On Books and Figuring Out the Purpose of Life

This post was meant to be about the books I’m loving reading right now, but it evolved into a post I’ve been writing in my head for a long, long time.  It’s about reading and books as much as it’s about living, and figuring out the purpose of life.  It’s patently obvious to me in retrospect that figuring out the purpose of life, at least for me, lies in reading the words of others as they reflect myself back to me.

 

Allison Czarnecki

Recently, as I’ve taken stock of my life, trying to live in a more purposeful, careful, happy and healthy way, I’ve gotten back to reading.  Somehow over the years of building this blog I’ve neglected two major things that used to be critically important to the happiness and well-being of my life: reading and exercise.  Over the last several months I’ve carefully evaluated all the things that do and don’t make me happy.  I’ve literally made dozens of lists with pros and cons, yes’s and no’s.  Friendships that have to go, foods I have to get serious about eliminating, habits I need to break.  And also, things I need in my life.  Things like long lunches with happy people, taking care of myself with pedicures fake eyelashes and other technically wasteful, but happy-making endeavors.  Drinking tons of water, and taking long walks, going to bed at a Senior-Citizen-approved time of night, and putting myself first, for the very first time in my life.

And reading, reading is critical to my happiness.  If I’d taken stock a long time ago, I could’ve told you that.  My house is stacked to the ceilings with books, marked up in pen and highlighter, pages folded over on the top corners to mark passages whose words made my heart burn happily.  The only thing under my bed, along with the dust, is stacks and stacks of books I intend to read when I get the time.  And honestly, if the house were burning, it’d be the books I’d snag right after the kids.

So I’m reading every day.  I’m listening to audiobooks on my Kindle, which let me tell you, is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I listen to books I’d normally never have time for while I power-walk a few miles every afternoon when my kids are still at school. I still read paper books, every day.  And I read my favorite blogs, written by women I love and adore in real life and on the internet, women like Joy The Baker and The Pioneer Woman, and The Bloggess and Girl’s Gone Child.  Women whose words I cherish, words that make me feel more myself when I read them.

And here’s the honest truth: after 4 straight months of this type of stock-taking and self-care, things are pretty awesome.  And I’m grateful for it, even if it is hard work.  Because somewhere in the midst of building a business and learning how to make money and thrive in a competitive online world, I lost myself.  It became hard to remember exactly who I am and what I love about my life.  And that’s pretty scary, because I’m someone who loves my life, and I love it passionately.  But in the day-in day-out hullabaloo of modern life, I’d forgotten how to listen to myself.  How to feel what I want to feel, not what everyone and everything around is telling me to feel.  Being dragged from one viral video on Facebook to the next, into an internet wormhole of funny memes, right into the scandalous breaking news on The Huffington Post.  I allowed myself to be navigated through my days at a frantic pace instead of the other way around.  And like all major life epiphanies, it all became crystal clear to me several months ago when I fell critically ill and found myself in the hospital fighting for my life.

I’m not ready to talk about that part yet.  It’s pretty raw, and totally terrifying, if I’m being honest here.  And I am, being the very most, painfully honest I can possibly be.  But I realized something serious in the dark days of recovering from near death.  Which is probably patently obvious to the rest of you, but was a bit of a personal revelation to me: I crave vulnerability.  Not just from myself, but from everyone else.  Do you remember that line from Jerry Maguire, where Bonny Hunt (she’s the best) as Laurel Boyd, the sister of Renée Zellweger’s character Dorothy Boyd says,

You know me, I’m incapable of small talk.”?

Well, that’s me.  Not only am I incapable of small talk, I loathe it.  I’d rather get to the meat of the conversation and talk to you about the disappointments of your life, the successes, what you’re passionate about, what makes you livid.  So then, it’s pretty hypocritical, that in trying to be completely authentic on this website I’ve created, I ended up putting up a bit of a smokescreen in an effort to protect myself from anyone seeing what’s really on the inside.

Why is that?  I’m nearly 40-years-old.  I’m delightfully, happily married to the love of my life.  I have two phenomenal children, I live exactly where I want to live, in a home we’re making our own one year at a time, with a menagerie of weird animals and an assortment of lovely neighbors and friends.  I love what I do for a living.  I love the community I’ve built, which includes YOU.  What is it I’m so terrified someone will find if I pull back the curtain a little?  That I’m secretly a fraud as a grown-up?  That everyone else can, but I can’t possibly call myself a professional writer?  That I’m often duct-taping things together behind the scenes?

