Above and beyond self-help

I’ve transcended the genre of self-help. Nowadays, I spend less time consuming the work of James Altucher, Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss et al. and more time reading books on history, philosophy and technology, more time consuming longform articles from a diverse array of sources. It’s not that anyone or anything from the genre has nothing more to offer me. It’s more that its primary virtues are sufficiently embedded in my mind. Of course, the obvious question is, “What are the ‘primary virtues’ of self-help?” To me, the answer is simple; an awareness of the possibilities and the confidence to pursue them. 

When I came out of full-time education I was clueless. (To start with, the only reason I even bothered going to college (or what Americans call “high school”) was to play basketball, which is funny when you realise that I’m 6’ 3” and live in the U.K..) In my final year, while other kids were writing personal statements, deciding what they wanted to study at university and guessing at what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives, I was busy playing the classic disinterested teen. I met encouragement from my tutor to do the same as my peers with an indifference that impresses me even now. Don’t be fooled though. My lack of drive wasn’t noble or spurred by some virtuous ideal. It wasn’t like I’d evaluated the offerings of society and the promises of higher education and realised they weren’t worth the effort. No, I was too lazy and ignorant to undertake such a rigorous decision making process.

So, college came and went, and I ended up going through many jobs in the following years—last count had me at twenty-something. Like many others getting their first taste of adulthood, I was listless, wandering with no purpose or ambition to guide me.

That changed when I read certain books from certain people, when I was exposed to the weirdness of normality, when I was shown that it was possible to live a life of your own making, when I realised that, if I was willing to make some sacrifices, I could become so much more than I was and was en route to becoming. From there, from that glimpse of the possible, everything has grown. But alongside this awareness of the possibilities, the books I read also nurtured my confidence. They taught me that most skills are learnt, not inherited, and that a transformation of trajectories results less from the benevolent intervention of Lady Fortune and more from a person’s actions and decisions. 

These are the ideas that I carry with me today, that are deeply embedded in my mind. These are the ideas that are evergreen, that need no more encouragement to take root. So my supposed “transcendence” is a lie. Transcendence involves a shift to a higher plane, a surpassing and an elevation. I haven’t surpassed or elevated myself above and beyond these concepts. I’ve just reached a stage where it’s impossible to forget them. I’ve seen too much to be able to be content with an average life. I know the possibilities, so I’ll never be satisfied with a regular job, a bounded income and a typical existence. I want something more because I realise there is something more. This, above all, is what self-help has taught me myself and the world.