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The Traveler’s Gift: The Worst Required Reading of My Career

Andy Andrews’ 7 decisions in The Traveler’s Gift could lead to a happier life, but only if you can wade through the bad writing, misogyny, and indoctrination.

By Haley RymelPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
I read 100 books a year, many of which are leadership or self-help books. The Traveler’s Gift is by far the worst leadership book that I have ever read. Image: by author.

The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success by Andy Andrews, is hands down the worst book that a company has ever required me to read.

A lot of the companies that I’ve worked for have a suggested (or required) reading list. Normally, this list is leadership books that fit within the company culture.

While The Traveler’s Gift is marketed as a leadership book, it is Christian propaganda and made-up stories about real historical leaders.

I was young and dumb, newly hired for a new job at a company that bragged about their culture. My previous job included a micro-managing small-business owner with a penchant for making his employees cry between three-hour phone rants.

It was suggested that new employees read The Traveler’s Gift before their first day. I was so excited to be out of my previous toxic environment, that I ignored the red flags from the reading list and dug in with gusto.

Man, was I disappointed.

By CoWomen on Unsplash

The Traveler’s Gift Does Not Add Much to Leadership Discourse

The book is a misleading 240 pages long.

The font is large, with large spaces between lines, and quick readers could finish the book in a single sitting.

I prefer self-help books that are on the shorter side to minimize constant repetition, but the increased page length of the book, paired with the obvious self-importance of the author and the low amount of content, feels like an ego boost.

“He was forty-six years old. He had no job. He had no money. He had no purpose,” (Andrews, The Traveler’s Gift, pg 1)

The Traveler’s Gift centers around David Ponders, a fictional 46-year-old man, smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Ponders had dedicated his life to his job while neglecting his family. Now he’s lost his job, and is wallowing in his self-pity, because without a job, “He had no purpose.” (Andrews, The Traveler’s Gift, pg 1)

Cool. So his wife, daughter, and the life they’ve built, don’t give him purpose.

After learning that his daughter needs tonsil surgery, Ponder throws a hissy fit, speeds on icy roads, and crashes into a snow bank, where he begins to hallucinate that he’s meeting historical figures.

Very misleading about real, historic figures

The Traveler’s Gift focuses on seven decisions to find success and happiness, each of these decisions is paired with a historical figure who teaches the lesson to Ponder. Ponder meets the historical figures in the hallucination that followed his car wreck.

What are The Traveler’s Gift Seven Decisions?

  1. Be proactive (Harry Truman, “The buck stops here”)
  2. Seek wisdom (King Solomon, “I will seek wisdom”)
  3. Take initiative (Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, “I am a person of action”)
  4. Practice self-discipline (Christopher Columbus, “I have a decided heart”)
  5. Choose to be happy (Anne Frank, “Today I will choose to be happy.”)
  6. Forgive (Abraham Lincoln, “I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit”)
  7. Persevere (Gabriel the archangel, “I will persist without exception”)

The seven decisions are an interesting way to look at life. I love the idea of people making intentional decisions on how to live their life.

Alexander Gardner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My main problems?

Andy Andrews uses the conversation trope to make up what these historical figures say. He found one quote from a historical person, then wrote a chapter about what he wanted them to say, without further fact-checking. He rewrites history in a way that makes it seem like historical figures would agree with him and his views on Christianity.

  • It is publically known that Abraham Lincoln refused to say that he was Christian, and saw his faith differently than Andrews chose to represent him.
  • Anne Frank practiced Judaism, not Christianity, but Andrews decides to use the memory of a young girl murdered in the Holocaust to further his ideas.
  • Gabriel is an archangel. The Bible states in Psalm 103:20 that angels heed “the voice of His word.” Andrews feels confident stating that an archangel agrees with his words and making up things that the archangel would say, implying that his words are blessed by God as well. Even though Deuteronomy 4:2 states, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
  • Christopher Columbus was a bigoted, misogynistic, racist man.

