Kate Farrell Photography

Williston, VT

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Three Books that Have Inspired Me Lately

We all need some inspiration from time to time. Managing challenges we face personally, in our work and with our families can be hard. In addition to photography and nature, one of the places I turn for inspiration and ideas is books. Today I’m sharing three books that have inspired me lately.

But, first, a short story. And lots of pretty, and hopefully inspiring, photos along the way…

I have been an endurance athlete for decades. In high school I was a distance runner. Muddy cross country runs were my favorite. In college I found road cycling and Nordic skiing. I have loved both ever since. With a bit of hiking mixed in through the years, long workouts outdoors have been my standby through the years. My favorites are the hilly routes. That’s just how I’m wired.

Me, on a favorite route in Huntington, VT.

Then covid came. That brought remote school which my kids hated. We tried home education and I saw them come to life in ways I only dreamed about before covid. So, we stuck with homeschool even when my educator-husband returned to teaching in person.

Now there are many days I don’t have childcare. But, I still need my exercise fix. So, I embraced indoor cycling this year. Zwift is actually fun AND it can be paired with one of my other lifelong passions: books.

Two of the books I’m sharing here are books I listened to while pedaling away in my basement. Both were chosen to help me navigate this new chapter of my life as a home educating parent and small business owner.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The big idea in this book is that small habits compound over time. Making small improvements in the systems we use to approach challenges can make a big difference over time.

“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”

― James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Atomic habits are small yet powerful habits. As a former science teacher, I loved the atomic analogy! As an athlete, I found his sports stories to be very relatable.

As a busy mom and business owner I loved being given “permission” to let small improvements compound over time. There was no need to work out the details of every subject for each child and every element of my business all in one sitting.

Rather, a step by step approach is the way to make new habits stick and develop systems that will lead to success over the long haul.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

― James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Inspired by this book and ideas picked up in other places, I am continuing to take a careful stepwise approach to building both this business and our home education program.

I think this is a great read, or listen, for anyone facing a challenge (or challenges) that feel daunting. The audio book is lively enough to make a good companion while exercising.

One heads up: the opening scene describes a serious injury the author sustained as a teen. All ends well, but it’s a bit gory.

James Clear also has a free email list where you can get weekly inspiration and learn more about his work.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

First things first, I’m a big Brene Brown fan. I loved Daring Greatly and I have several of her other books on my “to read soon” list.

This is a book about emotions. Brene describes each of the MANY emotions (87 to be exact) that we complicated humans experience. Her examples left me nodding in that “Oh yeah…” kind of way when suddenly someone says something that makes so much sense that you wonder why nobody else already said it.

But, for me, the biggest insight was the concept of near enemy emotions. These are the ones that try to be helpful, but actually make things a lot worse. For example, sentimentality is the near enemy of loving kindness. The concept helped me understand some of those times someone insisted they “were being nice” but their version of “nice” felt really hurtful.

“The near enemy of love is attachment. Attachment masquerades as love. It says, “I will love this person (because I need something from them).” Or, “I’ll love you if you’ll love me back. I’ll love you, but only if you will be the way I want.” This isn’t the fullness of love. Instead there is attachment—there is clinging and fear. True love allows, honors, and appreciates; attachment grasps, demands, needs, and aims to possess.”

― Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

For anyone trying to raise emotional aware children or increase their own emotional awareness it’s a great read or listen. However, as a listen, it might be better for a car trip or than a workout just because of the cadence and tone of Brene Brown’s voice. But, I nodded along just fine while pedaling in a virtual world, in my basement a few weeks ago.

Normal Sucks by Jonathan Mooney

For anyone who has struggled with traditional school, is parenting a child who struggles with traditional school or teaches kids who struggle in traditional school this is a must-read. (Loose translation: this is a book most everyone will learn from.)

Jonathan shares his traumatic experiences as a child with multiple learning challenges in traditional schools. He takes us down the ugly path that is the history of the concept of normal and shows that, in fact, it really is just a social construct that marginalizes most, if not all, of us.

“I wonder if we recognize the irony of telling people to act normal, because to act is to perform a role that isn’t real. And I wonder if we truly understand what it does to a human being to tell them to pretend to be someone, or something, they are not, and how this demand requires people to repress, efface, and cover up who they really are.”

― Jonathan Mooney, Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive, Outside the Lines

As a high school science teacher, I spent about 10 years working mostly with students who were very much like Jonathan. One of my own children also found traditional school to be a very uncomfortable place. So, lots of this resonated with experiences I’ve seen first hand.

While the beginning and middle of this book are heavy, Jonathan takes us on a journey that is ultimately hopeful. There is hope for loving acceptance. Hope for the embrace of neurodiversity and new concepts of ability. We can work toward a world where all people are supported in learning in ways that work for their minds.

Sidenote: this isn’t a “you should homeschool” book. It’s just a book about learning and accepting others.

I read a paper copy and can’t comment on the audio book.

  1. […] looking for a good book to read once you check “MCOS” off your To Do List, check out these three books that inspired me […]

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Kate Farrell is a professional lifestyle family photographer based in Williston, Vermont, serving the greater Chittenden County area.