I think this was the first big experiment in not using Goodreads and being pressured to finish one book at a time.
I bought a bunch of books based on podcasts I listened to, human recommendations, and vague interests when I was 16 — so back in 2013.
A lot of them ended up being about career-oriented self-help. I had no clue what I was going to do, I just knew that I probably wasn’t going to college and I had no idea how people survived in the world. I was also thoroughly depressed.
I used to think that books held secrets. I couldn’t afford to buy the self-help books that everyone said were life changing (that Parachute one? 4-Hour Work Week? Others???), so I used to read every summary and listen to every interview with the authors. I still thought they held secrets. If only I could get my hands on them…
I read every book that someone bought for me almost immediately. I thought I owed it to them. I also was able to start buying my own once I turned 16, and then that archive started to build up a little bit.
Some were life-changing. How could I not believe books had secrets?
It turns out, most were not.
I’m nearing the end of my time in LA, sitting in my childhood bedroom, with the books I left behind staring at me. I’d never opened most of these.
I decided that in the last week I was here, I would read the 6 directly self-help books still on my shelf.
Book #1: Mastery by Robert Greene
This is the longest of the books, clocking in at ~320 pages. Who knew self-help books were so freaking short?
I expected it to be pretentious and irritating.
But it was also kind of fun. There’s a lot of fun, historical stories told in a really engaging way.
In particular, I really liked the parts about social politicking in order to get ahead. I legitimately found that useful and relevant.
But god, it starts with a find your calling thing, and it’s 2020, and we all know that’s really dumb.
Book #2: The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg
I hated this. I dropped it.
It’s repetitive as hell. The advice is antiquated. All of the testimonials are from like… bloggers and Peter Thiel. This is some scam artist Dale Stephens Uncollege type of nonsense. I can’t believe I used to be into this stuff.
I used to believe.
Anyway, don’t read it. It’s very bad. It’s so 2011.
Blogging is dead, All the old bloggers are dead. There’s no future in a one-man media brand business anymore, Michael.
Book #3: The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau
I liked this one. I just had an issue with it — it kind of starts with the fundamental conceit that you’re unsatisfied with your life.
I guess, doesn’t all self-help start with the fundamental conceit that you’re unhappy with your life?
I’m pretty happy with my life. I definitely don’t want to go through the effort of a quest.
But, nice writing. I liked reading about Chris’ travelogues. He seems like a likable dude. I’m just not his audience.
Book #4: Choose Yourself by James Altucher
I’ve always hated James Altucher.
I think he’s a scam artist.
Read this author bio:
James Altucher is a successful entrepreneur, chess master, investor, and writer. He has started and run more than 20 companies, and sold several of those businesses for large exits. He has also run venture capital funds, hedge funds, angel funds, and currently sits on the boards of several companies. His writing has appeared in most major national media outlets (Wall Street Journal, ABC, Financial Times, Tech Crunch, Forbes, CNBC, etc). His blog has attracted more than 10 million readers since its launch in 2010. This is his 11th book.
This reads like the summary on my resume, begging the recruiter to hire me. How can one person run MULTIPLE venture capital AND hedge AND angel funds before turning 50?
I invested my dad’s money once — HEDGE FUND LEADER.
James has a very traditional self-help style, very self-focused. While Chris seems like a likable guy, James is that Louis CK, Marc Maron style of “relatable because I am also self-centered and hate myself.” James keeps telling us how he’s made all this money, but he also keeps telling us how he lost it all. I don’t get it.
I was willing to give it a shot when first he said — only do things you like, write down 10 ideas a day, go for walks every hour. I’m like yeah, yeah, this is generic, but it’s always worth another slap in the face to hear this information.
It’s riddled with typos and clearly no real publisher did this. Who is Lioncrest Publishing? It’s not a real publishing firm. I just looked it up. It’s Tucker Max’s publishing firm. My goodness, I hate the person who recommended this to me. I hope they suffer.
Then, here’s this gem:
In 1992 I wanted to move into a homeless shelter because I thought girls who were homeless would be more likely to go out with me. I had this fantasy version of what a homeless shelter would be like. We’d sneak around to each other’s rooms as if they were dorm rooms. It would be romantic. Lots of giggling. And crack smoking. Heck, I’d try it. For love.
At least 1000 people read this, and related to it, and thought there was nothing wrong with this statement.
All I have to say is — What the fuck?
A 45 year-old grown man wants to exploit women at a homeless shelter? And it’s supposed to be relatable?
I’ll say it here — I’ve never wanted to be in a homeless shelter. I guess that’s a brave stance in 2013 when this piece of shit was published. But hey, I’ll go on record.
That was pretty much it for me, but I saw that in the next chapter he actually started giving the real advice. It was… oh god, so… so generically bad.
It’s just, quit your job! It sucks! Start a business! Exploit your employees! Go vacation in Greece! The man doesn’t care about you!
There’s no real concrete direction for doing so, it’s in the same vein as so much of this stuff.
Yknow, let’s talk about how I got into stuff like this in the first place…
I was a deeply disabled teenager who pretty much knew she could never go to college. I needed to figure out a way to sustain myself. I never wanted to be rich. I just wanted to figure out how to survive.
Of course, I got led down this path of entrepreneurship and stuff. It was all like this — it made me into a libertarian who truly believed the 401k is a scam and if you just keep making scrappy business ideas, you’ll make it.
You know who had a lot of business ideas when they were that age? Teenage drug dealers. Do you know what happened to all those drug dealers? They’re salespeople now.
Entrepreneurship for the sake of entrepreneurship sickens me. I hate that in my desperation, I was led into that. It took so much distance to unbrainwash myself from that.
God, my life is so much better now than it was then.
Anyway, I hated this book. No one should read it. Tucker Max is shit for making this. Ryan Holiday is shit for marketing this. James Altucher is shit for writing this. They make money off of gullible teenagers like me who were told, “This book changed my life,” and bought into James’ bullshit financial claims without really understanding how finances work.
Stop exploiting teenagers and telling them to not go to college. It’s never women of color who are saying this. It’s always white men who did go to college.
Go to college.
I don’t regret not going, but every time I have to look for a job, you know it looms at me because literally everyone who looks and talks like me went to UC Berkeley.
Anyway, let’s move on. This book made me mad and every time a book makes me mad, it really makes me question humanity and if I want to even listen to humans anymore.
Book #5: Linchpin by Seth Godin
Okay, this one was good. It’s more high-level than anything else.
Seth is a really likable writer and what he says makes sense. It’s kind of more of a manifesto than a self-help book.
I’m still unclear exactly about what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to not just clock into my job, but be brave and make choices that help people.
Maybe I’m too young for this, but I’ve always known that this exact sentiment is what my resume is trying to prove?
“Hire me, I’m creative and productive and I’ll bring millions into your business. I’m a change-maker!”
Maybe this just wasn’t the case when Seth was writing this.
Anyway, read none of these.
There was a 6th book, Bold by Peter Diamandis and someone else. I got bored. I don’t want to read it. Like all self-help books, the takeaway is the title and the sub-title:
Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World
I get it, the only way to really get anywhere is to have a dream that’s so astronomically out of reach that even if you miss, you’ll still have gotten so far. I get it. Solve the problems of the world. Cure cancer. If you fail, you’ll have gotten closer to curing cancer.
I don’t like self-help. I’m glad I never have to look at these books again.