Earlier this year I donated the majority of my self-development books to charity. Why? I realised there was nothing wrong with me. That my flaws, insecurities and monkey-mind are a part of who I am. That they didn’t need to be 'fixed’. That I was fine with them. So out the books went.
I haven't always felt this way.
Seven years ago I went through a really tough time. Over an 18-month period I lost a marriage, a house in an earthquake and a business. I was in debt. I had nothing. I was miserable. And I didn't feel great about myself, or my life.
Then one day I stumbled across ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne. I read the entire book on a Sunday afternoon. The chapter that resonated with me the most was that of ‘Gratitude’. As I closed the book I looked down. My dogs were curled up either side of me, their heads in my lap. And for the first time, in a very long time, I felt a sense of gratitude. Because no matter what I was going through I had the unconditional love of both my dogs. And a girl can’t ask for more than that.
I’m not sure how it happened but that book lead me down a path, or rather a rabbit hole. I started to consume books on happiness, inner peace and discovering my ‘why’. I devoured blogs talking about the same things. Everyone was writing about life transformation, inner peace and contentment from within. And for a girl who had nothing it made perfect sense.
At first this period of self-development helped a lot. I got off the couch. I realised happiness wasn’t going to be found at the bottom of a wine bottle. And I began digging myself out of the hole I was in.
I felt better. I was content. And great things started happening in my life again.
But there comes a time when the path to happiness turns into a long road that never ends.
My inbox started overflowing with articles on self-development, inner peace and personal growth. And I began to feel a sense of dread every time I opened an email.
When I started this journey I didn’t realise I had a mean girl, but now I could hear her everywhere. I didn’t realise I wasn’t supposed to feel as if I wasn’t enough, but I began to question if I really was. And I began to wonder if my monkey brain, that kept me entertained all day with amazing stories, should be dulled.
I analysed everything I said, did or thought. Was that my inner critic talking or was it the truth? Was it intuition or fear whispering to me? Did I need to journal for days about how I was feeling, or was it ok to move on without overthinking things?
I began to not open my emails. Or if I opened them I didn't read them. After a while I began unsubscribing. In time my inbox was completely empty, of all but a few newsletters a week. My chosen few.
Then I turned my attention to my bookcase.
We don’t own a lot of ‘stuff’ but we do have a lot of books. I love books. I will never be a kindle girl. I love holding books. I love turning the pages as I read. And I love having a bookcase full of them.
But there are only so many books a bookcase can hold.
So earlier this year, as I was trying to squeeze one more book onto the shelves, I knew some of them had to go.
I was never going to throw out my fiancé's crime books (if I ever go missing he will be the first suspect!). And I wasn’t prepared to give up my collection of auto-biographies of sports players (bet you didn’t know that about me!). The next shelf to contemplate was my ever growing collection of self-development books.
As I pulled each of them out, and turned them over in my hand, I realised most of them had been gathering dust. And that they were all telling me the same thing. That a part of me needed fixing.
But I thought the whole point was self-acceptance and learning to love ourselves just the way we are?
Now, before I go on, I am all for personal growth but there has to be a balance. You can only consume so much before it becomes all consuming. And for most of us there comes a point where we begin to follow, rather than think for ourselves.
I realised I was on that bandwagon. The bandwagon of following, rather than thinking. It’s easy to do when your social media feed is inundated with posts about the latest book one must read. Everyone is reading it and you think you should too.
There are two other reasons I donated my books to charity.
The first reason is due to my offline friends. You know the ones. They're the ones living in the 'real' world, rather than in the online bubble so many of us hang out in. Anyway, it turns out they are all as happy as Larry! Without a personal growth book in sight.
Yet the bloggers crowding my inbox were all tortured (and on a weekly basis) about something in their life . They weren't feeling aligned with their business. They weren't able to commit to a daily yoga practice. Or they had fallen off the wagon and eaten some sugar.
(Spoiler alert: You can solve any of these problems with a combination of the following. Candle burning. Oracle card reading. Mediation. And journalling).
Anyway. That definitely got me thinking.
The second reason is due to my fiancé. Without saying too much, he had one of those childhoods you would never wish upon your worst enemy. If anyone has reason to be a tortured soul he does. And he will admit that when he was younger this caused him to go on a path of self destruction. Until one day he realised that, if he continued, he would either end up dead or in jail.
So what did he do to turn his life around? In his words, "I stopped thinking about the shit stuff that had happened and just got on with living the life I wanted". He did once buy himself a self-development book. He got a chapter into it before announcing it was 'bullshit'. And that the author would have been better off spending his time walking in the mountains. Or swimming in a river. Because that's true therapy.
My shaven-headed, tattooed builder is one of the wisest people I know.
So back to these books.
In the end I did keep a few, but only those that I had read and gotten something from. The rest went to charity. With the hope that the person who reads them next actually needs to. That they implement what they learn. And that it helps them grow as a person.
These days I have gone back to reading the type of books I love. Books about soldiers and their brave lives. Escapades about living in the country with grumpy goats and bellowing cows. Personal memoirs. And my all-time favourite autobiographies of sports players.
I suspect many of you have your own collection of self-development books. If they are gathering dust, or sit unread, I want you to ask yourself why? My guess is because you don’t need to be fixed either. That you are pretty happy with the person you are. Warts, flaws and all.