Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

This Is Not the Life I Ordered

50 Ways to Keep Your Head Above Water when Life Keeps Dragging You Down

by Deborah Collins Stephens,
Jackie Speier,
Michealene Cristini Risley,
and Jan Yanehiro


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This Is Not the Life I Ordered

50 Ways to Keep Your Head Above Water when Life Keeps Dragging You Down

by Deborah Collins Stephens, Jackie Speier, Michealene Cristini Risley, and Jan Yanehiro

Reviewed February 2, 2008.
Conari Press, San Francisco, 2007. 220 pages.
2008 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Nonfiction, True Stories

Here are 50 practical tips for handling life’s transitions from a group of friends who has been through more than their share of transitions.

Collectively, we have experienced the extreme joys and deep sorrows that life offers up. From mundane moments to the dramatic and surreal, we have a history of six marriages, ten children, four stepchildren, six dogs, two miscarriages, two cats, twelve koi fish, a failed adoption, widowhood, and foster parenthood. We have built companies, lost companies, and sold companies. One of us was shot and left for dead on a tarmac in South America, and two of us have lived through the deaths of spouses.

These ladies learned life’s lessons the hard way—and now they offer up their own wisdom, and the wisdom of others, for the rest of us to learn from. They do so with bucketfuls of grace and humor.

Their tips are practical and helpful. For example:

When left on the tarmac, begin to walk.
Be willing to make great mistakes.
Give up thinking you can do it all.
Create “to-don’t” lists.
Trust in God, but row away from the rocks.
Know it’s the obstacles in the stream that make it sing.
Let yourself cry when Tinkerbell dies.
Recognize that chocolate melts in order to take a new form.
Don’t complain, create.
When dreams turn to dust, vacuum.

The tips are even more charming when combined with the stories and wisdom and humor offered along with them.

This is a lovely and empowering book. I especially recommend it for women going through a time of transition. (Most of us?) We will make it through, and we can be all the better for the experience. This book will help you survive and thrive.

From kitchen conversations to the thousands of conversations we’ve had with women from all over the world, we learned that the problem-free life we sought was more than an illusion. It had become a myth to which many women had fallen victim. A woman’s life is much more than success, having it all, or the elusive balance we all seek. It is more than seeking perfection or conquering the world (although you might). It is more than gritting your teeth and making it through. It is about surviving and thriving.

For us, surviving and thriving meant reinventing, rebuilding, and realizing that success was never final and failure was never fatal. It meant putting our best foot forward (Nike for some, Nine West for others) no matter what, and walking. Walking forward looking like a pillar of success on the outside while that tiny voice inside reminded us that our teenagers were out of control, our job could end tomorrow, and our spouses, colleagues, and bosses had been untruthful, selfish, unfaithful, or just plain stupid.

Surviving and thriving meant taking what life offered up and looking for the opportunities, the joy, and the compassion in less-than-pleasant or less-than-perfect circumstances. It meant cultivating the collective willpower to move up and move on, or move out, even when the process broke our hearts. It meant recruiting support and building the confidence to trust when life’s legendary curveballs were thrown, we would have the willpower, support, and courage to move forward. The phrase “survive and thrive” became a perfect descriptor of our journeys as friends. Together we would navigate through some tricky times.