The Choice: Embrace the Possible
by Dr. Edith Eva Eger (Scribner, 2017)
What are the big take-aways?
The Choice is a memoir, a call-to-vocation and a how-to guide to freedom from self-limiting beliefs. It describes Dr. Eger’s survival of the Holocaust as a teenage Hungarian Jew at Auschwitz and her life journey following that experience: marrying and starting a family, immigrating to the U.S., pursuing many years of education, and establishing her psychology practice (which she still maintains, in her nineties).
A mentee of Viktor Frankl’s, Dr. Eger consults for the U.S. Army and Navy on resilience and PTSD. Much of her autobiographical story in The Choice is bookended by a dramatic narrative about a particular encounter she has with an Army captain who – unbeknownst to her – carries a gun to his appointment at her office. This incident illuminates the ultimate message of the book: freedom from “jail inside the mind” is a choice, and the choice is ours.
Why do I like it?
One of the things I admire most about The Choice is that it delivers a type of satisfaction I wasn’t expecting at all: it’s an enticingly suspenseful and deeply engaging page-turner. I liked reading it. I had a hard time putting it down, and when I did, I kept looking for the next opportunity to pick it up again. Of course, as anticipated, the book is also terrifying, heart-breaking and grim. Yet those aspects are strangely balanced by Dr. Eger’s vivid memory, clear voice and astounding ability to recount her brutal tale with an uncommon gentleness and generosity of spirit. She holds herself and others with extraordinary care. It is enlightening and reassuring to be enfolded in her compassionate presence, even as a reader.
I also liked The Choice as a book about leadership, which it is – in my opinion – because of its universally relevant emphasis on what Dr. Eger refers to as “the most important truth I know” (on page 271):
[T]he biggest prison is in your own mind, and in your pocket you already hold the key: the willingness to take responsibility for your life; the willingness to risk; the willingness to release yourself from judgment and reclaim your innocence, accepting and loving yourself for who you really are – human, imperfect, and whole.
In my formal leadership coaching and consulting practice, as well as in my informal quest to personally understand what it means “to lead my life,” I have come to view leadership quite simply as this willingness – this choice – to take responsibility. Taking responsibility sounds so easy (can’t I just say, “I am responsible for…”?), but every full life requires extraordinary courage: to take risks, to learn from mistakes, to grow into larger perspectives of heart and mind, and to come to terms with events and ideas and parts of ourselves that we have deemed unacceptable.
In what situations would this be useful?
Lest you wonder whether this is a a maudlin survivor story or perhaps an over-simplified prescription for self-help, I assure you it is neither. It is a refreshing, mind-expanding and graceful demonstration of what the leadership of “taking responsibility” – and especially taking responsibility for self-forgiveness – looks like in real people. In that way, it is a beautiful and useful gift, no matter who you are or what situation you find yourself in, because each of us is at the very least the leader of our own life.
What other resources might “pair” well with it?
Many of the themes (e.g. liberation) and sensations (e.g. lengthy periods of equanimity) I noticed while absorbing The Choice reverberated among those I experienced when reading The Book of Joy, which I reviewed in this blog a couple of months ago. I heartily recommend both books for the paradoxically elegant complexity they offer in role-modeling how to make meaning from some of the most disordered, mysterious and difficult truths about humanity.