5 Favorite Memoirs of 2021

Last week I shared my top 5 favorite personal development books of 2021. This week, I wanted to share a few of my favorite memoirs that I devoured in 2021.

I once heard David Axelrod mock David Litt for publishing a memoir about his time speechwriting for Obama because he was so young. Like somehow age determines the worthiness of one’s story. Here’s the thing. I think everyone has seasons in their life that are story worthy. Maybe it is a personal story or maybe it is a universal lesson that someone else could draw wisdom from. By sharing your experience, you give voice to someone else – allow someone else to realize that perhaps they aren’t alone. In a time where isolation can be the norm, that matters.

The following five memoirs helped me immensely this past year for a variety of reasons. Most of the authors are my age, sometimes even younger, but their wisdom is priceless. I hope something here might help you as well.

In no particular order:

Brave Enough. By Jessie Diggins. I’ll be frank. I’m not a cross country skier or a huge fan of the sport. But this athlete continues to amaze me with her sparkle and no-nonsense ability to bring out the best in people. She’s known for her sparkles but this book shares her real-life struggles with body image, even while smiling on the podium. In this memoir, she says “It takes a lot of bravery to ask for help.” Her willingness to ask for help even as she’s garnering gold medals is a stark contrast to so much of conventional wisdom that implies those who ask for help are weak. Add in the fact that she calls out reporters who imply she’s not thin enough and she’s got a fan for life. This winter I’m looking forward to tuning in to see her glitter turn to gold again, and if for some reason it doesn’t, she’ll still be a winner in my book.

Believe It. By Jamie Kern Lima: In things I’m not a huge fan of, make-up ranks almost higher than cross country skiing. But, I stumbled across this book when a sponsored post for a free personal development conference came across my facebook feed (thank you FB algorithm). I signed up not even knowing who this gal was and within minutes I was hooked. Perhaps it was the story of a middle-aged white man saying real people would never buy make-up from a fat gal that resonated with me. Or, the scrapper in me being in awe that she went on to prove that mother-f***er wrong by ultimately going public and making millions. I love an underdog story as much as the next gal. While littered with a few too many rah-rah Miss USA moments, I was able to look past that to the heart of a story about a woman who worked hard and achieved her dreams. I even purchased some IT Cosmetics following this purchase… and that should tell you something.

Bravey. By Alexi Pappas. I first heard about Alexi Pappas on a podcast. I’m a runner but don’t really follow the sport so I wasn’t aware of her story or frankly that interested in it. But, this isn’t really a book about running. It is someone’s life story who happens to be a runner. Pappas shares a lot of life lessons that I think most folks can relate to – only with the added pressure of being a world-class athlete. At one point she says, “grit is what’s left over when nothing’s left.” This is something you’d expect in a book about running – but the added bonus of beautiful poetry and writing snippets about being brave and struggling with mental illness and burn out and the Olympic letdown – read more like a novel that an athlete’s memoir.  All in all, she’s a passionate and amazing writer who is navigating a world where she wants to be a runner and… in other words, running is just one aspect of her life.

Courage to Start. By John Bingham. I first read this book when I decided to take up running. I revisited this book on my 10th anniversary of running to see if it read differently now that I can call myself a runner. It did. This is one of those books that depending on where you are in your running journey, different passages jump out at you. The most popular is “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” That still rings true for me today. Every time I start training for another race, the self-doubt comes rushing in. This book, along with so many other things in my life, have helped me overcome that obstacle. It is definitely running focused so if you aren’t a runner, probably not for you. But, if you run at all, this one will inspire you beyond your early morning jobs.

Untamed. By Glennon Doyle. I couldn’t wait to read this book. I enjoy Doyle’s writing but what I love most about her is the ability to cut out the bullshit and get to the truth. What’s crazy about this book is nearly every page has a passage that if read in isolation would serve as an incredible life lesson, or frankly words to live by. My favorite – “this life is mine alone so I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.” Wowza. When all of these lessons are layered on top of each other, you end up with a story that’s empowering. There is so much power in sharing one’s truth. Doyle takes that power and ups it by taking action in her own life. The end result is an empowering story and a lot of inspiration that we can input into our own story – if we are brave enough to live out our truth.

Bonus Read: If I’m going to talk about being brave, I might as well be brave. One last bonus read to consider this year – my book It Could be Worse. A girlfriend’s guide for runners who detest running. It isn’t Glennon Doyle worthy, but it is my running story. If you’re still reading this post and have always dreamed of running but don’t know how to start? Two suggestions. Just start. And read my book. I promise you, if I can run a half-marathon, you can move mountains if you choose to.  

