Book Review: Option B by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, And Finding Joy. By Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Book Review. Book Cover. Inspiring and motivating Quotes.“Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the sh*t out of it.”

Sandberg is the COO of Facebook whose husband of 11 years suddenly died in May 2015 during their vacation in Mexico. Their friend and psychiatrist Adam Grant helped her cope with the tragedy. This book is the result of Sandberg’s personal insights, Grant’s research, several interesting studies and inspiring stories of many who faced adversity -death, illness, sexual assault, war or other extreme hardships- and how they got over it.

Here are some important points I noted:

  • 3 P’s that stunt ones recovery (per psychologist Martin Seligman) :
    1. Personalization– belief that we are at fault for a given adversity
    2. Pervasiveness – a belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives
    3. Permanence– a belief that the aftershocks of the adverse event will last forever.
  • It is important for family and friends to reach out and acknowledge the pain and assure that they are there, rather than avoid because they are uncomfortable or not sure what exactly to say.
  • Journaling, or even voice-recording, could be a powerful tool for learning self-compassion. By putting feelings into words, you give yourself more power over them. At the end of the day, write down 3 things you are grateful for. Another more active form that builds self-confidence would be to write down three things that you did well in the day, the “small wins”. 
  • Building resilience in children depends upon the opportunities they have and the relationships they form with parents, teachers, friends and caregivers, fostering four core beliefs:
    1. That kids have some control over their lives: This comes with clear and consistent communication of expectations, and giving them structure and predictability.
    2. Learning from failure: Tell kids that if they find something difficult, it means their brain is growing. Foster a “growth mindset” as against “fixed mindset,” e.g. when applauding say “you tried so well” as against ” you are so smart”. The latter actually puts a cap of sorts that discourages kids to go beyond.
    3. That kids matter as human beings: Listen closely to their ideas, make them feel that others notice , care for and rely on them. This helps them create attachments.
    4. They have real strength to rely on and share: Help children identify their strengths. This is a great tool in life and critical after any traumatic events.
  • Just as family stories help children feel a sense of belonging, collective stories create identities for communities building collective resilience that is the need of the hour in today’s fragmented world.
  • We have blind spots- weaknesses that others see but we don’t. It is important to seek constructive criticism; one of the best ways to see ourselves clearly is to ask others to hold up a mirror.

The last part is about learning to love and laugh again, especially after a partners death. Sandberg gives statistics and stories of how prejudiced the society is, particularly towards widows, if they try to find love again. Her own case proves the point: encouraged by her family and friends she started seeing someone, the news story received some very angry and mean comments.

I found Sandberg’s intimate description acute pain she and her kids experienced day in day out quite touching, and left me teary eyed many times. It is indeed difficult to get through loss or trauma, but trying is all we can do. And if there is support of either family – friends, or if one reaches out to groups facing similar struggle, along with right tools, it becomes easier.  Also, finding greater meaning in life makes it bearable.
Option B: Facing adversity, Building Resilience, And Finding Joy is well written, not too big, comprehensive and an easy read. 5 Stars of Goodreads.

Helpful Links: OptionB.org,  Facebook Page.
Some thoughts from the book:
“Self-compassion isn’t talked about as much as it is usually confused with self-pity and self-indulgence. Self-compassion comes from recognizing that our imperfections are part of being human.”
“Children look for acceptance in drugs, alcohol and unsafe sex.”
“Talk to people about their grief instead of avoiding the conversation because you are uncomfortable or you think they will not feel good about it.”

 

 

Book Review: ON WRITING – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King_On_Writing_A Memoir_of_the_Craft. Book Cover pageLets first get this out of the way: I am not a Stephen King fan, nor have I ever read any of his other works, only because I was never into the genre he mostly writes. However, whatever connection I do have with him is through one of his novellas that was adapted into one of the finest movies ever made: The Shawshank Redemption (I resisted putting a couple hearts here). This is my first book by him, and the second on writing, after Bird by BirdOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft gives a zoomed in view of a successful writer’s entire process. If I was so amazed to read what all actually goes into writing a fiction novel (doubting if I could ever do all that), I was equally inspired to try it out, and excited to see the “magic” happen. In this book, King doesn’t give a success formula or a to-do list, but instead, discusses in detail some very fundamental aspects of writing, some of which are summarized below.

