Monday 5 October 2009

Find Your Strongest Life : What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently - Marcus Buckingham

After reading the title and the blurb on the back, I came to this book with a few preconceived ideas and they all turned out to be wrong. It seemed to be very "American" in its presentation and ideologies and I wasn't sure it would appeal so much to a British readership (including me), but it turns out that Marcus Buckingham, despite living in Los Angeles and being extensively featured on Oprah, is in fact originally from Britain. The words "successful women" on the front cover also left me expecting an overly-"feminist" approach, pushing women to stake their claims in the boardroom and be, as the title suggests, "the strongest" in their professional life.

But I was wrong ! Finding your "strongest life" isn't about being a strong, powerful, career-driven person, it's about discovering what your strengths are - your hidden talents and passions - and working out how to make your life focus around them so that you can be happy and fulfilled. This may be in a professional sense but it may also mean staying at home as a full-time mum, or throwing in a high powered career to become a volunteer, or having a complete career-change, or whatever else makes you happy.

Most self-help books seem to churn out the same old advice but this book did give me a few ideas I'd never considered before. It starts off with some general presentation and myth-busting. "Women today are less happy than they were 40 years ago despite having more choices." OK, nothing ground-breaking there - but the difference is in how it gets women thinking about how they can make themselves happier. "Myth - Women are good at multi-tasking and it helps them get everything done". This is one myth that I adhere too - I am the self-proclaimed queen of multi-tasking ! - but apparently that's a bad thing. You can't focus properly on each task and your IQ drops by ten points when you try to do two things at once (the equivalent of losing one night's sleep or more than double the effect of being stoned !!) so it actually slows you down. Hmmm that probably makes sense actually - how many times have I let the toast burn because I've started quickly tidying the kitchen while I wait for it to cook ?! Also, multi-tasking leads to you feeling drained, overloaded and stressed - so why do it to yourself ? When I actually sat down and thought about this, that made sense too. On Saturday afternoon, like every Saturday, Mike (my husband) went to do the weekly shop. While he was gone, I simultaneously rebooted the bread machine, the dishwasher and the washing machine, supervised Sophie doing her homework, while drawing up "special homework worksheets" for little sister Juliette so she'd feel involved and behave herself, while feeding baby Pierre and tidying up the dining table while working out what to cook for dinner for the next week. So when he got back home, after spending just as much time as me doing "chores", I was tired out and felt that he should offer to take over now, because I'd done so much more and deserved a rest - which isn't really fair when you think about it !!

Despite enjoying the content, I was a little less enthralled by the book's structure. The "What to take away from this chapter" summaries at the end of each chapter made me feel like I was reading a school textbook and made it very repetitive if you'd read the whole chapter (we're only talking about a few pages) just before. It also led me to skip over certain parts that I was less interested in and jump straight to the summarised points. It is handy though for quick reference once you've read the book and want to find certain passages again.

The book also mentions and advises you to take "the strong life test", to work out which category of people you fit into so that this can help you find your "strengths". Are you an Advisor, Caretaker, Creator, Equalizer, Influencer, Motivator, Pioneer, Teacher or Weaver ? The subsequent chapters take each category in turn and give you ideas and guidelines to find fulfilment. The problem is, this test is only available online - at - so if you're reading this book anywhere you don't have access to internet - and let's face it, not everyone has internet access - you're stuffed !

The final chapters look at some specific circumstances and offer advice and ideas (as it says over and over again, each person has to find their own answers, and their own "strengths" so there are no "onse size fits all" solutions) - for example, How do I persuade my partner to support me in a career change ? What do I do if motherhood weakens me ? How do I make decisions I don't regret ?

I actually found this book empowering because I told me I didn't have to be powerful. It's like someone holding up their hand to you and saying, come down off that pedestal, you don't have to be the Perfect Mum, the Perfect Wife, the Supreme Household Organiser while holding down a high-powered, highly paid job and keeping a permanent grin on your face - just look at what makes you feel happy and fulfilled and ditch the rest. I'm not overly convinced that it is that simple, but the book does give you lots of sensible, "do-able' advice if you are prepared to take the plunge.

star rating : 4/5

RRP: £18.99 hardback (£9.99 paperback but not yet available in the UK)

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Nelson Books an imprint of Thomas Nelson Publishers (Oct 2009)

ISBN-10: 1400202361
ISBN-13: 978-1400202362

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