Modern life is full of choices. We’re told that happiness lies within and we can be whoever we want to be. But with endless possibility comes a feeling of restlessness; like we’re somehow failing to live our best life. What does doing it right even look like? And why do so many women feel like they’re getting it wrong?
From that Zara dress to millennial burnout, the explosion of wellness to the rise of cancel culture, Pandora Sykes interrogates the stories we’ve been sold and the ones we tell ourselves. Wide-ranging, thoughtful and witty, How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? explores the anxieties and myths that consume our lives and the tools we use to muddle through.
So sit back and take a breath. It’s time to stop worrying about the answers – and start delighting in the questions.
Pandora Sykes is a British journalist and speaker. She's a former Fashion Features Editor of The Sunday Times Style magazine (2014-2017) and contributing editor at ELLE and ManRepeller.com, she has also written for titles including The Observer, The Telegraph, GQ, Vogue UK & Australia, Red, ES Magazine and The Cut. She contributed to Stylist’s essay collection, Life Lessons From Incredible Women, published in March 2018 by Penguin and to Comfort Zones, an essay collection produced by Sonder & Tell in March 2019. In 2017, she co-founded the podcast The High Low with Dolly Alderton, a weekly pop-culture and current affairs podcast. Her debut essay collection, How Do We Know We Are Doing It Right? comes out in July 2020.
3 - good This is an interesting collection of essays, which made me think while reading. While there isn’t really anything new to these thoughts I like how they have been presented and collated under different themes and the collective umbrella of are we doing life right. The drawbacks to this collection are acknowledged by the author - it is all very middle class, it is all very “millennial” even as she says a generation contains a multitude. Some of the essays are beautifully written and thought provoking and well researched, others though lack the same rigour and balance. I enjoy the scope of what is looked at, especially communication, wellness and social media. I wholeheartedly agree with much of the collection, but I am a university educated millennial like the author and therein lies the issue. I feel perhaps as though the timing I am reading this is causing me to look at it more critically, like many I have engaged in education about various forms of inequality and prejudice recently, and some of the considerations in this are so frivolous. How do we know are living the right lives is such a privileged question to ask when there are people don’t have the liberty of choice. For once reading something which so typifies my own world view was not an “omg that’s so it” moment but gave me cause to realise how inconsequential some of the issues in my life are.
While I found some of the meandering essays vaguely relative to my life, I found myself skim reading parts of this book and, if you're expecting any kind of answer to the titular question, then you too will be left disappointed.
I enjoyed the chapter by chapter layout of each topic, but everything was referenced to the extreme, with arguments from every angle inserted into the discussion, and this left me feeling not only as though I hadn't actually seen much of Pandora's own personal perspective but also as though what I had read had been largely pointless. When you write a piece that gives a balanced view of every available angle then you do indeed create an essay worthy of a high academic grade, but, in book form, all this leaves the reader with is the notion that there are multiple people with multiple opinions on multiple topics - something of which we are already aware. I wanted more of Pandora Sykes, not of a hundred other people whose own books I can go and read if I so choose.
To give Pandora some credit, you can see the huge amount of work and love that has gone into writing this book and, for all of the acknowledgements that it is only from her perspective as a straight, white, wealthy woman, she could not have possibly known that she would be releasing it in a time where we have all been asked to examine our privileges to the extreme. That said, I did find so much of the book SO specific to her life and that of other straight, white, wealthy, freelancing women that I could barely identify with much of it. As a gay woman, I'm not sure if I would have preferred her to ignore us completely rather than trying and failing to shoehorn us in here and there (the tiny bit about 'butch' and 'femme' women and their perceived gender roles was particularly irksome).
Overall, I would give the book itself two stars, but I can't help giving a further one because it is such an obvious passion project. I just wish that more of Pandora's passion had come through in strong and thoughtful opinion rather than wordy and passive waffle.
Just could not finish it, nor could I really digest most of the lengthy, flourished paragraphs which often seemed to have no point other than to string together quotes from others’ work. The number of source citations comes off more as a university dissertation than original thought - picking through these alongside the constant caveats of middle class privilege and a woke white apology made it difficult to find any really new arguments or authentic material. Disappointing.