5 Books that Changed my Perspective

I’m an avid reader so it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that a good book is something I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving. This past year, I’ve really doubled down on my reading and devoured a number of game-changing books that in the words of my 8-year-old left me with my mind blown.

There are so many good books I read this year – all of which are listed on my Good Reads account. That said, there were five in-particular around the personal development space that really hit home for me. These books offered me keys to the kingdom – a better understanding of how my brain operates and why some of the most random things trigger me. Turns out, they aren’t that random.

In no particular order, I gift you these reading recommendations.

It’s ok that you’re not ok. By Megan Devine. I discovered this book by chance (thanks Amazon algorithm). After my dad died, I wanted a book that’d tell me it was ok to grieve my way. I’m convinced that book doesn’t exist, hence me writing my own book about grief and loss. That said, this book came close. Devine spends a lot of time exploring our country’s culture around grief and how sometimes folks’ best intentions in helping someone grieve fall flat. How in our cure all culture, we sometimes do more harm than good. “When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better. You just tell them it’s not OK to talk about their pain,” she says. She also gives permission for folks to grieve on their own timeline and their own terms. In my heart, I knew I needed to grieve my loss this past year on my terms, but this book gave me the courage to do so.

What happened to you? By Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. This poses the simple question of why we should ask the question of what happened to you versus what is wrong with you. I first bought this because I thought that was an interesting question to ponder. What I uncovered was a deep understanding of how my brain is wired, presented in a way that was engaging, interesting, educational, emotional, inspirational, scary and liberating all at the same time. This book changed the way I talk to myself and how I look at my past. Oprah says, “because what I know for sure is that everything that has happened to you was also happening for you. And all that time, in all of those moments, you were building strength. Strength times strength times strength equal power. What happened to you can be your power.” This book doesn’t try to say everything happens in life for a reason. Frankly, I don’t really buy into that anyway. But, it does reframe the power you have over your past if you do the work. It also draws connections in your everyday life that tie back to experiences from your childhood. Seriously, the connections are eerie, but at least for me, surprisingly accurate.  

Atomic Habits. By James Clear. “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems,” is one of the most quoted lines of this book. It is easy to understand why. In 2020, I attended a personal development conference that was all about goal setting. In hindsight, what I really needed in that moment was this book. If you have dreams and goals and desires in life (which if you don’t, that’s a bigger problem), this book is your guide to achieving them. This book doesn’t coach you into setting big ass SMART goals and then tell you to go change the world. In fact, Clear does the opposite. He says, you want to lose 100 pounds, go to the gym everyday but for under 2-minutes. Don’t go on a diet but instead, if your goal is to be a healthy person, start asking yourself what would a healthy person do. If you want to write a book – don’t drop $1,000 on a weekend long retreat. Instead, write for a few minutes. Every. Single. Day. In other words, we are a product of our habits. I’ve heard that in a variety of ways – often times in fat shaming with the common line, you are what you eat. But, Clear backs this up with science and tools and framework that makes you realize that incremental steps over the long haul is what gets you to the finish line. Seems obvious but in a world of instant gratification and life-changing transformations everywhere you turn, it is easy to forget that most if not all of us actually put our pants on one leg at a time and do the best we can with what we have – and how that’s more than enough if you build a system that supports the life you want to lead.

The 5 Second Rule and High Five Habits by Mel Robbins. Understanding the why behind stuff is one thing. Doing it is another. Clear’s book gave me the framework and set a bar that was achievable. Robbins takes that framework one step further with a self-help hack that’ll get you off the couch. The 5-second rule is a simple countdown from 5 that ends with action. Once you’ve got momentum, it is easier to keep going versus stopping. When I first heard about this, I thought it was lame. Then I watched her Ted Talk and was hooked. After reading her book and trying the hack before many, many summer runs, I can say it works. This fall, she followed up with another book called High Five Habits. This one is about how quick we are to self-sabotage ourself and how a simple act of giving yourself a high 5 in the morning, can rewire how you look at yourself. And frankly, if you don’t believe in yourself, what’s the point. All of the goal setting, habit stacking, momentum building in the world won’t work if at the end of the day, you think you suck. Together, these two books and Atomic Habits in-particular, have provided me more traction on my goals this past year than anything I’ve ever read in the past.

I’ve always been a strong believer that reading can change your life. In the words of someone much wiser than me, Dr. Seuss once wrote “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Happy Reading and Happy Thanksgiving!