I’ve been listening to a lot of audio books about self-betterment. I use self-betterment rather than self-help because in the first world, we typically pick up a strong coffee, leisurely make our way through the book store’s aisles, eventually stumbling upon a flashy cover and tell ourselves “hmm… this may be useful to better my career.” It’s not often you’ll see a homeless man parading a book over his head like the holy grail praising Jesus that he’s just found the cure to all his life’s anguish.
I’ve read books about creating tipping points, properly reaching your target market through empathy, exposing your vulnerability, all that good shit. Finally, after the 10th person told me for the 10th time to read it, I bought The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. It’s essentially a satirized self-help book, and it's a fun read. The author runs us through counter-intuitive advice like the fact that you’re not special. You heard me, you’re plain. Also, your choice to not make a choice, is still a choice. Lastly, you should enjoy suffering. Sound bleak? Not really.
One of the asides that stuck with me is that self-help books perpetuate the notion that you aren’t good enough. Let’s say you’re lonely: you buy a book hoping it will help you make more friends. The book goes through exercises to identify the problem areas, maybe social anxiety or lack of interest in small-talk, etc. Then it gives you this list of ways to improve yourself and tackle those problems. Go to a shopping centre and say hi to 5 strangers, take notes on your friends’ interests and research them so you have something to talk about, etc. All the while reinforcing the notion that you, in the current state that you are, are not good enough. You’ll only be okay once you master this material.
The problem is that once you’ve mastered the material and made those incremental improvements, you’ll find out that you’re still unhappy. Then what do you do? You go out and buy another book. It’s a perpetual cycle that’s made to keep you spending money and keep you wanting to be better. Here’s the truth: you suck. That’s okay. I suck too. We all suck. We’re all broken with these jarring events in our lives that traumatized us and made us the people we are today. We’re all just trying to make the best of the limited time we have on earth. For some of us, it’s pursuing high-minded rhetoric with friends over a glass of mulled wine. For others, it’s getting through today without breaking down.
So yes, you’ve got your issues. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to be a better person, of course you should. If you’re not happy, then it's worth spending time to find out what makes you happy. But a book won’t tell you that. They don’t know your inner-most fears, desires and triggers. They don’t know that the origin your low self-esteem is the time you peed your pants in 3rd grade and Billy Madison wasn’t around to tell everyone “You’re not cool until you pee your pants.”
Go out and be the best version of you that you can be. Until you reach your own version of nirvana, at least you can find solace in the fact that we’re all all a little messed up too.