In those years of reading self-help books, did Power turn her life around? No, she did not. Being human, she read and read and did nothing. But, she thought, what if she actually gave herself over to one solid year of self-improvement, following the tenets of a variety of her favorite books to the letter? Each month, she would follow a different book. So, while reading Susan Jeffers’s “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” she sky-dived, posed naked for a life-art class and tried stand-up comedy, arguably more terrifying than jumping out of a plane. With Kate Northrup’s “Money: A Love Story,” she decided to face her debt head on and get to the root of why she had overdrafts on all her credit cards. Trying to be serious about money was so difficult she then decided to follow “The Secret,” a book by Rhonda Byrne whose basic principle is that you don’t need to do anything but wish and visualize to make great things happen. So she goes from watching every penny to writing herself fake £100,000 checks and eating whatever she wants because, if you really believe, money (and men and houses and weight loss) will come your way. It’s surprising to discover that “The Secret” wasn’t written by a 5-year-old, but maybe not surprising to learn that it has sold millions of copies.
And so it goes. Walking on hot coal with Tony Robbins. Rejection therapy. Something something with Eckhart Tolle that I, personally, will never understand, but it was good enough for Oprah and Paris Hilton, so what do I know?
Still. The misery.
“I started to see how self-help can be dangerous for someone like me,” Power writes. “I was too busy reading books, spouting affirmations and dreaming big to get on with silly stuff like earning enough money to pay the bills.”
Power occasionally brings the funny; her description of one bad date was a genuine Bridget Jones moment. (“He sounded interesting. He thought so too. I spent two hours being run over by his voice.”) But the navel gazing and the guilt about the navel gazing make her go a bit mad about halfway through her journey; she pushes friends and family away, drinks excessively, bolts from perfectly lovely men and continues to avoid washing her hair. Some of those closest to her begin to avoid her. But all have an annoying way of showing up again to tell her that, despite her self-loathing, the rest of the world doesn’t see her the way she sees herself. As a writerly contrivance, you can do this once or twice; when you do it over and over the reader begins to think, Maybe she skimped on the self-help books about writing.
The contradiction at the heart of many self-help books is that you’re supposed to accept yourself more while simultaneously changing to create a better you. I say: Pick one. If you’re making daily vision boards and writing yourself fake checks, then the chances of embracing the life you have are kind of slim. If you’re doing daily affirmations to yourself in the mirror, naked, learning to love your cottage cheese thighs, that’s great; but the chances of losing those thighs aren’t so great. Either takeaway from self-help is fine, but instead, Power pingpongs between the two. “Help Me!” is filled with epiphanies that are unceremoniously discarded a few pages later. Perhaps that’s the point of the book, but this can be a little exhausting.