Self Help’s Bad Reputation

VOGUE

BY CASSANDRA LITTLEWOOD                                                               ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR

When did we start to think poorly of self help books? Was it when we depicted the pathetic individual in a movie, buying a self help book at a bookstore in one last desperate attempt to pull themselves out of a bad patch? Was it when James Ray, a self help guru was imprisoned after leading people in a sweat lodge that ended with 21 hospitalized and 3 dead? Or was it when we automatically assumed that if you needed a self help book it was because you didn’t have enough strength to find your own solutions in your life?

But why should buying a motivational book be considered a cry for help? For many, it’s an inspirational voice to help them through a tough time or another point of view, offering wisdom.

Self help has been evolving from titles like, “How to Be Successful at Everything,” and being more than a step-by-step process. Many books that are deemed self help are also memoirs, that have a self help undertone to them.

When I read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, I didn’t think that her book was a self help book. It was framed in the tone of a memoir, where Gilbert recounted her experience with creativity but she also offered wisdom through her experiences. It didn’t give any promises of success if you followed a certain amount of steps, it offered inspiration. The combination of memoir and self help made for a motivational book that didn’t hit you over the head with it.

Sheryl Sandberg’s “Option B,” is another good example of memoir with a touch of self help. She recounts her experience with grief after the sudden death of her husband, how she was able to get through it and what she learned from it. While her book is very personal, it also offers advice in terms of living with grief and how to find your way through it.

Reading self help doesn’t have to be about changing your life. It can be about hearing another viewpoint on a topic and gaining a little more knowledge. It can also be about being moved by the experiences of others and valuing their opinions.

Self help no longer needs to be defined by the pathetic stereotypes seen in movies. We can define self help by the people who are motivated to do better by themselves and gain more perspective, one book at a time.