Book Review: Laura Vanderkam’s Juliet’s School of Possibilities

I really liked this book—but it took me a while to like the ending.

Here’s what you need to know: Juliet’s School of Possibilities: A Little Story about the Power of Priorities is by time management and productivity expert Laura Vanderkam (whose work I’ve referenced both on my blog and in my online classes).

The novella-length fable introduces us to Riley Jenkins, an overworked consultant who is doing her best to meet everyone’s expectations but keeps falling short—and the more she works, the worse her personal and professional relationships become.

After spending a weekend at Juliet’s School of Possibilities and learning how to prioritize both her workload and her personal values, Riley lands the big client, salvages a professional contact, makes up with a friend, and begins a new romance.

The lessons Riley learns are all really solid, and I am all about creating boundaries and setting priorities, but at first it felt like the end of the book didn’t match the beginning. Why? Because although Riley learned about the value of delegating tasks and ignoring email and not spending every hour of the day at work, when Riley used what she learned to land the client, etc., she drew on resources she had developed during her years of putting in long hours.

The old business plan she was able to quickly repurpose for her new client? She wouldn’t have been able to do that without having done the work of creating the original business plan (and the hours of work that went into learning how to create a business plan). The contacts in her virtual Rolodex? Those were hard-earned; they didn’t appear out of nowhere.

The reason Riley was able to work less now was in part because she had worked so hard before.

It made me think of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, which I reviewed on this blog earlier this year, and the way Newport explained that you have to build the skills and earn the career capital before you can navigate your way into a job where you can set your own hours and priorities.

In other words: this is another book that isn’t for everyone. A young person who hasn’t built up Riley’s contacts and expertise, for example, won’t be able to implement as many of the lessons from the book.

But then I saw that tweet about when to ease up on the hustle, and Riley’s ending suddenly made sense.

This is a story about a woman who is learning to delegate and prioritize and set boundaries, but it’s also about a woman who is moving out of the hustle stage of her life and into the harvest stage. The sustainability stage. The long-term vision stage.

Some people don’t ever get to reach that stage, unfortunately.

But if they do, and they’re having trouble navigating the transition, it’s worth spending a weekend at Juliet’s School of Possibilities. ❤️

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