“But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”
Lori Gottlieb is a therapist in LA. She starts the book by giving us a brief history of her career which did not start out in medicine. She seems to have lucky breaks aiming to be a journalist but finds herself being a TV writer most notably on Friends and ER. For those who don’t know, ER is a medical show and Gottlieb who was already feeling discontent with her job, finds herself intrigued by medicine and goes to medical school to become a therapist.
Gottlieb goes through a bad breakup that throws her for a loop and she starts seeing a therapist, Wendell who lets her view her life through a different lens. Gottlieb introduces us to four different patients of hers – an obnoxious Hollywood TV producer, a young newlywed woman with terminal cancer, a pessimistic senior citizen who has threatened suicide and a young woman who makes bad dating choices. With these four patients, Gottlieb manages to tell a story about her, us, them and life in general.
“Relationships in life don’t really end, even if you never see the person again. Every person you’ve been close to lives on somewhere inside you. Your past lovers, your parents, your friends, people both alive and dead (symbolically or literally)–all of them evoke memories, conscious or not.”
This book started out slow but I had heard so many good things about it and since I am trying to increase my non fiction reads, I was going to stick it through. Sticking it through was worth it because it was so good. I am so fascinated by the human psyche and this book fed every human psyche appetite I did. I am most in awe of how Gottlieb managed to pick the right four stories with which to tell a story, while also, in some ways wrote a memoir while giving us life nuggets along the way and giving us a window into what life as a therapist is like.
“Peace. it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
I mentioned memoir because while the book seems like it could be about her patients, she does a good job in talking about herself – flaws and all and we get a good sense of who she is. By no means do I think she tried to make herself look like a saint or a therapist that has it all figured out. I don’t think we got it all (I have read that in her previous books, she has written about how hard it was for her to find a partner – which may give context to why she took the break up so hard) but I do think because the focus was on the patients, she gave enough and didn’t want to make herself the focal point.
“Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map. Don’t be afraid of the truth.”
Now what killed me the entire book was trying to figure out who the Hollywood producer, John was. I was thinking of all the clues dropped and finally gave up which led me to the other thing. If names were changed, I am sure other things were changed so they couldn’t be identified and it makes you wonder, so how much alteration was made to the stories? I also kept wondering how she was able to get permission to tell the stories. Even though this wasn’t the original story she was going to write, it still made me wonder if in some way knowing it would be for a novel, did that impact how she went through the process?
“Above all, I didn’t want to fall into the trap that Buddhists call idiot compassion – an apt phrase, given John’s worldview. In idiot compassion, you avoid rocking the boat to spare people’s feelings, even though the boat needs rocking and your compassion ends up being more harmful than your honesty. People do this with teenagers, spouses, addicts, even themselves. Its opposite is wise compassion, which means caring about the person but also giving him or her a loving truth bomb when needed.”
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I did it on audio and the narration was fantastic. It was very compelling and I felt invested in most of the characters. I took away some nuggets and life lessons from this book. I am not entirely sold on Gottlieb, given her experience in Hollywood and what I mean by that is I don’t know if we know her fully as a person. I think she knows the machine and how to engineer it and I am okay with it. If this was a true proper memoir, then maybe it would bother me. Not surprisingly, the book has been optioned for TV by Eva Longoria. If you are looking for part memoir, part self help, part sounds like fiction with good storytelling – pick this one up.