I lost count of the number of self-help books I’ve read about overcoming shyness throughout the years. Although the struggle to become less shy dominated my library book checkout record, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards self-help books and audio-books that claimed to help people overcome other perceived shortcomings.
Maybe 20 or so years ago, I finally admitted that my self-help book habit was largely unproductive. Most of the materials reminded me of what I already knew. A great many of the publications seemed to be written around boilerplate formulae. By overindulging in the self-help book habit, I was actually just spinning my wheels. Was I indulging in socially acceptable procrastination?
To be fair, I did derive some benefits from a few of the more skillfully written materials. However, I came to the conclusion that procrastination was really the name of the game. If I really wanted a stronger, more effective lifestyle I needed to overcome obstacles and adversity by actually, physically doing the work that needed to be done.
To get the gears moving, I boxed up the lion’s share of the self-help books, cassettes, and CDs, then donated the boxes to one of the independent thrift stores downtown. Hopefully, someone else could find nuggets of wisdom in the materials.
Quitting self-help literature cold turkey reminded me of the time I quit smoking tobacco. I felt a bit unsteady and somewhat vulnerable. I’d have to struggle without leaning on those crutches and trust my inner resilience.
There was some backsliding. I’d give in to temptation to acquire self-help books or tapes during book store sales promotions, garage sales, thrift store browsing, or the “New Arrivals” stacks at the public library. I rarely got past the first few chapters or cassettes because I recognized the standard boilerplate style. Oftentimes, I didn’t read beyond the first few alleged testimonials “quoted” by the authors.
One amusing aspect of the process of quitting self-help books was the parallel action to physically do the work that needed to be done. Being able to laugh at the irony of the twin struggles was a reward that reinforced a feedback loop that helped keep me on track.
It would be like wearing the rose-colored glasses of some self-help literature to claim that I completely overcame my perceived faults. That would not only be untrue, but it would be unrealistic, too. There are always challenges on the path. There will be setbacks along with the progress.
It’s not a matter of overcoming all of my challenges, per se. It’s more about working through them. It’s about accepting them realistically. This attitude enables me to more effectively draw upon my innate, internal human resources or resilience. I give myself a little bit of internal sweet-talk while actually “working up a sweat” doing what really needs to be done.
We can feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities or by the lack of support from family or acquaintances. Sometimes it feels like we never get a break from life’s struggles. It’s during the overwhelming times that I pause and take a breather. The pause allows me to regain more control over circumstances. Then I ask myself whether I can work through the situation alone or should I ask for help? Most of the time I can cope alone, but once in awhile I need a little assistance.
In my opinion, it’s acceptance of our human foibles and our mortality–the crucial elements–that enables us to overcome sometimes overwhelming odds. Life is sometimes a struggle, and that’s OK.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Belgian actor, film producer and graffiti artist, Matthias Schoenaerts. “I like underdogs, I like anti-heroes–people that have a hard time overcoming things in life.”