Don’t Miss Your Life: Book Review

You shouldn’t be reading this book review right now.
Don’t you have some filing to catch up on? Have you made that phone call to that one place yet? What about those W-9s?

One last question. Are you missing your life?

That’s what Joe Robinson is most concerned about. He claims most of us are stuck in a “performance identity.” We tie our self-worth to external factors, like how productive we are. As a result, we’re only motivated to do things when they have a measurable payoff, for example money, status, or recognition.

That’s no way to live, says Robinson. In his new book, Don’t Miss Your Life: Find More Joy and Fulfillment Now, he explores the costs of living in a performance-based mental trap. He shows readers the ingredients of a vital, passionate life. Then, step by step, he demonstrates how to leave the Calvinistic cubicle mentality and become a full participant in a life that you love.

In turn motivational, Zen, and instructional, Robinson’s unlikely self-help book teaches us how to cultivate “leisure skills” as a panacea to the digitally-collared life of an onlooker. He shows that play, rather than being the domain of slackers, has far-reaching benefits throughout our lives. If that sounds fun and relevant, read on.

What’s Inside

Each chapter of this well-written book launches with a story. Robinson describes an experience that makes someone, including himself, more alive. Each chapter covers research explaining why joy, fun or play are so essential to your health—and the costs of continuing to titrate your self-worth to external forces. You get exercises that help you launch your own pursuit of a better life, as well as a review of key concepts at the end of each chapter. Chapters are easy to read in bursts, which is helpful if you are short on time.

The introduction and first chapter introduce you to the physiological and psychological benefits of having fun. Joy comes from doing something fun for the sole reason that you like it or it challenges you. Such “direct experience” not only benefits your body, but increases your feelings of competence, independence, and social connectedness. While convincing you that you need more experience and play in your life, Robinson provides starting points on how to do it, beginning with re-owning your time.

Chapter 2 explores the habits that make so many of us stick to the overwork-errands-bills-TV-stress doldrums like flies on tape. We have an inner “performance identity” that tells us something is only worth doing when there’s an external payoff. Robinson explains why it’s important not to base your self-esteem on your productivity or external factors, and shares tips on getting unstuck by cultivating a “worth ethic.”

The next four chapters show you what you need to cultivate in order to build a life worth living. Your goal is to find something you feel passionate about. If you build that passion into a skill through time and effort, you will eventually reach an “optimal experience,” where you become completely engrossed in your activity of choice over longer and longer periods of time.

Robinson then explains how to reach that goal of optimal experience. When you find something that gives you a “glimmer” of passion (Robinson calls this foreplay), you want to make that passion last. To find something that, uh, arouses you in the first place, you need to try things now.

To want to take risks in the first place, you have to be motivated “without regard to payoff.” That’s what Robinson calls intrinsic motivation. If you’re risk-averse in general, Robinson shows you how to develop your “venture aptitude.” He tells you how to cultivate the right mindset and create the right kinds of goals to get you there.

Next, Robinson shares how to support yourself in the process of getting skilled at the thing you’re passionate about. He includes tips on motivating yourself and making steady, safe progress in your skill. He even illustrates the process in a Maslow-remniscent “fun pyramid” in Chapter 7.

You also learn how to stop being crippled by social comparisons. Robinson teaches you the value of eagerness, enthusiasm, positive self-talk, realistic self-appraisal, and intentional foolishness as tools to help you commit to practicing your passion. As your vitality and self-worth increase, you’ll get better at taking advantage of opportunities that augment your life.

The final chapter condenses the messages from previous chapters into an actionable 7-day plan to restructure your life.


Don’t Miss Your Life
is a solid addition to the sheaf of books and blogs that have emerged on the topic of happiness in recent years. Robinson, a great writer with quips like “you can’t play hopscotch with a flow chart,” uses a practical, step-by-step template that anyone can follow to build a more fulfilling life. He demystifies the fulfilling life by breaking down what it looks like, why it (scientifically) matters, and how to build your own.

Robinson sold me on the case for leisure. (Disclaimer: In my case, he might have been preaching to the choir. I’ve valued the kind of experiential absorption he describes since I could walk, but haven’t ever been able to break it down the way he has.) Through exercises and suggestions, he made the techniques for attaining joy accessible. And, though I didn’t have time to test all of his concepts, I’m convinced they’re solid. Robinson clearly did his homework, as the many case studies, books, and individual stories sourced in the book show.

I did get a little lost towards the middle of the book, where I started to forget exactly what terms like “venture aptitude” and “intrinsic motivation” meant, and had to go back to refresh my memory. A glossary of these terms and their definitions would have been helpful. I also found the book a bit heavy on descriptions of samba, Robinson’s passion of choice. Towards the end, I caught myself thinking “not samba again!”

The concepts also took a while to crystallize in my mind. I’m still not sure I absorbed every one of Robinson’s many points. It’s the kind of book you keep around as a kind of reference/motivational tool and revisit as needed.

I think this book will benefit you most if you:

a) Feel like your life has become dull or bland, and need a way out of your rut
b) Are willing to make changes in order to improve your life
c) Aren’t in survival mode about job security or money

If that sounds like you, do pick up a copy of this relevant and timely read.

Disclosure: We received a free copy of this book.

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