Practicing mindfulness – my main takeaway from Thrive

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (Photo courtesy of

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (Photo courtesy of

A few months ago, I wrote this piece, but never posted it. It felt so much more personal than a simple book review. I have been reconsidering it for the past few days, but was finally pushed to publish it after reading a somewhat thematically related blog post by Wil Wheaton.

So, here is my (slightly revised) reaction to Thrive: 

Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder is about burnout, happiness, and balance; it’s about health, redefining success, and working toward mindfulness.

It fit well with my mentality this summer. My three goals for this summer have been: patience, positivity, and productivity (listed from most difficult to easiest for me).

It’s been a struggle getting through this book, but I have enjoyed it immensely – particularly the conversational tone. The concentrated guidance toward mindfulness resonated strongly with me. At many points I wished I could have read this at the beginning of college. I spent a good portion of those four years rather unhappy. My strongest motivator for seeking this new approach to living is the realization I had the end of college that I couldn’t continue living in a way that sacrifices my happiness. It sounds like a common sense statement that shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it was for me, but living in a way that prioritized genuine happiness didn’t feel natural to me.

Some practices such as yoga proved to have a positive impact on my mental health during my college years, and I have tried to hold on to that feeling through at-home practice, while I attempt to sort out the next phase of my life.

While I was in the midst of reading Thrive, I found out that one of the mindfulness mentors I encountered during college was diagnosed with cancer. She is a young, seemingly healthy yogi, so I was shocked by her diagnosis. But it was a reminder about the unpredictability of life, and as she works through her treatments, I am working more to value my health while I have it.

In addition to trying to maintain a sleep more/eat better/work out regularly lifestyle, I took myself off social media for the a week this summer, in an effort to practice the kind of mindfulness Huffington explores in this rather personal book. Even before reading Thrive, I was well aware that have serious trouble disconnecting. (I even caved and reconnected shortly shy of a week when the #GOPDebate and #JonVoyage were scheduled for the same night.)

If you know me personally, you likely know these social media cleanses aren’t out of character for me; however, this one was the first that was motivated by more than just a personal desire to go off the grid and live in semi-isolation for a few days. It was motivated by a desire to practice mindfulness with regard to every choice I make – even with Tweets or Facebook posts.

A few hours after I finished reading Thrive, I retrieved a package from the mailbox addressed to my sister. It was a Lokai bracelet. Unfortunately, I had been planning to buy her one for her upcoming birthday (fortunately, it means I know her well enough that she would have appreciated the gift). However, the size small was too tight on her wrist, so I bought it off of her and she has ordered a new one for herself. (Update: I have since broke my bracelet and I’ve been meaning to order another.)

The Lokai bracelets feature clear beads with one black and one white bead on either end. The white bead is filled with water from Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth; the black bead is filled with mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. It’s supposed to represent the universal human need for balance, and remind us that we all experience highs and lows in life.

I am grateful for this gift from the universe (and my child-sized wrists), as it will serve as a physical reminder to internalize and practice the lessons I took from Thrive. I highly recommend the book for everyone, but especially for young people focused on personal success and just beginning their careers. For me, while I like to believe it would have been nice to read it earlier, I think I found it at the perfect time.

P.S. I am immensely grateful for my friend Erin, who lent me her personal copy of Thrive, and has encouraged me to pass it along to someone else who may benefit from reading it.


What I have to say about The Unspeakable

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum (Photo courtesy of

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum (Photo courtesy of

Since I’m still jobless (Potential employers, if you’re reading this, here’s a link to my résumé. Please hire me.), I am back to blogging about books I’ve read for fun. One of the most miraculous post-grad discoveries I’ve made thus far is that unemployment and lack of homework allow me to read for pure enjoyment. It’s incredible. As a born-again bookworm, I have realized how vital leisurely reading is to maintaining a high level of happiness with my life.

I’ll admit it: the number one reason I picked up this book is that a reviewer compared her writing to that of Joan Didion. While I won’t go so far as to call Meghan Daum the next Didion, The Unspeakable is well written, honest and enjoyable. I laughed out loud; I related to the narrator. Reading it, I felt as if we were having a long conversation — a telltale sign of a good writer in my not-so-humble opinion. I found myself captivated by her tales of growing up and finding herself; making major life decisions, especially with regard to marriage and parenthood; and confessions such as not being a foodie, which resonated with me and my inability to achieve #domesticgoddess status despite a newfound love of The Food Network and HGTV.

Daum even made me briefly reconsider my instinctual rejection of Los Angeles, which is no small feat – just ask my LA-bound college friends. She also made me consider the acts of reading and writing memoirs, and on a broader scale, why we write.

In May, I wrapped up my final semester of college, during which I was enrolled in the most challenging course I have ever taken. It wasn’t that content was difficult, though making sense neo-Lacanians and higher ed pedagogy is not at all easy; it was emotionally challenging.

