I stare at the neat column of plain white boxes that adorn my shelves, each neatly labeled with categories. ‘Philosophy’, ‘self development’, ‘business life’ etc, with ‘Spirituality’ appropriately at the highest, most difficult to reach shelf.
Then i think about the contents of each box- promises.
Each box containing promises of a better, more enriched, wealthier life. A life where i am smarter, faster, fitter than the weekend slob i currently am. The guy that snoozes 3 times each morning, and then spends the day finding his groove, only to discover it in the late afternoon, after the most productive hours of the day have been frittered away, and then compensates for the guilt of being unremarkable by digging in until he’s the only guy left in the office to face his work demons, imagined or otherwise (it is a long running rumor that the office is haunted, if not by spirits of the dead, then at least by the ghosts of emails left unanswered).
I look at my book collection, it is lacking in imagination, a result of 99% of my books being non-fiction.
Fiction has few friends on my shelf
The only fiction i remember having is Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, a half read paperback of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the dreary Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
A conjurer, a vampire and a Victorian era Emo-chick with a penchant for self loathing and melodrama.
If graphic novels count, then they will find a friend in a homicidal vigilante who calls himself The Punisher. Visual, visceral and violent.
The Punisher is pages after pages of just 3 colours- gun metal grey, muzzle flash orange and blood red. Each dealing with human trafficking, vengeance, eyeball removal and other delightful topics.
All drab and macabre readings- a riposte against the blunt force of the overwhelmingly positive undertones of the other residents of my book collection.
Lose weight, get rich, be awesome
A toothy, giant divorcee. A bald white geriatric and a chain smoker who died from heart failure after years of asserting that working out once a month is enough.
What do these guys have in common?
They all wrote self help books that sit on my shelf.
Say hello to Anthony Robbins, Tony Buzan and Mike Mentzer. They sit alongside Brian Tracy, Tim Ferris, Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Buddha.
(in a classic example of how i have my priorities all wrong, my pristine copies of Ethics for a New World, The Dhammapada, The Bhagavad Gita and other religious/spiritual texts require ladder access. But The Four Hour Workweek is dog eared, annotated and is within immediate reach)
Over the years, i’ve amassed a sizable collection of books that have promised wealth, health and happiness- of which i have received in drips and drabs throughout the years, with moments of forlorn helplessness interspersed with sharp peaks of optimism and positive results.
Don’t get me wrong- as a result of the ideas in these cafeteria readings of the Humanist movement, i’ve managed to lose weight (then gained it back), gain weight (then lose it), accumulate savings (then do nothing with it), academically outperform 90% of my peers (some of whom probably went on to earn 100% more money than me) and in general live a very blissful existence.
Life is good, overall, and i am happy, most of the time.
But there is always more we can do.
Somewhere along the way, the 25 year old guy that knew exactly what he wanted and how he was going to get it, got lost when he realized Year 1 of his 5-year plan was totally fucked.
Back to the drawing board. And there, with pencil in hand, he sat, for the next 2 years.
The Experts get it wrong, sometimes
From to time to time i go back to the aforementioned experts that sit on my bookshelf. Guys, who run million dollar ‘hope factories’, churning out so scarce a commodity at so premium a price. Guys like Tony Robbins, who for years taught others how to have a happy relationship only to divorce his wife after 15 years (not to mention he never married the mother of his first child, should Wiki be correct).
He is now on to wife No. 2 and has released a new program called Love and Passion: The Ultimate Relationship Programme
Then you have productivity/organization guru- the eminent David Allen, who wrote Getting Things Done (or ‘GTD’ as it is popularly known amongst IT and Knowledge Workers).
He got things done alright.
Four wives later you can see how he has maintained the order in the chaos of one failed marriage after another.
And finally, the late Mike Mentzer. A chain smoking champion bodybuilder who was the first competitor to win a perfect score in Mr Universe (300 points, 1978). When other competitors were eating nothing but steamed chicken breast, brown rice and zero fat, Mentzer would chomp down on bagels asserting that ‘a calorie is just a calorie’.
When others were training 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, Mentzer was in and out of the gym in 20 minutes, once every 4 days.
Mike later died of congenital heart failure in his sleep.
3 days later, so did his brother Ray. Another bodybuilder that subscribed to his methodology.
The Mentzer brothers had succumbed to a heart defect which also claimed the life of their father.
It ran in the family.
– even the experts dont get it right all the time (Robbins)
– the experts dont succeed in every area of their lives (Allen)
– sometimes, life just fucks with you and you can do nothing about it (Mentzers)
“This is life, what to do” is an absolute bullshit statement
Despite everything said here, it doesnt mean we should just give up and settle for mediocrity, to just accept our lot in life- whether it is jobs we hate or just who we are.
Or cancer for that matter.
Do you go up to cancer patients and say, “you know what, life happens. And reality is, we dont have a cure for you, so just accept this shit, and fucking give up”.
Imagine if everyone subscribed to that notion and did nothing. Then we would’nt have the freakin lightbulb coz in nature, when it gets late, it gets dark- What to do, that’s reality.
Not counting the psychos and self deluded (and management detached from the ground situation), tonnes of people create their own realities. And you dont have to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffet to do that. The everyman can do that, with little campaigns in his life, to change things for the better, just a little each day.
And whilst we’re not gonna be exact versions of our ideal selves overnight, we got to at least try, with every little step.
Starting right now.