About six years ago, I was friends with a girl who loved to read. I love to read, too. I was constantly asking her if she’d read this book or that book, and if she said no, would she like to borrow my copy?
Finally, after politely turning me down a zillion times, she told me she doesn’t really read fiction anymore.
This blew my mind. “You don’t read fiction? Well, what do you read?”
She mostly read craft books, books that would teach her something or help her expand one of her skills.
A month or so ago, I realized that my own reading habit has taken a turn for the non-fictionier. At least half of the books I’ve read since the year began have been non-fiction, maybe even more than half.
My non-fiction poison? Memoirs and self-help books.
I read asstons upon asstons of self-help books, usually about diet and health, creativity, how to make a living doing what you love, and how to figure out what you love so you can make a living out of it.
I used to scoff to myself at the enormous self-help sections in the bookstore, as I made my way to the young adult section. (Because I could totally justify a self-help superiority complex by reading YA lit.) (I don’t think I will ever stop reading YA lit.) “Who buys these books?” I would think to myself. “Do they really think they’re going to find the answer to their problems by reading this stuff?”
The answer is yes.
Of course, I spent a decent chunk of time trying to convince myself otherwise. I’m not reading these books to find a solution to all of my problems, I would say to myself. I’m reading them for general advice which I can either follow if it speaks to me or disregard if it doesn’t.
Which isn’t completely a lie. Over time, advice I’ve learned from self-help books that actually worked has stuck with me, and I’ve rolled it all up into my Katamari of personal beliefs. (Which I then released into the sky after my bitchy space dad told me how insignificantly small it was. Not really. There’s only so far you can take that metaphor.)
However, that doesn’t negate the fact that when I read the book for the first time, I read it in the complete and earnest hope that its pages would contain a step-by-step instruction list on how to live out my perfect life.
While there are books that I love that have made a decent impact on my life, no single book or blog has given me all the answers that I need.
What they do, however, is make me feel slightly guilty for not heeding their advice. If I read something that promises me perfect happiness or riches and fame if I follow these steps, and then I don’t achieve perfect happiness or riches and fame, I will let my internal monologue chastise me into an immobile lump with how I’m failing because I’m not doing what I’m supposed to.
In other words, these books could be hurting more than they are helping.
It’s not the end of the world if I don’t follow so-and-so’s five step plan to never feeling an ounce of stress ever again as long as I live. How could I, how could any of us, expect one individual person to have all of the answers to our individual problems? It’s illogical.
And yet, despite making this realization a few days ago, three of the eight tabs open in my browser right now are blog posts with titles like “How to NOT suck at blogging”, “Live and Work on Your Own Terms”, and “Tyler Durden’s Guide to Personal Finance”, with another tab open to my Google Reader in case one of the blogs I follow makes a post today that changes my life.*
Yes, I’m still looking for that road map, and knowing me, I’ll probably continue to look for it every day for the rest of my life.
What I need to take from this, however (and what you should too if you have a self-help problem like me), is to stop feeling so dang guilty about not following someone else’s life model. None of these people are writing to me personally, they are writing to the world in general, which means that it’s okay to take general advice and tips and try them as I see fit.
But for the really down-and-dirty, how am I gonna make myself happy and content FOREVER business, well…I’ll just have to suck it up and figure that stuff out myself.
*In case you’re curious, the other tabs are my gmail account, WordPress so I can make this post, my Mission 101 list, and a silly time-wasting online game.