This is the second post on books that shook me. Yesterday, I listed "The Four," "Irresistible," and "Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus" as books that shook me on how technology is changing our lives.
Being an adult isn't easy. Everyone ages, but growing up isn't an automatic thing. To me, it means becoming increasingly responsible to the people around you, including your family, friends, community, and society at large. Tending to aging parents, handling a mortgage, guiding a career, supporting a partner: life's obligations are not always fun.
What makes it more difficult is the assumption that we already have all the skills we need to navigate life. We absolutely learn from those in our lives, but with so much to learn I also turn often to books for guidance.
One trap I avoid is learning to be productive, because productivity plays into consumption — that the reason to create is for someone else's acceptance. Instead, I do it to work on understanding myself, realizing that the more I know myself the better the work I create will satisfy me.
A favorite quote of mine is by Georgia O'Keeffe, who said: "Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing — and keeping the unknown always beyond you." These books help make that unknown known.
Susan Neiman's "Why Grow Up" uses philosophy to discuss our romanticization and hyperfocus on youth. It's no surprise that many arrest development to postpone having to deal with the burden of adulthood, but what I enjoyed about this book was looking at what growing up means. It means reflecting on the choices your parents made, and deciding for yourself which ones you'll carry forward. It means understanding that growing up is not binary—there's no badge to signify growing up, but rather it is a lifelong journey.
I related to the primary concept, a struggle between understanding the world as it is while also wanting to make it as it should be. Often we sit on one end or the other, cynics resign to the former and dreamers want the latter. We get frustrated that the world is unfair, and sometimes accept that this must then be the only way. It's untrue: changing the world requires a balance. But to get there we have to intentionally think about it.
Life is difficult, and trauma is inevitable. How do we recover from trauma and how do we support those going through it? Answering those key questions is at the heart of Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant's "Option B," which shares Sandberg's journey after her husband unexpectedly passes.
Grief is sometimes a taboo subject, and I appreciated the practical advice in the book. For example, while many people mean well when saying, "if you need anything, call me," this puts the burden of thinking of something to do on the person in need. Instead, you could say, "I'll call you next week to see how you're doing," and when you do then ask if there's something at hand to help with. Traumatic things will happen to all of us—losing our loved ones, jobs, dreams—being better at supporting one another is essential.
Not everything I read this year was so grim. My final recommendation is Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running." Earlier this year, I began running, and it had a transformative effect on me. I'd always told myself I wasn't athletic and suddenly I was training for a 10K, proving myself wrong. Murakami has been running for decades, doing marathons annually. He details how his practice of running dovetails into his craft of writing, and I found it spellbinding.
Murakami is not a flashy artist. We often think of creatives working in fits of inspiration and driven wildly by their emotions. But those people tend to burn out, and a second path exists. Disciplined and deliberate. Routine, even. That might sound boring, but Murakami is anything but that: the book is filled with wonderful insights and wisdom. He talks about how successful artists and runners need talent, focus, and perseverance. The first you're born with (although everyone can hone what they're given) and second and third are what separate the flash in the land from those with lengthy careers. I sometimes get jealous of other writers, but this book reminded me that I'm only competing with myself and that the distance is measured in decades not months.
Tomorrow, the last set of books on being an outsider.