I want to be successful in my career. Who doesn’t? Everyone wants to be successful. But sometimes we don’t know how to deal with a problem, then we seek advice from others like our elders or books etc. A lot of people, especially youngsters, try to read books which can be broadly categorized into Personality Development or Self Help books to become a better person.
That’s a wonderful thing because life is too short to make all the mistakes by yourself and learn from them. Most of the problems we face today might have already been faced by lot of other people, and they might have figured out how to handle them in a better way. So, it is best to learn from those experiences instead of doing the same mistakes again.
Having said that, I am not reading any Personality Development or Self Help books anymore. In my personal experience many of those self-help books either giving false sense of enlightenment or confused me more.
Before you jump to conclusions please read the article completely.
I have no disrespect to those books or those authors. Some of those books might have helped millions of people. So, if you are planning to read such Personality Development or Self Help books, by all means go for it.
1. Getting into the wonderful world of Personality Development books
Around the year 2011 one of my colleague introduced me to these Personality Development books. He suggested few books like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari , Who Will Cry When You Die? and The Alchemist etc.
By the year 2011, I was 7 years experienced software developer whose only goal is to become successful in career. I was getting good at tech, started blogging and people started recognising me as a “Geek”…I was in my prime time. I used to spend both weekdays and weekends learning and practicing new technologies. Haven’t visited my family much, didn’t spend much time with friends, haven’t gone to places to visit…Nothing.
I started reading The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and it was amazing. The book describes what we miss if we ONLY focus on our careers and that was the first time I realized there is more to life. I completed the book and I really liked the book. But, I didn’t really follow everything suggested in the book such as staring at a rose flower for 30 minutes in the morning :-).
After that I start reading a couple of other Robin Sharma’s book such as Who Will Cry When You Die?, Leadership Wisdom. While they are also good, I see a lot of same content in every one of his books. The context might differ but by and large the advices are same.
With a bit of disappointment because of same repetitive content, I switched to reading “The Alchemist”. Yes, we should do what makes us happy. We shouldn’t waste time doing things which we don’t make us happy… right?
Well, the office politics, unrealistic deadlines, nobody gives a shit about the code quality etc all makes me less passionate about software development. I should be doing something that I love, as said in The Alchemist.
Oh wait…I started reading these books to become more successful right? But now I am deviating from that. Probably I need to understand how people think so that I can better handle office politics.
So, I upped my game by reading Psychology books.
2. From “Self Help” books to “Psychology” books
As you probably guess the first book I read was How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s an excellent book and there are lots of tips and tricks about how to, well, win Friends and influence people. One thing that I would like to change is the title of that book to “How to make business by influencing people”. I want my friends and family to accept me as I am. IMO, business and human relations are not supposed to be treated in the same way.
I went on reading I’m OK – You’re OK, Thinking, Fast and Slow and few other books and I start feeling enlightened. I kinda went into “I kow what you are thinking” mode. I was constantly thinking what the other person is going to say next, what reply will I get if I sent this email, what should I say so that they won’t even think of messing with me etc etc…basically over thinking…all the time…
Did it help? Nope. No matter how much I think and analyse about people and situations I always get surprises. People behave differently in different times and situations.
As if this is not sufficient I started reading Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. After reading those I felt like a badass. But the reality is I was exactly same as before with an illusion of being a badass!!!
Slowly I started to understand that no matter how much smartly I think, there will always be things out of my control. But these books makes you believe that you got it all, you can turn any situation into what you want it to be. If you have a strong will and determination you can do anything you want. But the practicality doesn’t seem like that.
After reading all these Personality Development, Self Help and Psychology books I was in more confused state than I was. I don’t know whether I should do what I love, do what makes me successful, what if my value system is in conflict with what to do to become successful etc etc… all sorts of questions without any answers and with lots of confusion.
3. Why those Personality Development, Self Help books doesn’t help me?
Despite giving good suggestions in all those Personality Development, Self Help books why they haven’t helped me much? Instead, why they made me more confused? I think it is because those book doesn’t take my personality into account and suggest general guidelines which may or may not work for you. These books tell you, you are unique and special. You can do anything you want, all you need is strong will and determination..etc etc.
But, in my opinion the core nature of a person doesn’t change no matter what you do. You can read some books and try to behave differently for few days and you will be back to your original nature in few days.
For example, I am an introvert. I can read some books and try to socialize more. I can go to few events and even start talking to strangers applying all theories I read in books. After a couple of such attempts I got exhausted because I hate such events. I don’t like talking to strangers. I love spending time with people I want to hang out. I just don’t like attending events and putting an artificial smile on my face for two hours, come back home and take a headache pill. That’s me. Unless there is a need I don’t want to change. I am happy being an introvert, I don’t need to become an extrovert because those books told me so.
