Is a perfect life after divorce possible?
For many, it probably doesn’t seem possible. But with the right support system and a healthy path to recovery, it is possible.
It’s been seven years since my ex and I separated and then divorced. Divorce forced me take inventory of what truly mattered in my life and to reevaluate the direction in which I wanted those things to go: my parenting, my career, my finances, my relationships (family, friends, and romantic), and my physical and emotional well-being. Everything!
My ex and I chose to co-parent by bird nesting (which has worked very well for our family). This type of co-parenting requires a lot of creativity, communication, and support from others. These are requirements for any successful co-parenting – and for post-divorce life in general, kids or no kids. The books listed below all helped me in developing those areas: creativity, communication, and support.
There have been countless challenges (and a few missteps) along the way, but I’m proud of each accomplishment and appreciative of all the learning experiences and positive changes that have come my way.
I should say, I didn’t really consider myself a “self-help” book reader. Most of these books came to me unbidden or serendipitously. I’m sharing what helped me in the hope that something sparks a connection for you. These eight titles had, and continue to have, a significant impact on my journey – so far. I’ve listed them in the order in which I read them over the past seven years but pick and choose whichever title appeals to you for where you are right now. Best wishes to you on your journey!
Books That Helped Me Create a Perfect Life After Divorce
1. The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood
This was the selection for a book club of a women entrepreneurs I joined after my divorce (I was networking a lot to build up my freelance writing career). I probably would not have picked this book up otherwise. The word “passion” has become sort of clichéd from overuse. I’m more comfortable with the word “values”, and this book definitely helped me clearly define those for myself. This book opened my eyes to the fact that I could, and should, have more than one “passion” (value) and that different ones can take priority at different times, but they all can work together in harmony.
A favorite quote: “You are creating your life and your world in every moment.”
2. The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks
Another selection for that same book club, otherwise, I may not have read it. But I loved this book and have reread it several times! While I didn’t connect with the word “fear,” this book helped me realize that I was unconsciously putting limits on what I could aim for, professionally and personally. It also helped me grasp the value of frequently and regularly making time for creative thinking; and to not be so limited by the concept of time – that my time is something I have ultimate control over. That was a life-changing realization for me.
Favorite quote: “You are where time comes from.”
3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This one I sought out on my own. I was networking a ton to get my freelance writing business off the ground. I read an article that said every entrepreneur should read this classic, so I did.
And, boy, was I glad I did. Yes, this has been around forever. Some of the stories are old-timey, but the lessons are still perfectly relevant. This book was hugely helpful for making connections in my professional life. But it also changed my mindset about communicating and negotiating in my personal life, especially with my ex. (Bet you didn’t realize I was gently using Dale Carnegie wisdom on you, Bill, did you?) Carnegie’s lessons offer some essential parenting tips, too!
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but it also taught me a game-changing lesson: learning and using people’s names is a wonderful thing to do. I’m friendly enough and comfortable talking with people but I’d always (lazily) claimed, “I’m just not good with names!” and would leave it at that. Dale Carnegie convinced me to get over myself and put in a little damn effort for Pete’s sake! (Or Joe, Suzanna, Edith, whoever.)
Favorite quote: “People don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced to agree with you. But they may be led, if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and friendly.”
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
I picked up this book because I was assigned to write a magazine article about decluttering. This book was just hitting American shores and “Konmari-ing” was becoming part of the lexicon, so I decided to use it as a resource. And I loved it!
Yes, it’s another book about decluttering and organizing. But her somewhat unusual approach (we all know the “does it spark joy?” thing) was actually extremely helpful to me. As a nesting co-parent I’m managing not only my own living space, but also the family home for the 50% of the time I’m there (which includes three boys, all their stuff, and all the household stuff my ex and I continue to share). Kondo inspired me to declutter mercilessly (but joyfully) and to develop a streamlined system to help me move easily back and forth between my two residences (here’s my packing routine).
That said, it was the underlying messages that influenced me, the importance of:
1) taking a good hard look at all the “stuff” in your life
2) taking a good hard look at your relationship to each of those things
3) then clearing out the “clutter” to make space for truly good things to come into your life!
