Monday, May 14, 2018

Bits of Books: The Art of Non-Conformity, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, You Are A Badass

I know I'm not the only person in the world who enjoys reading self-help books... I mean, who doesn't like to entertain the thought of becoming a better person every once in a while? So, we subscribe to the various forms of activity that the author promises will radically improve our lives: we start a gratitude journal, we practice our "I Am" statements in front of the mirror, we focus on being present and meditating and putting away our phones after 10pm.

But what if we're looking for something a little more radical, here? What if we're not just looking for a minor tweak that will set our daily schedules back in order, like a chiropractor working on the hour blocks in your planner instead of the vertebrae in your backbone? Let's get crazy, for crazy results. These three unconventional self-help books set out to do just that: revolutionize your life, in non-conformist, who-gives-a-f***, badass ways. At least, that's what their covers tell us they can do!

the art of non-conformity, chris guillebeau

8978488I've been a solid conformist my whole life. When you're an eldest child of four, raised by two extremely protective parents, you pretty much content yourself with a life of  living obediently. (There's a reason why I first read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at the age of eight, y'all.) Naturally, a book that runs perpendicular to every way I've lived my life since birth seemed like a fitting choice for a little radical action.

Guillebeau himself has really oriented his livelihood around the concept of international travel, especially in how this relates to his ability to dedicate his life to service and volunteer with various nonprofits of all kinds of platforms. Writing not only books, but a successful blog, and various business supplements, has made the globe his office space, writing on a laptop in hotel lobbies, hostel roofs, busy cafes, and spacious parks all over the world. It's hard to turn your nose up at that kind of life, especially when he lays out exactly how he makes that kind of lifestyle so accessible.

Sure, he's pretty extraordinary in a lot of ways, as he humble brags about in various places throughout the book, including in how he skipped most of high school, took maximum course loads from several colleges simultaneously, and spent four years volunteering on a nonprofit medical ship off the African Coast in his 20s. But he also comes off as a fairly normal guy. It's easy to listen to him talk about the actions he's taken throughout his life to make sure it is an extraordinary one.

In what I hoped was a non-conformist fashion - hey, I'm new here - I decided to mark up the book, and let me tell you, the pages are absolutely scribbled and lined and starred over within an inch of their life. Pretty impressive, considering I read it in about four sittings across three days.

the subtle art of not giving a f***, mark manson

Whereas other self-help books promise to help you improve efficiency, gain happiness, or forge more meaningful relationships by way of various progress guides, implemented regimens, or restructuring perception, Mark Manson has decided to tell you how to achieve these goals by focusing on the complete opposite direction: stop caring so much. As a matter of fact, stop giving quite so many f***s. 

There are some things that still warrant attention: things like important familial bonds, interpersonal relationships, and attention to various goals. These values are those pillars by which you direct the rest of your no-f***s-given lifestyle. So you keep those. But then you do whatever the heck you want. Because once you start giving the status quo the middle finger, there's a lot of options opened up to you. 

Ask out that guy. Go for the promotion. Publish your novel. Lose the weight. Who gives a f***? If the answer is you, and you've got a good reason for doing it, then do it. If you're taking anything else into account - including failure, the opinions of others, or the simplistic terror you feel when you do it - then those are unnecessary f***s you're Pez-dispensing right now. 

Manson uses a variety of examples to explain his development of this technique, including understanding that negative feelings are a signal for change, focusing agency on yourself rather than extraneous sources, taking ownership of your need to be the victim and acting against it, considering the fact that you are most likely wrong about most things, and, the classic, that we're all worm food anyways (To be honest, I think that a few more self-help books could probably use a dose of nihilism. You know, for balance's sake). 

While these explanations and accompanying anecdotes were usually spot-on to his intended messages, they could sometimes be winding and not feel entirely cohesive. There was a lack of comprehensivity that made the book feel like it wandered away from target messages, which might also have been an effect of the lesson in the first place. I almost wished there was a kind of wrap-up in a bulleted list format at the end... instead, I felt like I should have been taking notes, which is distinctly off the no-f***s brand. 

In the end, I liked it, I thought it was funny, and it riffed enough on Stoicism that I felt like I understood its underlying messages fairly well. That being said, I still feel like I should have taken notes. 

you are a badass, jen sincero

First off: this is not my kind of self-help book. I thought it would be - after seeing it so glowingly hyped by everyone from close friends, to YouTubers and podcasters I adore, to even the reviewers on Goodreads - but it's not.

To be fair, I understand why others might enjoy Sincero's unapologetic and no-holds-barred endorsement of somewhat unconventional-yet-completely-conventional self-help practices: visualize what you want and believe it will come to you, the Universe is conspiring to give you what you want, the only one holding you back is you and your subconscious, etc. These mantras are almost tropes of the genre, but when presented with her gleeful candor and motivational speaker attitude, they take on new life, and a lot of new language.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the kinds of things I dislike about the majority of self-help books. I do not buy into the Law of Attraction or its associated precepts, and I don't think that such a cavalier attitude towards action will get you very far: I don't think that just setting an intention for something, and blindly running towards it with all the enthusiasm you can muster, is an effective means of setting goals or working towards them. I like self help with substance, not spacey, new-age maxims attached about how The Supreme Motherlode is waiting for me to open the right door. Like I said, I totally get why this is some people's jam, but like deep meditation, cauliflower rice, and long-distance running, what might have changed someone else's life, is stuff that is absolutely not for me.

One thing I did enjoy, though, was Sincero's very authentic and genuine approach to preaching self-love and acceptance. No matter what list throughout her book - whether about how to trust your gut, utilize positive visualization, stave off feelings of overwhelm - the last tenet of each, was to love yourself first.

Ultimately, I wish this book was full of more concrete action steps and utilizable items on how to actively make your life more bad ass, rather than just restructure your mind-space into thinking you are one.

Do any of these books sound interesting to you? What kinds of self-help books do you like to read? Let me know, in the comments below!

No comments:

Post a Comment