my take on the ‘self-help club’

Intelligence is not defined by what you know, that is knowledge.

-H. Morris

As a writer (it still makes me shiver with pride when I say that!), I sometimes spend my time in book stores, walking the aisles, looking for something to catch my eye. It’s what I like doing. Some people cruise supermarkets for bargains, and I cruise bookshops, looking for inspiration.

One day, a few weeks ago, I was in my local bookstore, surrounded by my favourite books; The Count of Monte Christo, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, the Lord of the Rings. Works of art everywhere. Imagination everywhere. Imagine my horror when I turned the corner to see this:

“How to change your life in one year”

“How to live”

“Return to love”

“Reasons why you are un-lovable”

“It’s not him, it’s you!”

And my favourite:

“How to buy a self-help book”

Yes, all of these books exist. Unfortunately. It made me very angry to look at. The thing is, after flicking through them all, they all carried one strong message:

“Do as I say and your life will be different. If you even think about doing something else, then your life will be shit!”

I stood in that bookshop, almost half persuaded to buy all of the above titles in order to study them and pull them apart, word for word. We all know that self-help books exist. I’ve walked past the self-help section and have understood the general code that whatever happens in that section, indeed stays in that section. Every day, thousands of people search the bookstores and the internet in search of something to change their life. I’ve been there. During my break-up, I googled self-help books so much that amazon used to email me suggestions for them. Even the internet was telling me how to live my life. That night, after I got home, I started to think: If we don’t follow the advice of these books that sit there in all of their bold-titled glory, are we admitting defeat and satisfying ourselves with the conclusion that our lives are indeed unchangeable?

In my experience of life-changing scenarios (which I have a lot of), I have found that the best way to change your life is through your own actions. Surely dictation of how you can live your life in a way that is deemed perfect by someone else’s standards can create a lie that you hide behind and pretend that you are at ease with just because you are told that it’s OK? If you were told, in the book, that the way to happiness is to drink vodka straight from the bottle every morning before work, would you do it? Most people will say no. if that is the case, then why do we believe it when someone tells us to make two lists of what you can and can’t do in life. Why not, instead of making a list, just go and do the things that you need to do?

The trouble is that the ‘answers’ to all of your problems are readily available to you, everywhere you look. I can’t go past a shop window without seeing something that promises to change your life. We rely on the signs over a shelf to tell us that it’s ok to use their product. We grasp onto our self-help books to convince ourselves that the author knows what they are talking about and if you follow every step, it might, just might work. We re-read the last text message from a loved one to keep the reassurance that they love you. Whatever happened to just doing?

This is just my opinion. I am not right, nor am I wrong. You make your own opinion. When you find yourself at the lowest of the low, when you feel that the world is coming down on your shoulders or when you feel that the only way out is to be told what to do by somebody else, remember that you are in control of your own destiny. Nobody can preach to you on how to live or change your life.  The answer to your happiness is not on the pages of a book. The answer is YOU. To quote a person I met recently, who I find pretty fascinating: “You can shut yourself out, or you can dive in, but it’s stepwise”. Take things slow and relax. You are in no rush to change everything today. This stuff takes time, but if I, the victim of so many years of abuse, along with so many people who have been through much worse than me, can get through it without the loss of £14.99 on a book that will tell you to do the things that you already know, then you can do it too.

Click here for the next instalment.

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