Many young people coming of age today face a confounding puzzle with pieces that, at first glance, do not seem all that easy to fit together for a pic...moreMany young people coming of age today face a confounding puzzle with pieces that, at first glance, do not seem all that easy to fit together for a picture of a clear and hopeful future. On the one hand, we belong to “the most progressive generation in American history” and exhibit record levels of commitment to positive social change. Yet, on the other hand, we are the generation currently experiencing the highest unemployment rate in America. Even among those who do have jobs, many are making less than did those who were our age thirty years ago (25-34 year old men today make 10% less today than did those of that age group in 1980). Meanwhile, to pursue our dreams, we have had to accrue obscene levels of debt - especially of the educational and predatory credit card varieties - because costs of living have outpaced inflation (average college tuition, for instance, has more than tripled since 1980). A particularly confounding part of this puzzle lies in the fact that work that advances the social good is frequently pursued and accomplished through sectors - non-profit, public, or social-enterprise - that are often even less stable and lower-paying than their traditional private counterpart (which itself is not all that secure at the moment). Given all of this, many of us wonder: how can we pursue and achieve our deeply held pro-social goals while still attaining some semblance of personal economic security?
Making this puzzle seem more solvable is what motivated Billy Parish and Dev Aujla to co-author their incredibly timely, illuminating, and useful book, Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World (February 28th 2012, Rodale). Now if you are dubious about the title, let me say up front that initially, I found the emphasis the book places on “making money and changing the world” to be not only a bit backwards, but possibly willfully optimistic. After all, how many people create real, positive change in the world from the primary starting point of wanting to make money? And conventional wisdom would have it that, in an economy like this, having your cake and eating it too - or doing good while making good – is even more of an illusory dream now than it was before the recession hit. So if you read the title and fear that buying it will leave you with little but well-worn platitudes and that the only ones “making good” will be its authors, I understand your skepticism. But how so thankfully wrong you would be.
First off, the authors are deeply credible messengers who intimately know the topics about which they write - especially that of having a commitment to doing good. I was a colleague of Billy’s in the youth climate movement over four years, much of that time co-chairing the Energy Action Coalition while Billy was the coordinator of the coalition. We collaborated in developing the Campus Climate Challenge campaign and in designing the first Powershift conference in 2007, among other efforts. From those experiences and more, I know Billy to be an incredibly committed, authentic, and motivated individual. He takes risks and makes leaps when others are stuck doing more research or complaining. He is passionate and serious about life and work in the best of ways. Most of all, he knows how to bring people together in ways that increase their power to create real change and he has been a leader who has delivered impressive results in nearly every effort he has ever been involved in. While I do not know Dev as personally, his professional convictions and achievements are consistent with Billy’s.
Notwithstanding the authors’ successes, they refreshingly explore the timely (and timeless) questions they pose - What is the right path for me? How can I find or create it? - from within their own minds and hearts rather than from above as detached “experts,” as other authors might do. By this, we come to understand their own struggles and vulnerability and thus their deep sincerity. As readers then, we also come to open up and trust them to help guide us on our own personal journey of reflection and envisioning. This deep contrast between Making Good and its authors versus many other either unqualified or insincere guides out there - you’ve seen them in bookstores and on TV - who instead signpost the way forward for you and your career with hackneyed, naïve, or outdated advice, is hugely welcome and reassuring.
To qualify my praise a bit, let me say before getting too far along that Making Good does have moments where the default style of the self-help genre (i.e. simplistic) that their book is positioned in versus the authors’ more complex and nuanced experience and beliefs, are forced into, if not tension, a delicate balance. At one point the authors seem to come close to elevating the goal of making money too highly (“We want to make money, to have the things that our televisions promise will deliver happiness with a money-back guarantee, but we don’t want to sell out. We want to feel resilient through recessions and upswings, we want financial security in the face of record personal debt, to consume and indulge according to our moods in a time when we are reaching peak levels of resource availability”) but it is shortly followed by a section on simplifying your life in ways that remind me of the wise Quaker saying, “A simple life freely chosen is a source of strength.”
There are also a few instances that remind us this is a trade book and its authors are not overly concerned with academic convention (when, for instance, they write, “overall, global demand for culture is stronger than ever. Aesthetics, stories, music, reflection, imagination that brilliantly transforms the facts of our reality—our desire for these things has never been greater”, they present this generalization without any sources and, later when they write, “Study after study shows that preventive care is the most cost-efficient kind of health intervention,” they do not cite even one of those studies), but these instances too are relatively few and far between and, on the whole, the book is exhaustively researched and well sourced.
Lastly, it should be said that the book seems less aimed at an entire generation – as its promotional language claims - and more at a self-selecting group of self-starters and high achievers within what their publisher calls the “Facebook generation.” But that is only natural and the authors themselves don’t really claim otherwise.
All of that said, these are all minimal issues and little more than unimportant distractions from the main focus and immense value of this book. Making Good manages to combine lofty inspiration with hard-nosed motivation for a powerful outcome. On the one hand, the book is infused with an infectious can-do, no-excuses, let’s go attitude with uplifting lines such as,
“The world needs your best self. You need your best self right now. Let’s get started.”
“Sketches around the world are waiting in the margins of notebooks, ready for their star moment.”
