Cara E. Houser’s book is inspiring to me. A number of years ago, I was right where the ideal target audience of her new book was. Washed up, a struggling professional trying to make it in a notoriously volatile and corrosive business that spits out and swallows up whole folks far more qualified than I was. While I pushed through it and ultimately achieved the kind of success Houser wishes upon those adoptive of the book’s core principles, in some ways it would have been much, much easier if I had had a mentality like the one Houser promotes.


The old saying ‘mind over matter’ really does apply. With a book like Houser’s, Burned Out to Lit Up: Ditch the Grind and Reclaim Your Life, remedies for personal stagnations depend upon our own sense, or at the very least pursuit, of self-possession. Take, for instance, a key passage from Houser’s book under the ideological dispatching of ‘Sustaining…Joy’: “…Sometimes we can get wrapped up in a fit of displeasure at the circumstances around us, angrily thinking something (or someone) else has to change. Then in a bolt of self-awareness we realize that, at least for now, the thing needing adjustment and attention in this situation is us. I’ve since been reminded how heartbreakingly essential fun, joy, and serendipity are to having a life worth living.”

She adds a personalized example to boot. “My mom was into this series of children’s books called Serendipity; each has a sweet animal story and conveys a moral or value for living well. Serendipity means ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.’ The stories express an optimistic sense of possibility, and I’ve always delighted in the notion that a serendipitous occurrence is simply one moment of awareness away. But many of us miss these simple moments all the time.

All the mature, practical adulting we’ve been doing sucks all the fun out of us, and we develop a certain blindness to the whimsical delights of this world,” Houser writes. “If you’re out of the habit of experiencing joy, fun, and serendipity, the way to get it back into your life is through some good old intentional planning. Wait, what? Planning isn’t fun. How is this so? That’s because the people whose to-do lists chronically runneth over never put fun high enough on the list to actually make it happen— and if something fun ever does show up unannounced, you’ll likely squash it or dismiss its importance, thinking of it as frivolous or a waste of your valuable time. I know that’s how I felt for a while. Fun, right?”


Fun indeed. Consider the antithesis of ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, sans the rather ominous phrasing of that statement, plus the iconic film upon which it is forever branded. By creating a copacetic balance between the personal and professional, the left brain and the right, what Houser brilliantly and concisely demonstrates is one wins on all levels. The energy for consistent productivity is effectively maintained, while the ability for personal happiness and pursuit of life’s richness remains unabashed, and untainted.

Alexander Marais