Three Non-Fiction Books That Shaped My Life in 2022
December 06, 2022
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When I make my reading list for the year, I leave some room for books that enter serendipitously. I may not know it then, but these are books that wander into my consciousness exactly at the right time.

Here are three non-fiction books that I read in 2022 that shaped my thinking and greatly impacted my choices.

Four thousand weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Did you know that an average life span equals four thousand weeks?

Having been a self-proclaimed productivity geek with the enviable “inbox 0”, Burkeman shares his own transformative experience supported by sound arguments and deep research to illuminate our modern day obsession with productivity, accomplishment and maximizing success.

The book dispels the basic myth that we will get everything on our to-do list done. I found this strangely liberating.Knowing that we will miss out on more things in the world than what we will do (FOMO is real) is helpful because when we learn to prioritise, it becomes a deliberate choice and not a vain bid to do more or increase efficiency.

He also mentions the oft-overlooked aspect of our daily lives where we spend considerable time in activities that are not pleasurable while we are doing it (changing diapers for example). He encourages us to procrastinate, to spend time in activities that we will never excel at, and to share our time with others in order to make it more meaningful. 

The one take away I appreciated is knowing that at any given time, we can be devoted only to doing the ‘next necessary thing’ instead of worrying about doing something extraordinary or life changing or impacting the world for the next 100 years.

Why read this book?

Like me, if you are struggling to ‘find time’ or ‘make time’ for everything you would like to accomplish in this year (or lifetime), this book may help you recalibrate your own relationship with time. The next step would be to deploy it wisely. 

The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink

This book came into my life through a deep conversation with a friend who was going through an intense introspective phase. Like me, she turns to books for guidance and mentioned Daniel Pink’s The Power Of Regret – How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward

This book has an unusual take on an often misunderstood emotion – regret. After inviting people to take a short three-minute survey to share a major regret of their life, he dug into vast amounts of data with his team and classified the mountain of regrets in an unusual way. Instead of sorting them into buckets such as work, relationships, money etc, he organised regrets into four categories – foundation, moral, connection and boldness.

Interestingly, the vast majority of people appear to regret things they did not do, over things they did, particularly as they age. The reason is that for the things we did, we know how it turned out but for the fork in the road that we did not take, there is always a question of ‘what-if’. Regrets don’t have to lead to debilitating feelings but they certainly can sting. 

Reading this book helped me deal with some past decisions where I wish I had been bolder, reached out to others more and taken a different step when making difficult choices. Not wanting to add more regrets to my list, 2022 became a year where I chose differently, not because I fear regret but because I wanted my present life to be meaningfully informed by past regrets. Meaning is a subjective understanding of our life and its inherent value. With each passing year, meaning has taken center stage in my life and now I put every major decision to a simple test – will this add more meaning to my life at this time? And it made a huge difference.

Why read this book? 

For clarity, ease of decision making if you are looking for more purpose-driven life choices.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Reading a medical memoir takes stamina. Particularly when you know the book was released posthumously.

I was prepared for tears. I was prepared to be moved. What I was not prepared for was the beauty of his prose. How can a neurosurgeon wield both the scalpel and words with such exquisite precision? Turns out Kalanithi was a student of literature and philosophy much before he turned his focus to medicine. And he was a master of both these tools.

Interspersed with medical descriptions are amazing quotes, some by literary greats, but also beautiful observations by Kalanithi himself. There is much to learn from Kalanithi’s short life. 

“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.” 

Ultimately, we come to the realization that all life is beautiful and sacred. Whether it belongs to the brilliant surgeon wielding the tools to heal a human or the helpless patient who turns over his fate to the physician. Kalanithi gets to see both sides in his brief life and the book is a meditation on the human aspect of living, not a chronicle of medical treatment.

Life is not lived in the balance sheet that we contemplate at the end, it is in every moment that we take for granted, every idle thought we entertain and in each breath we take.

Why read this book?

For making sense of life knowing that it doesn’t make sense but still needs to be lived with grace and appreciated for all the beauty and magic that you experience.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

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