I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

Is there a self-help book out there for people who take self-help books too seriously? Self-Help Books for Dummies? Is that thing? Because I need that.

I don’t even like self-help books. I’m skeptical of anything that promises to fix all my issues (and they are legion) in 300 pages or less, but the main problem is that I often take the experiments I conduct on my life way too far. Sure, my initial self-help book approach could best be described as “unhealthily cynical”, but if I feel any part of it has some value, I’ll take the whole thing too seriously for my own good. It never ends well.

Life-Changer #1: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now

What I Thought: What’s this? A book about how not to suck in your twenties? I’m in my early twenties! I can nip this one in the bud!

What I Learned: Most people in their twenties are underemployed or unemployed. Their parents have all divorced so they don’t know how relationships work. They have no longterm goals because they’re putting life on hold, and nothing good will ever happen to them unless they change right away (but even that may be too late). Oh, also my ovaries are going to dry up any day now. Seriously. ANY DAY NOW.

And now, a charming visual of tumbleweed.

How I Reacted:
 The driving idea behind the book was that your twenties are not a decade you can fart away. You’re laying down the foundation for the rest of your life, and to do that, you need a plan. I didn’t have a plan and my ovaries were steadily withering away, so I did what I usually do when I freak out: I made a list.

The Life List

1)  Get a job.

2) Find a place to live and procure furniture.

3) Get a dog.

4) (Optional) Get a significant other.

5) Make/steal/adopt a child. Maybe. Eventually.

6) Save money to give to my dog or the kid I made/stole/adopted.

7) *Other Life Stuff Here.*

8) Die.

Yep. That’s it. That’s everything I want to accomplish with my life. The really stupid thing is that as ambiguous as this list is (“Other Life Stuff”?), it made me feel better. I still don’t have a dog or even a bed, and my uterus is getting more useless by the minute, but I stopped talking obsessively about those things with my friends. Unlike the hapless 20-somethings featured in the book, I have a plan. I know what I’m doing all the way up to the moment of my death. TAKE THAT, DIRECTIONLESS ENNUI OF YOUTH.

Life-Changer #2: The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are

What I Thought: This one snuck up on me because I was curious about the legitimacy of birth order psychology and decided this was a good place to start. I didn’t realize I was reading a self-help book until about halfway through. This leads me to believe it would be really easy to lure me into a trap. All you’d have to do is ask me an interesting question and put a book about it in the middle of a cleverly-disguised net.


What I Learned: I’m the oldest child in my family. According to the author, oldest children are list-making perfectionists who don’t like surprises.
Here’s a fun and completely unrelated fact: Did you know the average post on my list-based blog goes through at least three hyper-critical editing sessions to ensure it’s as surprise-free as possible? It’s true!

How I Reacted: For a week or two I stared at strangers, and when they noticed, I’d say creepy things like, “You’re the youngest child in a family of four or five, aren’t you?” That didn’t do much for my popularity around the office.

The chapter that clued me into the whole self-help thing focused on how to stop being a perfectionist. Perfectionism has always seemed like a positive personality trait, so I was curious enough to get over my self-help book aversion.
“Stop needing to be the best at everything,” the book said.
“OK!” I said. “I can do that! I can do that so well! I’M GOING TO BE THE BEST NON-PERFECTIONIST WHO EVER EXISTED.”

Life-Changer #3: The Secret

What I Thought: My grandma gave it to me, ok?

What I Learned: This may surprise you, but I’m not the most positive person on the planet.

The internet once described me as an angry old woman.

The Secret, for the three of you who haven’t heard, is all about the law of attraction: if you think happy thoughts, happy things happen to you. If you’re a Negative Nancy (or a Sour Stephanie, as the case may be), horrible, awful things happen to you. It’s hard to think positively when horrible, awful things are happening to you (unless you’re in a Monty Python movie), but if you want anything to change, The Secret says you must.

How I Reacted: I spent a lot of time focusing on the “three step process for dream manifestation”. I applied it to everything from lunch plans, to breaks in traffic, to my love life. Unfortunately, the law of attraction is a double-edged sword– it’s possible to be too positive. If you cross that line, all the peppiness in the world won’t bring your friends back. Luckily, I’ve made a complete recovery.

Some would argue my recovery was TOO complete.

Life-Changer #4: Fight Club

It turns out Fight Club is not, in fact, a self-help book.



  1. mikereverb

    Isn’t Fight Club a documentary. I sure felt enlightened afterwards.

    Don’t worry about your uterus. Some insects live for hours. Imagine how they’ve feel when they can’t find a mate quickly. And they can’t fit that void with a dog. How absurd would it be for a fly to have a pet dog? But I digress.

    A really good self help book is 59 Seconds: Think a Little Change a Lot. It supports its claims with science, which is always right. Right? Seriously though, it has some good pointers, though the cover is nowhere near as appealing as The Secret.

    Thanks for sharing your writing. :)

  2. Idigina

    I would like to know who read your blog closely enough to describe the style as personal, but not nearly close enough to catch all the 20 something student references or the photo’s of the cute nerd.

  3. Browsing the Atlas

    It’s so easy to get sucked into self-help books, isn’t it? Just reading your post, I zoomed in on the first-born birth order thing, waiting breathlessly to see how I’d be defined. Incorrectly, is how it turns out. I’m long past my perfectionist days and never make lists. Maybe that’s why people think my brother is older than I am. :)

  4. food,mostly

    Gah, being twenty-something is hard enough as it is, but to realize that you’re not doing it right? Worst.

    I was thinking of picking up Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Have you read it??

    I always enjoy your posts, but this one is particularly fabulous!

  5. revcar

    Enjoyed. Maybe the book giving advice to 20 year olds was written by someone who had forgotten what it was like being 20. When I look at my kids I am struck that they are growing up in another world to me. I grew up without internet (no google), no mobile phones, no Facebook, a world where you could have a home on your ‘life’ list without leaving a mortgage to your grandkids.

  6. chasynleigh

    Great post, i have attempted reading some self-help books there are so many in Barnes and noble. I was curious what the secret was about and yeah when crappy things ate happening to you it’s real hard to think positively especially when several crappy things happen in a row. one book you make enjoy about being in your 20s is called the go-girl guide surviving your 20s with savvy, soul and style by: Julia Bourland.It’s got everything from job stuff, love life, friendships, budgeting even orgasms . It was fun but helpful book.

  7. brokenbelladonna

    Never read a self help book – too tight to buy them, to ashamed to order them from the library. Your birth order thing sounds like me – shame I’m the youngest!

    As always, your blog is a hoot, you angry old thing you.

  8. Miss Snarky Pants

    My hubby and I both fell in love with each other while watching “Fight Club.” I can tell you, first hand, that that movie can change your life – certainly more than the damn “Secret.”

  9. Dana

    Love this! The text analysis of your blog is the best. Can’t wait to read what you write when you’re *actually* 66-100 years old. Hahaha.

  10. Pingback: Adventure Time, C’mon Grab Your Friends | Listful Thinking

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