“Do I grow or do I shrivel?” – Matthew Hussey One of my favorite hobbies is self-help. I love reading the newest batch of books designed to improve one’s lifestyle. Interestingly enough, the Self-Help section was situated between the Food/Cookbook and Health/Wellness sections at the now defunct Borders bookstore in Tyrone mall. So, I would nonchalantly start looking at the vegan cupcake cookbooks and yoga DVDs, and then slowly saunter onto the most embarrassing section in the whole store. Lately, I have started to open up on my strong interest in self-improvement instead of keeping mum on the topic like I have for the past several years. The truth is that I have learned a great deal about others and myself from the colorful array of lifehacking manuals.
Here are some of the lessons self-help has taught me:
“When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.” RuPaul Charles, Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style.
I love nothing more than a tell-it-like-it-is attitude in my self-help gurus and RuPaul is as sassy as they come. This quote is one of an entire book full of sage advice delivered with love and wit. Workin’ It is the drag sister to Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret when it comes to living the kind of life you want by utilizing your best attributes and allowing yourself the positive mindset to do so (minus the vision board). This book came out around the time I decided to go back to school; when I felt too old or not smart enough or well read or whatever, I would refer to Ru and remind myself that I have a unique perspective and the ability to translate those thoughts, feelings, and ideas in an academic manner. It’s really easy to not dream or want something. The harder path is finding a way to make those dreams a reality. It took quite a bit of time and effort to get to where I am now. Plus I never had to compromise my vision or creativity for scholarly work because I used my whole heart, personality, and imagination from beginning to end.
“HSPs make such good targets because we react so strongly.” Elaine N. Aron Ph.D., The Highly Sensitive Person
I’ve always been a sensitive person. I’ve told to “toughen up” and “get over” my innate shyness. To say that childhood and adolescence was no picnic is an understatement. I worked really hard to perform outgoing extrovert and I learned how to hack my shyness by finding a passion in music, art, and cinema. For the most part, I was successful yet I still felt like an outsider hiding a dirty little secret. Through Dr. Aron’s book I learned that I’m a highly sensitive person and that a HSP is not just emotionally vulnerable and empathic, but they are also subject to physical and mental overstimulation. Suddenly, my whole painfully shy existence made sense as my best traits stem from an open heart, keen observational skills, and strong intuition (my gut has yet to fail me). Although, I deeply appreciate my fine tuned vulnerability, I tend to suffer from migraine headaches and need a healthy amount of downtime in an intensely social and over stimulating culture. With Aron’s text, I’ve been able to put my needs before others (something I would never do) and take time to balance a quiet life with a busy one. Because of this space, I appreciate time outside of my peaceful apartment that much more. The sunshine is more inviting. The laughter is that much more infectious. The energy of balance is electric and intoxicating.
After Aron’s groundbreaking book, others have expounded on this personality type and continue to give credence to an underrepresented group. A piece in the Huffington Post entitled, “Characteristics of Highly-Sensitive People” goes as far as to list the traits of HSPs:
What being highly sensitive is NOT:
1. Emotionally immature
3. Unpredictable and unstable emotions
Characteristics of highly sensitive people:
1. Have great imagination
2. Have great intellectual abilities
3. Are creative
4. Have a curious mind
5. Are hard workers
6. Are good problem solvers
7. Are extremely conscious and compassionate
8. Are intuitive, caring and spiritual
9. Have a strong sense of aesthetic awareness
10. Respect nature, art and music greatly
11. Have profound and intense sensations
12. Can access important information from the unconscious mind
13. Have a depth of understanding and feelings
14. Are objective and can see the bigger picture
It’s truly amazing how I fought so hard against my true introverted nature and put-on a false persona when being me was pretty damn awesome.
“In life, people tend to wait for good things to come to them. And by waiting, they miss out. Usually, what you wish for doesn’t fall in your lap; it falls somewhere nearby, and you have to recognize it, stand up, and put in the time and work it takes to get to it. This isn’t because the universe is cruel. It’s because the universe is smart. It has its own cat-string theory and knows we don’t appreciate things that fall into our laps.” Neil Strauss, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists
Hey man, don’t judge it! This book provides an interesting look into a slubby writer-turn-pickup-artist journey of self-discovery and kooky Courtney Love tales. Neil Strauss plunged headfirst into a world of PUAs and learned how to be his best self – not just to get girls, which seemed to be the endgame for the majority of the book, but to get the life he always dreamed of. Firstly, the story of the PUAs themselves is truly fascinating and all were former dorks scorned by women and found a way to get back at them with sleeping with lots of insecure chicks. This life doesn’t seem like a sturdy platform for maturity but it does provide very entertaining and often, alarming tales of nerds gone wild.
Similarly to RuPaul’s book, I learned that there is effort in seeming effortless. To me, the most engaging and attractive people are those that own their look and are comfortable in their own skin. They can trip or look a fool, but turn that brief moment of unease into a graceful (funny, poetic, etc.) recovery. They are that solid inside that it radiates on the outside and often, these types of people have a strong sense of personal style and clear point-of-view as if they were born with amazing taste in everything. Perhaps it’s just confidence, plain and simple. However, there is a level of commitment and passion that underlines their actions and words that speak to a personification of eternally cool. The reality is that it takes years and trial and error to find your niche and the ability to communicate that passion into a formidable set of traits. After reading this book, I decided to just like what I like and not worry about being perceived as cool, hip, or what have you. No more hate-reading or guilty pleasures for this gal. I now own my like of Justin Bieber’s “Somebody to love” and will sing the shit out of it in the middle of Gap.
“And above all, if the guy you’re dating doesn’t seem to be completely into you, or you feel the need to start “figuring him out,” please consider the glorious thought that he might just not be that into you. And then free yourself to go find the one that is.” Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, He’s Just Not That Into You
My first foray into the self-help genre began with this classic tome based on a Sex and the City episode. I still favor the Jack Berger episodes because it reminds me of so many of the unavailable and quirky dudes that I have dated in the past. While I wasn’t broken up with by a post-it, I have received the break-up text which is just as damning.
He’s Just Not That Into You has probably helped plenty of girls out there, but it just made me mad. I felt that I would never find a guy that actually likes me for the long haul and not just fall off the face of the earth to never be seen again (this happens to me more than I care to admit). According to this book, I’d never meet a dude so I might as well settle into spinsterhood and feed all the neighborhood cats from my stoop. Although I figured out that my initial viewpoint was a mirror for the shame I felt for self-help in general. I was on the defense almost immediately. This book just happened to be the first book in my hot little, angry hands. The real lesson for me lies in the idea of not analyzing and dissecting the various shitty behaviors of the guys I date. I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on someone who doesn’t deserve it. I honestly cannot give my heart to another cad. Lately, my tolerance for bullshit is nil. Others have perceived this as guarded or closed-off, but I love and respect myself more than my need for an emotional reckoning by dating another rakish hipster. I’m no longer looking for the greatest love of all. I just want a meaningful connection. I put higher value on having a good time with my friends rather than trolling for dudes.