I’ve been a longtime fan of Gretchen Rubin, an author with whom I became aquatinted through her more recent books about happiness and habit formation (The Happiness Project, Happier at Home and Better Than Before). Because I liked these books so much, I decided to check out one of her biographies, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill.
I welcomed the opportunity to study Churchill (he’s one of those figures about whom I feel like I should know something, like Alexander the Great or Napoleon or Queen Victoria), but what I liked most about this book had less to do with the facts that I learned about Churchill and more about the thoughts that it sparked in me about reflecting on a life.
Rubin’s chapter titles — her “forty ways” to look at Churchill — range from “Churchill’s Genius with Words: His Greatest Strength” to “Churchill’s Finest Hour:The Decisive Moment” to “Churchill’s Desire for Fame: His Motive” to “The Tragedy of Winston Churchill, Englishman: The Meaning of His Life.” In her well-researched and systematic way, Rubin presents evidence and arguments for each of these facets of Churchill’s existence. As Rubin examined Churchill’s strengths, decisive moments, motives and purpose, she called me to consider these elements of my own life. What is my greatest strength? What is my motive? What are the decisive moments of my life?
While I don’t necessarily think that these questions can be answered (at least not at this point in my life!) I really believe that they are worth asking. Contemplating the decisive moments in my first 27 years inspires me to cultivate the mental and emotional spaces that allow me to make change and growth happen in my life. Considering my motives challenges me to examine the orientation of my moral compass. Reflecting upon my greatest strengths calls me to think about how I can use them more fully, for the good of myself and the good of others.
I just have this one life; I want to use it fully, and reflecting on it helps me to do that.