I’m not totally sure what I was nervous about showing you, but what I do know is that I’ve become very reacquainted with myself over the last several months, and I’m happy to say:

I really like myself. 

I’m a genuinely good person, a fiercely loyal friend and an excellent, albeit far from perfect, mother.  I’m a kick-ass wife.  I think I’m finally at the point in my life where I can say I’m a good writer. PROFESSIONAL, even.  I’m voraciously curious about every single thing the world has to offer and I’m delighted to wake up each new day in the excitement of what today will bring.  I really am.

I’m not totally sure why I’m sharing this with you today, except that I’m very purposefully living a carefully crafted life, wherein I’m leaning deeply into my own vulnerability and I hope you’ll support me as I do so.  I’m planning to share bits of my adventure in all of this here, with this awesome community, full of amazing YOU, and I hope you’ll hang with me, share with me, and help me create an even more awesome, even more supportive place on the internet as I do so.  And when I write a book, which I feel like I really want to do but which terrifies me beyond description or explanation, I hope you’ll read it.

Thanks for being here, I sure think you’re great.

xoxo, Allison

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Allison

Hello there! I’m Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I’m super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we’re a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!

50 Comments

  1. Lucrecer :

    Oh, friend. I love you dearly. I find myself in a similar space. Maybe it is time I write about it.

    • Allison :

      Lucrecer, I love you dearly right on back. You’re one of the good ones who makes my life a happier place to be. I’d love to read anything you write about all of this. It’s a tricky, vulnerable place, but there’s a strength in that. xoxo

  2. Dani :

    I love this and I am recognizing myself in your words. I’ve lost a bit of myself over the last few years by being busy, busy, busy. And not even busy-making for myself, I’ve been busy climbing other people’s Mt. Everest. In the last few months I’ve changed my priorities by simplifying my life, learning to say “no” and reconnecting with the things I need to make myself happy and fulfilled. It’s taking me awhile to get where I want to be, but at least I’m back on my own path.

    • Allison :

      Dani thank you for sharing! I think women are far more prone to this than men. And it’s not cool, we have to stop taking care of everyone else first! I’m so happy you’re getting there with your own priorities, you deserve it! xoxo

  3. Laura :

    Taking charge of one’s life is SO hard and sticking to goals and resolutions is even harder! You have succeeded where many have failed and it shows– you are RADIANT!

    • Allison :

      Laura, it IS hard! Thanks for saying that, it’s the truth. It’s serious work breaking bad habits and creating good new ones. But it’s so happy making. Thank you, thank you.

  4. Melanie Burk :

    I love this SO SO SO much. Oh my goodness. I am right there with you on small talk. Living purposefully takes word and investment, but its so worth it- something I have been REALLY learning the past few months. I love this so so much! (and I love you!!) xoxo

    • Allison :

      It does take so much time! And it feels like we don’t have enough, but as I’ve slowed down I seem to have more time! I love you right back, Melanie. Thank you for this.

  5. Hatton :

    I love this – and that you’ve assessed what it is you need to do to spend your time in a way that makes you happy. I relate to this so much – I let pointless distractions waste my time and that needs to stop… And reading quality books is a good step so I’d love for you to also wrote your original post with recommendations :)

    • Allison :

      Hatton, thank you! I will totally write a post about good books, soon!

  6. Lisa :

    I remember meeting you a few years ago at a blogger conference and feeling ticked that I didn’t know you during our days in high school. This post is a reminder to me why I thought you were so cool. Hope to cross paths again.

    • Allison :

      Lisa,

      Ha! I was very passionate about women’s rights and the plight of the suffering in high school, minus all the life experience to back it up. But passionate for sure! Hope to cross paths again for sure! xo

  7. Heather Carson :

    Beautiful post. I too am learning that my definition of success and happiness doesn’t have to be greater or equal to anyone else’s. I love the “must do to feel me” list idea. So important and freeing-letting go of all the little distractions that take away from true happiness.

    • Allison :

      Thank you, Heather! It really is so critical to feel happy, isn’t it? Or how on earth do we help those around us feel that way? Hard to learn, but so important. Hope you’re well!

