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Happy 52 out of 4,000!

January, 2022

Dear Friends,

Best wishes for a Happy 52 Weeks!

I've been thinking in terms of weeks, rather than years, ever since reading Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. The book has given me insights that I hope to apply to this new year--and maybe they'll be helpful to you as well.

The title references the four thousand weeks that are the approximate human life span. Burkeman's goal is to help readers use those weeks wisely. Drawing inspiration from spiritual teachers, philosophers, and psychologists, his book is both practical and profound. What he says isn't entirely new to me, but he puts it all together in such an entertaining way that I was both charmed and enlightened.

Burkeman began his journalism career by focusing on productivity, writing stories on how to turn your life into a well-oiled machine of industriousness and efficiency. But after years of living a hamster-wheel existence, the ridiculousness of it all hit him, as he realized that he was never going to have enough time and was never going to get his life in permanent order.

That's where ancient wisdom comes in, because Burkeman's dilemma is one that's been faced by humans for millennia. The answer? Embrace the fact your time is limited. And choose what's most important. Writes Burkeman: "Seeing and accepting our limited powers over our time can prompt us to question the very idea that time is something you use in the first place. There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history."

I wrote my own book on dealing with mortality (Near the Exit) but I continue to struggle with  the inevitably of time's winged chariot drawing near. That's why I appreciate Burkeman's bracing philosophy, especially his comments on being deliberate in what we pay attention to. "At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been," he writes. "So when you pay attention to something you don't especially value, it's not an exaggeration to say that you're paying with your life."

That makes you think twice about mindlessly scrolling your phone, doesn't it? I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but it still makes me sad to see all the people in public places buried in their phones instead of engaging with the real world. But even more important is that his words make me think of how much time I've wasted in worry, resentment, and anger. Were those worth the hours of life I traded for them? Of course not.

Burkeman also has some perceptive things to say about dealing with problems. He recounts the story of the French poet Christian Bobin, who had an epiphany one day as he was peeling an apple from his garden. "I suddenly understood that life would only ever give me a series of wonderfully insoluble problems," the poet realized. "With that thought an ocean of profound peace entered my heart."

Writes Burkeman: "Once you give up the unattainable goal of eradicating all your problems, it becomes possible to develop an appreciation for the fact that life is just a process of engaging with problem after problem, giving each one the time it requires--that the presence of problems in your life, in other words, isn't an impediment to a meaningful existence but the very substance of one." 

The end of the book has "Ten Tools for Embracing Your Finitude." Here are the four I found most helpful, and which I give to you now as a New Year's gift:

Decide in advance what to fail at. You can't do it all, so focus on what you have a reasonable chance of completing. Nominate in advance entire areas of your life in which you won't demand excellence from yourself.

Focus on what you've already completed, not just on what's left to complete. Transforming your to-do list into a done list can harness the psychological power of small wins.

Consolidate your caring. Social and news media are a giant machine for getting us to care about too many things, writes Burkeman. More than at any time in history, we're exposed to news of an unending stream of atrocities, crises, and injustices. To remain sane, pick your battles in charity, activism, and politics. 

Be a "researcher" in relationships. When presented with a challenging and/or boring moment, try adopting an attitude of curiosity. What's going to happen next? Who is this human being I'm dealing with? The goal isn't to fix the issue or person, but to choose wondering over worry.

I'm trying to take these lessons to heart, realizing that the 52 weeks I'll get this year (if I'm lucky) aren't ever going to come round again. And I hope that you might see the gifts of limitation in this coming year as well. Despite illness, political and economic turmoil, anxiety, and all the crap floating about in the ether these days, life is a gift to savor. May you find joy in the midst of your wonderfully unsolvable problems.

All good wishes,


(photo credit: Victorian Era greeting card)

More Recommended Reading:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown explores the transformative power of discerning what's most important in your life.

Iddo Landau's Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World presents a philosophical argument for not letting the perfect become an enemy of the good. 

Even if you've read it before, Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning is a book to return to again and again. Frankl writes about his time in a Nazi concentration camp and how a quest for meaning can sustain us through life's most tragic circumstances.

News About My Newest Book:

As regular readers of this newsletter know, I'm the author of the new book The Soul of the Family Tree: Ancestors, Stories, and the Spirits We Inherit. Last month it was featured in A Pilgrimage Home in the Norwegian American, and I was also interviewed for the Daily Iowan's Ask the Author. See my website for a full list of reviews and media, including my NPR interview with Rick Steves (my portion of the show begins at 13:25).

Interested in doing The Soul of the Family Tree in a book group? You can find discussion questions here

And if you've read and enjoyed my book, I hope you'll post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites. Your review will help other readers discover my book.


 My Previous Books:

Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper is about places that have helped me come to terms with mortality. 

“This book’s journey to spiritual places near and far is worth taking.” Library Journal (starred review)

Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world.  

“Whether describing mystical visions or the rhythms of everyday life, Erickson turns the spiritual journey into a series of exciting transformations.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)


Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She's the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world. 

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