Is there a self-help book out there for people who take self-help books too seriously? Self-Help Books for Dummies? Is that thing? Because I need that.
I don’t even like self-help books. I’m skeptical of anything that promises to fix all my issues (and they are legion) in 300 pages or less, but the main problem is that I often take the experiments I conduct on my life way too far. Sure, my initial self-help book approach could best be described as “unhealthily cynical”, but if I feel any part of it has some value, I’ll take the whole thing too seriously for my own good. It never ends well.
What I Thought: What’s this? A book about how not to suck in your twenties? I’m in my early twenties! I can nip this one in the bud!
What I Learned: Most people in their twenties are underemployed or unemployed. Their parents have all divorced so they don’t know how relationships work. They have no longterm goals because they’re putting life on hold, and nothing good will ever happen to them unless they change right away (but even that may be too late). Oh, also my ovaries are going to dry up any day now. Seriously. ANY DAY NOW.
How I Reacted: The driving idea behind the book was that your twenties are not a decade you can fart away. You’re laying down the foundation for the rest of your life, and to do that, you need a plan. I didn’t have a plan and my ovaries were steadily withering away, so I did what I usually do when I freak out: I made a list.
The Life List
1) Get a job.
2) Find a place to live and procure furniture.
3) Get a dog.
4) (Optional) Get a significant other.
5) Make/steal/adopt a child. Maybe. Eventually.
6) Save money to give to my dog or the kid I made/stole/adopted.
7) *Other Life Stuff Here.*
Yep. That’s it. That’s everything I want to accomplish with my life. The really stupid thing is that as ambiguous as this list is (“Other Life Stuff”?), it made me feel better. I still don’t have a dog or even a bed, and my uterus is getting more useless by the minute, but I stopped talking obsessively about those things with my friends. Unlike the hapless 20-somethings featured in the book, I have a plan. I know what I’m doing all the way up to the moment of my death. TAKE THAT, DIRECTIONLESS ENNUI OF YOUTH.
Life-Changer #2: The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are
What I Thought: This one snuck up on me because I was curious about the legitimacy of birth order psychology and decided this was a good place to start. I didn’t realize I was reading a self-help book until about halfway through. This leads me to believe it would be really easy to lure me into a trap. All you’d have to do is ask me an interesting question and put a book about it in the middle of a cleverly-disguised net.
What I Learned: I’m the oldest child in my family. According to the author, oldest children are list-making perfectionists who don’t like surprises.
Here’s a fun and completely unrelated fact: Did you know the average post on my list-based blog goes through at least three hyper-critical editing sessions to ensure it’s as surprise-free as possible? It’s true!
How I Reacted: For a week or two I stared at strangers, and when they noticed, I’d say creepy things like, “You’re the youngest child in a family of four or five, aren’t you?” That didn’t do much for my popularity around the office.
The chapter that clued me into the whole self-help thing focused on how to stop being a perfectionist. Perfectionism has always seemed like a positive personality trait, so I was curious enough to get over my self-help book aversion.
“Stop needing to be the best at everything,” the book said.
“OK!” I said. “I can do that! I can do that so well! I’M GOING TO BE THE BEST NON-PERFECTIONIST WHO EVER EXISTED.”
Life-Changer #3: The Secret
What I Thought: My grandma gave it to me, ok?
What I Learned: This may surprise you, but I’m not the most positive person on the planet.
The Secret, for the three of you who haven’t heard, is all about the law of attraction: if you think happy thoughts, happy things happen to you. If you’re a Negative Nancy (or a Sour Stephanie, as the case may be), horrible, awful things happen to you. It’s hard to think positively when horrible, awful things are happening to you (unless you’re in a Monty Python movie), but if you want anything to change, The Secret says you must.
How I Reacted: I spent a lot of time focusing on the “three step process for dream manifestation”. I applied it to everything from lunch plans, to breaks in traffic, to my love life. Unfortunately, the law of attraction is a double-edged sword– it’s possible to be too positive. If you cross that line, all the peppiness in the world won’t bring your friends back. Luckily, I’ve made a complete recovery.
Life-Changer #4: Fight Club
It turns out Fight Club is not, in fact, a self-help book.