  8. Suzanne :

    Thanks for sharing!! It is easy to lose yourself in the mist of time. Our lives are busy. I have been going to school for the last few years and have started to refind myself. I love being a wife, mother, daughter, sister…but I really missed being Suzanne! It has been an adventure finding myself again – but I do believe it is a daily thing you have to work on!!

    • Allison :

      YES! Suzanne, yes. Regardless of whether or not you “need” school to do/be anything for you, it’s so nice to just be you, to just learn how to be happy with reclaiming yourself! Isn’t it? Yes.

  9. Ann :

    This is me at 43. Thank you for the wake up call! Time to listen. REALLY listen and take action.

    • Allison :

      Ann, you’re welcome! There’s plenty of time to take action and live with purpose. You’ve got this.

  10. Rikki :

    THIS is why I’ve been reading for years and years. I’ve seen glimpses of this over time and I just love you! We’ve never met and I’ve only commented a handful of times all these years, but I mean it – I just love you! Can’t wait to hear more. This is the good stuff of life.

    • Allison :

      Rikki,

      I’ve been thinking so much about this comment over the past few days. Thank you. Thank you for saying this, and for reading and for hearing what I’m saying. Hope to hear from you more, I really appreciate it! xo

  11. Katie :

    What is so hard about self-identifying as a professional?!? I’ve struggled with this too as an artist. Maybe it’s the lack of a graduation or a certificate, that I can point to and say “see, it’s okay to commit time and money to me because an institution said I was a professional on this day.” It must be easier if someone else gives you the title.

    • Allison :

      Katie, I don’t know! But I think you’re right, that if I had a specific degree in being a professional writer, somehow it would validate! But so many “professionals” are trained by life and don’t have actual papers of certification for anything. So interesting!

  12. donna :

    Love this. I’m glad you’re feeling better! I’ve never gotten this good at figuring out life but I’m slowly working on it.

    • Allison :

      I think you’re SO good at life! You don’t worry about the trivial stuff, and I always learn from watching you. Your practicality is inspiring.

  13. Nicole :

    Allison, I truly appreciate your words. I think that everyone can relate to one aspect or another. We are all vulnerable. We all have weaknesses. I feel that as a society, as a whole, we want to “keep up appearances”. If we would all be a little more open about our vulnerability/struggles, I think (hope) this world would be a little more understanding. I love the quote that says, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle” (or something like that). Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sharing your story! You are an inspiration to many.

    • Allison :

      Nicole, thank you for the comment! Thank you. And thanks for being vulnerable right along with me.

  14. Rachel U :

    ALLISON! Woman! You’re amazing! It’s an honor to work for you and I’ve loved getting to know you and your spunkyness over the past couple years. You’re the best. Thanks for being you. Loved this post.

    • Allison :

      YOU’RE the best! I can’t wait to see what kind of mother you become, because you’re fabulous. And I love love having you on my team! (so does everybody else. boom).

  15. Dayne Lytras :

    Hi Allison, your vulnerability is born out in your bravery to seek, find, accept and share yourself. Over the last couple of years I’ve seen a number of photos of you & my sister Chrysula Winegar. It’s all makes sense to me now having just read what you have written, why the two of you are seriously COOL friends! At ‘nearly 40’ you aren’t even halfway; so just imagine how good it is going to get! Stay the course you want to take and that ‘kick-ass wife’ will be one hell of a Kick-ass Author!! I’m waiting for the book….

    • Allison :

      Dayne, it’s so lovely to semi “meet” you. Chrysula is one of my very favorite people in the whole wide world. I’d love to meet you eventually. Thank you for the encouragement! I’d like to write the book. And if I do, when I do, I’ll send you a copy.

  16. Surabhi Surendra :

    Hi Allison,

    This is my first comment on PE even though I read it quite religiously. I see a part of myself in your words. I have been there and gladly, it is a thing of past for me now. I believe such introspections, such random ramblings while pouring our heart out are essential to bring inner peace. Glad you have found and re-acquainted with yourself. Stay happy always. We LOVE you.

    • Allison :

      Surabhi, firstly, thank you for reading religiously, I genuinely and truly appreciate it so much. And thank you for the wonderful comment. I hope you’re staying happy as well. xoxoxo

  17. Jenny :

    I love you! And your little blog, too! So much of what you wrote resonated with me, about taking stock of yourself and living how you love to live and bring intentional. This post is my favorite thing on the Internet.

