Who is Tara Westover?

She was just a cockney in a nice dress. Until she believed in herself. Then it didn’t matter what dress she wore.

Can you imagine starting school at the age of 16 and completing PhD in History at the age of 28?

Tara Westover, a US national, was born in the late 80s and brought up in the vincity of Bucks Peak in Clifton, Idaho.

An incredible true story, Tara’s parents always believed that the world is coming to an end and that the government could invade their property at any time. They did not trust any forms of mainstream medicine or the system of education. As a result, the family always stayed off the grid. Any form of injury or disease, major or minor, would be treated at home despite the severity of the matter.  They thought that all their children (Tara was the youngest of the 7 children) must learn from the Bible only. This belief of the parents did not allow any of the children, at least in the early years of their life, any forms of formal education.

One is bound to have a life full of struggles and challenges when you have a family with such radical beliefs. Tara Westover was no different. However, despite minimal education at home and with some support from one of her siblings, she managed to get herself a formal education and a decent life away from all the insanity. 

A lot of life lessons can be drawn from Tara’s experiences. While she always believed in the early years of her life that it was her destiny to be loyal to her family and grow up to be a good wife and mother, she eventually figures that there is a lot more to life than the four walls of a family life. She mentions in her memoir, Educated :

Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occured to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.

Learning from the ways of her older brother, Tara would study from the books available at home. She would read the Book of Mormon, read the compilation of the speeches, letters and journals of the early Mormon prophets. She would make notes and write short essays which no one would read. Tara transformed herself into a voracious reader and learner to become wiser and understand how the world really works and to figure how to live a meaningful life. Learning is a lifelong journey to which living legends like Charlie Munger quote:

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the diligent, but they are learning machines. They goto bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have got a long road ahead of you.

Despite her struggles with meeting the expectations of the family, Tara has been a voracious reader. She would also make daily entries about her struggles in her journal. Journal writing, as an art of reflection, has been long forgotten by the millennials. A lot of successful people swear on the benefits of journaling. Ryan Holiday explains the benefits of keeping a morning journal here and my favorite, Maria Popova, brings the perspective of various successful writers on the benefits of journaling.

We know and understand that studying history is very important to understand how people lived. Tara brings a different perspective to studying history. Tara emphasizes in her memoir on the importance of studying the historians rather than history. She mentions:

I had decided to study not history, but historians. Since realizing that what a person knows about the past is limited and will always be limited, to what they are told by others. I knew what it was to have a misconception corrected – misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted the world. Now i needed to understand how the gatekeepers of history had come to term with their own ignorance and partiality.

It blows my mind to know that Tara, at such an early age, could realise that life is all about moving on, accepting changes and looking forward to what makes you stronger and more complete.

There is no dearth of lessons to learn from Tara. While she was in college, she realized the significance of financial freedom. After receiving a scholarship from the government, she ends up having some money left over in her account after paying for all of her expenses, she quotes in the memoir:

A thousand dollars. Extra. That i did not immediately need. It took weeks for me to come to terms with this fact, but as i did, i began to experience the most powerful advantage of money, the ability to think of things besides money.

Ultimately, my biggest takeaway after reading her memoir has been that we need to take some tough and critical decisions in life if we really need to make something out of it. Leaving you with this thought from Tara.

The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things i could not yet understand.

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