An enjoyable and often thought-provoking series of essays by popular journalist Pandora Sykes on the practices and pitfalls of modern life.
In essays spanning themes such as our binge watching TV culture and our irrevocable relationship with WhatsApp, Sykes populates her writing with a slew of references, citing philosophers, novelists, journalists, politicians, Twitter accounts and television series. Sykes is an intellectually curious writer, while also conscious that she inevitably sees the world through her white, middle class prism, and noting as such.
I was particularly interested in her observations on the symbiotic relationship between what people read online and what stories get covered by the media in The Raw Nerve, while Work to Get Happy feels all the more relevant in the current work-from-home era.
This is not, nor is it billed as, a memoir. Still, at times I wished Sykes would approach her topics with a personal candour more akin to Jia Tolentino. It shouldn't be a prerequisite of being a female essayist that you should bare your soul, but nevertheless the moments in which she brings the personal to the fore were, for me, some of the more impactful. The essay on fast fashion, in which Sykes unpacks how and why women purposefully buy the same clothes as one another, is lent an extra layer when Sykes, a former fashion editor and high profile Instagrammer, questions her own culpability in what she terms the “Get the Look” phenomenon. Later, when Sykes questions her complex relationship with social media and how impossible it is for her to “get it right” when it comes to posting about her children on Instagram, the writing is elevated by this window into her own anxieties.
The essays in the book aren’t necessarily new or revolutionary in scope or content (as mentioned, the writing is peppered with references to other articles and essays on the same topics) but if you’re interested in the zeitgeist and how we live now, Sykes' book offers some reflective food for thought.
Couldn’t make it past chapter 2. Dismissive, sometimes thoughtless and lacking curiosity and intelligence which its premise leads one to think will be delivered. Sorry, but this was a vanity project! The author is desperate to ingratiate herself with the experience of every millennial when her life couldn’t be further from those of most others, and it’s pretty irksome to have someone whose career has been so heavily reliant on social media, fashion and consumerism to now be critiquing it all in a way which isn’t terribly self-aware or responsible. Clunky and cumbersome writing too.
I really like Pandora and as an avid reader and listener of the High Low was really excited about this book. I was disappointed however, the whole book reads like an overly referenced (albeit excellent) university essay. There is some really good content but the language is too much and very overly thought out.
This is a hard book to review. I think readers will either love it or find it is the esoteric thoughts of a privileged white woman. I bounced back and forth between the two. Pandora Sykes is a stylish writer who has done her homework and written thought provoking essays. I love her podcast - The High Low and always find her an engaging bright and open minded journalist. But this will not speak to everyone. I found elements of it very interesting and relatable and other parts were too much out of my own experience field and then it became ever so slightly irritating. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a worthwhile read.
I feel like I’ve been plodding the mires of other people’s lives in literature of late, and this book is no exception. I think the crux of this one is that I simply do not care. It’s a little bit much for me, and I just wish that there was some more substance to a lot of these pieces that I’ve been reading lately. The essays aren’t particularly thought provoking, and I was left feeling a little let down.
Absolutely adored this!!! Could relate to pretty much everything in this!!! It really made me think about my own life and childhood/teenage-hood and the bigger picture!! If you’re of a similar age to Pandora and myself you will 100% love this!!
As other reviewers have pointed out, this collection of essays lacks a point of view and is essentially a compilation of opinions (and quotes, endless quotes) from other writers and thinkers. Which in and of itself is not an issue - I quite like essays that function more like a literature review than an opinion piece. Unfortunately, all the writing she references has been discussed on popular podcasts or has otherwise been widely shared on the internet. Which is to say, if you haven’t been living in a cave for the past 10 years, there is really nothing in this book you haven’t heard before.
