Helping Me Help Myself by Beth Lisick - Book Review

Beth Lisick needs help. Her closets are a mess, her kid throws temper tantrums, her financial situation is bleak and her general lackadaisical mindset keeps her from being the ‘best that she can be.’ So Beth, being a writer and all, decides to chronicle her year of self-help programs. Simple enough. Except … Lisick is a sharp-tongued cynic. Her inclination is to pooh-pooh all the lemming-like followers in the church of self-help. Although she tries to squelch her inner Grand Pooh-Ba Cynic, she only slightly succeeds in her self-actualization, making her all the more endearing.

Let’s start with what I liked about Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone: Lisick has a welcome to my life honest tone. Though she’s sarcastic and blatant in her tale, she’s only mildly preachy a couple times. Initially I wondered if the book would be a skewering of self help gurus, but she only really attacks “Mars & Venus” marriage mentor John Grey and his followers.

I found myself scrutinizing alongside as she witnessed one medicine show after another. I could really identify with her less than deserving nature. I loved that she could be cynical, yet optimistic that they next big thing was on the horizon.

My favorite chapters cover exercise instructor extraordinaire, Richard Simmons and tell the future like it is, Sylvia Browne, though they’re not necessarily Lisick’s most needed advisers. Her excitement over Suze Orman had me pulling my copy of Orman’s book (unread) off my shelf and adding it to my TPR pile.

My qualms with Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone: Lisick is a fine storyteller. She got me all wound up about these gurus in each chapter. The problem? Each chapter ends abruptly, with unanswered question. I wanted to know what her final conclusions for EACH of the theories were. I don’t want to wait until the end to hear a generalized statement (and a really good one) on self-help. In fact, each chapter ended with rough transitions and began with indecipherable illustrations attempting an odd charade segue. The illustrations only served to distract, adding nothing, like those little weapons pieces in a Parker Brothers Clue game. And what happened in July and August? The omission of any self-help during those months was a total cop-out! I wanted Lisick’s opinions, but I think she played a safe card instead.

Straight up I have to say that I have a really hard time with the California-mindset people. They are so set in their own stereotypes, they don’t even know they are stereotyping (something they mock). Why only attack John Grey? It seemed to me that most of the self-help biz she described was a cart and pony live infomercial. But Lisick only really goes after Grey. I felt part of this was her own preconceptions about his following (of which I am of no part). And she kept talking about this cryptic fellow: BART. We don’t all live on the West Coast. I noted several Cali-references that most folks would need to Google.

Final qualm: There are too many name-droppings. I think this is another West Coast mindset thing. After all, networking is the backbone of the entertainment business. It’s easy to forget that we regular folks don’t always have to mention our third cousin, Bennie the rock star, in order to get our next paycheck. Lisick mentions her husbands business (by name) and seems all giddy to know someone who is related to Jack Canfield, getting her a free night’s stay with the self-help prince. I’m probably just being jealous there.

As I, myself, am a natural cynic and believer in the next best thing, I found Lisick’s year of self-discovery quite revealing on a personal note. I loved her take on the innate ridiculousness of the whole self-help thing (people setting guidelines for how others should live their lives and the audacity of spending big bucks on self-help with so many other basic needs unmet in the world). I enjoyed her style and tone and will most definitely be looking for more of her work. I especially loved her Afterword, copying a quote on "always trying to hit the sweet spot" into my own self-discovery journal. I’d recommend this title to anyone with a pile of unread self-help books. Basically, everyone.

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