Review Of And Then I Met Margaret: Stories Of Ordinary Gurus I’Ve Met By Rob White
Have you ever experienced a random encounter or a sequence of events and wondered if it all happened for a reason – if there might be a lesson in there somewhere? That is the premise of Rob White’s 2013 collection of autobiographical stories. And Then I Met Margaret: Stories of Ordinary Gurus I’ve Met features a lifetime of encounters with unlikely teachers who offer the author lasting wisdom. He writes, “Life is constantly offering us opportunities to meet these gurus. Though they may not consciously know it, their purpose is to help us shatter self-limiting myths that prevent us from fully experiencing our lives. ” From his modest beginnings in an east-coast factory town, the author built a multi-million dollar real estate business and became a successful restaurateur. He is considered an expert in the fields of personal and professional growth. In this self-help manual, White pens twenty-one short chapters that each follow a consistent story arc: an unlikely and unexpected teacher imparts practical wisdom; a limiting belief is transformed; and, at some later point, a choice opportunity to pass on the wisdom arises. White’s teachers emerge primarily in the form of ordinary people. From a sympathetic candy shop customer, to a surfer mom, and a racecar driving instructor, the author encounters gurus who challenge his perceptions and encourage him to grow along moral or spiritual lines.
In “The Great Vitim’s Candy Caper, ” young Rob gets off scot-free after another customer pays for the candy he stole. The relief he feels when his secret is kept fuels Rob’s transformation toward honesty and self-respect. He later seizes the opportunity to be selfless, and that kindness comes back to him in an auspicious way. The author writes, “The Great Vitim’s Candy Caper readied me to appreciate the fact that either good action can conquer bad action, or it can’t. Well, it just so happens, it can. ”
White zooms in on life lessons mined from a fifty-year period, exploring themes such as kindness, optimism, self-responsibility, and honesty. The book is organized well and follows a clean, conversational tone. Each chapter begins by stating a flawed belief to be transformed, orienting the reader to the challenge. The end of each chapter includes the myth again, along with the transformed belief. This format works, and helps the reader’s mind review the content of the story. I felt entertained and compelled by White’s journey of self-discovery in the first third of the book. My interest started to waver as each story followed the same formula to the extent that some of them felt contrived. Tying up many of the sequences neatly is an uncanny chance meeting years later that reveals White’s success as a mentor. While those little twists are intriguing and fun to read, the number of them felt overdone. Had this been fiction, I would have said the author used that tool too many times. I was also tripped up by the fact that some of the lessons White claims to have learned seem to not match his stories, as illustrated in the title story. We meet Margaret, a second grader, in chapter 18. At this point, the author is a successful restaurateur giving a tour of his business to Margaret’s second grade class. No spoilers on content, but the children clearly demonstrate they are not old enough to be interested in his restaurant business. Reflecting on the resulting realization the author writes “Those who feel grateful, and are eternally generous, experience life at its richest. ” A great lesson to learn and an important one, it’s just not the one that goes with this story. Granted, it’s the author’s story, and the perceived lesson is certainly his to claim. But, he appears to miss that the title story is primarily about empathy. It should be the title story, because it is an opportunity for a tectonic shift. But it’s not about gratitude. White just missed it. White, in his 50s at the time he hosted the school children, had been a schoolteacher as his first career, and yet it didn’t occur to him that his business lecture would fall on tiny deaf ears. Had Rob White been able to take a moment to empathize – to imagine the experience of his young audience – to put himself back in his own second-grade shoes – he would have known that a speech about the value of hard work would fail to impress the children.
Empathy is the capacity to understand the feelings and experiences of others. This is the quality that would have been required to interact with the children. White includes several stories with the theme of transforming his self-centeredness, and often he misses the big takeaway. He does say about his time with the students “It was in that moment that I realized: everyone doesn’t live in a universe in which everything orbits around me. ” He calls this a “wonderfully disruptive moment, ” but still does not seem to grasp the lesson. While I believe the author authentically desires to grow and to motivate others, his stories were often self-serving. He checks off lessons learned, in line with his formula, but he retains a need to remind the reader frequently of his wealth, his business prowess, and his high-adrenaline activities. Because of this, a number of the stories are not relatable. Flying a stunt plane, driving a racecar, and running with the bulls are not life experiences the average reader can relate to. In addition, the author casts himself as the hero in most of the stories, as uncanny chance meetings bring his now-transformed disciples back to him, revealing what an effective mentor he is. The essential quality that is missing here is humility – a quality that allows for modesty, and restraint from bragging. Though the author claims to have learned the respective lesson, his arrogance and self-centeredness peek through often. I was rooting for Rob White to overcome his self-importance, and in some of the stories, he nearly does. But overall, his inability to forge the deeper qualities of empathy and humility is the reason he fails to inspire.
The book contains a number of errors: mismatched quotations, missing words, sentence fragments, word-use problems, and a cumbersome overuse of the semicolon. There is also some jargon, such as the use of “P&S” in a chapter about White’s real estate business. “P&S” is real estate jargon, referring to a purchase and sale agreement.
I am giving this book a rating of 2 out of 4 stars. The demerits are due to the author’s apparent inadequate grasp of his own book’s deeper subject matter, the seemingly contrived storylines, and the inadequate editing. I did not choose a 1- star rating because I did find the writing style comfortable and some of the stories compelling. And, the author had some satisfying humorous and self-deprecating moments. Rob White oversimplifies personal transformation as something that can happen somewhat neatly, through good intention, good advice, and extreme sports. True and lasting change requires a longer, deeper, stormier arc. I can imagine this book as a fun read if you enjoy light self-help/inspiration, and you like fiction-style writing. If you are looking for a window into deep transformation through significant life challenges, this may feel a bit thin to you. It may have worked as well as spiritual fiction.
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