goals and create strategies on how I can achieve them, and I’ll leave you with this quote that personally resonated with me:

…there are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time―longer than most people imagine….you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people….Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Published on: May 3rd, 2016

I read this as: an audiobook from Overdrive

Happiness by Heather Harpham

Happiness by Heather Harpham

Happiness_s_selected.indd
Cover image provided with permission from Henry Holt & Co.

When I reflect on this book, I think of one word: Grace. It’s a story where many things go wrong, but then there are moments of miraculous blessings. Where people are given second chances after making poor decisions, and some are given the ultimate gift of life after looking death right in the eye. Unfortunately, it’s a story where the unthinkable happens, the death of children-innocents-and it reminds me of the lyrics from Hamilton, after Alexander’s son is killed:

There are moments that the words don’t reach

There is a Grace too powerful to name

We push away what we can never understand

We push away the unimaginable

Ultimately, I consider the grace with which Harpham weaves several stories that tell how she became the mother of a very sick little girl, how she fought for her with all her might, and how through a great deal of suffering and countless moments of despair, she found happiness, in spite of everything stacked against that outcome.

This book is a memoir in which Harpham deftly describes how she became pregnant with her daughter, Gracie, how this strained her relationship with Gracie’s father, Brian; a man who although loving her deeply, was terrified of parenthood and walked away from their relationship during the pregnancy (the worst I know, but Harpham tells the story so beautifully and with such clarity that you almost see where he’s coming from. Almost.) Once Gracie is born, it’s clear that she is sick, she must undergo regular blood transfusions to keep her alive. What follows is a beautiful story of hope, love, strength, heartbreak and resiliency as this little clan goes through setbacks and surprises to make Gracie well.

What I really loved about this story is Harpham’s ability to understand other people, to forgive and connect with them in a way many of us simply are not capable of.  She’s able to see her own pain, her own unlucky hand, and still find goodness and offer kindness to others. While the book’s title is Happiness, so hopefully it doesn’t spoil anything to say it has a happy ending, she points out that going through this experience doesn’t make her immune to future sadness. I find that a very brave way to look at the world.

This is a great book for someone looking for a very moving story, who is not afraid to cry a good deal while reading it. Harpham’s writing is seriously top-notch and she is a gifted story-teller, I could not put this one down because I had to know what was happening in this little world, to this family and the people who surrounded them. If you are looking for a book about family, grit, and love, this one is for you.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

Published on: August 1, 2017

I read this as: a library book

 

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Delaney, Brigid 2018.02My husband teases me regularly about my frequent change in diet, which I try to take in good stride because he’s mostly right. In our eight years of marriage I have been a vegan, which morphed into pescatarianism, a phase that lasted 4 years until a personal trainer told me I wasn’t eating enough protein (who can eat fish 3 meals a day?). This transitioned me back to meat-eater, then I stopped eating sugar, which lead to not eating carbs, which lead to not eating gluten, and now I maintain a sort of “paleo, gluten-lite” type diet (which I occasionally cheat on), and I try to eat a lot of probiotics, which I’ve been told will help me avoid Alzheimer’s. I also attend 4 yoga classes a week, have a Fabletics subscription, and listen to Pema Chödrön audiobooks when I’m feeling stressed out. In the club of Western woman searching for wellness, I’m a pretty active member.

Wellmania is about that search, but Delaney, a travel journalist, doesn’t settle for attempting the latest fad diet or trying Pilates at her local gym. From taking on 101-day-fast to practicing transcendental meditation, Delaney thoughtfully balances out what she gains from these experiences with the challenges of maintaining a picture-perfect version of health. She considers the consumerism driving this search: after all, isn’t it only wealthy people who are able to attend 90 minute, $20 yoga classes, travel to Thailand to learn meditation with a Buddhist monk, and eat organically?

 What I loved about this book is the author’s honesty and frame of mind, she’s doesn’t try to paint herself as a guru or the embodiment of wellness, and she doesn’t try to hide her hedonistic side, she enjoys when her experiences demonstrate that she could do both:

“This is my path – what C.S. Lewis called a ‘secret road’ that we are all walking on, but each road is different. I like to think that I’m walking in the middle of the road, between the wellness lane and the hedonism lane, trying not to get run over by cars. Maybe I am meant to pick a side. But right now, I can’t – and that’s okay.” (page 149)

Ultimately Wellmania made me think about how I practice wellness, my occasional obsession with it (and then lack thereof), and what a realistic healthy life that is good for the entire planet should look like (hint: it’s probably not the one that Lululemon is trying to sell me. No hate.) I genuinely loved this book, was surprised by it, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in health, yoga, modern society, or enjoys irreverant life advice from an honest, funny, writer.

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

I read this as: Edelweiss ARC*

*This book was published in another version that came out in 2017, I’m not sure why it is being republished or what the differences are between the two. I like this one.