Welcome to the inaugural volume of Sunday Brunch’s new series of Book & Brunch. In this series, I hope to highlight books that piqued my interest, to discuss the merits of the concepts and generally discuss books with you. It’s kinda like a virtual book club.
After each book, how about we do a rating system: Buy or Skip?
Rachel Hollis has been getting a lot of hype lately. In case you were living under the same rock I was, she’s an author, lifestyle media marketer and motivation speaker. She likes to refer to herself as Tony Robbins with hair and eyelash extensions (horrifying mental picture, I know). As an author, she started in fiction but has since moved to non-fiction. Her last book “Girl, Wash Your Face” was a slow-burn bestseller and her follow up “Girl, Stop Apologizing” was a much-anticipated hit.
She seemed to have come out of the blue, all of a sudden, she was the special guest on every podcast I listen to, and her book was on every recommend lists. She was everywhere I turned. What was the deal with this girl?
I was intensely curious why Rachel Hollis was blowing up. Naturally, I checked out her book: Girl, Stop Apologizing.
The book is divided into 3 parts. The first is excuses to get rid of. Next section is behaviors to adopt and finally skills to learn. I liked the structure because you can’t really get on to learning skills or behaviors if you don’t first acknowledge that you are tripping yourself up with excuses.
I’m not exactly her target demographic, but I still found myself relating to a couple of the excuse she spotlights.
Stop Telling Yourself These Excuses
From not feeling “enough” to societal pressures of “good girls don’t…”, she lists out 9 of the most common excuses she hears from her tribe and she systematically rejects each one. Again, I’m not really her tribe material, but most women will probably relate to one or 3 of the excuses.
The most salient excuse for me was “I don’t have time”.
How many times have I said that in the last year, last month or last week? As many of you know, I work full time and run my financial literacy program after work. I don’t even have kids, yet many weeknights, I find myself saying – I don’t have time for X, Y, Z right now. It could be brainstorming for article ideas, engaging readers on social media or even making dinner.
A close cousin of this excuse is “I’ll start tomorrow”. It goes like this: because “I don’t have time” to do this now, “I’ll do it tomorrow”. I’ll meal prep on the weekend. I’ll write more articles on the weekend. I’ll clean the bathroom on the weekend.
You guessed it; my to-do list going into the weekend was huge. It’ll come as no surprise to you that I got maybe 1 or 2 of those things done. I’d never really felt I was treading water, let alone getting ahead.
Behaviors to Adopt
The book outlines 7 behaviors for women to adopt. The one listed last was: “Learn to Say No”. This is an area that I had struggled with in the past. But I am not alone. Many women find it extremely difficult to actually do so because we are conditioned to not want to upset anyone.
Another behavior I can adopt is to “Ask for Help”. Rachel recalls a segment she saw on TV years ago where a successful entrepreneurial mom modestly reply “I’m just super organized” when asked how is she this superwoman balancing work & home.
This feeds into the expectation that women can “have it all” and it’s an unrealistic standard. And women all over are filled with shame if they can’t meet this fantasy. In this section of the book, she is open about having a nanny at home, having a team at work and even a team that works on her hair and make-up. She doesn’t do it all by herself. And by telling us this, she’s giving us permission for us to do the same (ironic since the first behavior to learn in her book is “Stop asking for permission”)
Why Ask for Help
Even if I had enough hours in the day, I literally do not have the energy to do it all. And neither do you. My friend and I talked about this; that getting help from an outside source is so often frowned upon. Yet we don’t begrudge celebrities who have nannies and stylists and personal chefs. We feel we don’t deserve help. Yet what are the Kardashians contributing to society?
Rachel acknowledges that it feels super awkward for many of us to ask for help. I’m no exception. I get mad at my boyfriend when he’s at my place trying to help me do the dishes. I’m not really mad, but it’s how I mask my shame. This is something I need to learn; to accept help with grace and to ask for help when needed.