The historical figures that Andy Andrews thinks we should learn from, are all white, with the exception of King Solomon, but many conservative Christians choose to believe that King Solomon was white.

The only female who has anything to teach, is a young Jewish girl murdered in the Holocaust, to teach you to choose to be happy. (Archangels are genderless, but Andrews chose to write Gabriel as a man.) Victims and survivors of the holocaust have a lot to teach, but using their trauma and mass genocide to teach a 46-year-old man in a midlife crisis to be happy, is gross. It lacks empathy, and places Ponder at the center of the suffering, while ignoring what occurred to real people.

There is no science or data used to back up the arguments in The Traveler’s Gift. Andy Andrews prefers to rely on an emotional argument, and ignore any type of data, science, or studies. The book operates on the idea that if my intentions are good, then facts don’t matter.

By Sander Sammy on Unsplash

It’s lazy writing, yah’ll

The Traveler’s Gift is not well written. Even for a self-help book. Honestly, it reads like a group of blog posts that were written on a plane, then published as a book. The sentences are repetitive, boring, and weirdly simple.

Andy Andrews relies on the laziest of self-help tropes — conversation-driven chapters. Conversations have been used to teach students since Plato (if not before). But it’s like in design —simple does not mean easy.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” — Steve Jobs

The dialogue is anything but natural, or interesting. Instead, Andrews used conversations to tell the reader what to think, while implying that historical figures held beliefs that they did not. Then uses the implication of agreement to hold up his argument.

By engin akyurt on Unsplash

Toxic masculinity abounds within the pages of the Traveler’s Gift

If you did not even know the name of the author of The Traveler’s Gift, you would still be able to tell that an older, white, American, man wrote the book. 1990s-flavored toxic masculinity abounds throughout the teachings.

“The words it is not my fault should never again come from your mouth. The words it is not my fault have been symbolically written on the gravestones of unsuccessful people ever since Eve took her first bite of the apple,” (Andrews, The Traveler’s Gift, pg. 28)

  • The idea that ‘the buck stops with me’ is great. Personal responsibility is fantastic. But these passages are clear that a white man, who has had control over his life, wrote them. I can’t speak to how other organizations teach this point, but in my experience, this book was used as proof that “everything that happens in [my] life is [my] fault.” As a sexual assault survivor, as a religious cult survivor, and as a single working mother, these teachings were used to silence employees and redirect responsibility from the executives and management back onto the employees.
  • The first two chapters focus on how hard all of this is on Ponders, and how Ponders does not have a purpose after losing his previous job. These are valid legitimate feelings, however, there is little to no reflection on the feelings, beliefs, wants, or struggles of his wife or daughter. It is purely centered on how hard this is for him. The fact that his previous career was only possible due to his wife taking on all of the house responsibilities, is not touched on. Instead Ponders is nostalgic for the times when he would work so much that he neglected his family, not seeing them because he went to work so early and stayed so late.
  • The single female historical figure featured in the book has the singular goal to teach a man in his mid-life crisis to be happy. Andrews quite literally makes Anne Frank into a manic pixy dream girl.
  • It’s just accepted that, of course, Ponders would feel like he had no purpose after not being able to ‘provide’ for his family. His definition of providing for his family, only include providing financial support. Financially providing for a family is not a gendered task, and men have more responsibilities to their families than solely providing a paycheck.
By Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

Don’t force employees to read religious books

I was raised in a cult-ish branch of the Southern Baptist Convention. The same SBC that’s in the news right now for widespread abuse. I consider my childhood to be something that I survived.

I have no problem with other people seeking comfort in religion, however, I have a very large problem with companies forcing their employees to read Christian propaganda. Especially when the first book on the company’s long required reading list is aggressively conservatively religious.

The company that required me to read The Traveler’s Gift, employed over 250 people. My religious trauma was not the only negative reaction to this book. LGBTIA+ folks spoke about how it made them feel even less comfortable within the company, as did folks who hold different religious beliefs.

Good intentions do not remove the negative consequences.

This article was also published on Medium.

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About the Creator

Haley Rymel

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