Why is Reading Self-Help Books ‘Embarrassing?’

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Since I was about 13 or 14, I started to become interested in leisure-reading. In other words, I wasn’t just skimming through the redundant summer reading books that teachers in high school would assign. Since my mom has always been a consistent reader, she started to recommend some books to me that she thought I would enjoy. Not only did I actually enjoy a lot of the books that I was assigned to read in school (To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo & Juliet, The Great Gatsby), I truly started to enjoy reading as a hobby. I remember some of my favorite books that I read in high school included: the Twilight series, The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks, Thirteen Minutes by Jodi Piccolt, and Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Ablom. All of these were fictional books, so it was a creative and imaginative getaway from the history and science textbooks I was reading during the day and in study hall.

Since graduating from college, I actually kind of miss the whole learning experience of going to class, sitting in lecture, writing papers, etc. With that being said, while I was in college, I absolutely couldn’t wait to graduate so I could start working and making money. I knew once I started interning full time for Comcast in college and receiving a weekly paycheck, I was going to be a ‘good’ worker. I like making money and I like being self-sufficient and independent. It’s awesome that I can walk into my apartment in Astoria and say that everything in my room I bought with all my hard-earned money.

However, I am starting to miss the classes that I truly enjoyed (AKA not Calculus, History 101, etc) such as Abnormal Psychology,  Political Journalism, Gender Theory, etc. Even when I was writing my senior thesis that basically took up all my time during my two last terms, I was heavily invested in the research and lectures I was constantly immersing myself in.

My old roommate from Drexel, Megan, started to become invested in self-improvement seminars and reading, and I started to ask her about her new experience. Since I have been someone who has openly struggled with self-confidence, body image, anxiety, optimism, etc., I was incredibly intrigued in hearing about what she was taking away from these seminars and workshops she was attending. She flew all the way to London to attend one of Tony Robbin’s workshops (if you haven’t heard of Tony Robbins, he is probably one of the most well known motivational speakers of the past two or three decades), and drove from LA to San Diego to attend THRIVE – one of the biggest business leadership conferences in the country. She is an inspiration to me and I am thankful everyday for her being a part of my life, and sharing all the amazing experiences she has gained from these events and continuous reading.

After hearing some recommendations from Megan and Googling topics like “confidence in dating,” “women in business,” and “positive thinking,” I started placing frequent orders on Amazon and making monthly trips to Barnes & Noble. Some books have been better than others, as expected, however there has not been one book that I didn’t acquire a plethora of knowledge from. Some books were truly difficult to put down such as Why Men Love BitchesThe Confidence CodeGirl Code, and You Are a Badass. All of the fictional books that I read in high school (and I still read some now) were amazing in terms of just letting go of reality and immersing myself into fantasy I could paint a picture of in my head. However, I have gained a new interest in reading these self-help (I rather call them self-growth) books that study psychology, sociology, social media, gender theory, and all the other subjects that I was heavily interested in in college.

After finishing some of the books above, I 100% feel more confident in dating, going on interviews, speaking up at work, confronting friends or family members, etc. I was always the “nice girl” – saying “sorry” way too much, letting people get away with treating me unfairly, blaming myself all the time, extremely timid with voicing my opinion, etc. I still have a lot of work to do, but I am so happy that I found another interest besides working out and swiping my credit card at Macy’s.

In addition, since I was a Journalism major in college and have always found writing therapeutic, I write in all of my books. Basically, I could never re-sell my books since they are covered in scribbled notes, asterisks, highlighted paragraphs, bent corners, etc. When I write things down physically (using my calendar in my iPhone doesn’t help me at all) in a book or on a sheet of paper, I remember it more clearly. There are so many phrases, research findings, and discoveries that I have read through in these books that make me say, “AH HA! This is amazing/incrediblr/interesting/life-changing, etc.” It is something that I want my mind to absorb and religiously practice.

