“self help me!” or “how to avoid how-to’s”

A fellow server was having a bad day.  She hadn’t slept well, she was questioning what she was doing with her life, contemplating quitting.  This is also known as “pulling a Mikel.”

Fortunately–and shockingly–I was in a pretty spunky mood, having brainstormed some excellent ideas for my latest writing project.

I’m never very deep–at least, in my own opinion.  I don’t think I have much to say that would qualify as ‘golden advice.’  My viewpoints aren’t landmark opinions.  But I sometimes have away of distracting people from their problems.

So I asked her if she’d read any good books lately?

To which she replied, almost a sniffle:  “I only read inspirational self-help books and the Bible.”

There it is.

I felt my lip twitch.  Typically, I don’t have much to say on matters of the heart.  Except when it comes to self-help books.

I hate them.

They are filled with touchy-feely nonsense.  Occasionally they have a little gem, which usually ends up becoming the most popular tattoo of the following year.

“Learn to be your own master and apprentice yourself to mastering the task at which was first set before you.”

I made that up.  Just now.  I’m not even sure what I wrote, but I bet it could be somebody’s Chapter 3 header.

Every girl I ever forgot to call back suddenly had a copy of “He’s Just Not That Into You” in their hands.

There’s just too much garbage when it comes to self-help books.

And here’s my biggest problem with them:  at the end of the day, they are still just a book.

Someone wrote it and made money off of it.  And someone reads it and thinks “Wow, this is a great person that lives a great life.”

But I know better.  I know first-hand that writing a book is a long journey of ups and downs, frustration, quitting and restarting.  An endless process of retiring and coming out of retirement.

There is no way self-help authors live and breathe their advice 365 days a year.  What you are reading is a collection of one person’s good days.

Of course, I told my fellow server all this.  Suddenly I became Malcolm X and Bill Clinton and–what’s another strongly-opinionated, public-speaking phenomenon?–combined.  I was fed up with people soaking up pseudo-intellectual sweet nothings like a sponge and pretending to have a good day.

Eventually you have to do something.  If you hop from one self-help book to another, you never even experience anything the author is talking about.  You’re just an Inspiration Junkie looking for the next fix.

Shockingly–quite shockingly–this seemed to really flip her switch.  Suddenly her day got better.  Suddenly, I was the self-help guru.

Let’s be clear:  I’m not trying to be inspirational.  I think I’m a very good example of what not to do with one’s life.  But I do know you can’t live in a puppy-kitty-rainbows fantasy land just reading about how things could get better.  At some point, you have to do.  You have to experience.

Yeah, this is somewhat hypocritical of me to say–but I’m also not injecting myself with doses of “Find Your Inner Greatness” on a daily basis.  I know greatness takes struggle and sacrifice.  Taking your licks.  Swallowing your pride.  Living in someone’s basement.

The term is “Starving Artist”  not “Well-fed Artist.”

I told her to take a little time and think about the stuff she’s read.  If she really believes in it, then she should be able to apply it to her life.  She shouldn’t need a new book right away.

She asked me what I read for inspiration.

I said, “Fiction.  Great works of fiction.”  Nothing–nothing–is more incredible than seeing what great work of art a human can create.  Even if outlandish fantasy stories aren’t your cup of tea, you can’t deny what a vivid verbal painting they are.  Someone created a whole world in their head and was able to transfer it to yours by a series of well-placed, carefully-picked words.

Now that’s inspiring.

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