Untamed by Glennon Doyle

As a rule, I don’t read a lot of self-help books. Making changes in your life, your thought patterns, etc. is so personal a process that usually I don’t see how any given celebrity is qualified to give me advice. However, recently my therapist recommend I check out Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and I was hooked within the first two pages. I’m passing this recommendation along to you too, because I think this is a book that almost anyone can find something useful or inspiring in.

In Untamed, Glennon Doyle uses her own experiences to describe the way many people live without even realizing it: she realized that she was trying to be the person the world wanted her to be, instead of being true to herself. She unflinchingly breaks down the restrictive expectations, cultural conditioning, and institutional pressures that had driven her (and may be driving all of us) to numbing addictions, restlessness, and chronic dissatisfaction. She urges her readers to abandon the world’s expectations and build a life based on individual desire and imagination. She speaks especially to women, who typically are called by society to be quiet, selfless, efficient, grateful, and basically “good”, and who are run ragged striving to reach these goals. The book is both a memoir and a call to action: rather than trying to fit yourself into a box, reclaim your untamed self and be brave, creating the truer and more beautiful world you imagine for yourself.

I loved this book not only for the advice, which was powerful, but for Doyle’s honest telling of her story. It’s the story I love to read, fiction or non-fiction: our hero suffers through hardship and loneliness, then wrenches herself free and carves her own path (and it doesn’t hurt that she finds true love along the way). It’s also the message I love to hear (and strive to spread): no one should decide what your life looks like except you. Not your family, friends, religion, culture; no one is in charge but you. This is a powerful thing to hear in a time when more than ever we define ourselves by the groups we belong to and how well we fit in, measure up. Doyle is suggesting (and I think she’s probably right) that the freedom to be ourselves without apology and without shame is the best way we have to make a better world and a better life.

If you’re looking to check this book out, be prepared to re-read, to pause, and to take notes. With this book it’s important to take it slow and make sure you’re soaking it all in. But if you’re looking to be empowered, if you’re feeling stifled or lost or dissatisfied, I recommend you try this book for a thoughtful, eye-opening (and often funny) experience.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

The title of this amazing book, full of incredible stories about women overcoming obstacles, is taken from an old Chinese proverb: “Women hold up half the sky.”  The authors, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, received the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and I first saw their work featured on the Oprah show.  Their primary premise is that, “Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population … Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.”

Rather than tire the reader with boring statistics,  the authors wisely chose to illustrate their point by letting us “get to know” individual women.  Warning — the majority of these reports are very sad, even horrific at times, dealing with subjects such as sexual slavery, inequities in gender education, and maternal mortality.  However, each chapter is also followed by a success story, proving time and time again that one person can make a difference.

April 18-24 is National Volunteer Week; I can’t think of a better book to read for it than this.  Besides a plentitude of inspiration, the final chapter gives suggestions on “What You Can Do” with “Four Steps You Can Take in the next Ten Minutes.”  Step One?  Go to GlobalGiving or Kiva and open an account.