Book review: Re-educated

The complete title for this book is a long one. So, deep breath; Re-educated. How I changed my job, my home, my husband and my hair. Before I began this book I was fascinated to discover how the author had successfully managed so much change. Change, whether planned or not, is one of the key reasons people seek therapy. It’s frequently disorientating, often overwhelming, and almost always unsettling. So I was eager for her insights. The secret to her metamorphous is… money. Disappointed? Yes, I was too.

Reinvention is easier with wealth

The author Lucy Kellaway is an Oxford Graduate. She bought and sold her first property in London at just the right time, making, “Almost four times what I’d paid for it.” and had been a journalist at the Financial Times for 30 years, before deciding to retrain as a teacher. While reading I was less struck by Kellaway’s inner journey and outer evolution, than I was by how simple change is when you have the holy trifecta of class, cash and connections.

There’s a part within this book where, post marital split, Kellaway is considering buying a handsome but dilapidated house. The surveyor tells her not to. It’s a wreck; the wiring is awful, the roof leaks, the whole thing is unsound. But she buys anyway, because she loves the house so much. Perhaps she has the money to do the costly repairs. Or perhaps passion is easier when you can afford to lose the price of a house.

While reading Re-educated I was reminded of Gwyneth Paltrow’s essay for Vogue describing her conscious uncoupling from Chris Martin. Paltrow’s a beautiful writer. She touches on the pain of losing love, and her fears about the impact divorce may have on her children. But she doesn’t once mention money. Because for her, there’s never been a lack of it and there probably never will be.

I know I’m critical about this book, and it’s because I can’t see how it offers insight or support for people without a large cash cushion. In fact, if I’m truly honest, I can’t understand why Re-Educated was even published. The author’s success relies so heavily on cash and connections that it can’t be replicated.

What’s good about this book

Ending a long marriage, caring for a dying parent and moving house are all massive stressors. To have them within quick succession of each other would take its toll on most people’s mental health. And she writes about each with, what feels like, an honest, clear eyed approach.

Kellaway writes movingly, and with flow, about her career at the Financial Times. Her sentences trip off the tongue, and the book is well paced, as you would expect from a highly experienced journalist.

The life changes she makes, take courage at any age. But I do believe you have to be especially daring and dedicated to make them at 60. There is also something very endearing and authentic about her accounts of struggling with life in the classroom. Yet she decides to stick with it, because she’s serious about education and committed to the potential of her pupils. And this passion is palpable within the pages of her book.

I have no doubt that she’s now a wonderful teacher, and there’s a school somewhere in London that’s lucky to have her.

Lastly, she’s also completely correct in that a career change post 40, or even post 50, is worth considering. I know because I finished training as a counsellor myself at the age of 40. If you get nothing else from Re-educated then I offer you this: If you’re miserable in your job and you can’t imagine cruising through until retirement then there is still time to change. Change can happen slowly – within budget constraints and without connections.

If you’re looking for a book about later-life change, then I’d recommend Never too Late to be Great by Tom Butler Bowden. It’s a simply written, well laid out book, full of inspiring examples. And Making the Big Leap by Suzie Greaves, the former editor of Psychologies, which coaches you through change using inner work and goal setting.

If you’d like to share your own experiences of later life changes and achievements then I’d love to hear them, please comment below.