EDITORIAL NOTE: Please take note of a new regular section at the bottom of today's post.
During most of my adult life, the United States has been big on self-improvement. Thousands of books bear witness to this – such titles as the granddaddy of them all, How to Win Friends and Influence People from the 1930s. You will undoubtedly recognize some of the biggest sellers since then including
Think and Grow Rich
The Power of Positive Thinking
Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
You Can Heal Your Life
The Road Less Traveled
Dress For Success
Your Erroneous Zones
I'm OK, You're OK
The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People
Codependence No More
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom
And so on ad infinitum. These self-help classics and thousands of lesser volumes promise that if you just change yourself in one particular way, you will be rich and famous and happy.
Or something like that.
I was never a strong fan of self-help books but there is a lot of pressure in American culture to be working on bettering yourself. Constantly.
It's hard to resist and over the years I did succumb to several personal development books even as I was disappointed at how thin and shallow the advice is.
Whatever change they promised, the result for me - not surprisingly - was some measure of guilt and self-loathing at not being good enough to master the instructions. Not exactly the what I was going for when I picked up the book.
Now that I have reached an age where I ought to be able to skate toward the end, they haven't eased off, these self-help gurus.
There is hardly an elder website worthy of the name that isn't stuffed with articles about how to achieve “positive ageing,” “creative ageing,” “successful ageing,” “better ageing” “purposeful ageing,” and one of my favorites, “how to look younger as you get older.” And much more.
But here's the thing: At 75, I don't need any help to “exercise my mind” or take up “lifelong learning.” I've been doing those things steadily, day by day since before I can remember and I doubt there are many people who can avoid it. By now, I'm not going to “overcome any fears” that I haven't already. And I don't have enough time left to worry about “identifying my blind spots.”
It exhausts me just to even think about doing such things at my age. I'm not saying the self-help industry is a sham but I've learned that there is no secret ingredient, no idea, no revelation that will make you or me a better person.
That comes from inside, from quiet times with ourselves, from living by the values we believe in.
It may have taken me way too long to get to this but no book, no guru, no facile elder webpage about how to age well is going to change me anymore than they did when I was young. I'm done with self-improvement and getting on with living however many years of life remain to me, warts and all.
(So much is happening so quickly in the new administration that even large news organizations are having trouble keeping pace, let alone a little, one-woman website like this. So now and then when the day's topic relates to ageing but I want to pass on some short, resistance-related information, I will post it here at the bottom of the main story. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.)
Here is the first go:
On Wednesday, in his daily email newsletter from Axios, Mike Allen reported on America's latest reading habit:
"'1984 sales soar after Trump claims, alternative facts' per AP: 'First published in 1949, Orwell's classic dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of newspeak topped the best-seller list of Amazon.com [last] evening...
"Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel about the election of an authoritarian president, It Can't Happen Here, was at No. 46. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was at No. 71. Sales also were up for Hannah Arendt's seminal nonfiction analysis, The Origins of Totalitarianism."
This is terrific, good news. I re-read all four of these books during the election campaign along with Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. They are important instruction manuals for the times we are living in now.