It’s a shame that she didn’t spend more of her word count unpacking some of her own beliefs: her personal anecdotes hint at an inner life that I’d love to know more about, though she kept them frustratingly superficial. In fact the reason I wanted to read this book was precisely because I thought she would share an interesting personal perspective on these topics we’ve all been beaten to death with over the past few years. She actually touches on this in one of her essays - suggesting that not voicing (having?) a strong opinion is the more radical way to be and interact with people. But it’s not the having of opinions per se that is the issue, rather how strongly they’re held. I wish she had delved deeper into why she believes what she believes - using her research to examine her beliefs rather than hide them. An essay can be open-ended, but there should be some meat in there before you get to that point.
this is a book of essays by the popular journalist and podcaster pandora sykes, and although i often find essay collections quite dense, i actually really enjoyed my time reading this one! as the title suggests, the essays all centre around the practices and anxieties of modern life. the essays cover a range of topics, including the wellness industry, binge-watching culture, digital communication, work/life balance - to name a few. the book is definitely heavily centred around middle-class millennials’ issues, but this is something that sykes thankfully acknowledges in the introduction.
i thought this book was really well-written and interesting, and even though not all the essays were relatable to me (due to both age and social class differences), i still enjoyed reading them. throughout the essays sykes draws on the work of psychologists, culture critics, popular culture, philosophers etc, which i noticed a few reviewers have criticised her for as they wanted more of her own words/thoughts. but as someone who writes a lot of uni essays where you basically aren’t allowed an original thought and have to reference everything (only half-joking), i actually appreciated how well-researched this was.
some reviewers have also called this a ‘self help’ book but i wouldn’t say it is. it doesn’t really provide any answers, but that’s ok, because it never promises to. in our rapidly changing modern culture/lives, it seems almost impossible to come up with any answers before a range of new questions are being asked. i think the most comforting part of these kinds of books often comes from the takeaway message that no one really knows what they’re doing, and maybe that’s ok??
thank you so much @penguinrandomhouse for sending me an arc copy of this paperback edition!
A well-written series of essays by Sykes which is somewhat neutralised by the history we’re all living through. Yes, the author is aware that her book tackles middle class concerns right from the start, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but I didn’t feel very intellectually challenged by this book. Sykes’ strength is her cultural fluency, and she is able to situate her own thoughts in the wider conversation, but I think too often she rests against the arguments she references, as though she is scared to fight for them herself. There’s no doubt that Sykes is a very skilled journalist, and it was certainly an enjoyable read, but the book as a whole felt a little inconsequential.
It's clear the vibe Sykes is going for with this essay collection: the Russell Group educated millennial getting a little bit 'intense' at the boozy brunch. That's by no means a bad thing. Some of her essays - those on millennial feminism and sensitivity for example - soar. But others just fall a bit flat. It's clear she's taken inspiration from other millennial essayists such as Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror, and maybe that's part of the issue. Whereas Tolentino's vision was both clear and compellingly unique, Sykes' remains a little muddled. Lots of stats about Zara dresses for example, which are hardly life-changing. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh - though this does get an extra star for being a Kate Andrews gift x
Seriously timely, thoroughly researched and so damn well-articulated, this essay collection gets a big thumbs up from me.
Similar to the manner of Jia Tolentino’s TRICK MIRROR (which i was a bit lukewarm about), Pandora deep dives into several topics that are highly relevant and relatable to, i imagine, a lot of millennials. Most of these topics you can probably guess: social media, the millennial burnout, career ambitions and work/life balance, wellness & fashion. I’m well-acquainted with Pandora’s works and viewpoints being a listener of The High Low podcast, so nothing that she spoke about in this book was particularly groundbreaking or challenging. Working in fashion around people with similar interests also means that, again, i was already familiar with majority of the current events she discusses. You may find the analysis more eye-opening if you take these factors out of the equation.
In saying that, i appreciated the validation and found her writing to just be so thoroughly enjoyable. I will echo others’ thoughts though, in saying that the essays can feel too heavy in quotes and references and wish that we get more of a personal insight from her - but i still didn’t find this too much of a hindrance. Obviously Pandora’s experience wouldn’t be necessarily intersectional coming from a place of significant privilege (white/cis/straight/privately-educated) - but this is something that she is acutely self-aware of and i always find her thoughts and analysis very considerate in that regard.
I’m a bit of a fangirl so my thoughts may be biased but i’d still recommend this if you’re after a smart and accessible work of non-fiction that focuses on the anxieties of modern life.