LIFE
The first few pages are about several stories about King’s early life. He and his older brother were raised by a single mother with limited means. Later, even as a father of two toddlers doing two jobs, King struggled to make ends meet, up until the commercial success of Carrie. While he was quite candid about his alcohol and drug addiction, his recovery and how he bounced back is very inspiring, destroying in the process any myths that stimulants are necessary to aid writers or artists in their art. Halfway through the writing of this book, he met with an almost fatal accident during one of his daily walks. Amidst series of operations and painful physical therapy, he resumed work on this book.

STORY
King believes that story is the boss in fiction writing and it is the most important thing readers will want. He says good ideas come sailing at you right out of the empty sky and that the writers job is to recognize them when they show up. Don’t know why, but I feel I am somehow violating trust by putting this very sacred and profound sentence out there, but I will: Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writers job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. I think it is much like remembering a dream: you want to try hard recalling it, yet not inadvertently add your own details in the process, to get the dream as intact as possible.

READING
Read. Read. Read. Reading creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing. King reads ‘anything and everything he can lay his hands on’ and for those who want to know his recommendations, there is a long list of books at the end.

WRITING

  • Writers ‘toolbox’ should be well equipped with a strong vocabulary and solid grammar. Not surprisingly, he praises the classic Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.
  • He detests unnecessary use of adverbs and of passive voice (attributes it to a lack of confidence and/or affectation of authority), advises writers the same.
  • A serious writer would write between 4-6 hours everyday, without any distractions whatsoever (with doors closed and curtains drawn); this is the time to  dive deep within.
  • It is important to write about what you really know well. Write what you like and then imbue it with live and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work.
  • Write what rings true to you.
  • His little formula for editing: First completed draft = Second draft – 10%.  There is a sample passage showing his first draft and the edited second, with notes, which I thought is very useful.

The last part is about actual publishing, finding an agent and such. I think a lot has changed since 1999 making this information a bit outdated.

King makes a promise to his readers that this book is going to be to the point, without “any BS”, and he keeps it. There is lots of good advice and memorable sentences worth framing. Some of the paragraphs are so beautifully written that I typed the entire passages in my phone Notes for the fear of losing the beauty or wisdom in them to time or memory. When his writing is not clever or stylish, it is endearing. For instance, he gives you the reader a Permission Slip: If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your heart desires, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.  

On Writing is a masterclass for aspiring writers or bloggers that should not be missed. 4.5 stars on my Goodreads.
Get it on: Amazon iBooks BN
Some of my frames are here:

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by Phil Knight, the Creator of NIKE (Book Review)

When goods don't pass international borders, soldiers will. Quote by Phil Knight, creator of Nike Shoes and Apparel, Memoir Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. A memoir by the creator of Nike. Cover pageBill Gates recommended the book on his blog, and according to Warren Buffett, it is  the best book he read in 2016 (and that copies will be available at the annual Berkshire shareholders meet in May’17): Didn’t mean much to me when hubby mentioned it. He had loved the book and insisted (more than once) that I give it a shot. Unlike him, I wanted to protest,  I do not particularly consider myself a business buff. Instead, I just read it. After, awed and emotional, I just mumbled “No. Wonder.”

It was 1962 and in one of his morning runs, the shy and introverted Phil Knight wondered what he wanted to do in life. Though his ultimate dream of becoming a great athlete had not come to pass, he had resolved that whatever he did, it will not be work, it will be play. He was driven by the ideal of greatness to do something meaningful that made a difference in the world. At Stanford he had written a paper on the great potential the Japanese running shoes have to make deep cuts into the shoe market (just like they did with cameras), hitherto dominated by the Germans. Obsessed with what he called the “Crazy Idea,” he started selling the Japan-made Tiger shoes, and Blue Ribbon Sports was born. Of what would become Nike later, the company sales grew steadily and then exponentially, doubling sales every year. His coach Bill Bowerman, loved and regarded very highly of by Knight, became his partner, and gave excellent inputs on shoe improvement, as a result of his trail and error experiments with different designs and materials. In time, many talented people became a part of his company and shared his passion to play.

