Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting to the Next Big Thing with a Kick-Ass Life: A Tale of Two Self Help Books

Sometimes, you can get lost in your own life. You feel like you’re in a rut and there it just no way out. 

Tell me about it. 

I wasn’t going to just sit back and let life continue to pass me by, but I didn’t know how to stop it from happening. So I started to read Your Next Big Thing by Ben Michaelis, PhD. A few days later, I was just looking for another book to read and picked up 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life by Andrea Owen, CPCC. While it wasn’t intentional to read these two self-help books at the same time, I was interested to see which one would speak to me. Here’s how it went. 

The Situation

My situation is simple: I want to live in New York City, but I don’t know how to get there. 

Okay, literally I know how to get there. What I mean is that I want to be able to live successfully there—which means a good job. An apartment. Human connection. I’ve been working full time as a freelance writer since 2008. This job has had its ups and downs when it comes to the all-important paycheck, but it’s been in a steady decline for about three years now—to the point where even a simple Midwestern lifestyle is not achievable (translation: I moved back in with my parents three times in the past ten years). I’ve done what I can to perk it back up, but so far nothing has worked. That means I’m in a little bit of debt, and I don’t feel comfortable throwing caution to the wind by just packing up and leaving tomorrow. If I did, I wouldn’t need to read either one of these books. 

Everyone says: get a new job, save money for a year, go. Well, not here. That’s my setback. I would not be opposed to getting myself out of full-time freelancing if I had another option for a job even loosely related to my field (I hold a degree in English—it’s a wide, wide field). There’s nothing here but customer service positions—and I’ve suffered through that two and a half weeks longer than I thought I would before I got out of it. In New York, I would be more open to positions that creatively uses my creativity. And I’m sure there would be more options, even if that meant long hours, low pay or *gulp* back to customer service. 

I’ve wanted this since I was five years old. I thought I would go to college there. That didn’t happen. I thought I would move there after I graduated. That nearly happened, but didn’t. I just assumed that I would be there by now. I’m turning thirty in two and a half weeks (yikes!) and for some reason, that was my arbitrary deadline. Why would someone out of there 20s be stupid enough to carry all that debt and all that lack of courage to a city that can eat you alive with one wrong look? 

Still… sounds like a fun place to live. I still want it. That’s why I tried these self-help books. I wanted to know what I could do to change my mindset and change my situation to make this dream come true. 

What These Books Promise

Like any self-help book, these books do not promise an overnight turnaround. If any book did, it would be a worldwide bestseller and the rest of the self-help industry would go out of business. These books are a guide. They are a way to help you work through your own issues and, in time, figure out what it is you want and what you are willing to do to change your life around. 

Okay. I’m ready. 

But it takes more than just being open and ready (you may actually find out when you start reading that you are definitely NOT ready). Once you start reading either one of these titles, you will realize that it is not something you can do in a day. It takes time to let each of the subjects soak into your brain to really see any change. Personally, I don’t recommend reading any more than one or two chapters a day. 

52 Ways is a book that is meant to be more general in what you could attain. You are looking to get a fulfilling, kick-ass life. It teaches you how to discover what you truly want out of life, what’s holding you back and what you can do to fix it all. It covers everything from the curse of dieting to relationships and work issues. 

Your Next Big Thing seems to have more of a narrow focus according to the title, but really it is doing the same thing as 52 Ways. It is giving you the tools you need to discover yourself, find what you want and give you the confidence to take the next step in whatever it is you want to pursue. 

The Homework

Yes, boy and girls, these books ask for homework. There may not be any right or wrong answers, but making lists of values, what brings you joy, your nonnegotiables, and how you can best serve others is an important part of the process these books ask you to go through. These exercises help you understand what you truly have and want you truly want. Writing these things down provides tangible evidence about yourself and what you want. 

I’ll be honest—I didn’t write anything down. It’s not that I didn’t do the exercises, because I definitely did. But I closed my eyes and wrote them down in the space of my mind, not on a piece of paper. In my household, papers with words on them tend to end up as public property, and this is a very personal journey. So, aside from not having a physical copy of the homework, I did complete it. 

There are also requests in the book to make small shifts in your life. Some of the ones that both books have in common is to honor yourself, listen to the difference between your inner critic and your inner hero, love yourself and of course getting rid of the negative relationships in your life (for me, that feels like I would have to get rid of every single person I know. But that’s a problem for another day). Not everything can be done as soon as you finish the chapter. It’s all a marathon, not a sprint. 

The Approach

This is where the books really distance themselves from each other. If both books are essentially teaching the same concepts, the approach is what will be the appeal or the turnoff for readers. 

If you are looking for the more scholarly approach, Your Next Big Thing is definitely the book for you. This book has that familiar school chapter structure of: 

A) Here’s what you will learn,
B) The bulk of the chapter that teaches you that concept, and
C) Here’s what this chapter just taught you. 

This is helpful for those who like this type of structure or for those who may have already started working on themselves and want to go back to relearn certain strategies or concepts. It is a calm, caring, clinical approach that can (if you’re reading late at night) find you nodding off a bit while trying to read it. 

52 Ways is a whole other story. This is a book that doesn’t kid around—it wants to give you that needed kick in the ass so you can turn it around to have a kick-ass life. With chapter titles such as “Don’t Take Other People’s Piles of Shit” and “Quit Bitching and Moaning” you know there’s no fooling around reading this. 52 Ways is like that friend or family member in your life you hate going to advice for because they tell it like it is without a filter to spare your feelings. However, that person is always right, which annoys the hell out of you. 

I will tell you that I definitely responded to 52 Ways more than Your Next Big Thing. Why? Because every chapter made me feel something. Some chapters made me sad, some filled me with a momentary abundance of confidence. Some just pissed me off. But I felt something. And I could use that energy to learn more about myself and why I feel so stuck. 

The Verdict

Did either one of these books get me on the path to changing my life so that I can best achieve my goals and dreams? Both of them definitely got me motivated to create a big change in my life (though listening to the theme song to Who’s the Boss? can leave me with the same feeling), but as far a clear direction to start, I’m still a bit lost. I think I was looking for a more personal, definitive answer to my issues, which you can’t—and shouldn’t—expect from a self-help book. 

I know what I want—I know the options available right now to take that next step, but none of them seem right for me personally unless I’m willing to take a huge risk, which is not a “I’m afraid of failure” risk; it’s more like a “I could end up homeless” type of risk. I’m pretty much in the same place as when I started reading either one of these books. 

That doesn’t mean these books are not valuable to the general population of readers who are interested in making a change. These books can be great for those who are in a number of different situations including a career change, relationship issues, and discovering a passion that you may have left behind years ago. 

I don’t think rereading either one of these books in their entirety will help me get any more clarity, but I will be revisiting specific chapters are helpful in my situation. I realize that I may just be suppressing my own inner voice and waiting for another person to tell me what I should do—which is probably the source of my problems in the first place. 

See? I learned a lot about myself, I just need to keep working at it. So the effort to improve myself was worth it, even if I wasn’t magically lifted up on a cloud and placed into a Manhattan apartment with a steady income.  

**Disclaimer: Both of these books were free for me. I received 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life through a Goodreads giveaway, and I received Your Next Big Thing free through an Amazon promotion. 

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