Around mid-March I asked to meet with the professor. I was struggling with the course; I dreaded each class meeting and watched the clock intently, silently counting down the minutes until 5:15 p.m. As someone who has always loved school, this was new to me. Even suffering through a semester of calculus in high school wasn’t as painful as the mid-semester class meetings for this course. Before my meeting with the professor, I bought a cup of coffee at the library. My nerves got the better of me and I spilled the coffee instead of drinking it. I was bursting with anxiety when we sat down in his small, cluttered office. He asked how I was – how my semester was going. It took me months to understand why I almost immediately started to cry.

His question – his concern for me – was genuine, which was shocking to me. I have found that when most people ask “How are you?” they don’t really mean it. They often don’t want to hear about your sickly relative or unemployment or money problems. They want to hear that you’re happy and healthy – that all is well. Somehow, real life has become too uncomfortable to talk about. That’s why my mother consistently reminds me not to discuss politics, sex or religion before we leave the house for holiday dinners with our extended family.

One of the key points of this professor’s course was to interrogate the question “Why do we write?” Based on Daum’s collection of essays, I suspect she writes to answer “How are you?” a bit more honestly than many of us are used to. Throughout the book she skips the small talk and invites the reader to take a look at her real story and taboo topics that we often avoid in day-to-day conversation. The course challenged me to do the same, and my dedication to doing so is a major reason why I enjoyed Daum’s writing so much. Telling her truth takes a lot of courage, but she does it well. She doesn’t leave things unsaid.

Next up: Tina Fey’s Bossypants and How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. In May I was in the midst of a feminist rampage and ended up on Amazon. I justified the purchases by reminding myself that there are much more reckless ways of dealing with my pro-woman rage and doing damage to my bank account than by adding to my already overflowing bookshelf.

Update: I finished Bossypants on my way to New York and loved it. Before I read Moran’s book, I’ve started Thrive by Arianna Huffington. Clearly I’m still in my memoirs-written-by-successful-women phase. I suspect I’ll need some fiction soon! 

Magical thinking & other lessons Didion taught me


Author Joan Didion. Photo from Goodreads profile.

The Year of Magical Thinking is not something I can fully put into words. Reading it is a truly humbling experience. It is more than just a book; it allows for a deep examination of the human mind in a troubled state.

One of the most marvelous abilities of Didion is that she forces the reader to strongly consider the shallowness of sanity (see p. 7). This book is a lesson in survival, but not the Boy Scout kind. It made my life flash before my eyes — past, present, and future. It forced me to be introspective. I laughed aloud at points, but also had to set the book aside to avoid tears. It is so human, almost too human, too real, but also too good to not read.

Her tale is deeply personal and reflective. I read the first couple chapters a few months ago, for a college course, and I was motivated to write about my own life because of it. A mark of a talented writer is the ability to inspire other writers. In that regard, I aspire to be like Joan Didion. It was a true test of my will that I was able to put the book on hold until I finished final exams.

Thematically, The Year of Magical Thinking explores loss, grief and mourning. I’d often seen the latter two as one in the same, but she writes, “Grief was passive. Grief happened. Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention” (p.143). She is writing to understand her own grief, and notes examples from literature, popular culture and religion that resonate with her, such as, “I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense. It comes from the frustration of so many impulses that had become habitual,” as C.S. Lewis wrote.

I found myself relating to her not only through her grief, but also through personality. She writes,

Why do you always have to be right.

Why do you always have to have the last word.

For once in your life just let it go (p. 141).

These questions are asked by others, but echo in her mind. They also stand as barriers to working through the loss of her husband. They made me consider what other barriers are built from this level of perfectionism — this need to constantly remain what she calls “a cool customer.”

In a moment of chaos, she writes,

“I wondered what an uncool customer would be allowed to do. Break down? Require sedation? Scream?” (p. 16).

Like Didion, I also write to discover my own thoughts. She asks, “Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?” (p. 162). For me, I’ve found the answer is often “yes.” She also writes, “I am a writer. Imagining what someone would say or do comes to me as naturally as breathing” (p. 196). It is so rare to find someone recognizing the conversations we all play out in our heads. But especially writers, those with wild imaginations, allow it to happen constantly. It’s a feeling I know well. One of the most incredible elements of this book is that she truly lays out her mind in paper and ink. She’s not capturing her thoughts to be controlling. In a way, it seems writing is one of the only ways she lets herself lose control; writing allows her to be free.

Didion also reminded me that even the littlest of details can stay with you forever:

“His eyes. His blue eyes. His imperfect blue eyes” (p. 40).

Didion: the top of my summer reading list


It’s a short read, but a must-read book!

I’m back!

After a brief hiatus and a four-month stint in Europe (more on that here) I have returned to blogging for the summer.

I spent the second half of my junior year back in Ithaca, working on various projects, which included the creation of yet another blog! This one focuses on activist and advocacy journalism. It started as a class project, but I have decided to keep it updated, so if you’re into that kind of media be sure to check it out here.

