For about a year, I received Mark Manson’s newsletter. What I liked about him was he seemed to be an independent and well-read thinker. I may not have agreed with it all, but he was interesting enough for me to stick around.

But when I read “The Point Is To Stop”, I felt compelled enough to open a doc and start typing. Now, it should be stated that Mark’s a bestselling author with loads of credentials, etc, etc, while I am a mere peasant, a lowly working class servant.

There are two sections of the newsletter, the latter of which deals with his decision to leave the self-help genre, and move on to other things, but it’s the former that I want to discuss. Basically Mark attempts to put people who seek self-help into two camps: “Doctor People” and “Coach People”.

Doctor People are in deep pain or have experienced trauma who reach for self-help to “fix them”, but Coach People approach this stuff like it’s a game to win, or strategies to use to level up. I get that. He then points out the pros and cons of both types, diagnoses himself as a Coach Person, and states that the point of self-help is to eventually move on, or it doesn’t work, right?

The first thing I noticed was I didn’t fall into either camp. Self-help came to me, like a stray cat, one day in 1993 or 1994 when my college friends Sarah, Kara, and I were going on a road trip from Durango, Colorado to Tustin, California to visit Disneyland and Sarah’s family. I remember laughing when they packed extra bags that were filled with just their shoes. My boyfriend-at-the-time referred to them as the Bobbsy Twins.

Anyway, Sarah had Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love poised in the tape player and instructed us to pause it if we wanted a break or to talk about it. We clocked in a lot of hours of honest talk, tears, and jazzy cigarettes. As a result, I learned road trips could be (and should be) therapeutic and that books could change your life. It was the self-help that I didn’t know that I needed.

For decades, I read and listened to a lot of self-help. As Mark mentioned, it gets damn repetitive, but it’s an addicting genre, just like any other I suppose, especially when you’re the kind of person who wants to improve (or believes they are broken).

And I know what people think of this woo-woo-crap. There are slicks who make a whole lot of moolah over messages that someone else already freely said. It all seems like the same rubbish! Ur, no, thanks, I don’t need any help. But generally speaking, some good stuff can be found between the burning sage and bullshit.

And one day, just like him, I thought, you know what? I’m in a good space now, I’ve learned a lot, and I don’t need this stuff anymore.

But it turns out that I need constant reminders to be kind to myself, forgive others, and not to be an asshole. Constant. So that’s where I also disagree with him. It’s great to move on (and I’m not referring to his profession), but I think one of the reasons why I keep returning to the genre in different ways (Zen, Stoicism, uplifting material) is because I consider myself a lifelong learner.

Mark argues that the goal of therapy (and self-help) is to graduate from it, but time has taught me that sometimes folks stick to therapy because they just need/want/like someone to talk to that’s not their family or friends. Have they made progress? Let’s assume they have. Of course, there are dysfunctional codependent personalities, but extremes aside, I don’t think self-improvement is something you ever leave.

I mean, you can slide backwards or get to a place where you feel content and comfortable with whatever you needed help with, but I don’t buy into the fact that if it worked you wouldn’t need it anymore. I understand the argument, but if anyone else thinks after they ‘figured shit out’ that they aren’t going to have another down on your knees moment, then I’m sorry to say, wait for it.

Maybe we get better, faster, gentler with ourselves and others, but I can’t say, after so many years of study that I can raise my hand and declare, “I’ve listened to the Power of Now, so you know, his passive aggressive behavior just doesn’t cut me down anymore.” It feels like once you figured out one thing, another POS springs up to take a stab at you. Highly annoying.

That being said, I’m glad I invested so many years journaling and consuming self-help material. Maybe childhood challenges give you something to overcome. Inner work is underrated. School teaches us to be agreeable worker bees and about society at large, but self-help can give you the tools to navigate the world with sanity and dignity.

So, what about Doctor + Coach People? What if I don’t need to stanch the wound or view life as a game to hack? What about folks who are intrinsically interested in self-improvement and self-actualization?

What do you think?

11 replies on “The point is to keep going (self-help is a journey)

  1. I think you should go with whatever is helpful, Lani. I like to be given information or a perspective. I’m not so keen on being told what to do. Perhaps that is why coaching shits me to death. That’s just me though. Still, coaching at arm’s length, ie. reflective reading, doesn’t fit in that category. If you fall off the horse, you gotta get back on again, right? Being castigated by a self-actualised “coach” who is too perfect to do that, is not cool at all. For example, I sucked at Weight Watchers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember reading an article that talked about the great surge in ‘life coaches’ and how many of them are not qualified …

      But to your point, it is interesting how some folks want to be told what to do or how to do something while others bristle greatly over the fact.

