I’m currently telling everyone I make eye contact with about my new favorite anti-self-help, self-help book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. I’m sure the title sort of explains why it’s anti-self-help, but in case you’re still wondering, the overall message is to quit trying so hard, figure out what you truly value most in life (not what our culture tells you to value) and that will, in turn, help you figure what to give a fuck about. The is a bit more to it than that, but this isn’t a book report; you know how to work Amazon. Anyway, I somehow find a way to weave it into every conversation lately.
Before that, it was Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which followed Augusten Burroughs’ This Is How. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (I can’t comprehend A New Earth yet) and Chellie Campbell’s The Wealthy Spirit both cycle through the rotation repeatedly. I somehow haven’t jumped on the Liz Gilbert or Brene Brown trains yet. The Abraham Hicks peeps and The Secret folks intrigue me, but I get too caught up in worrying that I’m jacking my manifestation every time I have a negative thought, and I can’t deal with that kind of pressure.
It’s hard to trace the steps back to my first self-help book, but I’m pretty sure it was Face Your Fear by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. It came out in 2005 so that seems about right because that’s when I was a fresh college graduate and new to LA, and overflowing with fear. This was back when you’d slink into the self-help section of Barnes & Noble, trying to go unnoticed. I’m sure I just saw the word “fear” on the spine, grabbed it and bolted (fearfully) over to a quiet corner by the travel books to thumb through without onlookers’ judgment. I can’t tell you one thing I learned from that book now but I do follow the author on Twitter. He travels a lot.
Then there was the unfortunate phase of dating self-help books: The Rules; its updated edition, Not Your Mother’s Rules; Real Love Men Love Bitches; Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man; Getting To I Do; Power Texting Men! (that one’s really embarrassing, can you please give me credit for being willing to admit that in a public forum?); The Social Tigress: Dating Advice for Women to Attract Men and Get a Boyfriend (just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse—that’s an actual published book); Make Him Beg To Be Your Boyfriend in Six Simple Steps (oh man, it got worse again) and of course the mother of them all, He’s Just Not That Into You.
Then there were all the alcoholic memoirs but those don’t count, right? They helped get me sober!
Before you buy me a one-way ticket to Crazy Bitch Town, USA, there is some good news—I am now in self-imposed recovery from self-help books. At least the dating ones. A friend tried to offer me one recently and I all but burned it, I have such an aversion now. These dating books completely messed with my head and for the most part, are all just utter bullshit marketed to women like me who think there is something they need to do or fix in order to find true love. The reality is that when you finally start loving yourself, all the behaviors those books recommend just come naturally. (Or you bone on the first date and end up marrying the guy anyway.) Like I said, it’s all bullshit. That reality is finally getting through my thick skull, thanks to the guidance of my many friends in solid relationships that didn’t result from reading a fucking dating advice Kindle single.
Truthfully, I used to be convinced that whatever book I was reading was going to fix me. But as it turns out, that constant yearning to fix myself was actually what needed to be fixed. And as the desperate ploys for self-improvement and self-actualization have slowly subsided, the more and more I’ve realized that for so many years my “problems” were just untreated alcoholism.
Long before I started to question my actual drinking habits, I showed signs of the ‘ism. Nothing was ever enough as-is. I was constantly agonizing about the future or regretting the past. I couldn’t make a decision to save my life. The act of thinking was a sport. Beating myself up was an Olympic-training-level sport. I thought I needed those books to tell me what to do and who to be, because I sure as shit didn’t know.
I was super Christian growing up, and those principles guided me up until halfway through college when I realized I wasn’t really identifying with the Jesus crew anymore. I tried to go to church by myself in LA, but just wasn’t feeling it. Then I was a quasi-Christian, virgin Southern Belle doing stand-up comedy in one of the grittiest cities in America—talk about an identity crisis! No wonder I needed that Rabbi to tell me how to get rid of my fear!
Since getting sober, I’ve learned tools to deal with the non-stop commentator in my brain—the one who always convinced me that the next book was going to be the ultimate game changer. I also just like myself more. Waking up remembering everything that happened the previous evening really helps and so does having the clarity to figure out what and who I actually do or don’t like. It was all a muddled haze before quitting drinking. Now I like to take bits and pieces from the books that still resonate, and write them in my journal or the notes on my iPhone—just a quote here and there. Because now when I read these books, I can’t help but think, “Well, this is just this woman’s/man’s opinion. How do I know she/he is even right?” That to me is major progress. I used to read all this stuff like it was the word of God. But these authors, no matter what their credentials, are also just other humans trying to figure out how to suffer a little less in life, or just trying to sell their damn books.
But seriously, go read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. It’s really good.