Review: How do we know we’re doing it right? by Pandora Sykes

Modern life is full of choices. We’re told that happiness lies within and we can be whoever we want to be. But with endless possibility comes a feeling of restlessness; like we’re somehow failing to live our best life. What does doing it right even look like? And why do so many women feel like they’re getting it wrong?

From faster-than-fast fashion to millennial burnout, the explosion of wellness to the rise of cancel culture, Pandora Sykes interrogates the stories we’ve been sold and the ones we tell ourselves. Wide-ranging, thoughtful and witty, How do we know we’re doing it right? explores the anxieties and myths that consume our lives and the tools we use to muddle through.

So sit back and take a breath. It’s time to stop worrying about the answers and start delighting in the questions.

I have to start this review by confessing that I was already a huge fan of Pandora Sykes and her writing. I’m an avid reader of her Elle column, while her podcast, the High Low alongside fellow millennial writer Dolly Alderton, is quite possibly my absolute favourite podcast. Therefore, the odds of me not enjoying this book were always extremely low and, Quelle Surprise, I absolutely loved it!

This collection of essays wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, nor was it controversial in findings and opinions, but every essay was hugely enjoyable all the same. Largely centring on your typical millennial problems, which Sykes immediately acknowledges come from being a middle-class white woman of substantial privilege, the essays range from being lighthearted and humorous, to thought-provoking and passionate about contemporary issues affecting modern people.

The topics covered included wellness trends, fast fashion, the binge-watching culture and our blurred lines between work and home. Every single essay was intelligent, well-researched and necessary for shining a light on our role as consumers in 2020. They were all fantastic and I could probably discuss them with you all day, but for the sake of this review, I’ve picked out a couple of my highlights.

Perhaps the most enlightening read, for me, was the seventh essay, aptly titled Looking Forward to Hearing Back. Reading this felt a tad like reading my own diary. Sykes received her first mobile aged thirteen, a Nokia 33:10. Similarly, that was also the model of my first phone, although I was even younger, getting my first phone while I was still in primary school. Sykes writes “The buzzwords we hear most often when it comes to our phones are Nomophobia (the fear of being without your phone) and Phubbing (when you ignore somebody right in front of you to answer your phone.)” I’m ashamed to say I’m extremely culpable for both of these things, so much so that my mum regularly calls me rude because of my dedication to my phone. It’s a habit I’m trying to break, but the truth is, I’m failing pretty miserably. The essay goes on to examine why millennials choose phone-based conversations over real-life exchanges and considers, in detail, how the evolution of the WhatsApp conversation was the turning point in our phone addictions – I can certainly relate to this and I’m sure most of you can too!

The fourth essay in this compilation, entitled Work to Get Happy, was another highlight for me and had particular resonance since most of us have been working from home since the UK-wide lockdown was announced in March. Sykes pokes fun at some of the email conversations we often partake in at work, before offering some introspective thoughts on why millennials fail to separate their work and home lives successfully. She writes “Our professional and personal selves have become indecipherable: work has moved from an occupation to a status, so that for many people, work is no longer just a form of self-representation, but is the form. If your work becomes your identity – e.g. I am a doctor, I am a writer – versus your occupation – e.g. I work at a bank, I work at a magazine – then the parameters are even harder to draw. A job has boundaries, whereas an identity does not.” This is a truly wonderful essay and I’d recommend everybody reads it, particularly if struggling to find a successful work-home balance.

Sykes concludes the book with a mammoth section of notes for further reading; something that I am incredibly grateful for. There are hundreds of examples of other works being referenced throughout the book, which often resulted in me wanted to learn more about the specifics mentioned. For example, I instantly googled psychologist Elaine N Aron’s Are you a highly sensitive person? self-test as soon as I reached this section of the book, determined to know if I was on the HSP threshold (spoiler alert, I most certainly am!) I’ll definitely make my way through this reading list at some point, where I’m confident I’ll add tonnes of new books to my TBR pile.

This book is a truly fantastic resource. I found it really inspiring, to the point where it’s gone straight onto my “do not lend out your copy” pile; a space reserved for a very select few of my books!

Goodreads rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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