So you need a little encouragement?  I don’t blame you.  I do too.  Often.  And Pepper is sometimes busy chasing squirrels.  

I’ve recently had 3 self-help/motivational books land in my lap, and I’d love to share them with you!


Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now, by Gordon Livingston

I came across this small book in a beach bookstore over the holidays.  Published in 2004, it is obviously not new.  I love it when a wonderful little book like this continues to live and breathe and occupy good display space despite the fact that it’s not the newest thing out there.  Its 30 short chapters have pithy titles like:

If the map doesn’t agree with the ground, the map is wrong.

We are what we do.

Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.

The problems of the elderly are frequently serious but seldom interesting.

Only bad things happen quickly.

Not all who wander are lost.

It’s a poor idea to lie to oneself.

Nobody likes to be told what to do.

Parents have a limited ability to shape children’s behavior, except for the worse.

Livingston brings generous and also bracing content to these chapters of “common wisdom.”  Perhaps it’s the life experiences that inform his thinking.  Livingston served in the 82nd Airborne division of the U.S. Army and was awarded the bronze star for valor in Vietnam, though this book doesn’t dwell on his experiences in the military.  Similarly, Livingston lost two children over the course of thirteen months: an older son to suicide and a younger son to leukemia.  This isn’t any big secret, but he doesn’t mention it until chapter 22.  This book isn’t a grief recovery manual.

This small book is, as the title promises, his distilled wisdom from his life’s journey.  I couldn’t quit underlining and might try to memorize it.  I’ve sent it to my dear young friend who just had a baby; to a vibrant mother who is struggling with her teenagers; to a hardworking friend who keeps depression at bay, just barely; and to my very wise parents, who are in their late 70s and are used to receiving my top picks.

I read an entire chapter aloud to my husband over the phone because I couldn’t wait until he got home that night.  A few selected passages from that chapter (“Nobody likes to be told what to do”):

Another way to view the conflicts that arise between parents and children is that they are skirmishes in a long-term power struggle based on the faulty assumption that the primary task of parenthood is to shape the behavior of children through incessant instruction enhanced by the application of rules and punishments.  While this approach sometimes works, more often it produces oppositional children who grow into oppositional adults…

The primary goal of parenting, beyond keeping our children safe and loved, is to convey to them a sense that it is possible to be happy in an uncertain world, to give them hope.  We do this, of course, by example more than by anything we say to them.  If we can demonstrate in our own lives qualities of commitment, determination, and optimism, then we have done our job and can use our books of child-rearing advice for doorstops or fireplace fuel.

This book isn’t just for parents.  I’d say it’s a good book for humans.


Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us the Way, by Hoda Kotb with Jane Lorenzini

Maybe you’ve seen Hoda Kotb on the Today show or in her role as a Dateline NBC correspondent.  (Embarrassing:  I can’t say that I have.  If I’m watching TV, it’s Netflix.)  In Where We Belong, Kotb and Lorenzini explore “the challenging journeys of people who found their true calling in life.”

I really like the premise of this book.  “Maybe you did it today,” it begins.  “You asked yourself:  What the hell am I doing in this job… in this relationship… in this city?”  Kotb and Lorenzini report back on what they found in the lives of people who figured out how to get to a place of “peace and fulfillment.”   

Their stories are told in a very straightforward, no-nonsense, journalistic fashion.  It’s reporting from the front lines of daily lives.  For instance…

Michelle Hauser grew up in a blue collar town, in a blue collar life.  Going to college was never guaranteed.  After a great deal of adversity and a winding path, she was admitted to Harvard University Medical School.  Michelle’s incredible determination and resilience have led to incredible opportunities.  (Those things often do go hand in hand, of course.)

Craig and Kathi Juntunen had middle class backgrounds but more than middle class careers.  They retired at the ages of 40 and 43 with enough money never to work again.  They did not have children, nor did they plan to.  A few years after retirement, they ended up adopting 3 children from Haiti and doing a tremendous amount of work both nationally and internationally to improve the process of international adoption.  Their lives are impressive in every way.  They are possibly perfect, and despite that problem, this chapter is moving and inspiring.

Neshama Abraham and Zev Paiss have by far the strangest journey in this book.  Neshama was born into wealth but felt very lonely as a child.  She met and married Zev, and they committed to an alternative living arrangement known as “cohousing” which sounds like a cross between a gated community and a hippie commune.  No group sex is involved.  They weren’t terribly careful with money, and Neshama spent all of her inheritance.  They now live on a strict budget but feel that their daughters are learning important lessons about how to manage money.  “Despite the monetary loss, Neshama says she has gained infinitely more in her fifty-four years.  She has nurtured a solid relationship with her daughters, transitioned to a fulfilling professional life, and loves and respects even more the man who caught her eye from across the dance floor.”  (Wow!  That is a truly impressive attitude.)

Echoing throughout this book is the importance of hard work to the promised peace and fulfillment.  It’s on almost every page.  Where We Belong might be a good gift for a high school or college grad in May or it might be a good gift to yourself right now, depending on how you like your encouragement served up.

Hoda Kotb will be speaking at the downtown public library in Nashville as part of the Salon@615 series on January 31st.  Click here for more information and a free ticket!

(Thank you so much, Holly Conner, for putting a copy of this book in my hands!)


Above the Chatter, Our Words Matter: Powerful Words that Changed My Life Forever, by Bruce Pulver

Finally, a friend recently recommended a book I can best describe as energetically encouraging!  (Thank you, Matt Berman!)  It is a compendium of 400 days worth of acronyms, grouped into chapters such as “Positive Affirmation: Gets the Doubt Out,” “Get Real:  Aspire, Perspire, and Acquire,” and “Uncontrollable Circumstances: Control Ourselves.”

Here are just a few examples:


S  tay true to your heart

T  alk positively to yourself

E  xpress yourself confidently

A  ppreciate your pace

D  eal with things calmly, and

Y  ou’ll be just fine



P  ush the pause button

A  ccept that time is your friend

T  ake a break

I  nhale deeply, deeper

E  xhale long and slowly

N  ow refoucs

C  alm the mind

E  xpect the best with no time limit



S  tand

T  all

R  emain

O  ptimistic

N  ow

G o for it

You’ll know if this book is for for you.  You either like this kind of wordplay and positive self-talk or it makes you crazy!  It’s pretty much the opposite of a recent New York Times Magazine cover story entitled “The Happiness Code,” by Jennifer Kahn.


“Think Positive only when it’s warranted by the facts.”

I can see a coach using these acronyms in the locker room.  I can see them on a blackboard (or a whiteboard) in the classroom.  I can see a mother putting them on notecards and taping them up on the fridge or slipping them in kids’ lunch boxes.  I might be able to see them in an office except that I haven’t worked in an office for so long I’m not sure where they would go.  Pulver wrote the book when he was going through a challenging stretch in his life, and he credits coming up with these daily encouragements an important part of keeping mentally healthy while things settled back down.

I love Pulver’s motivation for writing this book, as expressed in his Dedication.  “Words are powerful!  The messages in this book and the daily inspiration I received from writing and working to live by them have ABSOLUTELY changed my life.  With the support from my wife, Brigette, and daughters, Payton and Emily, I wrote this book to help others focus and commit to using positive words and thoughts when talking to ourselves and with others.”

As he remarks in the introduction, “Above all the crazy chatter in our lives, the words we choose to speak to ourselves and out loud really do matter.”  I completely agree with you, Bruce.  They do.  The words we choose to speak to ourselves… also the words we choose to read.

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