“Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing.” The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
In the comments for my post “The Quiet Ones,” Loribeth asked if I had read the book “Quiet.” As it so happened, shortly after I wrote that post (one of my all-time favorites), I had a long layover at an airport and found “Quiet” in a nearby book kiosk. It seemed a happy circumstance, and I began reading it.
There is much to enjoy about “Quiet,” but I particularly liked Cain’s description of self-help gurus, including Tony Robbins. What is most interesting about “Quiet” is that it dispels many a conventional wisdom, like the commonly-held belief that extroverts make the best leaders and most persuasively, that the American tradition of self-help is one that is at odds with much research, as well as our own personalities.
I believe that the most seductive and destructive fantasies in our culture involve the belief that if we just change something fundamental about ourselves, we will become better. If we can buy into the latest weird health trends, we will become thin, and our husbands will love us more. If we get Botox, we will remain young and relevant. Most especially, the idea that we can overhaul our personalities to become different, more successful people is disturbing. We’re told in the media that we should follow the advice of success stories like Suze Orman and Tony Robbins, who frankly have had their own bizarre and completely unique paths to success. Tony Robbins is most likely, according to Susan Cain, a “hyperthymic:” a kind of super extrovert characterized by one psychiatrist as possessing “exuberant, upbeat, overenthusiastic and overconfident lifelong traits.” His own personality is most likely unusual, and it’s really cool that he used his unique traits to become very successful. But I personally, could never be more “like him.” Why try to be something we’re not?
In other words, “Fitter, happier, more productive.” To quote my beloved Radiohead.
In “Gone Girl,” the psychotic but brilliant “Amazing Amy” famously describes the ultimate self-help female nightmare, “Cool Girl,” and hilariously pokes fun at how false it is.
“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in the world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.” Susan Cain, “Quiet”
I honestly believe that all of us are granted in our own way the potential to be our best selves. But the most important way to become our best self is to be different. Truly, different. Whether it’s embracing being childless not by choice, or changing opinions by being an open adoption advocate or full-on “leaning in” or knowing we would be best at staying at home with our children. We ALL have the capacity to be our best selves.
But only by knowing ourselves will we ever fully be ourselves. Otherwise we might yet be tricked by false lights – illuminating as J.R.R. Tolkien says – nothing.
Have you ever tried to change something fundamental about your personality, and did it work? Or do you believe that being yourself is the best way to live your life?