I thought I’d had my fill of reading inspirational self-help books in the 1980s, and hadn’t done so until picking up “Live, Learn, Love Well: Lessons from a Life of Progress Not Perfection” by Island-born Emma Lovewell. I’m glad I did.
Compellingly absorbing, Lovewell has actually created a hybrid memoir in which she conveys her wisdom through beautifully written, engrossing stories, and realizations about her often-challenging journey from a child growing up on the Vineyard in modest circumstances through the bumpy road to her current life as a Peloton instructor, Under Armour athlete, and health and wellness expert whose greatest desire is to help others feel good in their bodies and live their best lives.
Lovewell creates an immediate relationship with the reader by sharing honestly about such issues as her biracial roots and the resulting feeling of always being an outsider; the significance of family, friends, and a loving partner; struggles along the way in her professional life, and her love of good food. She uses these intimate glimpses to illustrate how she has come to particular takeaways, which she encourages us to embrace in chapters with such intriguing titles as “Yes Is the Antidote to Regret,” “Write Your Goals in Pencil,” and “Don’t Be the Queen of Difficult Things.”
Unsurprisingly, a recurring topic is the importance of movement to her well-being, which goes beyond the act of dance and fitness. She writes, “Movement isn’t just a must-do for your body; it’s like taking a multivitamin for your soul … Writing your best life story isn’t about punishing workouts and restrictive eating. Wellness, to me, is about showing love for yourself through movement, good food, meditation, friendship, love, dancing, laughing, standing up for what you believe in, and being deliberate about what you choose to bring into your life.”
Lovewell writes often, too, about her family, and we follow the evolution of her relationships with her mother and father, and how it has left her with an important understanding that we can all embrace: “I started to look at both of my parents with a different lens, and I made peace with their imperfections … We can love people unconditionally — spouses, partners, friends, children, parents, grandparents — but that doesn’t mean we won’t face periods of disappointment. Unconditional love doesn’t require perfection.”
Lovewell is wonderful at creating metaphors for life lessons, as we see in the role plants and gardening have, and continue to play, in her life. In “Cultivate Gardens for Greater Happiness,” she recounts her loathing of having to help with the composting as a child, and her mother’s attribution of it to the success of their resulting garden, which they relied on for food. Today she realizes, “It was something that I hated but had to appreciate, because it worked. It was valuable trash. Lots of moments in life are similar. Sometimes bad days, gross tasks, or seemingly useless experiences can add up to be really valuable … You have to embrace the garbage and hope it becomes something beneficial.”
One of my favorite chapters is “If You Focus on Scarcity, You’ll Always Feel Lacking.” Here, Lovewell addresses her scarcity mindset — where it originated, how it manifests as an adult, and her reframing of this negativity: “I know what it feels like to worry about money and job security … When you’re operating with a scarcity mindset, it’s like walking around with blinders on. You only see the emptiness in front of you; there’s no way for you to see any of the abundance and goodness right around you … Take the blinders off and look around to see what’s already there. When you acknowledge what you already have, you start to realize you have a lot. And being grateful for what you have is an incredibly powerful force … Abundance creates more abundance.”
As we read, we realize that Lovewell’s life is all about the journey, and she encourages us to recognize, “Change is inevitable; growth is optional. Opportunities arise at inconvenient times, and difficult circumstances can stall progress. When change hits you in the face, you can try to fight it. But why waste all your energy on a battle you can’t win? Use this moment of change as a moment of growth.”
Lovewell clearly lives by her beliefs. She shared in a recent interview with The Times that when she was initially approached by a publisher about writing a book, she thought, “It scares me a little bit, but I’m always advocating for people to step out of their comfort zone … doing the things while afraid. That’s where the magic happens, where the real growth is. So maybe this is something I should really consider.”
Along these lines, Lovewell gifts us with a stunning final chapter, “Progress Is Forever.” In it, she speaks about whatever your goals — fitness, health, meeting personal adversity, or just wanting to grow — we need to remember, “Getting better never has to end. My entire life has been and will continue to be about progress. Perfection isn’t just an unattainable ideal, it suggests that there’s a final ending … Progress means there is always more to do, there’s always something new to see, learn, or eat. While I poured my heart and soul into this book, it’s not the end. I have more living to do, more stories to tell, and more noodles to enjoy.”
Asked what she would like readers to walk away with, Lovewell responded, “I would love for people to finish my book realizing that my growth and success wasn’t linear. I hope that sharing all my ups and downs helps other people, wherever they are in their journey, they are on the right step, and it’s necessary to where you are going — knowing that you are exactly where you are supposed to be … and feel a little sense of peace.”
If growth is what you are seeking, Lovewell’s book is sure to inspire you on your journey.
“Live, Learn, Love Well: Lessons from a Life of Progress Not Perfection” by Emma Lovewell. Available at Edgartown Books. Emma Lovewell will appear at the Old Whaling Church on July 25 at 8 pm. For more information, see mvconcertseries.com/events/detail/emma-lovewell.