Self-Help Books – The Marmite of Literature

For someone as stubbornly independent as myself, the idea of reading a self-help book is somehow an insult to my intelligence. (Note: Stubborn independence is also another way of saying I like to think I’m cleverer than perhaps I actually am.)  Self-help books carry a certain stigma for a not inconsiderable portion of society. There are those, on the other hand, that swear by them and attribute much of their happiness and success to such books.  Self-help books are the Marmite of literature. To demonstrate this point, I typed the following phrase into a few popular search engines: “self help books are…” Take a look at the most common suggestions:

yahoo self help 2 google self help 2bing self help 2

While Yahoo offers some more positive options, the overwhelming negativity of Google users (incidentally the more popular search engine) is hard to ignore. And Bing users follow the Google crowd (unsurprisingly), though with a somewhat underwhelming use of vocabulary.

So, why don’t we like self-help books? As for my personal reasons, I have already mentioned one: I think I’m too clever and too independent to need advice on how to live my life from a book. In addition, the popularly negative opinion of the genre results in a sense of shame and embarrassment when choosing to buy or read such books.  In truth, while reading my newly bought copy of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers on the train earlier today, as the ticket conductor approached, my initial instinct was to hide the thing, throw it onto the adjoining seats and pretend it had been there long before I boarded, or else attempt to flush it down the train toilet – though such plumbing is often barely able to cope with the passing of its usual contents, let alone a whole book. In any case, association with such literature was to be avoided if at all possible – or so I thought. Continue reading

Selling Myself

About 4 years ago, I went through UCAS and encountered the innocuously named ‘Personal Statement’. Innocuous, it is not. For any of you who have gone through UCAS, you will know that it becomes the bane of your life. How do you sum up your life, your ambitions and your accomplishments in 4,000 characters – or 47 lines of text (including spaces)? Hours are spent poring over the 47 lines that can determine the success or failure of your university application. We must all learn to sell ourselves if we are to succeed.

And do you know what’s even more annoying? From that day forward, there will always be personal statements. Job applications, and pretty much any application for that matter, have sections dedicated to this same hideous task, reincarnated with titles such as “About Me” and “Tell us a little bit about yourself”. It is one of the most frustrating things you will ever write and not just because there is so much you will want to say and find the character counter thwarting you at every turn. The greatest frustration, for me at least, is maintaining what I have dubbed the ‘Confidence Equilibrium’.

Image(Not my best drawing so far.)

When you are applying for a job, or for a place at university, or pretty much anything, you cannot be modest – and this goes for both written applications and interviews. When you are being asked to sell yourself, you can never, in fact, be yourself. There is a version of yourself you are required to present, and not necessarily a version you would like to be. The applicant must balance their account of themselves carefully so as to not tip the see-saw too far in either direction. Drifting to the left side – excessive modesty – means you fail to demonstrate any confidence in your own skills, and if you don’t believe in yourself, why would a potential employer? On the other hand, drifting to the right – excessive self-confidence – appears like arrogance and any notes your interviewer makes on his mysterious clipboard as he analyses you may well read “egotistical ass”, and no one wants to work with one of them either.  So, how to achieve that illusive middle ground? It is attempting to master this skill that will haunt you throughout interviews in your young adult life.

“What is your biggest flaw?” This question is the bread and butter of interviewers, bread and butter that forms the tasty treat in a wildlife trap, luring in anxious interviewees. If you are honest about your flaws then you are in danger of taking yourself out of the running completely. You could go with “Do you know, I just can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I guess I’m just that good,” followed by an awkward attempt at laughter. Or you could go with the classic: say a flaw that isn’t really a flaw. Instead take this opportunity to present another positive about yourself, but in order to appear like you are still answering the question, present it negatively. “I’m just too much of a perfectionist”. This is simply false modesty by any other name and those who employ this tactic are, to my mind, cheating. If there is a right answer to this question, I haven’t found it yet.

Once I graduate, I will be faced with a sea of applications, interviews and auditions – I’m going to try and be an actress, I don’t think I’ve mentioned that yet – and I will be trying to sell myself. I’ll let you know how it goes!

If any of you have employed any of these or your own interview/application tactics I’d be interested to know how it turned out! Leave comments below! Thanks for reading!

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