I have a secret, and I’m afraid to share it with you.
I despise self-help books.
I did not always feel that way, in fact I used to love them. I would go directly to the SELF HELP section of the bookstore or library to seek counsel on a wide variety of subjects. How to make money, how to improve my health, how to raise a difficult child or be a better (fill in the blank) teacher, salesperson, leader and so on.
I don’t remember a trigger event, but for whatever reason I simply stopped looking to these kinds of book for advice. Maybe it was after consuming a ton of information on how to deal with my children and finding myself no better off for it. On the other hand, maybe it was when someone told me that advice is worth what you pay for it. I just stopped looking to books to get advice on how to live my life.
A self-help book is actually an oxymoron when you think about it. If I am going to help myself, why should I read someone else’s book? Shouldn’t I just learn on my own? If I am unique, how can someone else’s experience help me?
That’s eventually how I came to see it.
It might have something to do with the fact that most of my life I played the kibitzer, someone who offers unsolicited advice. Exactly. Someone who offers advice when no one asked for it. I finally realized that if even if someone asks for my advice, he or she doesn’t really want it. They are just checking to see if I have a better plan. Maybe that’s a good way to think about self-help books; they contain information you can check into to see if your idea is any better.
Early on in my career, I feel into this trap as an HR Director. People would come and ask my advice on how to deal with troublesome employees or bosses. I would be so flattered that I would gladly regale them with stories and my opinions on what they should do. When I was finished, proud of what I had shared, I would ask, does that help? Is that what you were looking for? And do you know how they usually responded? “Well, no not really, but thanks for listening!”
Eventually I learned that they had the answer within. Instead of telling them what to do, I learned to to ask the right questions to lead them to their own answer. I became the one who held up the signpost, showing them the way.
Now I ask questions and no longer assume I have any of the answers. Maybe I should write a self-help book about that.