For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘self-help

outliersOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, 2008, 309 pp.

Like Gladwell’s other books, Blink and The Tipping Point, Outliers is a phenomenological analysis of a particular human experience. In The Tipping Point, it was the phenomena of sudden shifts in public opinion, popularity, and perception. In Blink, it was human ability to make accurate, instant decisions. Outliers looks at the phenomena of genius and success. What makes some individuals excel so far beyond the rest of their communities? What is unique about their individual selves or their communities that allows them such great success?

Outliers, again like Gladwell’s other books, has been wildly successful, and the ideas it contains well-circulated in the few years since the book was published.  It has gained a wide audience among anxious and ambitious parents in the upper-middle class. Parents at my son’s preschool discussed the advantage of being born in January, and whether they should wait to start their children in elementary school to give them an advantage—all based on Gladwell’s chapter on the Matthew effect, looking at the impact of birth month on Canadian hockey players. A mom started her child’s violin lessons at age 3, based on Gladwell’s chapter on the 10,000 hour rule, in which expertise requires 10,000 hours of practice. The sooner you reach those hours, the more ready you are to seize an opportunity for your expertise to shine. Gladwell’s analysis of Christopher Langan has been seen as a cautionary tale for parents of young gifted children about the importance of parents in pushing them into success. Langan has an enormous IQ and little to show for it, compared to stars with lesser IQ. Gladwell argues that his lack of social and familial support have made it difficult for him to make use of the gift of his intellect.

What I had not heard other people discuss are the later chapters, which explore the complex confluence of luck, cultural wisdom (or cultural blindness), natural ability, practice and grit that combine to make someone an outlier. His chapters on airline pilots’ communication styles, the cultivation of rice paddies and math skills, the success of Jewish lawyers and violence in Harlan, Kentucky point to things that are beyond our control—wider webs of social, linguistic and cultural patterns that shape us to be successful in some ways and not in others. These are the things that we cannot control, or at least not easily. These are the things that over-anxious, over-ambitious parents do not like to discuss.

Gladwell’s book shows that success in this life has no single cause. It is a coming together of luck, preparation, hard work, grit, social and cultural wisdom, and timing. Are there things we can do to be more successful or help our children be more successful? Of course. Can we create stunningly successful outliers? No–unless we happen to be at the right place at the right time.

I find Gladwell interesting, insightful and entertaining, and I recommend him to you in that spirit. If you are looking for self-help, parenting advice or secrets of the universe, look elsewhere.

Appetites: On the Search for True Nourishment by Geneen Roth, Dutton Books, 1996.

This post feels like an act of courage.

I’ve never talked or written openly about my struggles with eating. I don’t usually read self-help books, or anything that could be found on those shelves in the bookstore. I ardently refuse to consider any materials on dieting, and I loathe the culture of thinness that prizes an impossibly unhealthy body type for women.

But the truth is that I don’t have a good relationship with food, and I am trying to work on that relationship, for the sake of my physical and mental health. And this book doesn’t talk about how to get thin, or why we should want to eat healthy food, or an eight-step program to a better you, or BMI or exercise or clothing size or body image or even addiction. If it had, I probably would not have continued reading it.

This book talks about exactly what I am working on—a relationship with food, which is about a relationship with ourselves and with our bodies. Geneen Roth chronicles her own difficult relationship with food in a voice that is so raw and honest that it almost feels like you are reading someone’s well-written personal journal. Her brokenness and craziness and twisted thinking and self-doubt are right there, exposed to the light and thoughtfully captured in language. But so are the words of forgiveness and healing and rationality and sympathy and advocacy. They are right next to each other—brokenness paired with healing, good thinking intertwined with continued bad choices, reasonable perspective mingled with crazy old tapes full of negative self-talk.

Which is exactly my experience of my relationship with food. Ah, companionship! (Ironically, a word derived from sharing food—com, with; pan, bread; companion, one you break bread with.)

Roth’s raw honesty and good writing are the great gifts of this book. She captures my experience and that of so many other women, and somehow just seeing your thoughts and feelings reflected on the page, organized and articulated, helps sort through them and even let go of some of them.

The other great gift is Roth’s own brokenness. For me, my relationship with food cycles through good and bad. I keep thinking I have found healing, only to end up right back where I started in a bad place. Roth, in spite of having written bestselling books and held thousands of seminars, does the same thing. And she doesn’t just say, “Now, I still struggle sometimes,” and cover it over with slick presentations of the way forward—she takes us right with her to the crazy place that still lives on in spite of books, seminars and success.

There were particular moments of crazy—and accompanying insights of healing—that especially touched me, but I feel vulnerable enough already without exposing my particular crazies. I wish I could be as honest as Roth is. Daylight in itself is healing. But for now, I will continue my search for true nourishment with the gift of companionship, and a reminder that healing in relationships is not a once-and-for-all, one-and-done experience. Just like healing in relationships with people, finding healing in my relationship with food is an ongoing journey, fraught with obstacles and setbacks, yet still a journey well worth taking.

One small, crazy step at a time.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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