This is me at 18. I had just graduated from high school. This summer “in-between” was spent at my dad’s workplace as a summer intern, crunching data sets in excel sheets and drawing trace lines around the heart beat peaks and valleys in the ultrasound machine. There was not a lot to do and I read in the in between, sitting at a desk under the long windows in the Hershey Medical Center crescent. I could see a long ways to the far hills that start the foothills of the Appalachia, blue and shimmery and faint. The picture though, is from our church summer camp for junior high students at the Jersey Shore. I was happy there, happy in the summer light and running around with younger students thinking about the big things and laughing till we cried and writing letters to my fellow counselors, my attempt to tell them how much I liked them even if I couldn’t always follow the easy pace of their interactions.
I didn’t know trauma at that point. My only losses were merely anticipated (and therefore imaginary) and never real. At the end of that summer, I’d hear for the first time that my world wasn’t perfect, that the people who built it had cracks in their foundations I’d spend the next four years watching them try to fix the way I tried to fix a cake that split in two when I iced it warm.
I could have used more help than I knew at the time. This year, ten years down the road from that year, my twenties running out, and I have some things to share with that vibrant, risk taking girl. The road from there to here has been glorious and rocky, gorgeous and tricky and there are some helpful ideas that could have made a difference.
So here are my top books from 2017 that I wish I’d had in 2007.
Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
I look at how I approached… well, everything, in my early twenties. I was trapped in anxiety about every micro decision. Feedback of any kind was torturous. It made me an A student but it didn’t make me a particularly healthy one. And now, ten years down the road, when all those As have faded in meaning, I wish I had this. I wish I’d had the idea that all that panicking and spiraling and freezing in the headlights and the heavy breathing was all a choice I made. It was based in the story I thought I was living where I had to control it all, where everything was a sign that I was going to cease to exist.
This book is about how to learn about yourself from others. And in that, how to have hard conversations. Actually, how to have any conversation ever. And how to see life as a process to grow through.
Top take away: The difficult stuff in our relationships is as much about how we talk and listen as it is about the content itself. Learning to have the bigger conversations in conflict is the stuff that happy lives are made of. Fact: I married the man that I worked alongside to learn how to have these conversations.
Ask Powerful Questions by Will Wise
I make my living asking questions and connecting the dots from the answers. I had no idea how little I knew about asking powerful questions.
The book changed the way I approached a dance weekend in DC. I took a breath and looked at every friend in the eyes and asked intentional questions about how they were and what life looked like for them. I had deeper, richer conversations in that dance weekend than most typically provide. I felt seen and I felt like I had seen them.
I’ve had good friendships in my 20s. But they could have been better. The ones that went sour could have had more understanding. And all of it came down to the art of conversation. It was about setting judgment aside (my lifelong lesson) and being.
Top take away: Set those intentions with clarity. Say them aloud. Go into conversations with a clearly communicated goal. It makes all the difference. At 18, everything will be easier if you learn this one thing.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
A month before our wedding, Robbie and I had a date night wandering the stalls at the Bellefonte Arts and Crafts fair. We drank some cider and then a cocktail at the local distillery. I knew that I’d had more than my share when I launched into an articulate diatribe on how a train whistle is the sound of America’s soul. We ended up back at home, cuddling in bed, and I somehow opted to read a letter from Cheryl Strayed’s book aloud to him. It was a response to a short, desperate letter from someone getting married in a few days but was angry and bitter. Why? Why would it be like this?
I read the letter aloud and was in ugly, heavy tears by the end. Suddenly, the prospect of a wedding seemed a beautiful, shining moment in the long story of a life. I would walk through that day, no matter how it went, and have stories for the rest of everything.
I wish I’d had a sense of how beautiful messy things are when I was 18. That relationships and friendships and loves and losses were the things that keep the world turning. The advice in these advice columns is the stuff of wisdom speaking from a high place.
Top take away: Life is messy. So damn messy. But it’s in the messy stuff that beauty happens. And no matter how messy it gets, this isn’t the end of the matter.
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle
“Love Warrior” is about the work of becoming brave to our own lives. It is about the things we lose and the choices we make and how, with grace, we come into our own lives for the first time after great pain.
I didn’t know at 18 that my parents were going to divorce. I didn’t know that the troubles that started that year (but were rooted in years of patterns prior) would undo the world I’d known. I didn’t know that my entire framework for God and the world would strain to the point of cracking down the middle of its foundation, leading me off to Bulgaria and then back through graduate school, into a marriage I’m still surprised to be in. This book would have helped me see the other side a little sooner. I probably would have read it as theologically “weak” at the time—not anymore. This kind of reckoning with the past and present is the stuff that God is made of.
Top take away: Maybe, just maybe, God loves us no matter what happened and how it happened and where it’s going. Maybe. Just maybe. [that maybe gives me more hope than all the “yeses” in the world]
What books do you wish you’d had when you were 18?