Review: How To Save Your Own Life by Michael Gates Gill

I’m a sucker for lists. “Best of” lists are big this time of year and I love looking at them, but I also enjoy any type of round up. Boil something down to a few essential elements and give me the bullet points! “5 Easy Ways to Get Organized” or “8 Steps to a Better Sex Life” on a magazine cover immediately gets my attention. So when How To Save Your Own Life, with the subtitle 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places, came up on tour over at TLC, I was all over it, even though it didn’t promise to get me organized or teach me how to be sexy(er). <— Those who know me can now stop laughing.

Author Michael Gates Gill writes about what it was like to go from being a high powered, highly paid advertising executive with a privileged lifestyle to a guy who lost everything later in life; the job he’d held for 25 years, his decades-long marriage, and his health. His world was in turmoil and seemed to be crashing down around his ears. Change was forced upon him yet that turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. At his lowest point, he walked into a Starbucks on a day they were recruiting new employees and met a young woman named Crystal who turned his life around by offering him a job (even though he wasn’t there looking for one); a job in which serving others is priority #1. He surprised himself by accepting the offer. Learning to serve others was pivotal in fundamentally changing who he was on the inside, and now he is a much better and happier human being for it.

This is a short little memoir-ish book (about 200 pages), yet it took me more than two weeks to read it. I kept it on my nightstand and read one “lesson” per day, savoring the lessons and ‘saving my life’ in bite sized chunks. Gill writes plainly and simply about his experiences and what he learned from them, and offers others ways in which they can apply these lessons to their own lives.

None of this is rocket science and I didn’t encounter any earth shattering new ideas or experience any Aha! moments. However.. this book came at a good time for me. Basic ideas like being grateful, simplifying and letting go of material things, unplugging (from cell phones, pda’s, watches, computers, etc.), laughing more, leaping with faith (rather than over-thinking everything), following your heart, etc. are things I’ve been giving quite a lot of thought to lately as I do my annual resolution making for the incoming year and reflection on the outgoing one.

Leaping with faith and not over-thinking is something I’ve always struggled with. I tend to over-analyze and worry things to death. However, leaping with faith was one of the best things I ever did when, in 2008, I asked someone I trust and consider a friend to start a business with me, even though we’d never actually met in person (we’ve since remedied that). Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first!) but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. I’m so glad I did.

This charming book full of inspiring thoughts and good reminders will have a permanent spot in my nightstand. I’ll take it out whenever I need a pick-me-up of positivity or a little nudge of courage because let’s face it, change can be scary. It can also be great.

Here are the rest of the stops on this TLC Book Tour:

Monday, January 4th: MidLifeBloggers

Tuesday, January 5th: Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker

Wednesday, January 6th: Books on the Brain

Thursday, January 7th: The Written World

Tuesday, January 12th: TexasRed’s Books

Wednesday, January 13th: It’s All A Matter of Perspective

Thursday, January 14th: A Novel Menagerie

Tuesday, January 19th: Confessions of a Book a Holic

Wednesday, January 20th: Thoughts of an Evil Overlord

Monday, January 25th: Silver and Grace

Tuesday, January 26th: Inventing My Life

Wednesday, January 27th: Write for a Reader

A big “Thank You” to Anne at Penguin for sending me this book to review.

Adventures of a Christmas H.O.

This isn't me. It's some other H.O.

I am generally an excellent H.O. (Holiday Organizer) but this year I got sidelined with the flu right after Thanksgiving and was sick for 10 days.  My lists and plans had to wait until I could breathe and cross a room without hacking up a lung.  Thankfully I’m fully recovered (well, mostly- still have a cough), so yesterday I tackled my lengthy Christmas list, hoping to get it all done in one day.

I left the house armed with coupons, discount cards, store ads, debit and credit cards, and a good attitude (most important!) and donning a Santa hat.  I had an organized list and knew exactly what I was getting for almost everyone.  What a H.O.!

First stop, the ATM for some cash.  Next stop, Starbucks for a venti peppermint mocha to get into the right mood.  Then onto Target for electronics.

Target has a GREAT deal on digital cameras right now, something both my kids have been coveting. I wanted to see them in person and make a decision between two of them.  I hoped to beat the crowds with my mid-week, mid-morning shopping trip.  I hadn’t figured on a 6 person-deep line and a frazzled young man behind the counter who continuously got distracted because he kept getting interrupted, answering questions and helping others without completing one transaction.  After this happened 3 or 4 times I was ready to just leave when the man ahead of me barked, “HEY!  There’s a line here!  I don’t care if you just have a ‘quick question’.. get your ass to the back of the line!”

