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A Word or 2 From 3 Wise Women

Life lessons, saving money and saving the world

We seem to be swimming in unsolicited advice these days: Websites, social media pipelines, friends, colleagues and even reality TV shows insist they know just what we need to get our lives together at last. Is there a grain of truth amid all that chattering chaff? To find out, we scoured the wisdom landscape and came up with three books by wise women of the global village. See if what they have to say hits you where you live.

See also: Writer Mary Catherine Bateson on wisdom.

Anna Quindlen's newspaper and magazine columns have long offered boomers wise advice. Now that she's approaching 60 and tackling the Big Themes of this life stage, her wisdom is doubly well-earned — and equally applicable. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, her latest nonfiction work, is a compendium of ideas her older fans will find compelling. Calling this time of life "poised between the inevitable and the possible," Quindlen savors her female friendships ("what we women have in addition to, or in lieu of, therapists"). She sees parenting as the ultimate "pay-it-forward endeavor" but worries that women of her generation are becoming the "older women we once discounted."

Quindlen isn't the only wise woman to share her knowledge — and heartbreak — in a recent book. In Lost and Found: One Woman's Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life, Geneen Roth writes about life after she and her husband saw their savings vanish in the investment scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff (referred to here, understandably, as "B.M."). One day the best-selling author is expanding her sweater collection; the next, she can't pay the mortgage.

After forcibly joining the 99 percent, Roth realizes that she has mishandled money the same way she once mishandled food. (Roth has counseled compulsive eaters for more than 30 years, and she herself has gone through stages from bulimic to obese.) "Our relationships to both substances," she writes, "are expressions of unconscious beliefs, family messages, outdated convictions, and painful memories that most of us would rather walk on burning coals than examine."

Does bingeing on chunky cookies differ all that much from blowing a wad on designer sunglasses? Not really, says Roth. Both are attempts to fill an inner void — and neither one works. Nor does hoarding money, nor depriving your body of nutrition for the sake of looking five pounds thinner at your high school reunion.

Indeed, says Roth, the only way to get comfortable with our finances is to candidly assess what spending means to us. No matter how little we may have, she concludes, we can find peace.

Next: It's a wild world out there. »

Another writer — life coach Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want — urges women to abandon their 9-to-5 work culture and follow a less conventional, more meaningful path through life. Pursue this alt-route far enough, she insists, and you might even be able to make a living from it.

Beck melds the practices of ancient healers with the principles of modern science to create physical and mental exercises designed to help you imagine a new vocation based on your true nature and then implement a life plan.

See also: Finding a life calling in pizza, after a career in computers.

To convince those who might accuse her of peddling "woo woo" (her term), Beck cites stories of fellow "wayfinders," as she calls them, who have blazed a trail from traditional career path to more gratifying livelihood: training service dogs, healing victims of PTSD, running a cartoon website — you get the idea.

Beck "didn't choose life coaching as a career," she remarks at one point in Finding Your Way. "I wanted to be something more prestigious, like a professor, a convenience store clerk, or a crack addict." Her openness to new adventures turns out to be the wisest lesson in the book.

You may also like: Kathleen Turner on parenting adult children.

Carol Kaufmann is a freelance writer and editor in Alexandria, Va. Her latest book, Safari (Workman), will be published in the fall.