For example, one of the most important phrases that I have come across in the past year is, “Proximity is power.” This quote (Tony Robbins) essentially means that who you surround yourself with is vital to your success, happiness, and behavior. If you surround yourself with a bunch of lazy and unmotivated individuals, it will take a toll on the way you operate. Yet, you may not even realize you have become more lazy lately since that is the “norm” of the environment you are surrounded by. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with people who are driven, money-making machines, and extremely positive, it will most likely push you to be more like them as well. The type of people you surround yourself with will directly affect the way you act.

Occasionally when I come across a brilliant quote in one of these books, I will highlight it and post it on my Snapchat or Instagram story. I have received comments from people saying things like, “What is this?” or “Why do you read so many self-help books?” or “Do you do this for school or just for fun?” or “What kind of shit are you reading LOL?” These people (millennial friends or acquaintances that just follow me on social media) are confused why I read “self-help” books. Is it because I’m crazy? Is it because I need a lot of help? Is it because I have zero confidence? No, no, and no.

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You see, my belief is that every single person on this planet can be more awesome tomorrow than they were today. Every single person on this planet can learn something (many things actually) new every day. Absolutely no one on this planet is perfect, although President-elect Donald Trump may say otherwise about himself. We can ALL improve an aspect of our life, it just depends how much effort you put into achieving a more awesome YOU. Some people can exercise more, some people can eat better, some people can be harder workers, some people can be nicer, and the list goes on and on. A lot of us are incredibly stubborn, and just because we know that we aren’t perfect, we refuse to let people know about our weaknesses. We refuse to let people know we eat unhealthy, or that we haven’t been to the gym in over a year, or that we haven’t said Happy Birthday to our mom in five years. We do not want to come off weak, we do not want to come off imperfect – We are AMERICANS! We are the greatest – the most powerful…

Although not all of us are cocky, stubborn, and egocentric individuals, there are many individuals who are. They believe that they don’t need to work on themselves because “this is who they are,” and “this is the way that God created me.” Maybe you have heard, “I’m not supposed to know how to cook – I’m a guy! My wife is supposed to do all the cooking” or “I’m an only child – I grew up being spoiled. This is the way I was raised.” Some people truly believe that they are not supposed to learn new traits or characteristics. Although I would like to classify these statements as something more harsh like “stupidity,” I will refrain and label this as nativity and stubbornness.

Coming to a close here [because I am starting to get heated thinking of all the people who have said these absurd statements like above to me before], I truly wish to see a shift in the depiction of ‘self-help.’ First, I would like self-help books to be relabeled as self-growth or self-improvement. Yes, we are helping ourselves, but we are helping ourselves because we would like to improve or grow in a certain aspect of our lives. Secondly, doubts and weaknesses that we may feel need to be VOICED. We need to talk openly about these feelings and emotions so we can start a movement. When I opened up about my eating disorder on Facebook and writing for Thought Catalog, I had a flood of emails, Facebook messages, and texts from people all over the world – thanking me for talking about something that is typically hidden in the public or media. Some of these people were absolute strangers, and some were friends who I didn’t even know struggled with the same problem that I did. During NEDA week last year I said, “If I could help even just ONE person from taking their life or to finally seek help, I am a better person today than I was yesterday. And for that I am grateful.”

We need to change the way people view self-help. It is NOT embarrassing to seek assistance in anything in life – cooking, cleaning, confidence, sports, etc. – it is ADMIRABLE. You are working to better yourself – how did we get to the point that that is viewed as embarrassing or weak? Here is my final proposal:

  1. Stop being stubborn. Challenge your beliefs. Open your mind, accept you are not perfect.
  2. Ignore the societal views or things people say about self-help. Define it is “working on being more awesome.”
  3. Speak up. Voice and show people what you are doing. You’re helping more people than you will ever know. 
  4. Be consistent. Don’t stop reading, talking to others, and voicing your journey. You will see improvements. You will feel better. You will discover how addictive success can be. 

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