The week of my birthday, I won a book! (The Berrett-Kohler newsletter I’ve recommended to you has a challenge, and I entered.) And because I was in transition, stepping from one year into my next, and even from one job toward another, I chose John P. Schuster’s The Power of Your Past. I’m still enjoying it, savoring its reflective exercises.
While many are preaching at us to live only in the present, John warns against amnesia. He agrees that we should live in today, but not without learning from yesterday and claiming its gifts. He says, “It is about gathering important insights, and the wisdom that comes before informed action.” He advocates that we not misuse the past, either romanticizing/ minimizing the past, nor getting stuck in victimization, but instead, that we reflect on our past experiences and mine them to refine our identity, remember our dreams, and clarify our choices.
John outlines a process to “Recall, Reclaim, and Recast” the past. He recognizes that not all minds work alike, so he offers graphic organizers for several approaches. He has us identify the settings of our lives and consider the places where we did get stuck (what he calls compressions) and where we found encouragement or achievement (his evocations). That alone is a great start toward understanding where we have healthy relationships with our pasts and where there’s more treasure to be found.
And another gift for me: the book is well-edited and well-designed. Too often I get distracted by my own editing brain. So far, I’ve found only two suggestions. (1) I would left justify epigrams, instead of right. (2) I’d simplify some of John’s compound, complex questions. For example, here’s the first question: “How well do I integrate the gifts of my body, my mind, my will, my feelings, my sense of play, my enthusiasm for learning, in a way that helps me to be a well-balanced person?” (Say what?) So I wrote out the question, realized the point was whether I’m well balanced, and felt relief that I wouldn’t need a week to answer it.
This book is the perfect length–just enough examples for memories to bubble up, accompanied by simple processes to inspire reflection and insightful writing. It’s warm, wise, and welcoming.
Don’t skip the footnotes. I always read them–academic editor training is forever present–and I like to read notes all at once, after I’m well into a book. John’s footnotes are the perfect blend of citations, additional readings, and conversation.
The Power of Your Past made a fabulous birthday gift. And yes, I’m already beginning the new job, the new editing projects, and one of my favorite years so far.
Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011