(SELF-) HELP ME, PLEASE!

I’m a firm believer in life’s phases.  Even though I’d like to think I’m the only one in the world who’s lived through this freakish and undulating patchwork of Twilight Zone episodes, Eat, Pray, Love moments, and Nightmare on Elm Street-like near-(intellectual-)death experiences that is my life, I know I’m just being conceited.  It’s well documented, after all, that all toddlers go through the terrible twos (which for me, lasted until I was 16) and adolescents through a long and tear-filled angsty phase (I’m not sure I’m finished with that one yet) and undergrads through an experimentation phase (oh, college…).  But I’ve recently and reluctantly become the victim of another one: The self-help phase.

Most people, I’m guessing, find themselves here in their 40s.  They’re fed up with life, or their jobs, or their spouses, or themselves and read things like “Think and Grow Rich” or “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” (oh the irony that my former bosses who were hopelessly unsuccessful in their careers were Seven Habits Certified) or the Chicken Soup books (I never understood why people bought those books… Slimy advice that’s mushy in your mouth and tasteless on your tongue?  No thanks!).

But.  Oh, how I hate to admit it, but.  I have a confession.  I’m not sure if it’s London or the fact that I’m changing careers or that I’m becoming more and more my father’s daughter or that I’ve always been inclined to think big thoughts (thank you, University of Chicago).  But in the past few years I’ve read things like “Influence” and “Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career” and “Mrs. Moneypenny’s Career Advice for Ambitious Women” and lots of other titles that I’m embarrassed to have on my bedside table but that I see as one of the more benign side-effects of the over-examined life.

Some of these books, mind you, like “The Game,” stretch the boundaries a bit.  But hey, why shouldn’t the self-help genre include a book about how flaccid unattractive men can use evolutionary psychology and verbal cues to make women feel desperate enough to date them?  To each their own, I say (and ladies, it’s worth reading as a self-defense book… you should never let yourself be “neg’ed” again).

So there you have it.  I read this stuff and I’m starting to see some value in it.  It’s true.  I wish it weren’t, but it is.  I’m willing to withstand all the eye-rolling you’re doing — I can feel it through the ether — because sooner or later, I know, and the statistics on Amazon prove it, that one day soon you’ll find yourself googling “time management books for the Facebook fanatic” or “how to win virtual friends and influence e-people.”

And when you do, I know you’ll come to the same conclusion I have: that reading self-help books is all part of a predictable quarter-life crisis (we’re all going to live to 120, right?) just like hating your parents is the birth right of every teen and becoming bisexual for a few days is the obligation of every college co-ed.  And you’ll also realize that the reason self-help books are so popular is that by wasting all your time reading about what you should be doing, you don’t actually have to do anything.  What could be more helpful than that?

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