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Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Book Review by Diane Hummon



We all search for meaning in our lives. Meaning gives us a sense of wholeness and significance. It also gives us a sense of integrity knowing how we live our life matters. Integrity is something we desire to maintain to the very end of life.


Rather than pre-worry of what our end of life story may look like this book reminds us that any point in our narrative we have the power to redefine it. When you read @Diane Hummon's book review of Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, we believe you will come to the realization it is essential to delve deeper into Atul Gawande's work. Gawande's book is not an easy read. It is however, an important invitation to consider. Hummon's detailed review offers us a portal into considering the battle of emotions that swirl inside our thoughts when we wrestle with being mortal and the big questions it poses such as: How does one live a worthwhile life? What does it mean?


Reviewer: Diane Hummon

Book Title: Being Mortal

Author: Atul Gawande


Key Points:

1. This is a powerful and thought-provoking book about mortality. In particular, it raises a lot of questions about the role of medicine, doctors and care at the end of people’s lives (young and old). As the inside cover of the book says, “Being Mortalshows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end.”


2. Often as people come to the end of their life, their desires are neglected in an effort to keep them alive and safe. Instead of doctors and family members asking the people what they want as they fight a challenging illness, they are told what to do, where to live and how they will be cared for. This can result in loss of control, loss of independence, loss of freedom, lack of purpose and limited choices. It can also cause a lot of pain, depression, misery and hopelessness.


3. The author challenges the medical profession, the elderly living systems and families to relook at how they treat individuals as they deal with serious illnesses in their lives. Rather than assume “the professionals” all know what the person wants, they need to ask them using powerful and meaningful questions to truly understand their desires.


4. The author also highlights the importance of one’s story in life. We each derive meaning because of the story our life tells. And, a good story has a good ending. While life events don’t always give us the opportunity to control all the events in our life, the least we can do, when feasible, is allow people some choice and freedom to help write their endings.


Application to life coaching:

There are many wonderful applications to life coaching from this book. The author highlights the importance of allowing people to write their life stories to achieve meaning and purpose. He also talks about the importance of not simply telling people what to do, but asking them powerful questions to help understand their desires. As coaches we strive to partner with our clients to help them derive meaning and purpose in their lives. We assist them by asking powerful questions and we, hopefully, are creative and curious in helping them write meaningful stories for themselves.


Favorite passage & what made it your favorite passage?

“Somehow, instead of holding on to the lifelong identity that was slipping away from him, he managed to redefine it. He moved his line in the sand. This is what it means to have autonomy – you may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.” (page 210). I love the idea of giving every person the respect and opportunity to be the author of their life. That’s the privilege we have as coaches with our clients.


How will you apply the key messages in this book within your coaching?

There are so many ways to apply the messages from this book. I want to allow clients to define and pursue their purpose, ask powerful questions so that they gain clarity on what decisions they want to make and give them the opportunity to write their story so that it is meaningful for them.

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