Book Review: My Not So Perfect Life

Rating: 5 out of 5

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Image: Goodreads

Every time I read another Sophie Kinsella novel, I think that she can’t possibly get any better, and then she simply does. And what’s even more amazing than her writing is the journey it took to hone her craft.

Before she was the pseudonymous author of the bestselling Shopaholic series, she was known as Madeleine Wickham.

If that name doesn’t ring any bells, that’s probably for the best. Wickham is the writer of 40 Love, one of the lowest rated novels on Goodreads.

But over 20 years after the publication of that flop, Kinsella is now considered the queen of chick lit. Her latest novel My Not So Perfect Life tells the story of Katie Brenner, a young marketing professional from the English countryside just trying to make it in London and live up to her Instagram feed.

While her social media posts feature fancy meals and luxe locations, her real life is much bleaker with an entry-level salary, tiny apartment, and eccentric roommates. And just when she thinks she might be getting a big break at work, she’s fired by her uber-posh boss who can’t even remember her name.

Tucking her tail between her legs, she returns to her hometown to help her family launch a glamping resort and nurse her bruised ego. That is, until Demeter books a reservation and doesn’t recognize her own staff in farmgirl clothes. What’s a burned employee to do?

What starts off as a juicy revenge tale morphs into something with much more substance. There are humor and romance, of course, but there’s also insightful commentary on  Millennial social issues, like the fear of missing out and the urge to present your ideal self online.

As someone who left a rural town to navigate a marketing career in the big city, this book was especially relatable. If you’ve ever been frustrated by professional setbacks or envious of seemingly more successful colleagues, this story is a great reminder that everyone is struggling in some way. As the cliche goes, don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel!

I highly recommend My Not So Perfect Life as the oh-so-perfect lighthearted read. If you love it and want to check out more of Sophie Kinsella’s hits, read my reviews of Wedding Night and I’ve Got Your Number.

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Book Review: Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

“A few years ago, I graduated college, diploma in one hand, margarita in the other, completely oblivious to the shit storm that was coming my way. Here’s a preview: becoming a living, breathing, job-having, bill-paying, responsible adult? Really fucking difficult.”

That profanity filled insight is from Alida Nugent, a 20-something writing for fellow 20-somethings. Founder of The Frenemy blog, her commentary on life as a Millennial can also be read on other sites like XO Jane and The Huffington Post.

And now, everyone can relate to her in her memoir, Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse. I wasn’t a reader of The Frenemy, but was intrigued by a girl who managed to survive breaking into the real world and come out writing for a living.

The first half of the book is hilarious. She discusses her post-grad years in New York City, living with roommates in a crappy apartment and trying to throw ‘grown-up’ parties but failing miserably.

She doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult transitioning from child to adult can be, and she doesn’t hide her hard-drinking, foul-mouthed ways. I especially loved her obsession with the bad-boy character Shawn Hunter from “Boy Meets World” as her rationalization behind why she continually falls head over heels for jerks.

Then Nugent gets more serious in the second half, when nostalgia sets in and she realizes that everyone around her is gradually moving on with their lives. Every girl her age can understand that bittersweet feeling as she now experiences the avalanche of weddings and baby showers, whether she’s actually invited or has to witness them scrolling through her Facebook news feed.

So if you’re a ’90s kid who wishes you could swap student loans, rent, and online dating for Lisa Frank, Beanie Babies, and jelly shoes, then check out this memoir, because Alida Nugent feels your pain.

You’ll laugh, you might cry, but you’ll be nodding your head so much in agreement, it will make you want to give Nugent a hug…and a tequila shot. After reading Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse, you’re going to need both!

Non-Fiction Week: Life After College

Cover via Small Hands, Big Ideas

Rating: 4 out of 5

I think that it’s safe to say that only recently have people been trying to cash in on promising to relieve others’ anxiety about graduating college. Heck, most from previous generations didn’t even go to college, so life didn’t present as many transitions as it does today.

But now that the college attendance rate has been steadily climbing, young adults are experiencing an extended adolescence, especially since less than half will actually finish school in the traditional four years.

In a world of stressed-out over-achievers, nobody speaks their language like Jenny Blake, author of Life After College. Much like Christine Hassler whom I discussed yesterday, Blake has made a living as a Millennial life coach. By the time she was 25, she had snagged a job at Google, ran a marathon, bought a house, and created a blog. Her ambition drove her into the ground with exhaustion, so she decided to transform herself into a mentor for other 20-somethings.