And, “you can achieve whatever you want” is just a lullaby song to make you happy. If those authors are honest they should tell you “It is going to be a damn hard, you will have to bust your ass off to achieve that and yet in addition to lots of hard work you need some luck a.k.a being in the right place at right time”. But they don’t say it.
At one point of time, I start wondering maybe I am not getting those books right. Especially, after Warren Buffett said how much “How to Win Friends & Influence People” book helped him made this feeling even stronger. But, I have friends who are of my same age, few years older and few years younger too who read these Personality Development books. Guess, what they say about those books?? Yes, they will make you believe “You are special and nothing can stop you”, but it’s far from the truth. BTW, if you keenly notice what Warren Buffett said, it is in the context of doing business.
All in all, I would say take those book suggestions with a pinch of salt.
Then finally, on a friend’s recommendation I read THE ONE BOOK that blew away all the crap out of my brain and introduced me to the reality.
4. The One Book that changed my life forever
My friend suggested a Telugu novel titled Asamardhuni Jivayatra.
I am sure I can’t describe the whole essence of the book in few words, so I would quote the brief about the book on Wikipedia:
This novel, originally written in Telugu and published in 1947, came at a time of personal despondency and national turmoil. Gopichand created a unique anti-hero, a wealthy feudal landlord who delights in helping others. Soon he becomes impoverished and expects gratitude and help from those he had earlier aided. He develops a grudge against the world. His split personality advocates now one point of view and then its exact opposite. The novelist achieves the interiorization of the outer and the externalization of the inner world of a character as no one has ever done before him in Telugu literature.
The book is translated into English with title The Bungler.
Usually, when we watch a movie or reading a book we associate ourselves with the the good guy in the story. We believe we always do the right thing, even if we do something wrong there is a good reason for it. That’s what we tell ourselves.
In the book the author starts the story from the main character perspective and describe how great his thoughts are and unknowingly we associate ourselves with him. Then slowly the narration switches to others perspective and you start seeing the main character in a totally different way. Along the way you see different points of view about the life, people, good and bad and everything else. By the end of the book I felt like there is no good or bad. It depends on the perspective you see.
This book is not a fun evening read, it’s filled with complex psychological views and specifically makes you realize you are not special or even right. You are as good as everyone else. You are behaving good as long as it fits and the moment you feel you are in trouble you will be as bad/selfish as anyone else.
This quote from The Dark Knight summarizes it perfectly.
You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.
5. What about “Productivity” books?
I don’t have much opinion on the “Productivity” books because I haven’t read much of those type of books. I only read “The Atomic Habits” and it is really a good book. Instead of giving magical tricks, this book suggests a path to become better in a gradual and realistic approach.
We optimize for different things at different stages of our lives. Until few years ago I tried to optimize my routine for becoming successful, but not anymore. At this point of my life I am looking for leading a balanced and happy life than a successful life.
If you think, can’t I be successful and happy too? Always remember everything comes with a price. Being successful is a trade-off for something else in life. Don’t believe me, ask someone who is very successful.
For me not being in a hurry and being able to chill without having to be productive all the times is part of balanced and happy life. So, I am not really keen on squeezing productivity out of every second in my life. I don’t really bother about those productivity gurus saying “Don’t waste your life by simply watching Netflix throughout the day”. I work hard over the years to have that luxury of “Just chilling for a couple of days whenever I want to”. This is payback for my hard work.
The lifestyle of “Keeping a tight schedule and making every second count” is not for me.
6. Finally, my own philosophy for myself
After reading all those books and learning from my own life, I settled on my own simple philosophy.
- I am unique like everyone else, but I am not special. I am not entitled to be treated specially.
- I am selfish like everyone else. I try to be good by not harming anyone else intentionally. That is more than enough.
- What I see as correct is based on my understanding of it as of now, I could be wrong. So no need to behave I am right always. Accept the fact that I could be wrong.
- Don’t hold on to your beliefs so strongly as they keep changing over time.
- There is thin line between Being Positive vs Being Stupid and Being Negative vs Being Realistic. Don’t be stupid thinking you are being positive.
More importantly, “Accept myself as I am. My strengths, my weaknesses, my good habits, my bad habits, my selfishness”. You can go on try to change the world around you applying all those wonderful and magical solutions mentioned in those Self Help books to become successful.
But, happiness comes from with-in. For that to happen one need to accept the way they are. There is a big difference between improving yourself and pretending to be someone else by imitating the behaviours suggested in the books. Try to improve, don’t imitate.
Finally, I would leave you with this wonderful and funny video on Self Help books :-)