      I think I’m probably somewhere in between — seeking advice or keeping an open mind, etc, and making my own decisions based on what I’ve learned.

      It’s tough though! and I can certainly see the appeal of both sides! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read many self-help books but Thorsten is obsessed with them — he’s always reading one or two of them at a time. I think he’s also somewhere between a doctor and coach person. And he’s read Manson’s book pretty recently.

    Your post prompted me to go over and read Manson’s post…very interesting. I feel like I can weirdly relate to his dilemma because I often wonder what I would do with myself/who I would be if a stopped writing my own blog. Anyway, to me, his decision sounds like it’s more about his own desire to transition over to a passive income strategy than it is about the theory of self-help more generally. He’s probably just bored writing about the same topic all the time. Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I understand his decision, and why he said the point of therapy is to ‘get better and move on’.

      I think for some folks in the community his words are considered clever and wise, a bit of a jolt, but in my experience, I feel like as long as I’m alive there’s a new lesson to learn, if that makes sense.

      Thorsten sounds like we’d have a lot to chat about! Which brings it all back to Manson’s other issue — self-help can be addictive, but the desire to create inner resilience and get to know yourself better is at the core. And for me, that’s something I value. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting points. I have often seen self help book consumers in the light that Mark has highlighted. I have never understood why somebody would keep reaching out for self help books since the idea is to improve and if you haven’t with the previous book then why reach out for another? But I see what you mean. Maybe improving isn’t goal orientated and is more of a journey.
    Personally, I don’t enjoy self help content of any kind just cause I feel like everyone has their own individual journey and there isn’t one formula that works for all. But I guess this kind of content helps set a reference framework to begin your improving journey with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny because I would have assumed based on what I know about you that you’d be interested in self-improvement content.

      My first foray was material on forgiveness, then reinterpretations of religious works, prayer, and later mindfulness.

      I can understand why ppl are turned off though. I remember when I gave a friend a book that helped me and she immediately turned around and said, “no thank you”.

      We all have preconceived ideas of this or that subject. And there is certainly self-help authors that I don’t like. That being said, I like hearing about different ppl’s experiences and how I can be better and so it’s a bit like going to the cafeteria, I can take a bit from here and there and find what works for me. xo

      Like

  4. It’s been a long time since I’ve read self-help books. The few that I did, were helpful. Past few years, I find most helpful is to allow myself to feel what I feel, music, chatting occasionally with friends willing to listen and offer small helpful gestures. That is all I ask.

    I read alot of non-fiction for past few decades which makes me wonder if I’m avoiding imaginative psychological dimensions of novels. But somehow, I just don’t feel it. And enjoy instead, learning new things and perspectives in the empirical world and real people. It’s been a long time I’ve seen a live play. One day.

    By the way, blogging has been enjoyable, I’m just a little spaced out rut for now. But more than ever, my blog is evidence in large parts of my life spent with my partner..at least facets of travel, cycling, even blogging together, etc. I’ve come to realize that I have naturally created a digital legacy over time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s a great way to look at blogging and you’ve shared so many wonderful photos and moments.

      I like to read nonfiction on my desktop and fiction on my Kindle 🙂 I feel like I spend so much time in the nonfiction world with essays or the news or self-development that by the end of the day, a nice fiction story to carry me away feels just about right.

      Thanks, Jean! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting. I’ve never read much self-help, but I have a good friend who sees a therapist, and he shares some tips with me. Just actionable things–like bodily movements–that can help, say, calm anxiety. The ideas is, that with a big enough bag of tricks, you won’t need the therapist anymore. Kinda like my kids’ piano teacher says that once they’ve learned well how to practice, they won’t need a teacher anymore. I don’t know, maybe I’m slow, but if I found a therapist I really liked I could see really enjoying reaching out for the touchstone once a week–for the long haul!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great point! Who wouldn’t want someone to talk to privately on a regular basis? I think most folks need that — and not just to stave off loneliness, too. Good communication skills is not to be taken for granted! Thanks, Rebecca.

      Liked by 1 person

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