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s the modern world constantly prods us to do more and be better, the self-help industry has never boomed larger. With equal parts doubt and optimism, author Beth Lisick devoted an entire year to self-improvement, using best-selling books to fix a different area of her life each month. She read The Artist's Way to reignite her creativity and sought out Julie Morgenstern's aid in cleaning up her life. Jack Canfield schooled her in the the secret of success; Suze Orman taught financial stability. Although Lisick's already slim, she went on the Richard Simmons Cruise to Lose. The end result was Helping Me Help Myself. Lisick and I talked about the state of the self-help industry and her distaste for Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. — Steph Auteri
You have a healthy dose of skepticism about the self-help industry. I have to admit that when I go shopping for self-help books, I'm embarrassed. But I still love them.
I had never read one. I never even thought about it as having any relation to my life. Then I thought, well, maybe there's something interesting about the fact that this topic makes me uncomfortable, and maybe I should explore that. That is a huge part of why I did the book: I love things that make me uncomfortable. So I picked topics where I needed improvement and sought out the best-selling person.
I find that the proliferation of those books is similar to all the trend diets out there. No single one has all the answers, but maybe if you take the most rational advice from each one, you can actually make a change.
Exactly. That's the kind of thing people do with religion too: "This isn't exactly for me, but I like this idea of Buddhism, or I like this idea of Judaism." That is a good analogy. Religion and the diet industry!
Did you learn any lessons that will stay with you?
Yeah. I definitely would have never, ever in the world thought about what my life "purpose" or "personal mission statement" was. It's actually really useful to figure out what you want to do and why it's important to you, because every decision you make after that, you can see where it fits in. I realized I liked writing personal stories. For a long time I thought, "Who would care what some white, middle-class, middle-aged lady would think?" but when I thought about it, I realized that I'm another voice out there, somebody else with a story. That made it easier for me to accept my career as a writer. On another note, going on the Richard Simmons Cruise to Lose did give me a lot of insight into the give and take with a lot of these gurus — they get as much energy from their followers and the followers get from them.
At a recent reading, you mentioned that John Gray's Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus spoke to you the least. Why?
One way to look at it is that it's outdated. Another way to look at it is that it never should have been in the first place. These strict ideas about what gender is don't work in my world at all. It's pretty commonly known now that gender is fluid. It's human nature to want to come home after long day of work and sit down in front of the TV. That's not a man thing!
Were you able to derive anything helpful from Gray's book?
That I am really lucky to be married to someone who understands me and doesn't need to be told how to "score points" with me.
What about the home-organization book?
This is semi-embarrassing, but having a cleaner and more organized house probably did lead to more sex. After ten years with someone, it's easier to "go there" if you're not excessively preoccupied with all the annoying crap of life. Part of the home-organizing philosophy is having a place for everything, and always knowing where to reach for the lube is a good idea.
Aren't self-help books nothing more than common-sense platitudes? They're all basically telling you the same things: "own your feelings," "don't play the victim," "make your happiness a priority."
Yeah, it's funny. These are very old ideas from, like, Benjamin Franklin — all common-sense ideas. That's why it feels insulting to your individualism to read them. But sometimes you do need to be reminded.
What type of person is most susceptible to these books?
The target market now is everyone. There's a sense that everybody has to be better and better at things. I guess it speaks to this desire never to be complacent with the fact that you're relatively an all-right person.
Now that you've spent this entire year on self-improvement, what do you think is next? Marci Alboher has a book out about leading a "slash life," called One Person/Multiple Careers. What slashes are you concentrating on now?
It's funny, because through talking about this book, I'm talking about a subject that two years ago I knew nothing about. I don't know. Motivational speaker? Life coach? I'm joking. I was talking to this guy in Denver whose brother didn't know what to do with his life, so he just became a life coach.
Doesn't bode well for people actually seeking out life coaches. So in this oversaturated self-help market, are there are any exploitable niches left?
I don't know, but if we think of it, we can make a million dollars. n°
©2008 Nerve.com and Steph Auteri