Needless to say, I enjoy reading non-fiction books about coping with life transitions, and it was fun to compare Blake to Hassler. Hassler comes from a background in spiritual psychology, so she specializes in reaching the source of your emotional issues. Blake, on the other hand, is an expert in goal-setting, so her book offers practical, straightforward advice on getting what you want in life.

With chapters on work, money, home, organization, friends/family, dating/relationships, health, fun/relaxation, and personal growth, Life After College has exercises for everything. Along the way, you get tidbits from other college graduates via Twitter and interviews. Each chapter also contains recommended reading and inspirational quotes.

The book’s format is a huge plus, as it’s super easy to read, and has plenty of space to complete the exercises and write miscellaneous notes. Type-A folks will definitely appreciate its matter-of-fact layout and design.

As with any favorite mentor, I recommend reading Blake’s updates on lifeaftercollege.org (where you can download Google Doc organization templates) and following her on Twitter.

This would be a fabulous gift for a friend or relative graduating from college, as it’s a positive, useful text that doesn’t even read like others in the self-improvement genre. Think of it as your roadmap to the “real world!”

And the real world charges interest…

Non-Fiction Week: 20 Something, 20 Everything

Cover via Barnes & Noble

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Do you feel a need to “have it all?”

Do you feel older for the first time in your life?

Are you stressed out by choices that seemingly will affect the rest of your life?

If you answered “OMG yes!” to these questions, according to Christine Hassler, you might be suffering from a new psychological trend called “the quarter-life crisis.”

At 25, Hassler ditched her lucrative job as a Hollywood agent because the stress and lack of fulfillment were making her crazy. Then when her next job and engagement to her fiance fell apart, she found herself on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

But instead of throwing in the towel, she decided to help other 20-somethings through their struggles by becoming a life coach. 20 Something, 20 Everything (which she published in 2005 at 28) caters to young women, while her second book The 20-Something Manifesto (2008) is gender-universal.

And although the book is a bit outdated, considering that Hassler’s new boyfriend which she gushes about goes from being her husband to her ex-husband in a few short years, she still effectively addresses the anxieties of Generation Me.

If you prefer self-help with structure and well-thought-out guidelines, Hassler is for you. Her whole coaching strategy revolves around three questions: Who am I? What do I want? How do I get what I want? 

Life doesn’t work like that, Marnie from “Girls.” There’s fun in figuring it out for yourself, and Hassler can help you!

She takes a basic foundation and examines the nuances behind these questions. The book provides 69 exercises to confront your preconceived notions of success, the societal pressures you experience, and the changes you can make to achieve a more balanced, rewarding life.

Through the chapters addressing love, work, and independence, she sprinkles words of wisdom from older women she interviewed to further demonstrate that what you’re feeling is normal and that you are not alone.

While it’s interesting to read statistics of living as a Millennial in books such as Twenge’s Generation Me, it’s also nice to look at the emotional issues as well. A lot of self-improvement texts are full of hot air, but 20 Something, 20 Everything has so much substance that you walk away knowing that you got your money’s worth. Why spend thousands of dollars working with Hassler personally when her book is therapy enough?

And the best part? Her advice applies to everyone! Male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor–everyone has felt lost and overwhelmed at times. You can go through a “crisis” at any age, especially when you’re dealing with unresolved issues or trying to live by anyone’s standards but your own.

If you’d like to experience Hassler’s advice for free, I encourage you to follow her on Twitter. Although she takes a more spiritual approach to life coaching, most of her sentiments appeal to a wide audience.

So what do you think? In what ways could your life use a little boost?

Non-Fiction Week: Generation Me

Cover of "Generation Me: Why Today's Youn...

Cover via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

GenY. Millennials. NetGen. iGen. Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., is throwing another term in the ring to describe the current generation of young adults: Generation Me.

Twenge defines GenMe as anyone born in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, thereby including the later part of GenX, but I’d argue that that timeline is much too long. Typically, we’re talking about those born between 1982-2000. (Sorry, Twenge, you’re too old to play in our clubhouse!) Some extend the demographics a little longer, and overlaps can exist, but in my opinion, 9/11 serves as a stark divider between generations in America.

Media outlets would have everybody believe that anyone under 30 is snotty and spoiled, which Twenge addresses in the full title of her book: Generation Me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled — and more miserable than ever before.

Who wouldn’t pay attention with a title like that?

Huh? Pay attention to what? I’m too busy texting people right next to me.

What I like about Twenge is that she actually examines the stereotypes to determine to what extent they apply. Using data from 12 studies on 1.3 million young Americans, she highlights the differences between the babies and the Baby Boomers.

