Talent Is Universal, But Opportunity Is Not

This is a repost of an article I wrote for Guinea Pigging Green

A Path Appears >> Life In Limbo

I just finished reading A Path Appears by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof. Their book is a smart, well-researched guide to some of the major problems the world faces in terms of issues like health, education and violence, as well as how we can best help others both with our money and our time. I’m still processing everything I learned from it, but I recommend it highly.

The book is really making me think about how I can help more effectively both financially and in person. It’s also enlightening me about what the problems really are, and the sometimes-surprising best ways to help others. Long story short: it’s rocking my world and I’ve gotten so many new ideas about how to help more going forward.

One quote that stood out to me was: “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” Hope is not, either. Safety is not. Justice is not.

It’s really hard to learn about how some of the most preventable or cheaply curable health conditions keep so many children out of school because they can’t afford the treatment. It’s hard to read about fathers drinking away two thirds of their family’s income while their children starve or can’t afford to go to school. It’s hard to learn about all the horrifying trafficking that occurs worldwide and even at home.

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But this quote reminds me of the humanity, passion and skills that exist worldwide. People don’t only need our money, they also need hope and jobs and more opportunities to learn and grow and develop to their full potential.

I think sometimes we in developed countries have this misconception that our individual success is a product of our work ethic and talent and drive to succeed. And while that’s partially true, it’s important to recognize just how much of our success in life is a product of where we were lucky enough to be born. We should never assume that people who did not have the same luck are stupider or less talented or less hard-working just because they may seem less “successful” by our standards.

I don’t know yet what the best way to help is and I’m thinking about it a lot. But more and more lately I’ve been feeling a pull to give where and what I can, and this book is making the path towards that goal a bit clearer. It’s actually so inspiring and exciting! As I continue to think about these ideas, I want to keep this quote in the front of my mind: the idea that the most important thing we can do is spread and create opportunities for talented, capable people worldwide to spread their own wings.

You can see a great interview with the authors on MarieTV here. You can get this amazing book here.

Book Club | November + December

Book Club November and December >> Life In Limbo

And setting new goals and thinking about the year ahead at this time of year, as well as looking back on the one that’s ended. I’ll be bringing a lot of that to the blog over the next couple weeks. For now though, here are my last 4 favourite books of the 75 (!) I managed to read this year.

Not That Kind of GirlI love Lena Dunham and her work on Girls, but I’ve never read anything she’s written until this book. I wasn’t familiar with the (silly) controversy surrounding the book which I’ll not link to here due to its silliness, and I’m glad that didn’t affect my reading of it whatsoever. I thought the essays were very well-written, relatable, funny sometimes, poignant others. One paragraph she wrote about her relationship with her boyfriend still haunts me in the very best possible way.

The Slight Edge / Yes! The major idea of this book is that by doing small actions every single day, you can build up significant results as long as you stick with it. It’s a simple idea but I’ve noticed the truth of it in my own life every time I think I’ll be able to continue doing a small habit for a long time and it ends up falling away. I love this idea of doing something small every day, or most days, and not breaking the chain.

The Happiness AdvantageHappiness is good for you! I knew that, but this book was a great reminder. The book is written by a happiness scientist and there’s a lot of awesome research packed into a not-very-long book. After reading, I finally started keeping a gratitude journal and it’s been one of my very favourite new habits.

Essays in LoveThis book was recommended to me by a new friend as one of her favourite books. It chronicles the story of one couple from their first meeting to their breakup. It’s so completely spot on in so many parts and so many things he wrote about were completely recognizable. It tackles the concept of love from a philosophical perspective, bringing in ideas you wouldn’t normally associate with falling in love, but it’s done in a really fascinating way. Note: for some reason, this book has two titles.

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So, those are the last four of my favourite books read in 2014. I probably won’t write a roundup of my favourites of the favourites (I imagine that would be a bit redundant) but you can see all the ones I loved this year right here.

As always, you can see all the books I’ve read and plan to read on GoodReads. Also, if you have any great book recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below.

You can also see my favourite books of 2013 here.

Here’s to 2015 being as good of a year for reading (and life!) as 2014 was!

How I’m Giving More Meaningful Gifts This Holiday Season

How to Give More Meaningful Gifts This Holiday Season >> Life In Limbo

This is my first Christmas away from home, which has helped me to get a little creative with gift-giving. I can’t just go to the mall and then wrap something up – I have to think about shipping and timing more than I’ve ever had to before. It’s a good thing though, as I’ve had to think more intentionally about what I want to give people this holiday season and what is important to me. I realized that when I am faced with getting a great gift for someone, there are two major ideas I tend to turn to:

1. Give an experience:

Happiness research backs me up on this – spending money on experiences rather than things offers the most return on your dollar investment in terms of enjoyment. These days it’s getting harder to buy someone an interesting thing, especially since most people buy themselves the things they want or are trying to get rid of their extraneous belongings. Gifting an activity is a wonderful way to sidestep all those concerns while still showing your care and thought for the person you’re giving to.