Out of context, those lines may ring a bit hollow. But, on the other hand, within the frameworks the authors provide, their words develop real content and meaning. Specifically, on the macro level, their chapter outline follows six well-organized steps (Reflect, Adapt, Connect, Design, Launch, Organize) and on the more micro level they identify and dig into the “four major paths Rebuilders are taking: Entrepreneur, Job Seeker, Intrapreneur, and Freelancer”. Taken as a whole, this results in perhaps the greatest gift the book offers: assisting in a powerful mental shift away from thinking about one’s path in the context of “what’s available” (picking from a set list of options) to “what do I want to do and how can I make that happen” (potentially making something new) and then providing effective next steps towards doing just that. Their overall approach of not only seeing opportunity in crisis, but of offering very helpful ideas, practices, and resources to pursue those opportunities helps you feel not only more awake and alive but also empowered and ready to move forward with tangible actions.
The book’s positive inspirational tone is also, thankfully, balanced not only by some deep wisdom (one example: “Inner knowing is about a smaller, more quiet voice than just your initial gut reactions. Often, we bury our true understanding in rationalizations, secondary points of view, the pros and cons, and over-analysis. We actually know the answers to the questions we struggle with. All too often, we either fail to consult our inner understanding or we disregard it because we feel like we don’t have a choice”) and some flashes of humor (I particularly like the story that ends with Billy being told by a doctor to wash his hair), but also by some real straight talk. To give a taste, the authors write:
“But first, a caution. This book is not a quick fix. Today there is a cultural promise that is echoed everywhere: Anything is possible if you believe (or if you buy). The promise comes packaged in trendy books or aspirational shows on TV. It’s the American dream refreshed for today’s audience. But there are cracks in this cultural promise. Real change— for your life and for the world—doesn’t happen in the form of a 20-minute episode (or in the 10 minutes of commercials on most cable shows). A generation swept up into a movement built on Hope ran headlong into the overwhelming complexity of making Change. How can we build a clean-tech company that competes with Big Oil’s billions in annual subsidies by “just doing it”? How can you start a business while trying to manage $60,000 or $100,000 in student loans?”
“For every inspiring story we could tell you about someone overcoming oppression and a lack of opportunity, there are 10 stories of people who didn’t make it through, couldn’t launch the project they dreamed up.”
To give you a better chance of ending up on the desirable side of that statistic, the authors take a comprehensive approach that is, in the end, what makes this book so unique and valuable. Specifically, Making Good seamlessly weaves together 1) raw, honest, heartfelt storytelling from the authors own lives; 2) inspiring and eclectic stories of those they term “Rebuilders”, who are also finding innovative ways to do good and make money; 3) practical and very helpful exercises for finding your own way in that direction (developed throughout the career of the amazing leadership coach Robert Gass, and included in the book with his permission); and 4) incredibly well-researched and diverse lists of resources to engage in this process beyond the book.
I read Making Good soon after finishing another book that deals with similar topics– Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak – and found each to be even more useful when read in combination with the other. Palmer’s book reads in a more personal/ deeply philosophical and spiritual way while Making Good is more diverse, comprehensive, and practical. Together, they offer a powerful and dynamic combination of books for reflecting on your life as it is and as you want it to be - and for beginning to identify the missing pieces that can piece that puzzle together. (less)
I loved this book. It is, refreshingly, utterly without pretense. The author has such an authentic, humble, and honest voice that he simultaneously ma...moreI loved this book. It is, refreshingly, utterly without pretense. The author has such an authentic, humble, and honest voice that he simultaneously manages both gritty realism and vulnerable eloquence. Even if it wasn't about baseball and baseball cards, it would have been worth the read for the moving personal and family narrative (the only time I have ever cried while reading a book came during the brilliant final three pages of this book). But then again, his personal and family narrative could not have been told without baseball and baseball cards, and that is part of the point. Now I admit, as someone who also grew up in rural Vermont, and whose childhood also revolved around all things having to do with baseball, little-league, the Red Sox and baseball card collecting, I felt at times as though I was reliving my own mental journal from over a decade ago. While Wilker is older than me (his prime baseball card years were 1975 - 1980 and mine were 1989 - 1993), I was still part of that last generation of boys who could go to their local general store (mine was in Fairlee, VT, his in Randolph, VT) and buy packs of baseball cards with powdery sticks of stale gum inside. Our favorite cards and favorite players are different (more than once I found myself pondering which cards I would include in my own narrative were I to copy Wilker's project) but I nevertheless felt a strong connection from our shared mania and addiction, not to mention our shared home state and current occupation. If you are reading this Josh (I know from personal experience that some authors read their goodreads reviews!), thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this book.
This book is amazing for all the reasons that people say it is, including humanizing and making more accessible 30 years of Afghan history through the...moreThis book is amazing for all the reasons that people say it is, including humanizing and making more accessible 30 years of Afghan history through the interconnected story/ies of ordinary yet extraordinary lives. But what I enjoyed most of all, beyond the wonderful narrative, was Hosseini's easy skill as a writer, his direct prose that, even when incredibly creative was not showy for its own sake but rather always carried ring of truth. It was such a pleasure, for instance to have lines such as these interspersed throughout; "Laila came to believe that of all the hardships a person had to face none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting" "Boys, Laila came to see, treated friendship the way they treated the sun: its existence undisputed; it's radiance best enjoyed, not beheld directly." "Laila had been to funerals before where she had seen women like this, women who relished all things that had to do with death, official consolers who let no one trespass on their self-appointed duties." "Laila could almost see the wordless hostility radiating from Mariam like waves of heat rising from asphalt." and, "The memory of that day was a relic from a past that no longer seemed like her own."