    • Allison :

      Jenny, YOU’RE my favorite thing on the internet! I’m so glad this resonated with you. I think we forget to take stock, and it’s so important to look around once in awhile! Love it.

  18. Zina :

    Oh Alison this just speaks right to my heart. Thank you for being vulnerable because it opens up space for all of us to be vulnerable. Also do you use overdrive for free audiobooks from the library? (Sorry, my librarian side is coming out) and I can’t wait to talk books with you!

    • Allison :

      Zina, I’m so happy to hear that! I think you’re just so wonderful. And I think you’re right, it takes vulnerability to breed more vulnerability and I think so many of us are craving it!

      Overdrive: yes. I have so many feelings about the app, but I’m SO GRATEFUL for it! I’m listening to 5 books at a time, and I’d love ANY recommendations from you on what to read (listen to). xoxo

  19. Elizabeth :

    Oh Alison, your words are reverberating deep within my soul. Yes! Yes! Yes! I look forward to hearing more about your transformation in the coming months. I want so much of the same in my own life. Blessings on you as you blossom into the woman you were created to be.

    • Allison :

      Elizabeth,

      I’m so happy to hear that! This life is just too important not to take stock and make our lives the best, happiest they can be, right? I think so. Thank you. For reading, and commenting. I appreciate it!

  20. Jill :

    i love you woman! You inspire me in more ways than you know! And WHEN you write a book I will not only read it I will cherish it because it was written by one of the most real and loving people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call friend.

    • Allison :

      Jill, I think YOU’RE so fabulous, and I love you! I totally will write a book, and will ask you for advice when I get there because I can’t wait to read yours! I love you.

  21. Betsy :

    You shared because this is your reality. And it’s also my reality. I so very much needed to read this, today! This sentence in particular “How to feel what I want to feel, not what everyone and everything around is telling me to feel” hit home for me. Here I am, commenting on a blog about someone else’s life, rather than living my own. But that is okay, because I’ve learned something here. Thank you and Bon Courage!

    • Allison :

      Betsy, I’m so glad this was there for you to read when you needed it! It’s okay to comment on a blog about someone else’s life, because YES we totally learn from that! And we can recognize and find things about ourselves in others. Thank you! Hope you’re well.

  22. REK981 :

    This is a wonderful post! It sucks that you were thrown into such turmoil with your health to get to this point of being YOU for YOU again but I am glad you are getting there! I am getting there too!

    Audiobooks are the BEST thing ever! I listen most days to and from work and evenings and weekends instead of TV. I have maybe 3 shows I watch thanks to Netflix. No cable. Also, I took all the news apps off my phone and out of my favs/booksmarks on my computer web browsers. I sleep loads better now. I think I started following you back in my Baby Center days when my now 10 year old was a wee babe. But you caught me with your writing. I enjoy reading what you write about. I follow your personal story as the spouse to a wonderful man who has a chronic illness. Knowing some other happily married couple is out there navigating all this makes me feel better.

    If you write a book then you have to do a book tour!! Which means you will make a stop here in Indy to see some of the greatest ladies ever. But then you can also visit the Kurt Vonnegut library and see his beautiful mural we have here. (I saw your FB post about him).

    Or you could just write yourself a book. I know loads of people who aren’t published for a great many reasons that still write. Write for you and if you want to share I will gladly read!

    • Allison :

      REK981,

      It does suck that we need to struggle to get better at life, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t recommend the hard, but I love the “better” part that comes out of it. What books are you listening to? I’m loving this whole new era of my life! I too am listening less to news, and am watching less and less and it IS so much better! I’m glad I’m not alone! I’m so glad you found me when I wrote for BabyCenter, and that you’ve followed me here, it means a lot. You can do this, (the chronic illness spouse), it’s doable, and there’s beauty in that! xoxo

  23. Judy Rienzi :

    Dear Allison, I read a post you wrote recently, I can’t remember where, about your turmoil with your health. It inspired me to go on your website and I just found this post. I have an autoimmune disease, it’s 13 years now. What you just wrote here has inspired me to re-define myself. I have my own business too, but have neglected everything due to the fatigue this disease causes me. I feel lost right now and trying to remember who I used to be. Thanks for writing this. I understand what I have to do now.