BOOK REVIEW: You Are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha — December 2019

You Are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha

Reviewed by Jane Tompkins

I used to read self-help books on a regular basis. They helped me at a time when I was struggling on many fronts and needed advice and support. I haven’t read one in years, but two days ago, in the Strand bookstore in New York, purely by accident, I ran into Neil Pasricha, author of You Are Awesome, the third in a line of New York Times best-sellers, and before I knew it I was promising him I’d review it in the Gazette.

The young man (pronounce his last name pass-RICH-a) talked a blue streak and had more energy than the other hundred people in the store put together. Standing next to him was like being next to a thousand watt beacon of light or a wind turbine at full throttle.

We ended up buying copies of each other’s books (his idea, see photograph). I’d told him about my latest, Reading through the Night, which, miraculously, the Strand had a copy of, and asked him to mention it in his reading blog which he said had forty-thousand followers. Not an equal trade in terms of publicity, but then all he had to do was mention my book and I had to write a review of his, which worried me because I hadn’t read it, and, from its title and Neil’s charming and ebullient self-promotion, I was afraid it might be a bit glib and superficial.

It was not. Flashy, yes, written for people with short attention spans, yes, BUT, it’s really, really good. It delivers. Moreover, it was exactly what I needed, given the present shape of my own life.

The book hit me where I live because I have a chronic illness that’s been getting steadily worse over the past year and shows no signs of improvement.  I was in that state when you think your life is over, finished, kaput, and you have no idea how to keep going. Neil’s book about wrestling with failure was just what I needed. It re-energized me and showed me a way out.

The origin of the book explains its power. The author had to figure out how to get out of what, for him, was a lethal situation. When his first wife left him, it was the greatest shock of his life, worse even than failing completely at his first job. It knocked the stuffing out of him. Living alone, he went to work every day and came home to his Toronto apartment every night and began writing—a blog, something he knew nothing about when he started. He wrote every night for a thousand nights. The outpouring was the beginning of the rest of his life. Several books, blogs, TED talks, and motivational speeches later, he is famous and signing books at the Strand.

His style is ZOWIE (I’m imitating it right now, or trying to).  The anecdotes are moving—punchy and potent illustrators of his points. And the advice, well, the advice is absolutely right on, the hard-won, nitty gritty know-how of a person who’s been there, felt that. It hits the nail on the head.

Most of all, the book has energy, a tremendous amount.  That energy communicates itself to the reader like a transfusion. There’s something about reading You Are Awesome that makes you feel: if he could do it, so can I. Before I was halfway through, I decided to start a blog of my own. When I looked up blogs on living with chronic illness and what came up was the top one hundred, I was undeterred.  Neil wouldn’t have been deterred.  Or maybe he would have been, being a genius-at-marketing type. But I didn’t care. He’d already shot me so full of trust and confidence, I felt equal to anything.

That’s the kind of book this is. It’s so psychologically smart that it locates and destroys the dodges we use to keep ourselves down. For example, admitting that whatever situation we’re in is not going to last forever but is only a step along the way. Or making ourselves responsible for every bad thing that happens, seeing ourselves as the center and source of every misstep or mishap—unbalanced, to say the least. Or being afraid to try new things in case we fail. Wrong! Lose more to win more, says Neil. Take risks, stick your neck out, go ahead and fall on your face. That’s how you learn. That’s how you succeed.

If life has dealt you a blow recently, or several blows, try reading You Are Awesome. It’s fun, it’s lively, and it has your number. Next thing you know, you’ll be buying a second copy to give to someone you think might need it. I certainly will.~