A while back I mentioned I took a break from reading self-help/self-improvement/productivity books.
I did that because it was becoming quite the problem in my life, but I think there’s a wider problem in the world today as well.
The Self-Improvement Problem
…is that we know we aren’t where we want to be. We know how many people feel they aren’t living their ideal life, or even a very good life. Too many people are desperately unhappy, and it’s evident in the rise (or rise in public awareness, anyway) of depression and anxiety.
Having struggled with both due to a total fear of the future, I turned to self-help books, like many others, in a desperate attempt to figure out how to make my life better, and myself more peaceful. I felt happy often; when I was with friends or reading a good book or making something, but my life itself never gave me a sense of security or the feeling that I wanted it to continue how it was.
I was not content. I am not content. I’m trying to be, because contentment is very important no matter what stage of life you’re at. And it’s hard to live out the fact that contentment and complacency are two different things, meaning you can be content in your life as it is but still actively grow and change it.
I just can’t seem to wrap my head around being happy now and still want a different life. It just doesn’t seem to work for me.
I’ve read Mark Manson‘s work over and over again. I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** twice in the space of a few months, because it was so good. And he’s right – self-help and the self-improvement movement is a trap. You get sucked into that heady feeling of being on the right track.
I love being comfortable. I love baggy clothes and soft fabrics and old blankets the most because they’re comfortable. My number one dating and shopping criteria is if someone or something is comfortable. I crave comfort. So being uncomfortable is…well…uncomfortable.
I’ve always found it difficult to put myself out there in certain ways. I can play D&D with the best of them, wear what I want even when it’s not cool, and not take crap from people (if I don’t know them too well), but there are some things that still put me into freeze or flight mode (I’m pretty sure I don’t have a fight mode, unless you dis Matthew Mercer and then I WILL come after you).
It’s just so much easier to keep reading, right? Read about writing your unique story. Read about building that cool thing. Read about living your best life, while that life passes on.
As that other total badass, Jen Sincero, says in You are a Badass, staying in the track of almost doing something means you’re safe. I could do so much if only I try, you say, and so you’re never tested, never have to taste failure, and never have to do anything uncomfortable.
Almost no one enjoys being uncomfortable, but there are those to whom pushing it comes easier, and I feel like I’m not one of them.
I’ve been called brave. When I went to Korea, everyone said I was so brave. I don’t have a fear of public speaking, and I’m pretty good at making a fool out of myself and not minding. And so people call me brave. But they don’t see the abject fear instilled so deep it only surfaces in debilitating beliefs about money and career and love and happiness.
My question that I’ll never cease asking is how to make peace with being uncomfortable, because in order to move on, you have to be. How do they do it? How does someone make that hustle-schedule and keep at it when TV and games and friends and sleep call so endearingly?
The Self-Improvement Solution
…is not easy. It’s simple, yes, as most solutions are, but never easy.
Self-help books that tell you you’re on the right track, and the sort of new anti-self-help books like Sincero’s and Manson’s tell you that what you thought was the right track might not be the right track, but they’re all balms and buffers against the fact that nothing but pure action will get you anywhere, and whether you’re reading the fluff or the facts, you’re still reading about having a great life instead of living one.
As the Disreputable Dog* says, “It’s always better to be doing.”
Only action moves you in any direction. Reading is dreaming with your eyes open, as Yoyo says, and dreaming is a nice way to pass the time, but that’s about it.
Stop reading, start doing. Stop dreaming, start acting. And always go gently. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
*Do yourself a massive favor and read Garth Nix‘s Abhorsen trilogy.