Self-Help Made Me a Monster

And How I Learned to Cope

I commute to work. I spend 30–45 minutes each morning and afternoon, traversing an 8-mile-long parking lot that is the 10 freeway. A lot of times, I’m eating Eggo waffles or cursing at motorcycles that pass me by. And a lot of times, I’m also listening to NPR and foreboding news of the future or the same 10 songs I have starred on SoundCloud.

I got sick of it. What a waste of time. So many hours going brain-dead in the car. I’m never getting that time back.

Until I discovered Podcasts. Well, until I was introduced to Podcasts. A friend turned me onto “Guys We F*cked” and the guest star of that day was Jon Ronson, the author of The Psychopath Test. I enjoyed that book, so I stuck around, and spent half an hour listening to his research on public shaming, and his funny banter with the two female hosts. I spent time in the car actually learning something new and I thought — I can never go back to NPR. Yes, I discovered Podcasts at 30. And yes, it was that novel and fantastic and life-changing.

I went on a Podcast binge. I was listening to comedians, actresses, CEOs, writers, artists, athletes, producers — people from all walks of life who were wildly successful and who were bestowing their precious life’s wisdom onto me, the subscriber. I started reading blogs from people I heard on these Podcasts, buying books they recommended, and reading articles they published on Linked-in or Business Insider. In other words, this new medium was feeding me Chicken Soup for the Commuter’s Soul and I shamelessly devoured it.

Here I was, armed with all this information I had never had before on how to be a boss, how to land my dream job, how to follow my creative passions. I felt pretty invincible. I had grown an ego.

A few days ago a friend posted a complaint in a Facebook group chat* about not being able to land a new job. With all this newfound hubris, I started rattling off advice:

“Is this the same resume you use for both science and public relations? Don’t do that.”

“Make a list of ideas on how you’d improve your workplace. Give it to your boss.”

“Look for the average pay of your position in this area, list your achievements this year and lobby for a raise.”

I started complaining to another friend in the group that ‘this isn’t what I would do, he must not care enough, blah blah blah blah’. And I was quickly brought back to reality by Friend #2.

“Ana, you didn’t ask any questions before doling out advice. Remember what position you’re coming from; you’ve had professional success. He is different than you and might really feel stuck.” I had overwhelmed my job-hunting friend with a load of advice that was not designed with him in mind — it was designed with ME in mind.

What I did was make someone else’s problem all about myself. I did what Ana would do, not what my friend would do. I put myself ahead of our friendship.

What I mistook for creative fire in my belly was really the pain of an inflated ego, ready to burst and break my ribs.

Even my boyfriend, who is part-time a Zen Master in my eyes, said, “Ana, you can sit there and judge your friends all the time for not doing what you would do, but it’s going to be a lonely life. If you care about your friendships, you’re going to have to learn to listen. And if they ask you for help, you have to learn to speak their language and give advice that way.”

It means nothing to be armed with information. What matters is what you do with it, and how you share it with the world. And all the self-help in the world isn’t going to stop me from being an egomaniacal monster.

I learned a huge lesson in humility that day. I took a card from Tamar Braxton and told myself to “take several seats”. Now, when I hear a problem, I try and take a moment and really listen before I react. I know the self-congratulatory feeling of telling someone “I told you so” or “why didn’t you take my advice.” But truly listening to a friend, without interrupting with my own opinions, and watching them sigh with relief to just share their experience, brings a feeling of true satisfaction that no “I told you so” can match.

*Warning: Facebook Group Messenger is where all the juicy stuff goes down