Writer Alexandra Schwartz says that approaches to self-help change with the times and describes some of the current batch of advice books and self-improvement tools.
In contrast to this new wave of guides to improvement is another set of readings designed to help you stop trying to improve, or even encourage you to proudly raise your middle finger to any suggestions that you might need to. An example of a book not designed to bring out the rebel in us, but rather to calm the neurotic seeker of a new self is, “Selfie: How We Become So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us,” in which author Will Storr says, “People are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become.” Other books in the anti-self-improvement genre tell readers to accept their flaws, tell their bosses exactly what’s on their minds, and stop caring what others — especially supervisors — think of them. Caution: people who do this might need to be independently wealthy.
I have made my way partly through a self-improvement book called “Essentialism.” It’s geared to heads of corporations/businesses and to those looking to climb to the top rung of the corporate ladder or even advance from the ground to a footstool. Its message: focus. Have one priority, one goal, and say no to anything that doesn’t help you achieve that goal. I squirmed as he described people who said yes to every request from colleagues they worked with; he could have been talking about me. Even far removed from work as I am, and with no rungs to climb (though I would like to see my second novel published), I still find myself saying yes to requests from others.
His advice? 1) decide that most things you’re doing aren’t important; 2) choose the one that is; 3) eliminate the time wasters; 4) make your focus your routine. If I really wanted to see a book of mine published, maybe I should write a self-improvement book instead of a novel. Plotting seems easier.
For a few days I decided “essentialism” was exactly what I needed. Soon after that, I agreed to help plan a conference and to lead one book group discussion and gave my tentative acceptance to joining a Spanish language conversation group. It’s clear I must finish and then reread the book before I take on any more jobs.
The opposing view to “Essentialism” arrived in an email this week in an article from the blog called feedblitz, titled “An improv principle that can save your year.” The writer says that in improv theatre a better performance will result if actors say yes in response to whatever ridiculous offer a fellow actor makes onstage, than if they say no. In the same vein, he goes on to relate a personal story of saying yes off-stage, which led to an unanticipated interview with a movie producer. He advises, “It might be worth thinking about whether this year you’d like to try saying ‘yes, and…’ to more things and seeing what happens.”
There you have it. Say yes or say no? On the job, saying yes led me into opportunities to test out my skills in many interesting ways that I don’t regret. However, now retired and unsure how many years I have left, I think I should practice shaping my lips into a no, at least one or two times this year, and hope by doing it I don’t miss out on an interview with a movie producer.