Why I’ve Never Been a Fan of “Self Help” Books

“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.” - George Carlin

3 min. read

I’ve only ever read one, maybe two, “self help” books (depending on how strict your definition is). Not for me. And I wouldn’t want to foist them on anyone else. Might seem odd, considering what I write here. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so reluctant to write about the things I write about here: because I don’t like the idea of “self help” coming from another person.

I haven’t read all the books, so I’m making a lot of broad generalizations, and might have a bit of prejudice I need to unpack, but when I talk to people who are huge “self help” book fans, there are a few things that stick out to me as less than savory: there’s too much money involved, it promotes idolatry, and it fosters codependent support.

The money thing is obvious. It’s hard to differentiate the big “self help” pioneers from any other mogul: they’ve tapped into a market and done an amazing job making the dollars keep flowing. Some folks charge upwards of $40K – $60K for a talk. That’s a lot of money. I’m never one to question someone’s motivations, but if your goal was to help other people help themselves, a few dollars to a need person might be more meaningful than a book. And when their followers find out about the wild amounts of money some of these folks make, instead of thinking “what the eff?!” they think “I could be like that,” which brings me to idolatry.

The self help enterprise isn’t focused around making people’s lives better, it’s focused around _the __people _who make others’ lives better. Fans of self-help moguls follow their every teaching and celebrate their work to an extent bordering on idolatry. Believing one person is worthy of worship, while that person is telling you that you’re great, will likely lead to at least a bit of cognitive dissonance. And when there isn’t dissonance, and when someone fully accepts that contraction, we have the beginnings of a codependent relationship.

Codependence is a dangerous concept because it’s so close to interdependence, something that’s super duper healthy and an important thing to find for yourself. Codependence crops up when you have a person who thinks they _need _another person in order to be happy, or that another person is responsible for their happiness. That’s not good. You need to know how to make you happy.

So what am I writing here, if not a “self help” e-book in blog form?

For a long time I’ve been a fan of zen buddhist teachings. I was initially turned onto buddhism many many years ago. I read the stories, learned about the noble eightfold path, and thought “Awesome! Imma do this stuff.” And I did. Actually, I didn’t. I thought I did, but I really didn’t. It took many years before any of it actually clicked. It started clicking when I spent more time meditating, allowing myself to experience myself, writing, and having intentional, meaningful conversations with other people. That’s the best “self help” I could ever recommend, but that’s easier said than done.

A lot of what I’m doing here is trying to explore how all of that happened, and how I’ve ended up where I am right now, with the thoughts and lens I have. I’m trying to tease it all out, simplify it, drill down to the important bits, and I will hopefully be left with a more clear understanding for myself, but also something I can share with you.

A thought a day from me to you as you continue down your road, hoping that it helps point you where you want to go. And, if I’m lucky, you’ll return the gesture to me, to help me as I continue down my road.