For a little teaser of what’s to come on this site, I have been reading a lot of Joan Didion — specifically, Fixed Ideas and The Year of Magical Thinking.

As I wrote about Fixed Ideas in my Goodreads (confession: one of my favorite websites) review:

This should be required reading in American public schools. Anyone looking to begin to understand 9/11, as well as American domestic and foreign policy, would benefit from reading this short piece.

Thanks to the publication of this piece, Didion was inducted into the “Blame American First” crowd, which included anyone (especially journalists, actors, musicians and politicians) who raised legitimate questions or points about why the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center actually happened. Fixed Ideas is brief, but it touches on many important issues in post-9/11 America.

As someone who was very young at the time of the attacks, it was fascinating to read her observations of the emotional climate of various cities across the U.S., in contrast to the atmosphere of New York City. What I love about Didion — or one of the many things, I should say — is her ability to come at something, anything, on every level. I will discuss that more when I am able to put together a full post about The Year Of Magical Thinking, which is turning out to be one of the best books I have ever read. It’s just taking some time to finish reading and work out what I want to say about it, because the book is intense.

For now, I am back to ‘spring’/summer cleaning. The weather in Ithaca is finally warm. We’re all taking bets on how long that will last.

What do Gossip Girl and Hunter S. Thompson have in common?

This book by Hunter S. Thompson is a must-read for all political junkies.

This book by Hunter S. Thompson is a must-read for all political junkies.

This week I accomplished two of my summer goals: I completed my first internship and I finally gained access to my own Netflix account. One of these goals will help me further my career; it was an incredibly rewarding, challenging, and inspiring experience. The other is seen by most as a major distractor—a challenge to my productivity.

However, my last week with Netflix has taught me more than I expected. Or rather, it has served as a major reminder. You see, my internship was with a magazine that promotes justice movements, analyzes cultural phenomena, and highlights labor rights violations, but my focus on journalism is a bit broader, and also includes diplomacy and other political matters.

This week, I have watched various movies, but also many episodes of two shows: House of Cards and Gossip Girl. The former is new to me, and a Netflix original; the latter is one of my guilty pleasure favorites, and I have seen every episode. While the two shows have different focuses, different settings, and were created for different audiences, there are some striking similarities.

Now we get to the ‘reminder’ part—the knowledge these shows have bestowed upon me. Both shows involve abnormal amounts of wealth, manipulation, and duplicity. Both have characters that are ultracompetitive and constantly make morally questionable decisions. All of this has served as a reminder that I am venturing into a dangerous, competitive, shady environment. As I cover politics, I will no doubt encounter these intentions, these games, and these people.

All of this was also captured in a book I recently read: Hunter S. Thompson’s Better Than Sex, in which HST gives his one-of-a-kind gonzo-style account of the 1992 election. It includes memos from George Stephanopoulos, former President Bill Clinton, and CNN’s Ed Turner. He credits the idea behind the title to his friend Missy. Writing about the phrase, he said,

“And I had fallen for it. But so what? I am of the romantic sensibility, as they say, and I am easily swayed in that direction, which is dangerous…” (p. 221).

The idea behind the claim is basically that to the master game-players, who are the best of the best in their arena, politics is better—more enticing, more thrilling, more rewarding—than even sex. Many of his comments about politics—particularly U.S. politics—are spot on, or at the very least, thought-provoking:

“Politics is the art of controlling your environment.” (p. 64)

“Nixon was genetically dishonest and so is Bush [Sr.]. They both represent what Bobby Kennedy called ‘the dark underbelly of the American dream.’ ” (p. 105)

“They are politicians, nothing more. The truth is not in them, and they like it that way.” (p. 127)

“All governors love pretty girls. It’s the American way—unless you’re the President, and then it gets tricky. But some people never learn.” (p. 177-8)

“Politics is a very nasty business, win or lose, and you never really know whose side you’re on, especially when you win.” (p. 183)

Do I really want to venture into a world where all this game-playing occurs, when I know full well that the media often contributes to the over-publicized, crazy competitive sparring matches between career politicians that lead to a lack of legislative productivity? Well, as much as I must confess I crave a good game every now and then, what I really hope to do with my career is to promote cooperation and productivity at the political level—to push aside the games and focus on pressing issues and realistic solutions.

Most people would call it foolish and idealistic. Most people would call me crazy. So go ahead. I dare you. I promise I’ve already been called worse. But instead of name-calling, I commit myself to honest storytelling. I commit myself to promoting real progress. But to do so, I must dive into “the dark underbelly.” It’s fast and it’s dangerous.

HST’s book focused primarily on the 1992 presidential campaign and the election of Bill Clinton. Near the end, he said,

“Speed kills, they say, and speed is also very addictive. It gets you there faster, and fast is the only way to run if you want to be president of the United States. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Some will march on a road of bones, and others will be nailed up on telephone poles. That’s the way it works.” (p. 230)