My Non Self-Help Book
I wanted to title this, “The Self-Help Book I Will Never Write” but I have to admit that I haven’t fully abandoned the idea. I may indeed someday write such a book and if that day comes I will obviously hope nobody remembers this post, since I am going to reveal the only really important bit of the George Norman Lippert How-to-Succeed-at-Almost-Anything-Plan* right here.
Are you ready? Here’s what I will put on the back cover of the paperback edition: “If you are planning to buy this book, save your money, because it won’t help you. If you believe reading a self-help book will give you the tools to become great at whatever it is you want to do, then you are already doomed to total insignificance. No wildly successful person has ever attributed their accomplishments to a self-help book. If they did, they’d not write their own self-help books, would they? Still, I might just be teasing you. I might be testing your commitment to getting rich using my simple 1-2-3 formula. You’ll never know unless you buy the book, will you? Stupid.”
Seriously. I think that this would be a monumental best seller.
Seriously again, I believe that the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who do stuff, and those who talk/think about doing stuff. The first group is too busy doing stuff to have time to read self-help books instructing them on how to do stuff. The second group is too busy reading self-help books instructing them on how to do stuff to actually do stuff.
That paragraph makes sense if you read it again. Go ahead.
Admittedly, a great deal of the efforts produced by people who do stuff is abject crap, in the same way that a great majority of the free throws tossed by somebody ardently practicing to be a pro basketball player are misses. Those who do stuff know that they need to fail an amazing amount of times before they can ever hope to succeed. Granted, they emphatically believe that they will succeed each and every time (just as the amateur b-ball player believes he will sink every shot) but when an effort misses, they don’t give up. They mourn it for a few minutes, then move onto the next effort.
Those who talk/think about doing stuff, if they ever actually get to the point of making an effort that fails, spend months, years and lifetimes lamenting that failure and trying endlessly to jolt it back to life, like Frankenstein’s monster.
We all know this deep down. We all know the man who calls himself an artist, who owns lots of paints and canvases and books about art and who attends a lot of art shows and museums and is chock full of opinions about art, but who rarely, if ever, actually paints anything (or spends months and months lovingly, critically tweaking a painting that everybody else awkwardly knows is crap).
We all know the “writer” who is the charter member of their local literary guild, who loves to discuss “the craft”, who has attended endless seminars by famous writers, who owns every copy of “The Writer’s Market” for the past decade, and who can loftily critique (usually negatively) any book on the bestseller lists, but who has been tinkering with the same hundred pages of mediocre prose for years without ever actually finishing a single story (if they actually write anything at all).
On the other hand, we don’t often know about the “real” writers and artists (etc). They don’t talk much about what they do. They just do it, over and over, almost secretly, virtually compulsively. They don’t think about “the craft”. They don’t waste their time learning how to do it. They just do it, and to a large extent they do it very poorly– abysmally, horribly, awkwardly. They plug through doing it badly not because they long to get better, but because they just can’t help themselves. They NEED to do it. Doing it is its own reward. Making the art, writing the stories, shooting the free-throws, anything and everything, whatever is the passion that drives them, they do it not to succeed, but because doing it fulfills them— even doing it badly.
To a large extent, people who do it don’t care about pleasing anyone but themselves.
And then, at some point, for at least some of them, an amazing thing happens: they do it enough that they become great at it. They do it enough that others take notice. I think that sometimes this shocks the people who are doing it. They look up from their passion and realize that the world is watching, and they say “what? This? I’ve been doing this for YEARS. What’s the big deal? It’s a hobby. It’s just something I have to do. What’s everyb0dy looking at?”
Those who talk/think about doing it watch this and feel sick with jealousy. After all, they are too busy watching other people do it (and reading and talking about doing it) to actually do it themselves.
The point is, everybody is born as one or the other– either a person who does it or a person who talks about doing it**. Call it fatalistic, but I think it is the very rare person who is able to alter this ingrained mentality.
Thus, in short, if you are the sort of person who reads books about how to do it (and by “it”, of course, I mean any passion that drives you), then it stands to reason that you are not actually doing it. Furthermore, it is doubtful that any book will succeed in making you do it if your own passions weren’t enough to begin with. If you are a person born to do it, then you are far too busy doing it to take time to read books about how to do it.
Of course, sometimes even those who do it have to learn a bit more about how to do it better. Even they have to take classes and read a few books. You can always recognize them, however. They are the ones who seem annoyed by it, who are impatient, who aren’t paying attention because they are already trying to put what they’ve learned into action. They just can’t help themselves.
I suppose this all sounds pretty elitist. Maybe it is. But that doesn’t mean it may not also be true. Right?
So. The last page of my self-help book might go something like this: if you want to succeed at whatever it is you want to do, then stop reading this stupid book, stop pussy-footing around, stop trying to get perfect at your passion without actually doing it. Do it. Just go do it, and do it with glorious, unabashed horribleness. Be awful at it. Create something atrocious. And then do it again, and again, and again. It’s the only way. Know that making terrible things is the ONLY path to eventually making something great. Know that each failure is a sign-post on the way to success.
The alternative is to just sit at the start of the journey studying the map, never even starting, stymied in the belief that there MUST be a route to success that does not include endless failures. The inescapable fact is that no such route exists, no matter what the self-help books say.
So what do you think? Would my self-help book be a best-seller?
Fortunately, the fact that I am talking about writing it means that I will probably never actually do it.
*Of course, it remains to be seen whether this Plan works at all, since I myself have not experienced anything resembling wild success.
** I suppose I should add that there really is a third group– those who neither talk about doing it or who do it. These good folks are simply happy to enjoy the fruits of the labor of those who do it. To those people, I offer a huge, wet kiss. Figuratively.