Shep McKenney has spent his life seeking what we all seek - happiness. In A Life’s Work he candidly shares his experiences of “having it all” in his professional and personal life yet feeling profoundly unfulfilled. Having all he knew to want, what was missing? This intimate memoir examines that question and its surprising answer.
By exploring the traditional paths of religion, philosophy, and science through the lens of his life experiences he came to understand that the underlying barrier to our contentment is the disconnect between what our brains were designed to cope with in the primitive world and what we want in the modern world. With thought provoking stories and intensely personal vignettes, he reveals lessons and practices we can all use to keep our brains from sabotaging our happiness.
In raw, honest fashion, A Life's Work explores the highs and lows of life, success, and happiness. Struggling with questions about faith and insecurities while growing up in rural Virginia in the 1950s, McKenney reflects on his youth within the church, in college studying philosophy and law, and checking off the "social norms" such as getting a lucrative career, marriage, and children. Through all of these growing pains, McKenney found his ideology constantly evolving, from religious and spiritual beliefs to his ideals of success and happiness. McKenney digs into familial relationships, both of his childhood and of his own making, with four children produced between two marriages. He describes his happiness as a miracle, one that took serious effort: “my life’s work,” he writes, has been “to constantly overrule my mindless brain, uncovering the still, small voice within me that always knows what’s good and right.”
Throughout, he offers demonstrations of how to push back against an unhelpful mind. He covers pivoting and adjusting after career setbacks and changes, a failed marriage, and heartbreaking losses of close friends through self-inflicted tragedy, demonstrating what it took to learn and grow from those impactful experiences and relationships to define his own happiness. The result is a personal, revealing look at one man’s path toward control, understanding, and mindset of peace.
Takeaway: Engaging memoir exploring the urgent life’s work of changing one’s mindset.
Comparable Titles: Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton’s Let your Mind Run, Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
“A Life’s Work” is an inspiring little read that examines why so many people struggle to find happiness in a day and age that’s full of material abundance. Part memoir, part ‘self-help book,’ author Shep McKenney uses personal examples to highlight the struggles that arise when people are de-programmed from their natural childhood state of awe and wonder and instead molded into a worker drone of single-minded focus: the struggle between conforming to societal expectations and following what makes you truly happy.
It’s refreshing to read a book that starts out with the author being so open and honest and saying that he searched in vain to find a way to be at peace with himself and the world around him. A lot of self-help gurus are not this vulnerable. But this is more than a self-help book, it is also part memoir. That’s what makes it so different and interesting.