I Don’t Believe in Self-Help, but I Do Believe in Stories
If I’m a fraud for telling mine, I wanna be the best you’ve ever seen
If you’ve ever wondered whether popular writers feel like frauds for giving you advice, the answer is yes, we do.
I’m not perfect. I don’t live by all my own tips. I’d cease to exist. I’m human. I have flaws. I change a lot too. My 28-year-old self can’t benefit from my 26-year-old-writing, except to see how far I’ve come. How much I’ve learned. What I remember. Whether I was right or wrong, and how naïve I was to write what I have written. But, maybe, your 26-year-old self can.
“Hey there. How are you? I used to be 26 once. Wanna have a chat with that guy? Sure. Maybe, you two will get along.”
That’s what it says. No more. No less. It’s not advice. It’s an invitation. A marker of a person long gone, frozen in time. If you happen to pass by, maybe, they can point the way. I think that’s what self-help writing is about. Isn’t it what all writing is about? Human connections, spanned across time and space. Some of them light up. Others only flicker. Some of them break.
I don’t believe in self-help the genre, you know. I believe in self-help the story.
It’s the same story humans have told since the dawn of time: A hero receives a call. Refuses it. Then accepts. Gets lost, but goes on a journey. Finds help. Allies. Foes. Friends. Ultimately, she defeats the enemy. The dragon. The criticism. The inner voice. And returns right to where she started.
Once the story is over, everything — and nothing — is the same. The hero has come full circle, but it took a new person to get there. The hero has changed.
This cycle repeats millions of times every day. It happens in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. It’s not just a template for stories, it is our story. It’s what it means to be human. A reflection of life.
I don’t know where you are in your current circle. Sometimes, I don’t even know where I’m in mine. All I know is I have to leave breadcrumbs. Little signs saying, “I was here, and this is how I felt.” Who knows who’ll bump into them and wonder? Who knows who they can make smile on a lonely day?
I don’t care if I’m the guy who taught you about habits, learning, or changed how you think. I care about our relationship. Did you think anything at all? Did we have a spark? Could I make you feel something? As long as they’re out there, I’m okay with not knowing the answers to those questions.
Programmatic advice requires excellent timing. It works for a fraction of people who are in the right time and at the right place. That’s okay, too. It’s all part of the story.
Steven Pressfield once said:
“I never wrote anything good until I stopped trying to write the truth.”
I don’t think he meant that non-fiction is worthless or that self-help can’t work. He meant that everything is a story. The truth reveals itself to us in many mysterious ways. It does so slowly, over time, and takes hidden paths we may only recognize as such in hindsight, long after we’ve traversed them. Truth is rarely a punch in the face. Often, when it is, we’re least likely to accept it. We’re too busy fighting back. The writer’s job isn’t to bombard you with truth. It’s to tell their best story. Whatever needs to be inside will find its way in. Whatever you extract will be what you need.
I’ve been very lucky. Despite speaking my mind as best as I can, I haven’t faced huge backlash. Sure, there are critics here and there, but the more I focus on telling the story, the less I can even hear them.
I don’t want you to take my writing as gospel. I just wanna tell you a story.
At the end of the day, it’ll always be my story. It may not be right for you right now or right for you at all. But every time I send one out into the universe, you can be sure I’m praying it is. I know it’s just another marker, another snapshot of a limited point of view. Maybe, I’m hoping, it can be the first pillar of one of those timeless bridges. Another bridge connecting two souls across the ages.
If being a fraud is what it takes to build them, then being a fraud is the only way I can be myself.
It’s funny, isn’t it? Tell your truth long enough, and, inevitably, you’ll become a liar. Invented stories, however, were never real to begin with — and that’s why they’re so authentic.
I don’t know where all this ends, but I hope it never does. For now, I’ll be here, defrauding people with my truth. I can’t say I’ll make it, but I wanna be the best damn liar you’ve ever seen.