If the title (or the cover) makes you smile, then you will enjoy the book. For not only is this a sober review of self-help (personal and professional) literature which also sits well in the genre it is mocking, but it is also a funny book.
HELP! addresses most of the areas covered by self-help, pop psychology and pop business books such as Productivity, Wellbeing etc. My favourite chapter title has to be "Follow Me: Gurus, God-Men and other questionable characters." This chapter starts with the author's visit to the Church of Scientology and continues with his observations on concepts and books such as Emotional Freedom Technqiues, "The Secret" and numerous ones built around the number seven.
Oliver Burkeman might well be preaching to the converted, but he manages to extract the most achievable methods and those concepts based around common sense. Here are my favourite.
FORGET ABOUT PASSION
Is looking for your "passion" more hassle than it's worth?
I'm very lucky that I have built my professional career around things that I care about and enjoy. Many people say I'm passionate - perhaps what they mean is that I am over-excited too often. I know many people who just really like their work; or some who are just happy there; and some for whom work is a means to an end. They are all happy, yet none of them are following their "passions".
Burkeman goes even further and warns of the dangers of always searching for passions that are out there, rather than exploring different ways of doing what you're already doing that will bring you satisfaction. In any case, he much prefers Csikszentmihalyi's concept of "flow", the complete immersion in an activity that makes time whizz by. I agree. I can't say that I am passionate about spreadsheets but time never seems to go as fast as when I'm tackling my accounts. And you know what? I do enjoy it.
"We don't need new information on how to be happy anywhere near as much as we need a dose of perspective."
NOT BEING A SPECIALIST IS O.K.
This one is very close to my heart. I have so many professional interests... I am quite good at some, o.k. at most and I have acknowledged that I'll never be any good at the others so have adopted them as hobbies.
So why shouldn't I celebrate that I have a broad range of interests and skills? Well, for one, it makes it really difficult to talk to people about what I do. It's makes it difficult to market my services. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in what I'm talking about (some would say "passionate") and I run the danger of coming across as unfocused.
So I was glad to be reminded, that, actually, it's o.k. not to be a specialist. Having a conversation about this the other day, someone said: "But surely having a broad range of careers is the way forward, Charles Handy talked about a portfolio career." Yes, he did and I welcomed it ten years ago. What he didn't mention is that sometimes you have to hide some portfolios and choose which to show to whom. Only sometimes though.
THE SECRET IS OUT:
"Psychological studies support [...] that the people we follow as leaders are the ones who decide they've got what it takes to lead."
INDIVIDUALS: TAKE CONTROL.
Lastly, I also welcomed the reminder that, even though the world seems to have gone a bit mad and information is constantly demanding our attention, we are still in control (or at least, can still be in control) of whether we process it or not.
"Information overload" is a questionable complaint: if we couldn't handle vast amounts of information, we'd have a breakdown each time we stepped into nature or a busy street. The real trouble is that we have defined too many things as worthy of having the power to distract us. The best time-management strategies are about reclaiming this power.
This book might not change your life, but then, that's not what it promises. However, it will remind you of the need to question those who promise to turn your life around in 200 pages. Furthermore, it can also serve as a pointer to plenty of other interesting stuff and, after consideration, you might even find that some of the ideas can indeed help you to "become slightly happier and get a little bit more done."
Above all, I hope it will make you think and I hope it will make you smile.
P.S. Thanks Amazon, for your Kindle Daily Deal - otherwise I wouldn't have come across or purchased this great title.