Lee Kravitz was a self-described workaholic, who freely admits that he let his job dominate his life at the expense of his family. So when he loses his job as a magazine editor at the age of 54, it is a wake-up call to him. Stunned and shamed by the loss of the his job—the one thing that provided his identity for so long—Kravitz finds himself at loose ends.
His wife suggests he attend a yoga retreat to help him deal with his feelings of loss and hopelessness. At the retreat, he realizes that he can take a year to take stock of himself and become the type of person he would really like to be. He ends up realizing that to move forward, he needs to take care of unfinished business from his past. He then compiles a list of ten areas in his life where he has unfinished business to take care of. These tasks include things such as:
- finding a long-lost relative
- making a long-overdue condolence call
- reaching out to a distant friend
- letting go of a grudge
- healing a rift in the family.
Each chapter of the book details the story behind each item of unfinished business and how Kravitz goes about tying up these loose ends in his life.
It is a shame that I read this book right after The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Both are inspirational memoirs, but the comparison really ends right there. Whereas I felt uplifted, inspired and awed by hearing about William Kamkwamba’s life, I was not too inspired by Mr. Kravitz’s story. For one, it was difficult to empathize with him. Although I can sympathize with the feelings of loss and shame that can accompany a job loss in middle age, Kravitz was not plunged into a difficult financial situation. He had money enough to live comfortably for a year—as well as maintain two residences (an apartment in New York City and a country house). Although he might have felt a loss of identity, he didn’t want for something to eat or have to worry about providing for his family—a situation uncommon for most people who are victims of downsizing or layoffs.
Secondly, much of the unfinished business that Kravitz feels compelled to attend is a result of his own workholism and consistent choice to let his work take priority over everything else. By putting his work before people for years and years, Kravitz is really the architect of many of his own problems. He briefly talks about the impact that his long work hours had on his family and his wife Elizabeth, yet not one of the his unfinished business tasks directly involve spending more time with his family. Although some of his attempts to make peace with his past tangentially affect his relationships with his immediate family (for example, he coaches his son’s baseball team as a way of reconnecting with his father and an old friend), much of his unfinished business involves taking trips to various locations to meet up with and make peace with long-lost friends and family members. Part of me kept thinking: “You admit that you ignored your family for years by putting work first and now you are traveling all over the country to visit people you haven’t seen for 20 years in order to lay to rest some issues from your past?!? Seems to me like you should start with your wife and kids first.” To me, it felt as if Kravitz chose to put this personal project of completing unfinished business before his wife and kids once again.
I also didn’t get emotionally involved with Kravitz’s story. His writing—while competent and clear—just didn’t connect emotionally with me. It felt a bit dry and distant. Perhaps his journalism background is to blame. It could also be his emotional make-up is more “masculine” than “feminine,” which tends result in a more “this is what happened” approach than “this is what I felt” approach. Although Kravitz is candid and open about his own shortcomings, I didn’t feel a sense of connection with him. In a memoir, I think that is essential to truly enjoying the book.
I feel like I’m being very harsh on this book, and I’m not entirely sure why. The stories that Kravitz tells are somewhat interesting and filled with good advice and intentions. I suspect that many people will relate to the things that Kravtiz works on throughout the book. How many times have we put off making a condolence call because we felt awkward about it or didn’t know what to say? How many of us made a promise that we never kept and then regretted for years afterward? How often do we really go back to thank our mentors and let them know the value of their guidance? I do think there is value in taking care of unfinished business before our time here on earth runs out. I’m sure most of us would benefit from taking some time to think through our own lives to identify our own areas of unfinished business and taking steps to resolve them. In thinking back on my own life, there are a few areas that I would like to tie up into neater packages. But I do think the key is to not let the truly important moments go by and to keep your priorities in focus every day.
My Final Recommendation
Although I like the idea of taking time to resolve any unfinished business in our lives and the book is competently written, I wasn’t emotionally drawn into Kravitz’s story. However, I could envision a certain type of reader benefiting from this book—for example, an emotionally distant professional male might relate to Kravitz’s story and find more inspiration and value in it than I did. In addition, readers who have a lot of unfinished business of their own might find much of value in Kravtiz’s journey and approach to tying up his own loose ends.
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Whys and Wheres: I received a review copy of this book via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. I requested it because I am a big fan of memoirs and of books where people focusing on some particular quest.