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You Learn by Living

You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

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You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life was written by Eleanor Roosevelt and published in the 1960s as an answer to questions she received in the mail. After watching Ken Burn’s The Roosevelts, I realized why Eleanor was so admired as a public figure, and why her wisdom was much sought.

In You Learn By Living, Eleanor covers a lot of ground. Her 11 keys to a more fulfilling life include learning to learn, fear – the great enemy, the uses of time, the difficult art of maturity, readjustment is endless, learning to be useful, the right to be an individual, how to get the best out of people, facing responsibility, how everyone can take part in politics, and learning to be a public servant.

In addition to the timelessly good, there is advice given in places that I flatly disagree with, such as never burdening other people with your sadness or depression because then they won’t like you. Times have changed, and mental health awareness has been raised. But I’ll forgive that as an artifact of the times in an otherwise very sage tome about self-knowledge, civic duty, and adulting. She says what we’d all like to say to some people, and says it with grace and humility. If only we could all be so tactfully forthright.

I’d definitely recommend this book. It’s not “fun” summer reading, per se, but the simple preponderance of thought-provoking quotes is worth the intellectual effort. And it’s pretty short, really. I feel more self-aware, and free to be me. Here are some of my favorite gems; things that struck a chord in my mind, things that made me a tiny bit wiser for having read them:

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear, and in the long run it is easier. We do not need to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

“The most unhappy people in the world are those who face the days without knowing what to do with their time. But if you have more projects than you have time for, you are not going to be an unhappy person.”

“It is a brave thing to have courage to be an individual; it is also, perhaps, a lonely thing. But it is better than not being an individual, which is to be nobody at all.”

“This means you must have a certain confidence in your own taste. […] Without seeing beautiful things, without being familiar with how a color can be made to give charm to a room, you will be afraid of what you put into a room and how it will look.”

“Not until much later did I discover that if you really look at people and shake hands warmly as if you mean it and are not performing a mechanical gesture, you give them a feeling of closeness.”

“We all create the person we become by our choices as we go through life. In a very real sense, by the time we are adult, we are the sum total of the choices we have made.” (original italics)

Yay! One more summer reading book down! I am so grateful that the idea occurred to me to make a goal of reading this certain subset of books. I am sprinkling in more books that were not on my list, but I am, at heart, an opportunist and that feels very right while maintaining my original list. I have already read more this summer than I have in recent memory (decades, at any rate), and am enjoying it very much. It may be at the cost of not accomplishing other things and I may need to hold myself accountable with deadlines to my list of other summer tasks (masonry repairs on the house, repainting some parts of the pool, building a park bench, sewing some curtains, and sewing some gifts as well as planned selfish clothing). But I’ll consider that schedule another day 🙂

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