Marianne Power’s book “Help Me!” starts with a bad hangover that leads to a life-changing odyssey in self help.
One morning in the winter of 2014, the Irish journalist realized she’d made a few too many unfortunate decisions in life. At 36, she was in debt, perpetually single, and always worried. The hangover wasn’t helping, either. Feeling bad about herself, she pulled a self help book from under her bed and flipped through the pages.
“It was just one particularly brutal hungover Sunday that I was reading another self-help book and just had this idea that, enough, stop reading these books and carrying on the way you’ve always done. Spend a year actually putting them to the test,” Power told NBC News BETTER.
Power created a strategy: Every month for a year, she’d read a new self-help book and follow its advice. Afterwards, she’d write her own book about what she learned.
“I thought it was really neat and clever, and that by the end of the year I’d be this perfect person,” she recalls.
In “Help Me!,” Power self-deprecatingly chronicles confrontations with many of life’s biggest challenges — from conquering phobias, to dealing with romantic rejection, to tackling debt, and overcoming anxiety, all with mixed results. Here’s what she discovered.
It’s possible to overcome your worst fear
Power, who lives in London, began her journey in January with a self-help book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” The book’s author Susan J. Jeffers encourages readers to do something that scares them every day.
Determined to overcome all her worst fears, Power made a list of everything that scared her and resolved to confront one a day. Among a series of nail-biting adventures, she skydived out of an airplane in the dead of winter, and performed a live stand up comedy routine in a London nightclub, which she says terrified her.
“A bit of me didn’t actually believe I was going to do that, but I did,” Power says. “And not only did I do it, it went well and people laughed, and I will just never forget the feeling of pride afterwards.”
She was in denial about money
In February, Power read “Money, a Love Story,” by Kate Northrup. The book forced her to confront her increasingly unmanageable debt. She says it was a painful but eye opening experience: her money woes were a lot bigger than she realized.
“I thought that my problem with money was I just didn’t have enough of it,” Power says. “And I really didn’t realize what an emotional topic it is, and how with money I would totally be someone who would win the lottery and end up broke again in four years.”
We can learn from self help, but tread carefully
Throughout “Help Me!” Power is frequently blinded by the exhilarating promise of self help: that it’s possible to be better, as long as you try.
Now, she realizes there’s “real wisdom” in self help books, but says it’s important to keep in mind that self-help is a multiple billion dollar industry.
“And that industry is based on the fact that you don’t buy just one book or go on one self help course,” she says. “You buy the next book, and you book the longer course, and so it’s something that we have to be careful of because nothing is ever going to be a magic answer.”
The journalist still loves self help books, but no longer considers them a cure-all.
“And I don’t read the books that tell me the 10 things I should be doing before breakfast to be a successful person, but I still do like reading the books that help me understand a bit about human life and our challenges and our struggles,” she says.
She’s only human
Power’s year of self-improvement didn’t make her a happier, perkier person, she says, but it did make her wiser.
“There’s definitely stuff that needed addressing, but I didn’t need to change every bit of myself,” Power reflects. “What I needed to do was get to know myself and accept myself, and that as humans we are messy and we have good days and we have bad days, and we have strengths and we have weaknesses, and that’s fine.”
Relationships matter most
Power, now 41, learned that no amount of self help can make up for the love of family and friends, who she acknowledges she had a tendency to push away during her journey to become a more perfect someone. Now, she says she’s a lot more focused on the people she loves.
What I needed to do was get to know myself and accept myself, and that as humans we are messy and we have good days and we have bad days, and we have strengths and we have weaknesses, and that’s fine.
“The kindness that came from my friends and family and also strangers throughout the year was probably more important than the books,” says Power. “We need each other. I need people, it turns out. We all do.”
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