Nov. 27, 2021

No Cure For Being Human by Kate Bowler: how to find out what really matters in life

Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
Overcast podcast player badge
PocketCasts podcast player badge
YouTube podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge


About the book

It’s hard to give up on the feeling that the life you want is justout of reach. A beach body by summer. A trip to Disneyland around the corner. A promotion on the horizon. Everyone wants to believe that they are headed toward good, better, best. But what happens when the life you hoped for is put on hold indefinitely?

Kate Bowler believed that life was a series of unlimited choices, only to find that she was stuck in a cancerous body at age 35. In her instant New York Times bestselling book, No Cure for Being Human, Kate searches for a way forward as she mines the wisdom (and absurdity) of our modern “best life now” advice industry, which offers us exhausting positivity, trying to convince us that we can out-eat, out-learn and out-perform our humanness. With dry wit and unflinching honesty, she grapples with her cancer diagnosis, her ambition, and her faith and searches for some kind of peace with her limitations in a culture that says that anything is possible.

In facing down cancer, Kate searches for hope without cheap optimism, and truth with room for mystery. We are as fragile as the day we were born, and we will need each other if we’re going to tell the truth: Life is beautiful and terrible, full of hope and despair and everything in between, but there’s no cure for being human.


About the author

Kate Bowler is a New York Times best-selling author, podcast host, and associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke University. After being unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35, she wrote the New York Times best-selling memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved), which tells the story of her struggle to understand the personal and intellectual dimensions of the American belief that all tragedies are tests of character. Her TED talk on the subject has received over 9 million views to date, and on her popular podcast, Everything Happens, she talks with people about what they have learned in dark times and why it is so difficult to speak frankly about suffering.



Big idea #1 — Your best life now

We’re obsessed with living well, optimizing everything, following people like Tony Robbins and those who promise us all the good things that will come from mastering our habits, enhancing our bodies, and that salvation is only a decision away.

Kate says that “every year billions of dollars are pumped into a wellness industry defined by the theory that we can be perfected. We can organize ourselves, heal ourselves, budget ourselves, love ourselves, and eat well enough to make ourselves whole.”

But of course, none of that is true.

And it’s one thing being bombarded with all of those messages on a regular day, but what does that all mean when you’ve had a serious and potentially terminal health diagnosis? When spending time and the idea of productivity take on whole completely different meetings.

It’s not really enough to live our best life. We need to think about it in a slightly different way in order to spend time well. And we need to think about the promises made by advertising and marketing and the so-called gurus, in a more suspicious way. Because maybe we can’t live our best life now, because we can’t control everything.

Big idea #2 — Unfinished cathedrals

Hang gliding, swimming with dolphins, and a world of other experiences have made their way into the experience economy; the things you must do before you die. We put them on bucket lists and it all suggests that life can be successfully completed.

It’s much easier to count items than to know what counts.

We think that we can master the world by conquering our inner world.

But we can’t. Life can’t be completed, no matter what Instagram tells us. And that’s what makes it great. Kate tells a story about a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, and to a cathedral that was never finished. The story goes that the plans for the cathedral construction became so over-complicated that they just stopped and left it ‘beautifully unfinished’, as she said.

It was interesting to see different people’s reactions to the cathedral. Kate and her husband thought it was a bit ugly, and bit rough around the edges. But an older man that was there visiting as well was exclaiming at how beautiful it was, which made them see it in a different way. A nice metaphor for life.

She talks about the fact that time is a circle, and that ‘we’re trapped between the past that we can’t return to and a future that is uncertain’. And therefore ‘it takes guts and courage to live in this hard space between anticipation and realization’.

All of our masterpieces are ridiculous, all of our striving unnecessary, and all of our work unfinished and unfinishable. We do too much, never enough and are done before we’ve even started. And that is better that way.

Quite a nice antidote to the overwhelm we put ourselves through on a regular basis around trying to ‘complete’ everything.

Big idea #3 — A painful reminder

Nobody wants a reminder of how all of us teeter on the edge between life and death on a daily basis. Kate talks about a friend who had a very unwell child who said that she felt like she was ‘everyone’s inspiration, but nobody’s friend’. It’s very hard to maintain some relationships during a long illness or a long, drawn out traumatic experience in life.

It’s hard to hear the dramas of everyday life with the same feelings when you’re having to brush over your stories about scans, tests, results you’re waiting on, and specialist appointments. She talks about the bubbling resentment that that comes with hearing people were getting upset about ruining some clothes in the wash by putting something of the wrong color in the machine, or their weight loss dramas etc. It’s a very evident show of the different realities that people can live in.

But Kate also talks about the hard fact that so much of the clarity and purpose that you can get from suffering quickly slides away. She talks about having to relearn and remember how to live ‘normally’, with all of life’s uncertainty which has just become incredibly clear. It’s not something we like to be reminded of, but none of us know what will happen in a given moment, and some of us have had ‘certain’ futures upended or even erased altogether.

This doesn’t mean we can’t exist. It just takes courage in order to do so.



Support my book habit:

See for privacy information.

Hey, have you subscribed to the bookmark newsletter? If you liked this, you might like my twice-monthly email with book reviews and ideas of what you should be reading, and listening to, next. Click here to subscribe.

Let’s connect