Help Me! by Marianne Power: A Self-Help Quest

Outwardly Marianne Power’s life was fine, but deep down she felt unhappy and unfulfilled. An Irish freelance journalist living in London, she was 36 and single. “There has to be more than just working and paying bills and buying crap we don’t need,” she felt. She’d been an obsessive reader of self-help books for years – Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway inspired her to leave her temp job at age 24 – but she realized that she’d never implemented most of the books’ lessons. So instead of just reading self-help, she set out to do self-help, one book per month, for a year (though it ended up being longer) to see if she could truly change her life.

January was a baptism of fire. Jumping in with that old favorite, Jeffers’s Feel the Fear, Power listed things she was afraid of and then did one per day: an outdoor swim on New Year’s Day, nude modeling for an art class, parallel parking, standup comedy, and skydiving. In subsequent months she tackled her disastrous finances (Money, A Love Story), tested out the law of attraction (The Secret), practiced lots of rejection therapy, worked on relinquishing control (F**k It), attended a Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” seminar, and imagined what she’d want said at her funeral (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

There came a point in the year when Power had to admit she was physically rundown and emotionally shattered. Months spent focusing on herself had alienated her from friends and family – even her mum, a wonderfully matter-of-fact character who believes in just getting on with life instead of moaning about it. A trio of truly useful books (The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay) started to turn the tide, helping Power counter negative thoughts with positive affirmations and reminding her that self-help is futile because you can never go it alone. Being with other people who understand you, volunteering and exercise: these are the things that really help.

I have a particular weakness for year-challenge books, and Power’s is written in an easy, chatty style, as if Bridget Jones had given over her diary to testing self-help books for 16 months (“Do a budget, make a plan. Two phrases that made me break into a cold sweat”). If I have one tiny complaint, it’s that I might have liked a little more context on the books she chose. Help Me! is self-deprecating and relatable, with some sweary Irish swagger thrown in. I can recommend it to self-help junkies and skeptics alike.

My rating:

 

Favorite passage:

“The dangerous expectation that can be created by self-help books is that if you’re not walking around like a cross between Mary Poppins, Buddha and Jesus every day you’re doing it wrong. You must try harder. … The higher I was setting my standards the more I was feeling like a failure.”

(I also loved the pep talk from a taxi driver who got depressed when doing a PhD on Thomas Hardy!)

 


Full disclosure: Marianne and I are Facebook friends and she arranged for me to be sent a proof copy of Help Me! The finished book was released by Picador on September 6th.

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14 thoughts on “Help Me! by Marianne Power: A Self-Help Quest

  1. This sounds really good: I’ve seen more than one review of it now. But this chimed a lot: it’s what I’ve created in my life, basically: “Being with other people who understand you, volunteering and exercise: these are the things that really help.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds fun! i also like those year-long experiment books and have always been interested in self-help books. I listen to a podcast called By the Book where two ladies take a book to “live by” for two weeks and then talk about the results. They’re pretty funny and it’s good to get their take on books – they’re super candid about what worked and what didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This doesn’t sound like a terrific match for my reading taste but I enjoyed this peek inside it. The only year-long projects I like reading about in book-length terms are reading projects (go figure) although I do enjoy shorter pieces about self-improvement and am usually hatching some sort of new good habit of my own (which may be why I don’t feel I have time to read about other people’s projects along the same lines).I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Y’know, that’s probably often true for me too. Perhaps not far off that feeling of looking for other book-minded people in social groups only to find that their kind of book-mindedness doesn’t always indicate kinship. I’m trying to think of one that had a challenge element to it that did not feel a bit then — was it Jane Smiley or Francine Prose who read through all the Chekov stories, that one I enjoyed!

        Like

  4. This sounds like a fun read. And helpful for anyone who finds themselves trying to live by self-help books that aren’t working!
    I’ve often wondered, if I did a year long challenge, what would it be? How about you?

    Liked by 1 person

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