The Two Most Tiny Beautiful Things Cheryl Strayed Taught (or Reminded) Me

January 27, 2016

After dipping in and out of it since October, I finally finished up Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. Made up of letters to and from The Rumpus's former advice columnist Sugar (AKA Cheryl Strayed), this book lends itself well to taking your sweet time (heh), reading a column or two every day, and letting the insights percolate.

Sugar loads her responses with personal stories, and people seem to love or hate that with fairly little in between. Me? I'm firmly in the love camp. Strayed has been through hell and back herself, and her advice is often brutally honest, occasionally saccharine, but always 100% well-intentioned and given with love. This book is like being hugged by your best friend's cool mom over and over again.

There are so many gems in here, but here are a couple of things that Sugar hammered home when I needed some reminding:

1. Boundaries are a-OK.

I've struggled to build boundaries with my immediate family (and my significant others, and my friends, and my colleagues...) for my entire life. I used to think that they were a sign of my own intolerance and inflexibility, but, as the quotation below beautifully illustrates, that's just what other people want you to think so that they can better push you beyond your limits, intentionally or not.

What's harder, you can't just build these boundaries once. You keep building and fortifying them over your entire life. This is exhausting, but the payoff—your sanity, your peace of mind, and your self-respect—is worth all of the effort and more. Build up those walls and protect them fiercely.

"Fucked-up people will try to tell you otherwise, but boundaries have nothing to do with whether you love someone or not. They are not judgments, punishments, or betrayals. ... Boundaries teach people how to treat you, and they teach you how to respect yourself." - A Glorious Something Else

2. Get on with it, because no one else will do it for you.

We all screw up sometimes. We all do things we wish we hadn't done, or wish we'd done the things we've done just slightly differently. I tend to get stuck thinking about what could have been if I'd only, or they'd only, or it had only...

Of course it's good to think about the ways things could have turned out differently. Reflection helps us to not make the same mistakes or find ourselves in the same situations in the future, but it's so easy to get mired in the muck of those slip-ups or the crappy, uncontrollable things that happen. Think on them, figure out what they have to teach you about how to move forward, and then get the eff moving.

"Nobody's going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you're rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It's up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out." - A Big Life

I know I'll be returning to this collection time and again, and I can't wait to see which letters stand out to me as I continue down this twisty, turn-y path of life.

Have you read Tiny Beautiful Things? Which letters stood out the most to you?

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