How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Stop with the Self-Help Books Already!

Asking questions, a Google search, a few tricks, and a few books may be all you need. Read More

Just ordered...

Thanks to your article, I just ordered The Call of Nursing for my niece, who is a nurse who is disenchanted with her current job. I'll read it first, though. Glenn

Misplaced Hope

"Hope springs eternal," that is the reason why we
get a neverending series of self help books,
each proporting to have THE ANSWER. It's simply
rearanging old window dressing, or decorating a prison
cell. SELF STUDY is the only answer.


I too like self-reflection but I do think that articles are a wonderful way of getting new input. They'e time-effective and because they can be posted online instantly, they're current. Frankly, I love writing for in part because I can take my best current ideas and have them read by lots of people instantly.

A lot of popular self-help

A lot of popular self-help books out there, are written in very simplified and persuasive ways to purposely get people’s attention, feeling good about themselves, and not always explaining the complexity of nature. On the other hand, they have helped promote a positive attitude in the larger society (which does sometimes need to see things simplified and especially under stress) and helped some people get rich lol.

I think it is great how you suggest what I think are more intelligent approaches to seeking wisdom. Drawing from experience and psychological research, I would also add that getting "alone time" also is important and helps. We must also remember that that what we think life is are nothing more than a compilation of stories we have gathered in our cognition and so we need to be aware of what stories we seek and remember that they are others stories.

Yes, self-reflection

I like your addition of self-reflection to the list of ways to grow I wrote about. Thank you.

Self-help books

That's how I feel about self-help books, too. But when I wrote one, it was the culmination of thirty years of working with - literally thousands - of anxious fliers.

If you work with that many people on one problem, try to help them, and genuinely listen o their feedback on what works and what doesn't, you come to a point where you can offer a self-help book that actually does the job.

I wrote a self help book

I wrote a self help book which I actually finished but never published because I don't feel quite good about it and haven't had the time to look at it. Part of the problem is that I feel like i have grown above it and feel like I can't teach what I don't practice. I think part of the problem is that there are many ways of doing things particularly when we are dealing with people that are complex and live in complex environments

I agree.

Good point, Tom. Yes, the book that reflects experience with many people regarding a single problem can be invaluable. Thanks for offering that good point.

self help challenge

My experience with reading lots of self help book is that it became so much part of how I understood, heard, saw and presented myself in the world over 20 years that I actually failed to notice that I actually wasn't practicing self help. Was humorous to realize that I was fooling myself for so long

Kind of like so many people that talk about God all day long but really don't embody spiritual teachings.

So my challenge right now is, less info, more practice.

Love your comment

Right. People fool themselves into thinking they're working on improving themselves when all they're doing is reading. Right also re God.

More on Bios?

I'm a biographer (for kids and teens) and was intrigued to see your comment about them. Can you say any more about how they can he helpful or some of the strong points of the books you listed? Thanks.

Why biographies?

Humankind is moved to behavior by stories, human stories, because they're concrete and don't feel preachy. And because people about whom biographies are written have accomplished more than people we probably will ever get to know well, their stories are both more credible and the keys to their success and lessons from their failures may be more powerful and presented with more nuance than we'd find in a how-to writer such as me. Finally, while we, in theory, could learn much from those in our sphere, we may not have the perspicacity nor interviewing ability to discern all that governed their behavior. A good biographer attempts to provide that.

Thank you. Would you mind if

Thank you. Would you mind if I quote you for a newsletter I edit for an international organization of biographers (including several Pulitzer Prize winners)? Here's a link to the most recent issue:


I'd be honored. In that you'll be using it, I have taken the liberty to buff it up a bit. Of course, feel free to not use the revised version but I hope you'll like it a touch better.


Thank you. I might not use the whole quote, and I might use something from the original article too, but I think our members will appreciate the notion of biography as self-help! Thanks again.

Dr Dorothy Rowe 'Beyond Fear' and other titles

Dr. Dorothy Rowe's Beyond Fear' (and other titles) is the best book I have ever reas


With regard to fear, if you would like to read the introduction and first two chapters of "SOAR: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying" go to and login with the username soarbook and the password 54321

'Beyond Fear"

this book is about having the courage to acknowledge and face our fears - the dangers of denying our feara - and about how introverts and extraverts (which she defines more clearly, for instance how shy extraverts and outgoing introverts can be confused how they see things differently)and how they deal with fear, etc. how to tell which you are. It is basic common sense which you will realise as you are reading - things that you knew all along but may have been made uncertain thrown off track by current belief trends, etc.

King Book Not Appropriate

I'd like to point out that Ntozake Shange's biography of Coretta Scott is for children ages 4-8. This might be misread as tokenism. There are plenty of noteworthy minority biographers for adults. Two of my favorites are A'Lelia Bundles (On Her Own Ground: The Life of Madam C.J. Walker), and Valerie Boyd (Wrapped In Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston).

Thank you.

That was an error. Thank you so much for fixing it. I will replace it immediately.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 

Subscribe to How To Do Life

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.