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What's Stopping You?: Why Smart People Don't Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can Paperback – 20 Jul 2012
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′Commonsensical advice for the intelligent reader’ (Management Today, June 2012)
′A good book to dip in and out of if you have a fear of failure or have confidence issues….a fluent, readable style’. (Talk Business, August 2012)
“This book will resonate with anyone, from student to senior manager, who doubts their ability or worries that they are not capable or could achieve more with the opportunities that have been presented to them.” (Nursing Times, February 2016)
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I am cynical and not easily fooled, especially when it comes to anything self help related.
I bought this on a punt (as in a gamble, not a boat ride) as an audiobook when it first came out, and I wish I had left a review then as it didn't have any yet and the author probably could have done with it. I don't normally review anything as I am very cynical (did I mention that?) and don't like endorsing anything unless I am 100% convinced about it - and even then I'd rather not. But the truth is I think it's taken me a couple of years to realise just how much this book has changed my life. I don't mean that in a silly "lottery win" type way, I'm not suddenly good looking and rich (typical high-FF fantasizing), I am still near the beginning of my journey to recovery, but now I have a map which enables me to navigate my own way out of my troubles rather than waiting for someone to come along with a 'cure'. It has shown me some of the most pathetic sides of myself, but in doing so has given me my self respect. And with self respect you can start to build a life.
After having tried so many self help books and audiobooks over the years, I was considering writing a blog myself about what works and what doesn't, what I think is snake oil and what is worth a try. But not only had Robert Kelsey beaten me to it, he has taken it to levels I never would have thought of. It acts partly as a distillation of other self-help books (and I think actually citing his sources directly instead of just rehashing their stuff as his own is SO much to Kelsey's credit) and psychological theories, science and techniques, and partly as a guide through the minefield of hype (it is firmly on the science/psychological side, but not at all heavy going). But it goes one better, it puts it all together into a usable and practical guide, and throws a few paradigm-shifting revelations in for good measure (and believe me, after spending years obsessing over my own shortcomings, it never occurred to me that I was a High-FF or that it would even have such a strong relationship with so many of my other problems - but it absolutely makes sense).
What I also like about it is that actually the book is fairly thin (at least compared to books by say Tony Robbins or Stephen Covey), but I like that because it has a high signal to noise ratio - it has a lot of high quality info packed into short chapters with no waffle or filler. He gets in, gives to you good stuff, and gets out. I have to admit the second edition contains case studies, which have always been a bug-bear of mine, particularly in the self help genre. I couldn't care less about Stacey and her problems with her flatmate, I hope Stacey trips on her Ikea rug and twists her ankle. (I've made that one up, and I'm only kidding about Stacey's ankle. She's not even real. Get a grip. (that's a rug joke)). However, I realise Kelsey can't win on this front as other people have asked for them, and in fairness I think he's done a good job of making them short (half a page or so) and relevant.
This book is no-nonsense, it is not woolly, it is not about getting you to buy products or believe in a certain system. It presents you with the facts, some very harsh but liberating, and suggests very practical ways of overcoming these issues. Kelsey doesn't give you a ride to your destination, he teaches you to drive and hands you the keys. Which is SO much more liberating.
And just to be clear, I'm not talking about the book helping me to stop being a bit lost in life, I'm talking about pulling me out of severe recurring depression (diagnosed and on meds for years), where I was literally at the point of attempting suicide. Along with some of the common companion problems of rage, guilt, shame, etc, etc. Please understand, if you are suffering from these things, this book cannot offer you an instant cure, do whatever you have to do to stay alive and functioning in the short term, but over the medium to long term it will help you have the strength and self-understanding to realise *why* you are like it, and although it can't take those initial feelings away, it will teach you how to recognise those feelings as the impostors they are, and how to deal with them. I first bought the audiobook one day when living on my friends couch for two months, starting to run up a credit card bill again, and phoning in sick at work when I wasn't. I was desperate to know *why* I kept doing these things to myself, and it was like I had downloaded Yoda onto my iPod (but much better spoken). I put my earphones in and Robert Kelsey answered my question directly.
I eventually bought both the ebook and a hard copy. Not because I'm some zealous new recruit to his cause, but because there so much good information here I like to have it at hand in whichever format is suitable - I can listen while walking or driving, I can read the book at home, or I can read it on my phone during a lunch break. It's not that the ideas are complicated, just that I think one of the dangers of being high-FF for me is that even if I do encounter a "life altering" revelation, my brain will attempt to conveniently forget about it and slip back into old habits, which is just a way of avoiding and procrastinating on putting it into action.
By the way, please don't be put off by the term high-FF. It sounds like jargon but it is not, it is just shorthand for people with high fear of failure (although that in itself only describes part of the problem). The book is quite jargon free.
I also have What's Stopping You Being More Confident (What's Stopping You?) which I can recommend as a follow up, but I would highly recommend reading this one first. I also have the audiobook of Get Things Done: What Stops Smart People Achieving More and How You Can Change which I have to say was perfectly fine but I've already read a lot about time management and it didn't give me anything new (just to prove I'm not a complete sycophant). My next purchase will be The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders which I have high hopes for. But my point in listing these other books is, I do recommend checking out the author's other works if you find this book useful.
So in summary, my advice is, if you are even thinking about buying this book (I can't imagine why else you would be reading this) then just buy it. It is by far one of the better quality books on the market about self esteem/self destruction/whatever you want to call it. Maybe it will not turn out to be what you are looking for, but I can vouch for the fact that it is top quality, and I suspect that the central problem that it discusses is in fact the cause of an overwhelming number of 'conditions', personality disorders and other problems that are usually diagnosed and treated separately. When in fact they are just symptoms of this central issue.
Thank you Robert for sharing what you've learned, best of luck to you.
Though I can certainly see the logic of this, for me, the book had two main problems. One is that personally I didn't warm to Robert Kelsey and his own story (though lots of other reviewers did, I notice with relief). Kelsey writes a lot about his struggles to deal with his career in finance and then writing and publishing a novel and I found it a bit hard to really feel for him as a 'under-achiever' when clearly he has achieved a lot (he now runs his own PR company).
Secondly, and for me more serious a criticism: I felt that much of the text was made up of sections from other self-help books. Kelsey is totally open about this - he quotes from writers he finds inspirational, studies and statistics too, but I just felt that it ended up feeling a bit like a compilation or review of other books without much to amaze, enlighten or interest me.
The irony is that in all the case studies he gives absolutely grounded, intelligent advice to the people he deals with and I imagine that in real life I would find him convincing and charming. But I just didn't really like the book.
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