Though his business was growing rapidly, he would plow all the profits back into his business, leaving no “cash” (highly unacceptable to the Banks). As such, he had to always fight and beg for more credit of his bank. He was taking very high risks. To have a fall back income, Knight earned his CPA and worked for Price Waterhouse for several years, and later taught Accounting at Portland State University, all while selling shoes. Page after page of the years described in the book are filled with war that Knight and his team are fighting to not go out of business. But their passion to play, mutual camaraderie, and inexhaustible grit keep them together and going (as it does the reader). There are poignant moments where he expresses regret for not able to balance his home life, giving enough time to his two sons.

In the last part of the book, Knight looks back after stepping down as the CEO of NIKE for 40 years, wondering if of all this was just business. Most certainly not, he stresses. Far from it.
All this was about the passion and love for sports.
It was about having strong close relationships, be it with his coach or his team or even the endorsed celebrity athletes (he has a close bond with Tiger Woods, Agassi, Michael Jordan, to name just a few).
It was about the obsession to do something different on one’s own terms; money never a goal but  a means to make it happen. A by product.

A business started with $50 investment is today a $30 billion empire – a stunningly impressive number, sure. But to peer behind the scene and walk in Knight’s ‘shoes’ to see where it all began only as a Crazy Idea, is something quite extraordinary: real, relatable and somehow…. doable! Add to it the great storytelling and excellent writing, Shoe Dog would leave you at a high point, emotional, awestruck and stirringly motivated.

Educating. Inspiring. A compelling read. Very highly recommended. 5 Solid stars on my Goodreads.

Well played, Mr. Knight!

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up

‘Zen And The Art of Minimalism’ could be an alternate title of this book by Marie Kondo. It is the English translation of the original book written in Japanese.

img_0084-1I am part of the Generation X, and grew up when middle class was really the middle class. We seemed to have just enough to get by and save and be debt-free. We rarely discarded anything, I remember, partly because we didn’t seem to have much to discard, and partly because we could surely ‘use it in future’. Now in the age of consumerism, it is  “hoarding”, and there was an urgent need to unlearn.

That point on space & time graph:

I believe that there are trying times in all our lives that sweep us off our feet and we question everything that we have – people, relationships, things. Looking around in this moment of powerful contemplation and finding meaningless “stuff” about us, we just might have the ‘and-why-do-I-have-all-this-cr@p-anyway’ moment. I did, over a year ago when, quite serendipitously, I found this book. Because it resonated with me so much, I strongly wanted spread the word. It answered for me questions like “how do I create my Happy Place?” literally,  or “how to be happy”.

Fight Club, Minimalism, Quote. We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like. Things you own end up owning you.The book:

With systematic steps to declutter your home, what she calls the Kon-Mari method (from her last and first names), the author writes passionately and in an honest voice. Her principle is to surround oneself with things that spark joy, and discard the rest (as much as possible). She goes a few steps further in asking readers to touch everything and see if you feel good about it, to their express gratitude for their service  (something she is ridiculed for). No wonder this book seems to be a hit or a miss. Yes- there is repetition, and yes-there are suggestions that might seem beyond you. But do not take it literally, if you so disagree; take it with a grain of salt so as to not miss the important underlying principle.

Minimalism

MinimalismBeing idealistic and passionate, I aspire to the ideal of minimalism. In principle, one doesn’t need to have what one doesn’t need to have. More and more, I look for meaning in things and people and relationships- quality, more than quantity. Have less things, but good ones that serve your purpose that you feel happy about. Don’t let the things you own, own you.
Minimalism is not as much about figuring and discarding what you don’t want as it is about diving deep within to find what you really do. Gnothi seauton: Know thyself. Quite simple. And very difficult. When you let go of things, I think, you practice “letting go” in general, a very handy virtue. When I  give up/away things with-out, it frees up energy that sort of comes back to me within. This is highly empowering. Pointing to this truth is the beauty and the value of this book.

In defense of the book:

What is an ideal? Some thing that is perfect- a highest attainable degree of excellence. Are  or can humans be ideal? No-not generally. So, do we need ideals? Yes, absolutely. Because we need something to aim for. Something to go by. I wonder if religion had a similar purpose with its tenets- all point to some basic ideals (and ideally keep out of trouble with the Church and one another- but that is a whole ‘nother complex topic). A particular example that I grew up knowing is of Sri Ram in Indian mythology, called maryada purushottam, the ideal man; though no one could be all like him, the society has Him as the model to aspire to.img_0096

While The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up contains tactical steps and a method to tidying up your stuff, the book is not really about things; it is actually about the ideal of living very consciously and having your home/space as an expression and extension of it… with the things that spark joy. Now what a beautiful, inspiring and life-changing idea that is!