Which is a good philosophy for post-divorce life, as well.
A favorite quote: “A dramatic reorganization causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”
5. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
This book was literally put into my hands by a friend whom I’d recently been complaining to about feeling stuck on a big writing project. She showed up at my door, handed me a brand new copy, then turned and walked away. Talk about synchronicity, God’s plan, a “note from the universe”, whatever you want to call it.
The Artist’s Way brought all the lessons from the above books together in one package. It’s more than a book though. It is work: a 12-week course that asks for at least a couple of hours of commitment every week. The work (weekly tasks, Artist’s Dates, Morning Pages) made me feel I was getting to know myself for the first time in my life! Many of the lessons have been life-changing – I can’t imagine starting a day without my Morning Pages.
Even though it says “artist” in the title, don’t let that throw you if you’re not an artist. This book is for anyone who needs creativity, humor, and a broader perspective in their life – and who doesn’t need those?!
I like this review by Michael Melcher, author of The Creative Lawyer, on the Amazon description: “Julia Cameron’s landmark book THE ARTIST’S WAY helped me figure out who I really was as an adult, not so much as an artist but as a person…. Cameron’s genius is that she doesn’t tell readers what they should do or who they should be — instead she creates a map for readers to start exploring these questions themselves.”
Favorite quote: “Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.”
6. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
This isn’t just about writing – it has some wonderful lessons for tackling any of the big challenges of life. (Divorce, I’m looking at you.)
Anne’s story that gives the book its title is:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
I love the way Lamott writes. I laughed a lot while reading this.
Favorite quote: “You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side.”
And for you writers out there, this quote changed my perspective on writing (and “platform,” social media followers, and all the other stresses that come with writing for your living):
“Who knows? Maybe what you’ve written will help others, will be a small part of the solution. You don’t even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
7. Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life by Shakti Gawain
I picked this book up because Gawain is quoted several times in The Artist’s Way and I had no idea who she was. I didn’t know anything about her very popular and influential work, or even very much about visualization, manifestation, whatever you want to call it. I read this mostly out of curiosity at first but have found I really love making time in my day to envision positive outcomes.
I also learned that Gawain was one of the founders of the publisher New World Library – which I would love to work with to bring my book about bird nesting to the world. So I’m visualizing that and sending it out to the universe in a big pink bubble of hope! (I’ll keep you posted!)
Serendipitously, just as I was finishing this piece, The New York Times published this: “Manifesting, for the Rest of Us: A New Generation Has Turned to an Eons-Old Practice of Envisioning Positive Outcomes.”
A favorite quote: “Stop doing so much and have an experience of just being for a while.”
8. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Once I learned about Gawain and her connection to New World Library, I learned that they also publish Tolle’s books. I knew his name from my Oprah watching days (oh, how I miss those days), but I’d never read his books. Until now – in the spirit of being more open to the synchronicities that constantly pop up in life, as Julia Cameron encourages.
This book may be the “grandfather” of all the mindfulness stuff out there. I think mindfulness is a great concept – but this resonated differently with me. Tolle writes about working to disconnect yourself from your mind and its incessant chatter, its endless running commentary, most of it negative, that brings you pain and stress. The mind constantly replays the past, worries about the future, imagines conversations that should have happened (but didn’t), replays conversations as you wish they’d happened (but didn’t), etc., etc. And very little of it is actually real. The mind is either imagining a future that is actually unknown or remembering things inaccurately through the haze of the past. To turn this constant chatter off – even momentarily – and just Be in the Now can be incredibly liberating.
I may be oversimplifying it, but that’s how I understand it right now. What I am succeeding at is experiencing more and more of the peace that these Now moments bring to my life. I wish I would have read this as I was going through the hardest times of my divorce. Perhaps it would have saved me from the countless hours of stewing over what had been and worrying about what was going to be. But maybe I wasn’t ready for this message yet.
A favorite quote: “Imagine you are a lake… the surface of the lake changes according to weather, wind, rain, etc. But the depth of the lake remains always undisturbed. The depth of the lake is your inner state, not dependent on external things.”