This Sort of Person or That Sort of Person

I have mixed feelings about self-help books. I recently read a scathing piece on the self-industry which characterized self-gurus as con artists convincing you that you are inadequate so that you’ll buy more products promising easy fixes.

Well, some doctors sell you snake oil and some doctors make you better. So while I may have mixed feelings about self-help authors, I’m definitely not a fan of the broad brush.

Part of the self-help question may boil down to how you feel about people. Can people change?

I say yes within certain parameters. A sociopath isn’t going to become an empath. If you’re in an abusive relationship, believing you’re going to change your abuser into the ideal person of you hope for, I’d say no. That is never going to happen. (Go here for help.)

You should never be the sacrifice for someone else’s change.

Basically, I’m not a believer in trying to change other people. One. I don’t think it works. People don’t change because we want them to. Maybe I feel this way because my dad is a loving but deeply stubborn man. All my efforts to change him in any way ended with me in tears and him the same as ever.

Two. Should we even want that person to change? It’s one thing to say you want someone to change from a person who drinks to much to a person who is sober. Or change a racist into a supporter of equality. It’s another thing to say you want someone to change from gay to straight or from non-believer to believer. I also don’t believe in asking people to change so that I’ll like them more or find them more in keeping with my worldview. It’s a tricky line. If I don’t like how someone is, I try to either accept them or move on.

My dad is stubborn, but he is radically accepting. I’ve never seen him try to make his wife more or less anything. And as I set out in life, he never said I should do this or I should do that. Did he want me to be more Catholic? “Only if you want to be.” Should I visit more? “Only if you can and you want to.” What did he want me to study in school? “It’s your life, Marta. You have to live it the way you want.”

And I can’t remember ever hearing my dad saying that he should be thinner, richer, more hard-working, more talented, more successful, more physically fit, or anything of the sort. If my dad isn’t happy with his looks or his life, I haven’t heard him say so.

You’d think then that I was more accepting of myself. Ha! No. Of course not.

Self-acceptance is a wonderful thing. If you’re LGBTQIA+, you’re good as you are! If you don’t match the ridiculous standards set forth by the so-called beauty industry, forget that BS.

All that is to say I bought a self-help book. Hahahaha! Because there are some skills I want to learn. I bought Marie Kondo’s book last year. And while I’m not living a Kondo life, I did pick up some useful organizational tips. A lot of people are miffed about her book comments (which are usually taken out of context–keep your books), but I’m all for taking what works and ignoring the rest. It’s not all or nothing.

This year I’ve bought Tiny Habits. I have several outcomes I want to achieve in the coming months, and I need help. (I picked this particular book because it came recommended by someone I actually know and I had some Christmas money to spend.) It is giving me ideas on how I can indeed make some tiny changes.

And on the one hand, it is great to know thyself. Right? It’s like when people used to tell me to have more than one child. I knew then and know now that I am a one child sort of person. And that’s fine. But on the other, sometimes we’re wrong. When I was younger, I was convinced I could never be a teacher. People suggested it and I’d say, no way! Not me. But now I’ve been teaching for twenty years and love teaching. It’s a terrific job for me. I gave it a chance and discovered it wasn’t at all what I thought.

So accept oneself, stay true to oneself, and also be open to change. (Sounds so easy, but…)

Sometimes we become so wedded to statements about who we are. Once I said to my husband, “Who would I even be if I finally liked Florida or wasn’t afraid of spiders. I wouldn’t even be me anymore!” Though with effort I’m not as afraid of spiders as I used to be. So change is possible. We are not fixed points.

And finally, what would a person be like who did everything well and had it all sorted out? It’s like those Star Trek episodes where Kirk and Spock come across a planet where everything is too good and too perfect. Kirk can’t stand it and usually proceeds to screw it all up. But imagine a person who exercised, ate well, achieved success, received loads of social media love, had a perfect relationship, ideal children, a beautiful home, terrific fashion sense, succeeded in everything, and were on the right side of history in all their opinions and choices. Maybe we want to be that person, but would we really?

That’s a lot of chatter to say I bought a book and I hope it helps me work for my aspirations. I’ll do what I can.

But you’re pretty great as you are!

Thank you for reading.


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