I loved to read self-help books in my twenties and thirties. They got me through. They gave me hope and helped me dream and aspire to bigger things. I don’t doubt that some of my ability to embrace change came from hearing inspiring stories of people who either overcame great obstacles and found happiness or some rags to riches story of someone creating opportunity and success out of poverty.
But I’m older now. I’ve tried the passion focus, intention and manifestation, the ‘insert some 7 step name here’ method. I am still middle class and average. I can see from this vantage point that the self-help industry is not much different from the diet industry or the beauty industry. “Buy this,” “become like this,” because God forbid you settle in the life you have. “You need to adopt these daily habits to have a full life and find happiness.” “Come open my book, I’ve got the secret formula to bliss.”
And guess what, the vast majority of us who read and try the method in self-help books won’t have any life changing experiences as a result. You could blame all the readers and say it is because “they didn’t try hard enough,” or “they didn’t have the right mindset” or some other way of justifying it. But beware of the rationalizations you use. They sound too familiar to the excuses the other ideal sellers our society impose on us.
Let’s face it. People are unhappy. We have created a world of lack and discontent that feels so empty that few of us can get through the day without some sort of crutch or addiction. It is big business to sell people the idea that if they just read this book they might find some relief from that. But then they wake up the next morning to their 9-to-5-long-commute-rat-race-life and resign themselves again to reality.
I’m sick of the talk shows glorifying yet another person who basically won the life lottery and found a way to make a million dollars and who is now selling their system to the masses. If their system could really be replicated wouldn’t a large number of us be able to also make a million? Yeah, didn’t think so.
Instead of providing hope I now think these books can contribute to the sense of lack in our lives. Instead of being inspired we are defeated. Instead of being motivated we are immobilized. Maybe not the first time we read one, or even the second time, but by the third or fourth self-help book that leads nowhere you start to see a pattern.
I am looking for the get real self-help book that takes the sting out of the average life. 'Cause what is really so wrong with the average life? Only that it isn’t the extraordinary life. Few of us will have one of those. The world needs baristas and bookkeepers, short line cooks and shelf stockers, and taxi drivers and tax auditors. Those are the jobs those self-help books are telling you to escape. We cannot all be famous. We cannot all make 6-figures. We cannot all find the secret to massive success. Instead we need books that help people embrace their lives and find meaning and purpose in what is.
I will probably go out and buy another self-help book. I will read it for hope and inspiration and I will be jazzed up about the possibilities for a little while. I will have Cinderella dreams while I ride the bus to my day job. But in there I will also stop and appreciate my family, my coworkers, and my fellow bus riders. I will look around at my average life and soak in the goodness. My heart will be filled with compassion for everyone else who is leading an average life. I will be filled with gratitude that we are able to.