News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Young writer publishes unique book

The average 24-year-old is not a published author. But then, Zoe Falk is not your average 24-year-old.

Though young, Falk has experienced enough highs and lows, and done enough personal introspection, to put together what she describes as “an autobiographical self-help” book.

“The Adventure Guide to Living a Kickass Life,” which Falk self-published, launched Monday, June 21.

She says the book is largely targeted at her own age group — from late teens to mid-20s — but she believes all ages can find it useful.

“We can’t assume that young people haven’t had a lot of challenging experiences, and they need to pay attention to their mental health,” she said. “Young people facing real-life challenges may actually feel overwhelmed and experience more intense struggle because they haven’t had the life experience to help them know how to cope. They may not have as much resilience.”

Falk arrived in Sisters from California as a nervous, unconfident, 12-year-old seventh-grader, taken in by her aunt and uncle, Debbie and Greg Willitts, and their sons, Gabe and Sean, to get respite from an unstable, dysfunctional living situation.

Over the next six years, the safe home that the Willitts’ provided, which included routines and healthy expectations, helped her to transform from being a struggling pupil with low self-worth to a successful high school student and champion athlete. Falk also credits the close relationship she developed with her grandparents Zoe and Bill Willitts for allowing her to grow and flourish.

The book chronicles her teen years in which she not only won a state championship in track, but also became strong academically, resulting in an offer to run for Northern Arizona University (NAU), which has one of the strongest cross country and track programs in the nation.

She describes her high school teams as being “a safe haven,” and says being a good runner became a large part of her personal identity.

But things changed with the high intensity of NCAA Division 1 athletics, so she left competitive running and felt quite lost until the opportunity to study abroad in Spain presented itself. It was to become the most significant adventure she had had up to that point.

She lived with a family for four months and found the experience life-changing and freeing.

“Living in Spain was very humbling and taught me a lot about different ways of life and that the American version isn’t the only true one for me,” she explained. “The Spanish culture is very open-minded and they don’t put as much pressure on individual success — your worth isn’t determined by what you succeed in, but rather by the person that you present to the world.”

She ultimately navigated this journey of challenges, including depression, and opportunities fairly well. Then, just five days before she was to graduate from NAU in 2018, her cousin Gabe took his own life. The tragic death delivered Falk’s deepest, most significant trauma, just at a pivotal moment in her life.

Since that time, over the past three years, Falk has traveled extensively, taken part in mental health therapy, worked, and journaled. She discovered writing to be very therapeutic.

“After discovering my ability to cope with my traumas through writing, I realized my words could possibly be a way of helping others, too,” she explained. “I wanted to find a way to help people in this painful world, but also be able to see the beauty that exists at the same time. Eventually I asked myself, ‘Why not write a book?’”

She says her cousin’s death has taught her a lot about living.

“Gabe and I were the same age — only three months apart — and we were close growing up,” she said. “His loss was tough for me, as it obviously was on so many other people. He had a very adventurous spirit and he helped me see life as the grand adventure that it’s supposed to be. By writing the book, I wanted to help motivate people to wake up and keep seeking the adventures that are true to them, just like Gabe embodied. I want people to find enriched life through their own adventures and that there is beauty in the midst of pain.”

Each section of the book concludes with questions and activities designed to help the reader learn to make the most of their lives by learning to love themselves, learning to live in the present, understanding the power of time, planning adventures, overcoming obstacles, and more.

The book appears to be just the beginning for Falk in her pursuit of helping others.

“I’m creating worksheets and other exercises for people to use as a continuation from my book,” she said. “Then, the dream would be to create courses and retreats in order to help people overcome their obstacles and to be on their way to achieving their next grand adventure. I hope my experiences as a teacher and travel guide will allow me to combine the two things I’m most passionate about.

“Although I emphasize the theme of adventure throughout the book, the underlying purpose is really to expand awareness of mental health issues such as addiction, depression, trauma, and anxiety in our society and to help to destigmatize the way people view it,” she said. “I believe everyone can benefit from therapy of some sort.”

Falk is scheduled to read from and sign copies of her book on Friday, June 25 at Thump Roastery located at 549 NW York Dr. #200 in Bend, from 6 to 9 p.m. The book is available in Bend at Dudley’s Bookshop and Cafe and the Austin Mercantile, and in Sisters at Paulina Springs Books and Shibui Spa. The book can also be preordered as an e-book on Amazon.


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