Tempering the sometimes overly-sweet world of self-help books can be an age-related challenge, and we may just have popular culture to blame for that.
Though there are any number of references I could conjure to make my point, I have a specific one in mind. There’s a moment in the book/movie Fight Club that spoke deeply to my generation. Author Chuck Palaniuk writes these words for the chaotic character of Tyler Durden:
You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.
The reason that quote—which may just sound like a flowery insult to some—was meaningful for kids growing up in the ‘90s had a lot to do with the fact that we were overstuffed with goal-setting exercises and surrounded by elders who believed all kids needed to succeed was a positive self image. Saying that this was, in fact, not the case was a resonant and revolutionary statement for many of us.
Perhaps that’s why it’s difficult for me to get into certain self-help books. For example, Bill Fields’ Get Up, Get Over and Get On With It: Lessons for Turning Life’s Setbacks Into Successful Comebacks, recently came across my desk. In Lesson Two of the book, Fields preaches the exact opposite sentiment of that expressed in the aforementioned quote:
You are absolutely unique…If you did not exist, there would be a hole in creation, a gap in history, something missing from the plan for humankind.
So, am I a snowflake or not?
While I’ve removed some of the cynicism of my childhood from my outlook on life, quotes such as this are sometimes difficult for me to swallow. So if I can keep reading beyond that second chapter, you know there’s something there beyond your typical self-help jargon.
To be sure, Fields offers the usual goal-setting exercises you’d expect. But he adds some more innovative—but still simple to accomplish—exercises for readers to try. He outlines a path to evaluating one’s self esteem, a notoriously subjective and difficult-to-measure concept. Instead of just telling readers to create an action plan to achieve goals, he requires they complete an analysis of the current situation, so as to begin with a realistic baseline. It’s smart, and certainly rises above the usual affirmation-on-the-bathroom-mirror tricks.
Yet, when Fields suggests readers visualize what they’d do if they didn’t need their current employment (later saying, “Stop seeing yourself as your job. That is merely what you do, not who you are”), I can’t help but recall what Tyler Durden tells Fight Club’s narrator, who’s been recently relieved of his soul-crushing job:
Getting fired… is the best thing that could happen to any of us. That way, we’d quit treading water and do something with our lives.
I suppose I can settle for slightly cynical snowflake.