I thought Pandora Sykes explores some really interesting ideas in this essay collections (like wellness, fast fashion, and binge-watch culture), but I felt it lacked her voice and was a bit too overly-researched (a weird criticism, I know). Maybe it's because I'm so used to listening to her on The High Low, but I had to download the audiobook to help me.
this was so good!!! reading trick mirror by jia tolentino had left a modern-essay-shaped hole in my heart, and this filled it. in a writing style that seems more approachable than tolentino's, but still beautiful and sharp.
i think this is a book i'll wanna revisit again in the future! i will say the topics it dealt with were a bit... expected? social media, fashion, the attention economy, productivity as the end all be all... but these are, at the end of the day, all topics that deeply affect our generation and i still felt like a learned a lot.
I really enjoyed this book although it took me a couple of essays to get really into it. The reason I’ve put four stars is because I wasn’t a massive fan of the first two about wellness and fashion, however as it progressed it definitely got more interesting.
Pandora’s writing is insightful, informative and I also like how she inserts small quips throughout which show her personality and humour. Considering she wrote it in 2019 it’s interesting reading certain essays on reflection now in 2021 (after a pivotal year of COVID-19), it makes me wonder how much she would have changed about it if it was written now. Would recommend
I loved these essays. Sykes has carved up (white/cis/hetero/middle class) Millennial life into eight perfect pieces and tackled them all with her trademark mix of high/low commentary. A lot of the examples used were familiar to me as a regular High Low listener but I loved seeing them in the context of these impeccably researched, complex essays that leave few stones unturned. My favourite essays were “Relentless Pleasure” (on pop culture consumption/leisure), “Looking Forward To Hearing Back” (on digital communication) and “The Authentic Lie” (on authenticity, der) which I am excited about going back to read again, physical highlighter in hand. I also loved her thoughts on motherhood and the flattening of women in “Little Pieces Everywhere” (on identity). The opening two essays, “The Dream Catchers” (on wellness) and “Get The Look” (on fashion and personal image) as well as “Work to Get Happy” (on work/stress/burnout) covered more frequently discussed elements but I still found them thought-provoking and original in their approach. The closer, “The Raw Nerve” was the heaviest read and perhaps one that is best read slowly and in a state of contemplation to fully soak up the way it concludes the collection. I was probably a bit too tired to fully appreciate it but enjoyed it all the same. Sykes’ turn of phrase is consistently delightful. She is sharp, intelligent and has an enviable vocabulary, yet will pivot away momentarily to call internet trolls “fuckwads” and tabloid news “total snotgobble”. Delightful.
I found this essay collection an absolute joy to read.
I’m a huge fan of Pandora, a regular listener to the High Low and clearly the target audience (or close to it) of this book, so I’m not surprised, but genuinely I found the essays to be thoughtful, well-researched and infinitely readable, offering food for thought without becoming bogged down in theory or exposition. The essays are in neat sections which also helps. I thought the essay topics timely and relevant, again particularly to a woman of my age, covering social media, careers, happiness, authenticity, relationships and much more. I also found the personal touches quite touching, and I felt a learnt a lot about Pandora herself. It’s balanced without fence-sitting, and satisfyingly concluded. Definitely one I will recommend to friends.
3 - This book at first didn’t land for me. I found it more infuriating than insightful. I think because of the state of the world, to read about a white privileged woman lament about whether she is living ‘right’ just seems... a touch tone deaf. The chapters on wellness felt intentionally provocative, as if written to invoke a reaction as opposed to a genuine nuanced critique. Walked away not feeling like I’d learnt anything new or thought about anything differently... Didn’t really resonate.
Other chapters of the book were great, well researched, unique viewpoints and ideas. It was strange to get such whiplash - how some chapters could be done so well and others that missed the mark entirely.
a brilliant exploration of the reality we live in today in terms of well-being, fashion, career, social media, and other areas of modern life. it includes self-aware opinions of Pandora and A TON of research, interviews, and quotes. this is not just a very long personal opinion piece, nor is it a stale non-fiction book.
i am giving it four stars instead of five because most of the academic examples are extremely common and well-covered, so they felt like a disappointment instead of a revelation or a necessary proof.
I love Pandora's writing and journalism and a whole book? A total joy. She writes so well about social media, wellness, celebrity, burnout, boxset binge-watching, reading, and so much more. I love a good essay collection that makes me think and ask more questions and this has done exactly that. Perfect if you read and loved Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. Hope there's more from Pandora in the future. Her podcast to go alongside the book is also great.