My self-help craze started the day my parents bought me The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens off Amazon in 9th grade. I was persuaded into the world of self-help because like most other people in the world, I am easily swayed by flashy titles and (over)-optimistic claims. From then on, I devoured hundreds of self-help books, often reading multiple at a time to satisfy my craving. This resulted in interesting situations where I would be acting out scenarios from the interactive section of a “improving your career life” book as my designated bathroom reading, while simultaneously reading aloud passages from various Health books during dinner time, trying to convince my parents to fund the overhaul of my old diet in favor of one consisting solely of fish, chicken breasts, egg whites, boiled vegetables, and various superfoods.
But the glut of self-help books out there resulted in many of the ones I read to be some variation of “UCANDOITJUSTFOLLOWYOURDREAMSGIRL!!!” or occasionally the embarrassing-to-admit “How to Get the Guy of Your Dreams.” As I matured and grew tired of being constantly swindled by money-grubbing publishers, I started to become more selective about the books I read and even started taking notes on them, not wanting to lose any valuable nuggets of knowledge due to faulty memory. I practically worshipped Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, and Napolean Hill.
The turning point for me was a year ago—I was in the self-help section at Barnes and Noble and had just found the book I was looking for. However, just as I was about to walk to the check-out center, I paused.
I caught sight of the children’s fantasy section seven or eight shelves away on the other side of the room. As a child, I had loved the Inkheart trilogy. Even now, as I type out that word, I can feel my pulse racing—the culmination of the vestigial/residual feelings I have for the series carried over from my childhood. I was enamored with the characters and the setting—how it injected imagination into my world/reality. I became a “silvertongue” myself, recording bits of dialogue I would have with my favorite book characters when I brought them to life. I marveled at how elated I felt when I read fantasy, and that feeling was so intense that it was like a drug that I would seek again and again. I became involved in creative writing upon realizing my scribbling was considered a respected, academic activity for children among the adults.
While many hours went into my self-help obsession, I still continued to read actual “literature” and wrote creatively as well. But I was well aware that something changed.
Maybe I was just growing up.
After all, when was the last time I saw an adult reading fantasy or going to a Lord of the Rings on their own accord and not at the suggestion of their child?
Whereas I read fantasy purely for enjoyment, I read self-help more out of necessity. I thought of myself like a camper stocking up supplies, gathering knowledge for as many possible situations as I could so I would never be caught unprepared.
But what I had mistaken for preparedness was actually cowardice and uncertainty.
I read every book hoping for a formula. Following the steps = job accomplished/skill improved/obstacle removed. I didn’t trust my own intuition.
But the hard things in life cannot be solved with a textbook answer or a “quick fix.”
Sometimes I feel as if the glut of self-help I have read has expanded my logical-thinking right brain and in turn, to preserve equilibrium, my creative left brain has shrinked. I began to see boundaries where I hadn’t before. The world became a more restrictive place.
But then I think of the truly successful people of world, and how they all seem to share a common trait.
They have mastered the art of switching gears from the left brain to the right on command, allowing them to combine invention with execution, preparedness with spontaneity, practicality with curiosity.
That, perhaps is the single most significant thing I’ve learned from self-help—that it is possible and most desirable to have both.
Of course, not all self-help books read like a step-by-step manuals. I’ve read many eye-opening self-help books as well, namely Man’s Search For Meaning and The Power of Now, that have, over the years, helped shape who I am and who I want to be. Rather than plans, they have given me guidance. Even so, they are written from the point of view of one person and how he/she has found fulfillment and success in his/her life.
There is no such thing as one size fits all. These books can serve as your mentors–read them, and ponder the author’s argument. But always keep in mind that the authors are not Gods, they are people and the best they can do is chronicle their experiences in a way that they think might be helpful to their readership.
Your own intuition is the best judge of what advice stays and what advice you store in less accessible compartments of your brain.
I still read self-help. I like the concrete-ness of it–like talking to a wise friend or university lecturer. It makes you feel grounded.
I just really miss the copious amounts of fiction I used to read.