Here’s just a sample of her research:

  • GenMe is not very religious: Only 18% of 18-29yo attend weekly religious services, and while few would label themselves non-believers, most prefer their faith unorganized.
  • GenMe has high expectations of success, but few actually meet them: 75% of college freshman in 2003 desired an advanced degree, but only 4% will go on to receive a Ph.D. In 1999, teens also predicted they would be earning $75,000 at 30yo. The average income at that age that year? $27,000.
  • GenMe has delayed traditional markers of adulthood: Average age of first marriage is 27 for men and 25 for women. “In 2002, 57% of men and 43% of women ages 22 to 31 lived with their parents.” And only 37% receive their bachelor’s degrees in four years.
  • GenMe is house-poor: “The number of middle-class families who paid over 35% of their income toward the mortgage more than quadrupled between 1975 and 2001. With the median home now selling for $219,000 and the median family income at around $43,000, the average American family would need to spend 5 times their income to buy this home.”
  • GenMe is buried in debt: “Average student loan debt has increased 85% in the last ten years alone; 66% of recent college graduates owe more than $10,000, and 5% own more than $100,000.” And that’s just undergrad!
  • GenMe is risking its health: Only 25% of adults 25-34 have health insurance, and bankruptcies caused by illness or medical debt increased 2,200% between 1981 and 2001.

I’ll admit that after reading this information, you can feel so overwhelmed that you just want to give up. How can anyone survive with such a rapidly rising standard of living?

Sounds about right!

And even though over half my paycheck goes to rent, I’m lucky enough to have a Bachelor’s and Master’s with only a small student loan, a full-time job that provides health insurance and a 401(k), no credit card debt, and a family that supported me until I was able to find a place of my own.

That doesn’t mean that life can’t take it all away at any moment. Everyone is only one accident, illness, or layoff away from poverty. So I’d argue that these hard economic times mean that the majority of 20-somethings are working insanely hard to support themselves.  Sure, there’s always freeloaders mooching off their parents or the government, but for a generation that doesn’t expect to receive Social Security, most try their hardest to move up the income ladder.

But times were tough in the old days too. So why is GenMe medicating depression and anxiety like never before? I’m so glad that Twenge pulled from this quote from “Fight Club,” because it explains the sentiment perfectly:

“God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve been all raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Although, it’s awfully hard to stay pissed off when staring at Brad Pitt…

And it’s that gulf between expectation and reality that has GenMe miserable. Twenge discusses how telling kids that they can “achieve their dreams” because “anything is possible” is damaging. Inflating their self-esteem and giving them trophies just for participating has increased narcissism to rampant proportions.

Ask any teacher who’s been working for decades, like my mother. She has witnessed the decline of children’s behavior due to their parents treating them like special snowflakes who are perfect and can do no wrong. And there’s nothing a school can do when parents refuse to have their child held back a year or recognize their learning disabilities.

It seems harmless to let your children dress themselves or pick what they want to eat. But when parents forfeit all decision-making power, their kids grow up to be obnoxious princes and princesses.

Amen!

And when they realize they’re not actually princes and princesses? They’re now part of a disgruntled, attention-deficit workforce, making employers frustrated by high turnover.

I’m not saying that all young adults are ungrateful brats. But too many are, and it’s giving GenMe a bad–but often deserved–reputation. Yet, it’s easy to point fingers, because who do you think raised us? The Baby Boomers and GenX are simply reaping what they sow.

So what can we all do? Twenge’s last chapter gives some suggestions for several groups:

  • Employers: Recognize hard work and give praise when deserved; Offer good salaries, benefits, and flexible schedules; Establish paid maternal/paternal leave.
  • Educators: Provide better career counseling; Create a system of public pre-schools; Change school hours to mirror working hours.
  • Parents: Teach self-control and good behavior; Don’t automatically side with your child; Limit media exposure to violence.
  • GenMe: Limit consumption of materialistic media; Avoid overthinking; Value social relationships; Cultivate realistic expectations; Get involved in your community.

I particularly love the idea of changing school hours because it would make afternoon day care unnecessary, keep kids from getting into trouble, and improve academic performance. Why adults start their day at 9am, but kids who need more sleep are forced to start at 7:30am boggles my mind!

Ultimately, I recommend Generation Me to anyone interested in generational research and would like to learn more about what it means for the future. Whether you’re 27 or 72, Twenge’s findings demonstrate that there is much to discover about how young Americans play a major role in society.

“When Life Gets Really Hard” from #whatshouldwecallme…If only!