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Finding My Parachute: Why Self-Help Books Aren't Just for Ninnies

It’s always a pleasure when – whilst ambling through one’s RSS feed or just cruising the internet – you stumble upon a...

It’s always a pleasure when – whilst ambling through one’s RSS feed or just cruising the internet – you stumble upon a kindred spirit out there in cyberspace.

This happened to me the other day when I came across an article by Liesl Schillinger in a 1997 issue of O Magazine entitled Hooked on Self Help Books Against Her Will – recently reprinted online.

In it, the author – a regular contributor the New York Times Book Review and one time Style columnist – fesses up to being a late convert to the whole self-help genre.

I could relate. Until quite recently, whenever I entered a book store and saw the “self-help” section, I turned and ran in the opposite direction.

Schillinger’s reluctance stemmed from her childhood belief that she could divine most of life’s important lessons from literature. She was also raised to be skeptical of anything therapeutic.

In my case – as I think this blog makes clear – an aversion to therapy was never my issue. My problem was always the popular nature of this kind of literature. Self-help books just seemed – as Schillinger puts it so gently – for “ninnies.”

But I’ve changed my tune on all that. It started the day I decided to change careers and realized that, despite my advanced degrees, I had absolutely no clue how to go about that. So I read a book called What Color Is Your Parachute – the self-help book to end all self-help books – and I was off and running.

Then I had a couple of kids and realized that, contrary to all this business about the end of over-parenting, an attentive but something-less-than-religious read of a few carefully selected parenting books can actually stand you in good stead.

As I gradually began to read blogs on a regular basis, I came to realize that these, too, are often another variant on the self-help genre. (Although I remain sufficiently resistant to the tag that I thought about sub-titling this blog “self help with a twist,” less anyone thought that I took myself too seriously…)

And, of course, what is seeing a life coach but one giant dose of self-help stuffed into a human body?

In short, it’s been a slow conversion for me. But, like Schillinger, I’m coming around to the conclusion that it’s by tinkering with the small things in daily life that you can actually effect change in the big ones. In other words, life really is one giant “How To” in six easy steps…it’s identifying those steps that’s the hard part. And that’s what self-help books are there for.

Now where did I put that tome on achieving work/life balance?

Image: Parachute by km6xo via Flickr from a Creative Commons License.

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  1. Matt Boylan June 18, 2009 at 8:16 pm #

    “What Color is Your Parachute?” should be read by every prospective College graduate as well as every person contemplating a career change as well as every person who believes that they are comfortably ensconsced in their career or work every few years. As Freud remarked, the whole program of psychoanalysis is aimed at coming to terms with one’s “love and work.” Work is one half the equation and after discussions with psychotherapists, career counselors, alumni staffers and various “interests” tests, the paperback version of this books available in almost every library, online and in many bookstores is the single best source on how to analyze what job or career best suits your own interests that you can find. It is useful, inexpensive and invaluable. It should be indispensable reading for every adult.

  2. delialloyd June 18, 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more!

  3. Kevin Touhey June 18, 2009 at 9:38 pm #

    I’ve heard a lot of great things about that book. I think I might check it out.

  4. Positively Present June 19, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    Sounds like a GREAT book. I am adding it to my reading list now. Thanks for writing about it here and exploring the idea of self-help books.


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