How to Navigate Life by Belle Liang, Timothy Klein

With a daughter about to graduate high school and a career in something of an awkward transition, How to Navigate Life: The New Science of Finding Your Way in School, Career, and Beyond by Belle Liang and Timothy Klein seemed like a book I should read.

Today’s college-bound kids are stressed, anxious, and navigating demands in their lives unimaginable to a previous generation. They’re performance machines, hitting the benchmarks they’re “supposed” to in order to reach the next tier of a relentless ladder. Then, their mental and physical exhaustion carries over right into first jobs. What have traditionally been considered the best years of life have become the beaten-down years of life.

Belle Liang and Timothy Klein devote their careers both to counseling individual students and to cutting through the daily pressures to show a better way, a framework, and set of questions to find kids’ “true north”: what really turns them on in life, and how to harness the core qualities that reveal, allowing them to choose a course of study, a college, and a career.

Even the gentlest parents and teachers tend to play into pervasive societal pressure for students to PERFORM. And when we take the foot off the gas, we beg the kids to just figure out what their PASSION is. Neither is a recipe for mental or physical health, or, ironically, for performance or passion. How to Navigate Life shows that successful human beings instead tap into their PURPOSE—the why behind the what and how. Best of all, purpose is a completely translatable quality to every aspect of life, from first jobs to last jobs and everything in between.

I was lucky enough to get a digital review copy from NetGalley and moved it to the top of the TBR pile.

I struggled a little when rating it on Goodreads. It is probably a 3.5 stars but you can’t do half stars so went with 3. The book contains lots of good advice and ways to think about navigating life (which is good given the title). High school and college students and their parents would benefit from reading it and working through the thought processes outlined in the book.

The main weakness, for me anyway, is that it sits awkwardly between a book for students and a book for parents. Some sections are clearly aimed at parents, mentors, etc. and the voice and tone align with this perspective. Others seemed aimed at students or young people and the voice seems just a little off. Perhaps I am just nitpicking, but a book with two seeming audiences and two authors didn’t always speak with one voice.

I also think the focus on inequality is a bit overdone.

Lastly, it wasn’t always a great read as a straightforward book. Some of the early sections almost feel like a workbook. I could see sitting down with young people and working through the skills and value sections but as an older adult it was a bit of a slog reading through that. Or it could be I should have just stopped and worked through the issues for myself and then with my daughter. Regardless, those sections offer very practical career and college planning type advice about how to understand your skills and values.

I guess what I am saying is that intellectually I can see that there is good advice here but I didn’t always love reading it. It just felt a little too self-helpy if that makes sense.

In short, if you need an earnest but insightful guidance counselor in book form, read this book.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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