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Wings of Paper Mache

March 14, 2011 4 comments

Whenever I’m in a book store discreetly trying to find a self-help book on how to make my life perfect, incognito in hoodie and sunglasses, I inevitably bump into another woman I know.

We exchange weak smiles and tell each other we’re looking for a gift for a down and out friend.

When I was growing up there was a copy of Dale Carnegie’s bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, floating around my house. My brother was a disciple of this book, and quoted it often. I once thumbed through it, but quickly determined it would not help me in any way break into the cool crowd in high school. That was a different chapter altogether.

Since then I have read many self-help books that have been as unhelpful.

My inclusive but not exhaustive list includes: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, The Happiness Project, The Four Agreements, and The Secret. I draw the line at anything with Dummie or Chicken Soup in the title.

It was worth a shot, I thought, if the key to the perfect life was written in black and white, it would be silly of me not to to read it. Like buying a lottery ticket, they were a harmless gamble. But the only thing any of them did was instill in me a desire to write a legitimate self-help book, one that would actually give practical tips on living a better life.

I’m slowly getting it. The secret is there is no secret.

None of these books seemed to speak to me, personally. Of course they didn’t, they were written for the masses. They were written for the world at large, as though our brains function similarly. As though we are all wired the same.

We are so not.

I once saw Sia, a folksy Australian singer, in concert. She came out on stage wearing massive seven-feet high paper mache wings. It was quite a spectacle. She told us they were made out of every self-help book she had ever read. Ironically these heavy wings caused her to suffer from heat exhaustion and she left the stage after only four songs.

All those self-help books did was weigh her down.

And so it goes. Last week I went to the Momcafe in Vancouver, where the speaker implored us to stop looking for that last self-help book. The room erupted in laughter, we all knew what she was referring to. The answers can’t be found on a book shelf. Yet we can’t stop ourselves from looking, which is why The Power, the sequel to The Secret, has become a bestseller. Obviously, The Secret didn’t quite get it done.

Like Dr. Seuss summed up so eloquently in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, so many of us are in the waiting room. Waiting for the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or a No… Everyone is just waiting.

I was waiting to read the perfect self-help book.

The answer is in each of us, if we care to listen. What’s important to me might not be important to you. What I love you may despise. Listen to yourself, and don’t let a book tell you how to live. Instead, write your own personal version.

When terrible things happen to other people, it’s a wake up call to live your best life now. There can be no silver lining from Japan’s tragic earthquake, simply a reminder to all those more fortunate to not take any day for granted, squeeze whatever you can out of today because tomorrow holds no promises.

In creating its famous advertising campaign, Nike inadvertently gave us all the perfect slogan: Just Do It.

Between Nike and Dr. Seuss, I have all the self-help I need. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some wings to build.