SMC: A Book That Changed My Life

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When @katejwilson213 put out a call on twitter asking for people to write reviews of books that changed their lives for guest posts on her blog, I had a compulsion to write one but no idea what to choose.

There are books that I go back to time and time again to re-read, rediscover and re-enjoy, like the Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilchers that are falling apart on my shelf. There’s the fantasy and sci fi writers like Lois McMaster Bujold and Robin Hobb who show me that women can succeed in male dominated markets. And then there’s my recent feminist readings like Vagenda and Everyday Sexism and the fabulously witty Caitlin Moran. 

But they haven’t changed my life. They’ve made it more comfortable, affirmed it, made me think and given me a giggle. But not changed my life. 

When I started browsing through my shelves, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the smallest book in my collection was actually the one which had made the biggest difference to me. It was this one: 

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I bought this book in 2000, when I was in my first year at University. It was £1.99 and it was, simply, the best £1.99 I have ever spent.

I was absolutely hopeless at time management when I moved away from home. Filled with over enthusiasm, a great belief in my own powers of organisation and completely forgetting that the ever present back up of Mum doing my cooking, laundry and required portion of nagging was no longer there, I hopelessly over stretched myself. Within half of my first term, I was down on myself, sick with the flu, behind on my reading and realising that there was no way of keeping up with everything I had committed to.

This is a pattern in my life that has repeated, often during times of great stress when I try to distract myself by making myself busy and then realising that I have no way to fulfil my commitments, leading to massive periods of anxiety, self doubt and depression. 

When those happen, or these days with greater self awareness when I see them coming, I go back to this.

Split into sections of Wisdom, Work, Home, Family and Friends, Holidays, Children, Your Partner and Yourself, each page of this book has a little snippet of advice for pulling things together and keeping life on track. Several of them have wormed their way into my daily existence, and several of them are wheeled out for short term excursions when life gets a bit out of control. 

Here’s a few examples of those which have had the greatest impact:

“You could always pretend to be out” 

I don’t use this in the literal sense, but I do use this as a rule of thumb for electronic communication. The tyrrany of modern communication is terrible for those who have anxiety, but this does help me to put it in prospective. If the world would continue just fine without you haven’t received that message, you can feel free to ignore it until you are ready to deal with it. Asides from people being in hospital or jail, do you really need to give it your attention right now? It’s worth stopping to think about that now and then. 

“If your boss gives you one task too many, ask what you should drop instead.”

Don’t feel that you should have to keep expanding your working capacity.Management of your time is your boss’s job once it exceeds capacity. They get paid more than you to organise priorities and make these sorts of decisions. Be forth right. Ask which they would prefer you to concentrate on. I use this frequently with my current boss and she respects my honesty and frankness. She’s also good at passing the same thing up to her boss, and so on. As a result of this, our team has expanded to meet the needs of the business, rather than the original three of us becoming stressed out, sick and hopeless. 

“Possessions devour time. Before bringing anything new into your home ask yourself, “Do I want this enough to dust, polish, sort, insure, search behind, walk around and trip over it?” “

This has saved me in terms of housework. I use this as a rule of thumb every single time I go shopping. Just because things are cute is not enough of a reason for me to buy them. If they are cute I can go to the shop to look at them for free, or download a picture. If I want something, I have to actually use it and require it before I buy it. This book taught me that. 

“Sometimes time alone in your own home to do your own thing is better than a holiday.”

I was into ‘staycations’ before they were fashionable. When people ask me what I have planned for the weekend, the answer is often ‘nothing’ and a massive, hugely enjoyable nothing it is too! A day off or evening in alone is sometimes the best way to recharge because you’re not having to second guess everything you choose to do. It’s lovely, just occasionally, to be alone in your own brain space. 

“Avoid anything that makes you, your relationship or your home feel inadequate.” 

This was half of the ethos behind CSSB. You do not need to spend your life (and money!) fixing problems that you only learn about in magazines. But this isn’t only about magazines. How many of us have a ‘friend’ that we feel obliged to see who leaves us feeling like we’ve lost a battle with a sanding machine at the end of every get together? If you are happy with your life, stop spending time with the people who disapprove of your happiness. They’ll take whole suitcases of your stress and issues with them once they’ve gone.

This book gave me prompts to rethink my life, which was what I needed as I was growing into my adulthood. It now gives me affirmation that I am not the only person in the world who thinks like this. Learning to say ‘no’ and realising that prioritising isn’t just a workplace buzzword were both excellent lessons for me to learn, and relearn, at key points in my life. I suspect this book will come more and more into its own as I continue through life. I can’t count the number of positive moments and reassurances it has given me, but they must be at least ten a penny per the amount spent on it by now. 

There are still a few used copies on sale at amazon. If you’re someone who needs the occasional prod and reassurance to rethink your priorities, I would definitely recommend this book. 

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