The majority of the time I spend perusing bookstores, both the physical and online variety, is spent searching out titles in my favorite topics of Travel and Biography. However, like many, I find myself sheepishly feeling the gravitational pull to the end caps marked with some variation of “Self-Help,” “Self Improvement” or “Self-Betterment.”
The confusion over an agreed-upon genre classification seems a precursor to the daunting variety of guidance falling under this umbrella. Stacks of tactile titles and virtual search results in the genre renders an already unsettling subject more so. Contradictory guidance can leave one in a comical state not unlike observing a tennis match of protracted back and forth rallies. Do I not care at all what others think, or do I seek mentors? Do I create and work only as inspiration strikes, or power through sluggish periods in a strictly structured approach to maintaining output? The choices and advice stretch endlessly.
Recent domestic estimates put the self-help industry on pace for over $13 billion in revenue by 2021. The industry is made up of a buffet-style of mediums - each promising to solve for a lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, or lack of gratitude. A lot of us are scarfing down innumerable podcasts, books, seminars and videos to achieve that higher plane of realized existence.
That’s a lot of money and time spent on “doing the work.” Baby-stepping.
It is clearly a great business model for those in the field., and I assume the majority are well-intentioned Although, I do question if there is an intrinsic (perhaps subconscious) incompleteness to the structure of guidance provided. After all, if everything you need to know is found in the first book, why would you buy the second? Similar to how mobile software developers sit on certain new features so they have more in the chamber for the next release when an upgrade beckons.
As mentioned, I have been just as susceptible to the promise of a brisk 200-page read unlocking the nirvana of the optimal self. But I find myself repeatedly questioning the practical application of those I have consumed in daily life. Who can recall a specific example from Chapter 8 of a guru’s guidance, or that seven-minute stretch halfway through a podcast, when faced with a real existential challenge in the wilds of the day-to-day.
Instead, try adopting a more practical and honest method to achieve meaningful outcomes: pack your bag and travel. Ok, not something we can physically accomplish each day. However, a mental journey that recalls past travel experiences is the real effective trick. Approach each day as though it is the first day vacationing in a new and stimulating location.
The approach capitalizes on some of our strongest senses and memories. Which is more vivid, the last self-help book you read or that first morning you stepped on the streets of Paris and managed a successful first order at a café on the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés?
I argue that we have already realized a close-to-ideal version of ourselves, we often just forget to pack it up with us for the journey back home.
When we travel…
We are energized. Jet-lag aside, the ratio of mornings spent snoozing the alarm clock on the road versus at home, is no contest. There is time to sleep when you are back home.
We are curious. We want to learn. We study the key phrases of the local language. We sign-up for that cultural tour. We visit the museums. We activate our sponge.
We are open. Days are spent attempting to fill as many new experiences into the hours as possible. One new experience only heightens the desire to find another before the trip’s conclusion.
We are empathetic. As a traveler, you have no choice but to accept your role as a global citizen. Acknowledging cultural differences and allowing oneself to be exposed to eye-opening realities outside of the comforts of your daily routine.
We are vulnerable. We let down our guard and concede that we do not know everything or have every answer. The result is the acceptance of the gratitude of strangers and growth as a result of it.
We are adventurous. How many times while traveling have you uttered some version of the phrase, “I can’t believe I’m doing this?” We stretch our comfort levels in the spirit of living in the moment. Often justifying it with the recognition that we “may never get this chance again.”
We are more carefree. General safety precautions aside, we cast aside our expectations of what is “normal” and are more accepting of events as they come. We develop a heightened sense of the universal truth that the majority of daily events are out of our control.
Each of these on their own results in, arguably, a more well-rounded approach to a life well-lived.
Always remember, any step-by-step self-help guidance you watch, read, or listen to is merely a re-telling of someone else’s successful method. An approach that worked for them. To read too much into a personalized approach to a very personal quandary is likely to be met less with practical success and more likely, idealistic hoping.
Instead, put yourself in a time and place where you were truly content, honestly happy and a little inquisitive.
Many love travel because they can embrace a sense of mystery and adopt a version of “whoever I want to be.” You tell yourself, I will likely never encounter these people again. In truth, this approach should apply every day. The option to choose who we wish to be each day is readily there for the taking. Why aren’t we choosing the best version? It just needs to be called upon.
See each day as a journey, pack the right approach for it, and enjoy the ride.