Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Self-Help Edition

The last book I read last year was Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, and it opened up a floodgate of self-help books (though it is more of a marketing/business book). Turns out that the most-hyped self-help books are often the ones least deserving of said hype (The Secret, anyone?).

choose yourself book

Choose Yourself, James Altucher

The problem with this book is that it is very nearly insensible. It explains that the the workforce is no longer people working in factories their whole lives and veers off into a strange place where all bosses hate all their employees. I agree that the jobs of the fifties are not the jobs we have now, and that a different set of skills is required if one seeks to get a job. However, I don’t think bosses the world over hate their employees and spend their day trying to figure out how to get rid of them. Choose Yourself is supposedly about self-empowerment (a good example is a writer who self-publishes her books) and standing up for oneself. However, it is riddled with really odd examples and stream-of-consciousness chapters that made little sense.

Verdict: Bypass. Surely there are better books on all topics covered here.

The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss


This is another book that very nearly makes a lot of sense, but doesn’t really. The elephant in the room as far is this book is concerned is a little degrading to the reader. The gist of the book where I stopped reading was “outsource your work to India because you aren’t really doing anything important.” This way, you free up 36 hours of your work week, and can consult for start-ups and work out and do stuff in the free time now available. Of course, it helps if you have a nice office job to begin with, where most of your workload, apparently, is answering emails.

Together with Choose Yourself, this book seems to say: “First: be a white guy in an office job that pays well. Now, try to get out of that job but still make the money you are now.” Of the two, The 4-Hour Work Week is better, as parts of it were sensible and can motivate people to at least be more productive at work. But still.

Verdict: Bypass. Unless you are a white guy in a well-paying office job where the boss hates you and you can outsource all your work and still get paid by using this one clever thing on the internet (there, now you don’t even have to read the book).

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport

so good they can't ignore youYou’d think I would have stopped after the books above. No, I bought yet another self-help book by a white guy. But holy smokes was it worth it! This is an actual self-help book. It challenges the notion that we should all “follow our passions” when it comes to career choices because, let’s face it, otherwise we’d all be chasing careers as professional bacon-eaters. Newport uses the myth of Steve Jobs’ career (spoiler: he did not follow his passion, or he would have ended as a meditation guru on a farm in California instead of founding Apple) to emphasize this point.

It counters this rather vague but enticing advice of “just follow your passion” with a more sensible outlook towards work: Gradually become good enough at something that people pay you for that a) makes you happy and b) is fulfilling for you in some way.

I work in the travel business and see countless people say that they are quitting their jobs to travel the world because it’s “their true passion.” They start blogs and update them daily with photos from all over the world and then, later, from all over Thailand because, well, Thailand is cheap and until this travel thing really gets rolling they need to save money. That is usually the last post because they aren’t going to admit that they moved back home and are now selling used cars. These people need this book. (To be fair, I also see a few make it).

Verdict: Buy. Buy, buy, buy. It will change your outlook towards your job and your career. Get extra copies for friends. This is an excellent book to give to people graduating from college or people with doubts as to what they want to do with their life.


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