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January's Book: Present Over Perfect

It’s February, how did that even happen? I have several goals for 2020 and one of them is a continuation of a goal I had in 2019; I want to read a minimum of one book a month this year. I didn’t have this blog until the fall of 2019, so I didn’t get a chance to write about each book as I read it. If you’d like to see the books I read in 2019, I do have a blog post about it and you can find that here. It’s a very brief overview of each book. For this year, I would like to review the books closer to the time that I have finished reading them.

The book that I have just read for this month was Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I did a quick google search after reading the book to understand who the author is. She is a wife and mother of two boys, she is a New York Times bestselling author of several books, and she has a podcast, is a speaker and was on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday’s. She is a Christian, who admits she strayed from her faith in college and found her way back to God through reading about other peoples’ journeys.

I honestly cannot remember where I heard of this book, but I added it to my Amazon wish list and decided to start the year off with it and I’m so glad I did. The book is a series of essays about being more present in your life. The cover describes the book as “Leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living”. Yes please, sign me up! I truly loved Niequist’s writing style and felt so draw in by her vivid storytelling.

The author describes herself as an extrovert. I too am a very extroverted person so I felt a connection to her right away. In being an extrovert I often find it difficult to be alone, I crave people being around me and if I’m home alone (which thankfully now as a mother I’m almost never alone!) I often pick up the phone to call someone to fill the void. I don’t like silence. In one paragraph Niequist states “I feel sometimes like the last extrovert on earth, the last girl on the dance floor, the last person to finally own up to the fact that true silence can’t be avoided if you want to be a truly connected spiritual person. I’ve basically spent all my life avoiding true silence.” I felt that she was describing me exactly. It was a reminder to carve out some time for my meditation practice and to lean into more silence, in my environment and in my own head.

Our world has become so fast paced and it seems to me just so cut throat. You need to be hustling and if you aren’t hustling you are failing in some way. We are all striving for perfection, and with the world of social media perfection seems to be the absolute end goal. Niequist addresses this very feeling in one of her essays in the book, “Let’s talk for a minute about perfect: perfect has become as near a dirty word to me as hustle, prove, earn, compete, and push. Perfect is brittle and unyielding, plastic, distant, more image than flesh. Perfect calls to mind stiffness, silicone, an aggressive and unimaginative relentlessness. Perfect and the hunt for it will ruin our lives – that’s for certain.” I couldn’t agree more with her on this topic.

I don’t want to give the entire book away in this blog post as I really want you to read it! I will share two of my favourite essays in the entire book. The first one is entitled “Must Be Nice” and it is all about jealousy. If you are a human you have experienced the emotion of jealousy. No one likes to admit it, but you know that you have felt jealous, I know I have! She writes “It seems to me like most of us were taught that jealousy is bad, and so when we feel it, we should push it away from ourselves as quickly as possible, get rid of it fast. But I’m learning that envy can be an extremely useful tool to demonstrate our desires, especially the ones we haven’t yet allowed ourselves to feel, and so I committed to learning from my jealously…” What a truly beautiful idea, to actually take the emotion of jealously, dissect it and learn from it. I have felt jealousy in the past and thought exactly the words she had written “must be nice”. I’m slowly learning to really dissect my own thoughts and feelings. My second thought after my snarky “must be nice” was that you know what, it truly was nice for them and why was I being such a jerk. I put myself in check and remembered that just because they have this experience doesn’t mean that I can’t. If someone else is winning in life it doesn’t mean you are losing. What are you jealous about really? If you look closely is it something that is lacking in your own life? If so, can you do something to change it? I really loved this essay in the book as it really got me thinking about my own emotions and how to deal with them in a healthier more positive way.

The final essay that I want to share was entitled “Your Mess is Mine”. This one really hit home. One of my best friends is going through an unimaginable loss. It’s not my story to tell so I won’t share the details, but her pain is unimaginable and I feel her pain so deeply that it catches me off guard. I’ll be in the grocery store and I think of her and her loss and tears fill my eyes immediately and my heart feels like it’s literally breaking inside my chest. Her pain is mine and I carry it with me. This essay is about friendship and how true meaningful friendships are so deep that we carry each other’s heartaches. She describes a friend who is dealing with an alcoholic father who will be attending her child’s birthday and how she is embarrassed by it. She describes how she knows her friend and her family and its secrets so well; there is no judgment just solidarity. She details what others might see when they look at her group of friends. “This little tribe may look squeaky clean, maybe like the kind of people who have no problems, like the kind of people who’ve only ever been swimming in the shallow end. But no one only lives in the shallow end. Life upends us all, and there’s no sparkly exterior that can defend against disease and loss and cheating spouses. We carry depression and wounds and broken marriages. We carry addictions and diseases and scars and loss of faith. We carry it because that’s what love is. That’s what friendship is.” That might be the most beautiful description of a friendship I’ve ever read.

I would normally not gravitate to this style of book, a series of essays, each chapter a standalone thought or story. I am usually pulled towards self-help books with step by step plans on how to make your life better. However this book allowed me to really think about each topic she covered. That’s the best way to describe this book, thought provoking. If you can’t already tell by this long review, I loved this book and it was a great way to start my year.

Find more information about the author here.

Purchase her book here.

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