Further Reading: The Minimalists, Becoming Minimalist, Best resources

 Goodreads review.

Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith Book ReviewThis book gave me a lot of trouble because I was quite moved by it and so, very much wanted to talk about it, but feared just might spoil it (you will know why*). None of the approaches I took felt right, yet  I could not abandon it. Ergo, this is a simple account of a few themes that ran through the compelling memoir of the poet, singer-songwriter and rock ‘n roll artist, Patti Smith.

Nostalgia. Barely twenty, penniless and unsure, but not without an intense desire to become an artist, Smith steps into New York City, then a petri dish for the counterculture of the 1960’s, with widespread use of recreational drugs, free sexual expression & exploration, psychedelic music, and the Beat generation giving way to the hippie culture. Once past my initial shock over their avant-garde lifestyle (credited entirely to the author’s honest and sober narration), I pictured those times in curious wonderment: the nobodies with the potential to be trailblazers; the weirdos, the drug addicts, the experimentalist; the searchers, the idealists, the artists… Those must have been interesting times!

Patti Smith. Cover of Album 'Horses'
P. Smith. Album cover ‘Horses’. By Robert.

The Chelsea Hotel, where, in a peculiar turn of events, Smith and her friend Robert start living. Known to be a haven for writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and colorful personalities, famous and yet to be famous, one could trade art could for the room-rent. “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in The Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe“, she writes. At this point in the book there are several names mentioned, some known to me, others unknown: Andy WarholJimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Allen Ginsberg and the other Beats,  and a multitude of others that I googled as I encountered, only to get woefully intrigued by their life-stories. Some made it, the rest succumbed to drugs or AIDS, and never lived to see the times they were ahead of.

Patti Smith Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti and Robert

Patti and Robert. What will stay with me is the tender friendship Patti Smith shared with her lover for a while, and best friend forever, Robert Mapplethorpe. It is a beautiful thing to see how they really understood one another, not only as friends but also as artists. “Nobody sees as we do, Patti” Robert would say, and “whenever he said things like that, for a magical space of time, it was if we were the only two people in the world.

Their relationship went through various definitions, but belonged to none. “We were evolving with different needs. I needed to explore beyond myself and Robert needed to search within himself.” With time Robert would discover and accept his homosexuality, and go on to become a famous (albeit controversial) photographer. Smith, a sketch artist and a poet, would finally find her niche and become a musician and the leader of her band ‘The Patti Smith Group’, and start a new life with her husband, Fred. Notwithstanding that, both of them would remain as close friends as they always were.

The last part was heart wrenching and yet there was a sense of innate beauty in its naked truth. Robert gets diagnosed with AIDS. For Patti (and for the reader who is now so invested in their lives), the idea of losing him is extremely unsettling. On his deathbed he wishes that she write their story.

Just Kids is Patti’s a fascinating and poignant tribute to their friendship. *There was something quietly private she tore apart and put out there for the world to read, and it feels like sacrilege to “review” it; one can just relate and respect and carry it in one’s heart. Of course, there is more to the book: Patti’s love for poetry and for poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, their times of struggle, their friends and their interesting journey in interesting times. It deserved 5 stars on my Goodreads.

I loved this excerpt from the epilogue ‘A note to the reader’ by the author:

“…There could be many stories I could yet write about Robert, about us. But his is the story I have told you. It is the one he wished me to tell and I have kept my promise. We were Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was the splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together. only Robert and I could tell it. Our story, as he called it. And having gone he left the task to me to tell it to you.

Poem by Smith for Robert- who had the greenest of eyes- for his Memorial:

 Little emerald bird
Wants to fly away
If I cup my hand
Could I make him stay?

Little emerald soul
Little emerald eye
Little emerald soul
Must you say goodbye?

All the things that we pursue
All that we dream
Are composed as nature knew
In a feather green

Little emerald bird
As you light afar
It is true I heard
God is where you are