Guest Blog Post: Courtney & Maddie
To introduce ourselves, we are Courtney and Maddy- two mentors from Oppidan Education who are based in London and travel to the Soneva resorts to run workshops at The Den and tutor privately on the islands. On these trips, we stock up on books to indulge in outside of our working hours in many nooks around the island. Our choice in literature for our trips across the world are entirely contrasting, so we decided to unpack our preferences in this blog post and explore this further.
Spending time at Soneva Jani, I quickly adapt to the ‘slow life’ and find my typically hectic brain and body relaxing. The island undoubtedly has a different intrinsic rhythm, and outside of the time I spend chasing kids through the water after sending them on treasure hunts or preparing them for a math’s exam, I often find myself curled up with a book absorbing as much vitamin C as I can, before heading back to a much less attractive climate in the UK.
Before this most recent trip to the Maldives, I had been working full time for Goldman Sachs in London as a Financial Analyst. After only a few months in the role, I found myself on the verge of burnout, having attempted to juggle such an intense job with competitive cycling. Monday to Friday my 5:30 am alarm would force me out of bed and onto my bike to commute to the office, and I would return to slip straight into bed and repeat the routine the following day. Mentally and physically I was worn down. Aware that I was struggling, I accepted an offer for a cycling team for 2022 and handed in my notice to give myself time to reset and build fitness again before the race season. By resigning, I opted to pursue my passion and prioritise my mental health and happiness above the financial security that this career gave me.
Less than a week after leaving my city job, I was lucky enough to find myself packing for another trip to Soneva Jani. Given my recent shift in career path, I stocked up on my favourite genre of book, non-fiction reads typically dubbed ‘self-help’. For me, literature exploring philosophies for how to live well and find happiness has been a good source of inspiration and motivation during reflective periods, which seemed more than pertinent for this post-resignation trip.
My first paradise read was Richard Templar’s ‘The Rules for Living Well’, which I hopped straight into during our 10-hour flight. This book entails 100 rules for life from a wide array of topics varying from wellbeing to energy and balance. My personal favourite is rule 39: ‘Live in the present’. Too often than not, I catch myself and those around me prioritising and focusing too much on the distant future or agonising over the past, whilst neglecting the now. Working with the kids in the resort makes this rule effortless to follow, as kids are naturals at living in the present and relishing in the world around them. And can you blame them, if they are presented with an ice cream room with 30 different flavours to pick from?
The other books I consumed during my stay on the island were Matt Haig’s ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’; Anna Newton’s ‘An Edited Life’ and my favourite read over the trip: Mark Manson’s ‘The Simple Art of Not Giving a F*ck’. All of these books have one key thing in common: they are filled with advice and inspiration to review and reform your method of living. For me, with physical distance away from home and my more ‘typical’ life, I find these reads both refreshing and inspiring. Stretched out in the sun flicking through the pages, I find myself reflecting on my own ambitions and how I can build a routine and lifestyle to best propel myself towards them. Often, I find that the books I choose repeat similar ideologies and solutions, but this repetition only further cements my goals; ambitions and attitudes towards life.
When reflecting on my reading preferences and why I am attracted to this genre, I realised that I also use these books as a source of validation. Having rejected a more traditional career path, I find words from others who have chosen not to conform to societies’ norms validating, as they vouch for the personal choices I have made. I also find the stories I read motivational: from the self-employed blogger, who converted her enjoyment of scribbling words into a fully-fledged career to an athlete, seeking success in their respective sport, I absorb the successful stories of the authors and store them for inspiration.
Looking forward and beyond my time mentoring on the sandy beaches of Soneva Jani, I am unsure whether this affinity to self-help books will remain for many years to come. However, one thing I do believe is that in different moments of our lives we connect and need different forms of literature to inspire, guide and entertain us and I am a true supporter in embracing whatever form of literature this is and relishing in it.
The day after I graduated, my alarm went off, I opened my eyes and I panicked. I had just finished my academic journey and everyone was telling me how exciting it would be to “read for fun again.” I. Felt. Utterly. Terrified. I was officially thrown out into the world and I was in desperate need of answers on how to live, how to be and how to do life right. What did they mean “read for fun?” I had been in the education system all my life and so far, all I had been told was that if I studied hard enough, read enough, worked enough then one day I would be good enough. That if I just learnt the secret to living then I would be able to live life correctly.
Having been a star student I turned to the only things I knew that gave me answers: books. Every time I picked up a book I prayed that the secret might be held within its pages. Over time, my bookshelf started to grow but it also started to change. I slowly took down the plays, the poems, the fiction books and stories of Greek Gods and their destinies and replaced them with books that seemed to offer more hard facts, guidance and tips for navigating the world we live in. Books that probably resemble the ones in Maddy’s suitcase. I thought that I no longer needed or had time for “stories.” I needed the cold hard truth of living. And as I watched my shelves change I thought “Gosh, look at me, I have grown. I am worthy.” But why did I put these books on a pedestal in the first place? What was I asking these books to validate? I didn’t really ask these questions until one day I picked up a book that I felt would absolutely give me the answers I needed. It didn’t. It had no answers but it gave me everything I needed to ask more questions.
“Untamed,” written by Glennon Doyle, is a book about finding yourself in a world that inherently tells you who you should be. However, unlike other books of its kind, Doyle never offers you answers but rather reminds you, through her own story, that no one can tell you who you are or how wild you could or should be. We decide our wild. Doyle, much like myself, had been a perfectionist and overachiever and she comments on this tendency by suggesting that while “hard work is important… so are play and non-productivity.” I. Was. Perplexed. She went further to suggest that her worth was not tied to her productivity but to her existence. That by merely existing she is and always will be worthy of rest. I think it was at this point my brain exploded. Despite this notion being exactly what I like to instil in all the children I work with, it is often the one I struggle with daily (the lessons we teach are often the ones we need ourselves). How could I find time for rest? How could I open myself up to play? As an actor and writer, I pride myself on my ability to play, to be open to games, people and connections. It was the basis of what I believed made art and creativity truly magical, but somehow, my world had become a little bit less about play and a lot more about productivity and results. I made the decision to put down my self-help, academic, research-based books and chose three fiction books for my trip to the Maldives. I made a promise to myself to lean into and enjoy activating my imagination purely for the pleasure of reading.
I picked up “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller after I remembered how much I fell in love with “Circe.” I was glued. Through the stories of Patroclus and Achilles, I managed to fall deeply in love all over again. Reading Patroclus states “I could recognise him [Achilles] by touch alone, by smell, I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.” Reminded me of the deep and passionate love that develops between two people in the smallest of moments. I was transported. I loved. I wept. I lost. I grieved. I pleaded to the Fates on a mountain of Scyros and prayed to change destiny with Achilles and Patroclus by my side. I had let myself imagine. I had let myself grow.
I had thought that this “break” from non-fiction was going to be a break from “productivity” but what I realised was that it was just a reframing of what productivity looked like. Glennon Doyle suggests that maybe “imagination is not where we go to escape reality but where we go to remember it.” I guess what I am trying to say is this, that by putting down my non-fiction books (even just for a month), I began to realise how much importance I had placed on my books appearing productive or “successful.” Why had I forgotten something that I instil in every workshop I lead with the kids? That imagination and play are just as important as anything else. That stories of big, bold heroes or of two people who I have never met but who I see so vividly when I close my eyes have the ability to inspire us, to keep us open to the world that surrounds us and to give us the space to grow.