5928111_sWisdom is free. Giving it away? Priceless.

Monday morning I got to do something I love more than anything. I got to give away knowledge. Wisdom. Thoughts and feelings and ideas that will make life better. Today and over the next few days I get to do something almost as good; I get to tell you about why I chose those books to give away, and by doing so tell you a little more about what I’m doing here.

First I’ll tell you about the books, and then I’ll tell you about the winners. Yes, there’s more than one winner, but for now you’ll have to take my word for it. All three of the books have made a huge difference for me in the past few years as I’ve explored where I’ve been and where I’m going, and how I think I can make a difference for, well, people like you. All three books embody what I mean by the words “Show Up.”

So a little about each book, along with a clickable image in case you want to own them too. First up, for today …

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed.

“Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.”  

This is just one quote. I could have picked any of literally hundreds of them, each a pearl of wisdom that astonishes me. Here’s another:

“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”

The story behind this book is that Cheryl Strayed, of soon-to-be-everywhere fame for the making of a movie about her book, Wild, wrote an advice column called Dear Sugar for therumpus.net. She wrote it for free while she and her husband lived on credit cards for a year while she wrote a book that she said had to be written because it was inside her trying to claw its way out. My dear friend Melissa, an extraordinary coach who both helped me to stay productively in corporate America and then helped midwife me out of it when I was ready, told me I had to read it.

I thought, “Really, an advice column?”

I promise you, it’s unlike any advice column you’ve ever read. Cheryl Strayed has the extraordinary ability to cut through bullshit to the heart of the matter, and I mean literally the heart. Plenty of people are smart enough to analyze the data to get to the most important bits. I can; I’m good at it. Few can get to the center of the core feeling. Fewer still can then write words that convey that feeling in language that lets you feel it, too. Cheryl is one of those people.

When I read this book, I knew three things. One, I wanted to be more like her when I listen to people. I wanted to be able to hear the feeling at the core with clarity and courage. Second, I knew that this was what I meant by “showing up.” It’s about being present with someone at that core felt sense of who they are. Unafraid, or perhaps afraid but unwilling to let that fear make me flinch away from the intensity of their joy or sorrow or pain or fear. Third, I knew that I wanted to be able to write – and speak – like that. With words that conveyed back to people what I’d heard in a way that let them know I’d really understood their experience. With words that conveyed to readers what it feels like to be inside an experience.

Try it. The book is irreverent as hell, and it’s alive. Really, really alive. Here’s one more from the book:

A reader wrote, “Dear Sugar, WTF? WTF? WTF? I’m asking this question as it applies to everything every day.” Cheryl-as-Sugar wrote back with a stunningly direct, forthright story about her own sexual abuse as a child, at the hands of her grandfather. There was neither a whisper of self-pity nor even an ounce of self-congratulation in this story; it was one heart sharing with another something that seemed overwhelming and incomprehensible. She ended with this:

“Ask better questions. The fuck is your life. Answer it.” 

If you don’t like either the language or the message – basically, get over your self-pity, take the world in which you find yourself as it is, and then make something of it – this book isn’t for you.

As a matter of fact

… if you don’t like the language, the irreverence, and the message. chances are you won’t like a lot of what I have to say, and you almost certainly won’t want to hire me to work with you or your company. The biggest thing I got from Tiny Beautiful Things is clarity about how I work: as I say on About Me, “No shortcuts, no magic, no pretend, no bullshit – just show up, dig in, and do the work to be your best you.”

If that sounds interesting, keep reading and let’s keep talking.

Tomorrow: The Power of Unpopular by Erika Napoletano, or how I finally faced the fact that not everyone will like me, and that’s a good thing.

Dr. Les Kertay

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