Whoa.  The man had READ MY MIND!  I was impressed and took a sip of my mocha with a holiday smile on my face.

When it was finally my turn, I asked my question (“Why is this camera $30 more than that one?  They look identical.”)  His confused look and his nonsensical answer (“uhhhh, one is red and one is silver. I’m going to help this other guy while you decide.”) left me annoyed but still patient and chanting “It’s ok..I’m a H.O.  I can do this.” in my holiday brain.

After inspecting them more closely I realized the more expensive camera had 10 megapixels vs. 8 for the cheaper one.  I made up my mind about what to get, got the attention of the clerk again, asked for two of them, then waited several minutes while he rooted around looking for them only to find out that they were sold out.  That might have been nice to know right off the bat!  Could have saved everybody a lot of time!  Grrrrr.  I suggested that he put a sold out sign in the display to save the next person the same aggravation, and he give me a look I see quite often as the mother of two preteen girls.  Kind of condescending.. a look that says, “Whatever, lady..”

But the clerk was sweet enough to call another Target for me where they had 7 cameras left, so I took my time leaving the store, sipping my mocha and picking up other odds and ends (mini candy canes for the class party, stocking stuffers, batteries, laundry soap, wrapping paper, birthday cards for my daughter) then checked out.  It wasn’t until I was in my car  and making my way across town that I realized I hadn’t crossed one thing off my list, even though I’d spent 90 minutes in that store.  Dude!!  That was more than 25% of my ‘shopping alone’ time!

Feeling more panicky now and determined to stay focused, I pulled into the lot of Target #2, grabbed a cart, briefly considered stopping at the bathroom but after looking at my watch decided to keep going, put on blinders, and headed to the back of the store.  This electronics department was busier but better staffed, with three people working who actually seemed to know what they were doing.  I waited my turn, got the cameras, two cases, memory cards, and even allowed myself to get talked into extended warranties, all with a smile on my face because the clerk seemed to really know what she was talking about.  I liked her.  She was nice.  She liked my hat .  And she thought warranties were a good idea.  I never buy warranties, ever, but maybe I should.

And then I ran into my neighbor.  “Lisa, oh my gosh!  It’s been ages!  You look great!  How are you?” and this is where I made my fatal mistake, when  I said, “Hey!  I’m fine, HOW ARE YOU?” because then she proceeded to tell me.. and tell me.. and tell me..  Meanwhile, the mocha is hitting my bladder, hard.  A couple of times I said, “I should get going” and “I’m sure you have a lot to do” and “Oh, wow, look at the time” but finally I had to say, “I need to go, I really have to pee” and she laughed and said, “Ok” and then KEPT TALKING.  It’s difficult to interrupt a person who is spilling their guts about their impending divorce, so I crossed my legs and prayed, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me wet my pants.”  Finally I had to say, “I need to find a bathroom, now” and walked away as she was still talking.  Folks, I barely made it..  One more minute and I would have been standing in a puddle.

A quick stop for food, a (not too) quick stop at Borders, then suddenly it was time to pick up Kid #1 at school #1, then Kid #2 at school #2.  Then, after a flurry of phone calls back and forth with my sister for sizes and likes/dislikes of her son, we were off to the mall.  Shopping is much slower with kids in tow.  They are under the mistaken idea that we must look at everything they want for Christmas when we’re supposed to be shopping for other people.  And a trip to the mall wouldn’t be complete for them without a visit to the pet store.  So it all took forever, but we had fun, and I finally finished.

The most difficult gift selection of the day was for my best friend.  She always comes up with the perfect thing.  She never spends too much or too little.  It’s always something thoughtful and meaningful.  So the pressure is on..  I found a lovely Lennox holiday bowl that was regularly priced at $50.  It was on sale 40% off, then with my discount coupon it ended up with a final price of $18.  I was happy until I thought, what if she returns it?  She’ll know how little I spent!  She’ll think I don’t care about her as much as she does me!  Then I was thinking maybe it was too impersonal, maybe I should have gotten her a sweater or a bracelet or a fuzzy robe or.. I don’t know.. something BETTER.

My husband thinks I’m cracked.

ANYway!  Ho, ho, HO!  My shopping is done!  Except for my husband, who wants a weight bench and weights, because, “Honey, THIS is the year I’m getting in shape!”  Whatever, honey..

Are you the family H.O.?  How are you doing with your shopping?