In 1998, Jennifer Louden helped start the conversation about self-care for women with her book, The Woman’s Comfort Book, and ever since, she’s helped women nurture their creative desires and bring their scary callings to life.

I discovered her work during my first coach training, and after losing touch with her teachings for a few years, I recently reconnected with her work and finally read her newest book, Why Bother, last week.

Reading Why Bother gifted me with a newfound empathy for cynicism and gratitude for Louden’s influence on my coaching.

There are two circumstances in which I recommend reading Why Bother:

  1. You find yourself asking the question why bother, lost in despair, hopelessness, disengagement, or cynicism.
  2. You feel disconnected from a sense of desire and wonder what you want in the next phase of your life.

First, A Lesson in Healing Cynicism

As a coach, clients occasionally come to me struggling with cynicism. Although I have been able to help them to rediscover a sense of aliveness, I’ve struggled to relate.

Because I’ve been lucky not to experience much cynicism myself, I haven’t entirely been able to completely understand my clients’ experience.

Louden helped me understand my clients better. She offers readers who are in the depths of cynicism and despair a healing balm by reflecting their experience, explaining how they got there, and prescribing a (non-linear) path to bothering again.

She writes:

“Cynicism is perfectionism wrapped in self-protection disguised as world-weary experience.

You say, ‘If the future can’t be exactly the way I want it, and if I can’t know my efforts will be meaningful, I’ll give up now. I won’t even try. I’d rather disappoint myself now than be disappointed later.’

You also buy into the status-quo story that nothing ever really gets better, so why both. Cynicism feels smart, righteous, efficient—in a cynical mindset, I don’t have to dig into the subtleties of an issue, nor do I have to work to get to know people; I can avoid (page 35).”

“You may veer into the swampland of cynicism or why bother—or both—because you’ve bothered so much, because you’ve hoped and prayed and worked your butt off and it either hasn’t seemed to be effective or you’ve burned out.”

“Getting your why bother on is not a selfish act; it’s giving despair the middle finger. It’s saying you do have power, there is a reason to act, life does and can change for the better, and it’s time to find a sustainable way to care.”

Second, Guidance for Rediscovering Desire

Louden writes that desire is “the heart of the why bother approach.” She writes:

“Every major transition requires rediscovering desire.”

“Desire goes underground for many reasons:

  • Because we’re afraid to try for what we want,
  • Because we constantly hate on ourselves,
  • Because the mainstream culture tries to sell us an empty crappy story we could care less about,
  • Because we age out of a desire,
  • Because we complete something,
  • Because something is taken from us,
  • Because we’ve learned what we need to learn,
  • Because we’re exhausted,
  • Because we’ve stayed too long in a job or relationship or identity,
  • Because we’ve put everyone else first forever,
  • Because we never had the agency or resources to ask, “What do I want?”

“We can’t talk about the desires of women or men who don’t or won’t fit inside the accepted power structures or of genderqueer folks without looking at the oppression and violence against our desires, the freedom denied to so many for so long, the freedom to even name a desire, let alone act on it.”

“Desire is a one-word feminist manifesto.”

“Your work is to blow on the embers of your longings and to trust the dignity of your desires.”

“Everything starts with desire. You can’t bother without it. Desire is your power, your path, the energy to persevere.”

Early on in my coaching career, I realized early on that rediscovering desire was an essential step to getting clear about what’s next. I’ve luckily been able to help my clients heal.

However, until reading this book, I hadn’t realized the link between healing despair and rediscovering desire.

Nor did I fully appreciate the impact that Louden’s teachings had on me as a new coach. If I hadn’t discovered Jennifer Louden’s work when I did, it might have taken me longer to realize desire’s central role in healing from burnout and discovering what’s next.

I am grateful to Louden for taking such a strong stand for desire and approaching readers who struggle with cynicism with such loving care.

If you’re needing guidance for reclaiming desire or a supportive friend who gets your sense of despair, I recommend reading this book.

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