3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Sometimes the most mundane encounters can be the most life-changing—that is the lesson Rob White shares in his autobiographical self-help book And Then I Met Margaret. Growing up in an underprivileged mill town, White always believed he was destined to grow up to be a carbon copy of his father: a hardworking, locally respected factory worker. He believed "scrambling for money" was simply a part of life and he never thought to question it. His perspective changed when, in junior high school, the manager at his part-time job commented, "Yup, you're college material, that's for sure." This simple comment opened White's eyes to the possibility of a life outside of his hometown and is one of the many transformative moments White shares in his book.
And Then I Met Margaret is comprised of a series of encounters with ordinary people that White refers to as "unexpected gurus." Each of these gurus, whether they intended to or not, taught White a valuable lesson about himself and, oftentimes, changed the course of his life. In each anecdote, White discusses how these lessons dismantled the lies he believed about himself and contributed to his overall happiness and success.
This book is an easy, low-pressure read thanks to its format. I sometimes get so busy that I avoid reading entirely since I know I'll get lost in a book and lose hours of my day. This was less of a concern with And Then I Met Margaret. Each chapter is a self-contained story of one of White's encounters with a guru, and most can be read in less than ten minutes—no cliffhangers, no unanswered questions that push you into reading another chapter. This was perfect for me because it allowed me to sneak in a chapter here and there when I ordinarily wouldn't have time to read at all.
Each chapter starts out with a "myth," or a lie White believed about himself or the world. These myths were often general; things that most audiences would probably be able to relate to. I certainly did. Some of these really stood out to me and struck a personal chord: "Some folks are superior—lucky them;" "I can wish, but I'm powerless to insist;" and particularly, "if you must choose between indecision and perhaps making a wrong decision—it's right to choose indecision." It was fascinating to read White's dissection of these myths and the people in his life who opened his eyes to an empowering truth.
For the first ten chapters, I was enamored. White's experiences were relatable and thought-provoking. He discussed his struggle to break free of the expectations that were set for him, his fear of giving up a secure future to pursue his dreams, and how his desire to succeed drove him to cheat in school. While the details differ for everyone, I think most readers would be able to see aspects of themselves in White's stories and draw their own truths from his experience.
In later chapters, the lessons began to feel less natural. In some cases, it felt like White had an interesting story he wanted to share and he tried to fit a lesson in after the fact. One such story started out with him riding along with a stunt pilot in a biplane, leading up to a later moment in which he declined to take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon due to his newfound fear of flying in small aircrafts. This experience led to the lesson, "look within—that's where the trapping begins." The link between the story and the lesson is tenuous at best; I can't help but think there's a more relevant example he could share.
Then we meet Margaret.
In the book's introduction, White promises us we'll meet Margaret in Chapter 12, yet her story takes place in Chapter 18. That had me slightly confused as I was reading. I had been looking forward to Chapter 12, expecting a big, life-changing moment, only for the chapter to focus on a setback in his real estate business. I kept wondering how an elementary school child would tie in with all of this, only for her to not appear at all.
I found the actual chapter about Margaret to be a little underwhelming. I won't spoil what Margaret said to him, but it wasn't profound. I have no doubt that this moment was truly meaningful to White—otherwise, I don't believe he would have built it up as much as he did. However, I feel like his editor should have advised him to tone down the anticipation for Margaret's story since it was simply an ordinary moment that struck him in an extraordinary way. He spent a lot of time trying to explain why this encounter meant so much to him, whereas, in other chapters, he didn't have to clarify.
As the authenticity of the stories and their corresponding lessons declined, I began to feel more and more like I was reading a sales pitch. This feeling was confirmed for me when the final line in the book encouraged readers to visit White's personal website to get their "free pass to the front row in life." This was such an off-putting way to end a book about finding the strength within oneself to create positive change. In the prologue, he explains that we are only held back by the lies we tell ourselves, and that life knowingly and intentionally places gurus in our path to help us reach our full potential. From my perspective, it seems like the point of the book was to teach us how to open our eyes, look for these gurus in our lives, and be receptive to their message. Ending the book with self-promotion and the implication that we need his continued help and guidance to succeed in life seems contradictory. Ultimately, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
There were a number of small errors in this book, particularly an excessive amount of missing quotation marks. Another common error was inconsistent spelling and punctuation, such as a chapter in which White refers to a former teacher as Mr. Lampkin, then Mr. Lamp-kin, and another chapter where he switches between "café" and "cafe." He calls his wife "Kat" through the entirety of the book, only to once call her "Kathy" toward the end.
Overall, I enjoyed reading And Then I Met Margaret. The first half was much stronger than the rest of the book, but since there is still a wealth of valuable insight to walk away with, I don't feel like I wasted my time. I'm sure I'll go back and reread some of the early chapters for inspiration and encouragement in my own life. Due to the errors and decline in relatable stories, I give And Then I Met Margaret 3 out of 4 stars. The first half alone would make for a solid, 4-star book; it's simply the later chapters that pull down the overall quality.
And Then I Met Margaret
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like sarbee's review? Post a comment saying so!