Some experiences that are fun to give (and receive!): tickets to a concert, play, or sports game, vouchers for the spa or an interesting fitness class, a gift certificate for a cooking class or workshop, or a night out at a nice restaurant. If price is a concern, look for local events happening in your community through smaller theatres, restaurants and other small businesses and you’ll be more likely to find something in your price range.

2. Give a book: 

Books are the best of both worlds – they’re a physical object, yes, but they also offer the reader a whole experience, perspective, and set of new ideas. Books are my favourite type of thing to both give because you’re able to be so thoughtful and generous while spending as much or as little as you can afford. I believe that a book that meant a lot to someone is one of the more special presents you could ever receive. Plus, the gift-giver will usually write a personal message on the inside flap, and how great is it to grow a personalized library!?

Some books I would give this year:

Non-fiction: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, Thrive by Ariana Huffington, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Adulting by Kelly Brown Williams, The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun, Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott.

Fiction: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Note: I have read and would personally recommend all of the above books. They are all among my favourites of the books that I read this year. You can see all my favourite books and recommendations right here.

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This week on the podcast, Laura and I are discussing giving great gifts. We touch on the two themes I’ve just mentioned, but also talk a lot more about where to turn if the occasion calls for a special object (spoiler: it’s Etsy!). We also have a conversation about ways we can give back at this time of year to charities and organizations in our communities and worldwide. In my humble opinion, it’s a great episode and I’m proud to share it with you. Have a listen on our blog or by subscribing to the show on iTunes.

What are your favourite things to give as gifts? What will you be buying for those on your list this year? 

Book Club | September + October

My Favourite Books of September + October >> Life In Limbo

I’m only 3 books behind on my 2014 reading goal for the year! With just over two months to go, I think I might actually make it. I’ve been reading some really great books lately but these ones are my stand-out favourites.

School of Essential IngredientsThis one was meant to be. It was recommended by one of my favourite authors but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then, an English bookstore near me was having a closing sale and I ended up finding this one tucked away on an upper shelf. I absolutely loved it. The book tells the stories of different people who come together for a cooking class and it was lovely to read. I’m a sucker for food descriptions and stories that stick in your head and this book had plenty of both.

The Rosie ProjectI whipped through this book so fast, because it was funny and so well done. The protagonist is very socially awkward (it’s hinted he is probably on the autism spectrum) – which is not in itself funny, but he is also smart and fascinating and completely hilarious. The way it’s written is wonderful, because the character is your classic unreliable narrator so you’re realizing things when he isn’t, which is both fun and funny. It’s a love story, and you are rooting for him every single step of the way. The premise is that he makes an elaborate questionnaire to find himself the perfect wife, and then Rosie happens.

Bridges of Madison CountyGah. This is a perfect little novella. It’s a beautiful love story that I cried while reading, what more is there to say? The friend who recommended it to me said that some people don’t like this book, but I can’t see how. It’s so beautifully written and based on a true story (I can’t decide if that makes it better or worse, emotionally).

Help Thanks WowAnother short book but packed full of wisdom. The idea is that help, thanks and wow are the only three prayers you need. The book is not overly religious despite the word prayer – but it has this kind of down-to-earth, realistic spirituality that I really resonated with. Anne Lamott is a wonderful writer and it shows through here as well. She just elaborates on each prayer one at a time and ends with amen – it’s simple, accessible, easy, powerful.

This Is The Story of a Happy MarriageI listened to this as an audiobook and it was not what I had been expecting but I loved it. I really like Ann Patchett as both a writer and a person and it was fascinating to get to know her more through her personal essays (narrated by the author herself!). I cried at the one about her grandmother and found inspiration in the ones about her writing and marriage and travels and friendships.

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesThis book was recommended by Parnassus Books (the bookstore owned by Ann Patchett, see above!) by Patchett herself, with the caption:“This will be the All Nashville Reads book for 2014, and my best book of 2013.  Don’t talk about it, don’t read the reviews, just read the book.  It’s brilliant.”  I second that. Don’t read the reviews or the back of the book, just start reading it without knowing anything about it. I did, and it was so awesome to start figuring things out on my own. It’s so touching and well-written and it’s also such a page turner, I couldn’t put it down.

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The last two months were so awesome for reading. I started listening to more audiobooks which has been such a happy decision for me. It means I can do twice as much reading and digest twice as many ideas! (Yes, I know I’m obsessed.)

As always, you can see all the books I’ve read and plan to read on GoodReads. Also, if you have any great book recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below.

You can see my favourite books so far this year here, and my favourite books of 2013 here.