Skills to Develop
The last section of the book is about skills to learn and build. I like the framing of this book because it’s about having a growth mindset. It doesn’t assume that we are born being good at certain things, but each skill is a muscle that strengthens with exercise. Even if we suck at them in the beginning. Like we all fell many, many times when we were toddlers learning to walk, but none of us said, “well, doesn’t look like walking is my thing, I’ll crawl all my life.”
In the book, she talks about how she’s tried and failed and got up and tried again. This reminds me of advice my father gave me. I was distraught, crying from the stress: what if I fail my (piano) exam? I asked him. He just said, “then you’ll take it again next year”. So matter of fact. Just get up and do it again.
The first 4 skills, such as Planning or Persistence, are all known requisites for long term success. But then it gets super fluffy with “just choose to be positive” and “Lead-Her-Ship”. These 2 just rub me the wrong way.
I know a lot of women claimed they needed to hear what Rachel had to say in the book. Again, I’m already out of her target audience but 25-year-old me might have been one of those women. Now that I have more experience under my belt I can look at this with more objectivity.
The first thing that rubbed me the wrong way in the book is the number of times she says “you are a grown woman”. I think it’s supposed to be inspiring. Like a jolt for you to realize, heck yes I am, and I do what I want! It’s supposed to show us the power and agency we have over our lives. But the way it’s used, it’s more of a subtle shaming. Like why are you still letting this happen to you when you are a grown woman?
Do As I Say, Not as I Do
Next thing that rubs me the wrong way is how many paragraphs are just fluff. She peppers every few paragraphs with jokes, either cultural reference jokes or funny stories that have nothing to do with the plot. My main issue with it is that she claims to hate qualifiers like #Girlboss or #bossbabe. Why can’t she just be #boss? Why the need to soften it? But I ask: why “Lead-her-ship” as a chapter title? Why not just “Leadership”.
I found that her little jokes were doing just what she claimed to hate. When she dives deep into a serious issue, the next paragraph will be a joke or other banter before bringing you back to the serious issue. She feels the need to soften the delivery.
Despite the fact that she claims you can’t do it all yourself, the book has heavy bootstrapping elements. She talks about starting her businesses by herself and how she worked so hard to get to where she was. I’m not doubting she worked hard, but a sneaky sentence in the book reveals that her husband “covered her financial losses” so she could get back up and try again. Not so much bootstrapping, then.
Mental Game vs Mental Health
She tells us to just stop worrying. Just stop being negative. Just choose to be positive. But anyone with anxiety or depression knows that you can’t “just stop” by yourself.
I was disappointed that in her “Ask for help” or “Build Strong Foundations” sections didn’t include even a mention of the importance of taking care of our mental health. That sometimes, it’s not your fault if you can’t “just be positive”. That it’s ok to ask for help by seeing a therapist or that a strong foundation is not just getting enough sleep or water, but getting the right support emotionally or mentally.
What I did appreciate about the book is that it calls out a lot of the burdens that women carry. Society expects women to fit inside a box and the book names the parameters of the box. The book calls out the inequities with subtle outrage which is easier for more conservative women to digest than more overt feminist writers. This kind of messaging can reach more than the fire and brimstone messaging associated with bra-burning. So it has a chance to seep into the people who wouldn’t hear it otherwise.
I also like that the book reads like a monologue inside her head. While I tire of her personality at times, she talks about her insecurity during an awkward looking season in her life or when she realized she was living as a child asking for permission from her husband.
It’s very validating because it shows us that we are not alone in having these thoughts. It’s just part of the inner female narrative that our western society has instilled in us. Knowing that rich women, famous women, successful women still have all the same thoughts as us allows us to see them for what they are.
If you are a skimmer, the upshot is this: the book is one big permission slip to go after your dreams. Rachel Hollis says to start living your life instead of life living you. In the day-to-day, we run the danger of life living us. We are busy running from obligation to obligation. We get stuck in the rut of the small stuff. This book is a good reminder for us to regroup and focus on our bigger whys and our bigger goals.
How about you? What did you think of the book or of Rachel’s platform & message? Comment below for a discussion!
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