[An unimportant book that I read for ARC; feel free to skip this.]
Book review: Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken: Transform Your Life with the Power of Authenticity, by Mike Robbins.
This book’s advice mostly feels half-right, and mostly directed at people who have somewhat different problems than I have.
The book’s exercises range from things I’ve already done enough of, to things I ought to practice more but which feel hard (such as the self-love exercise).
One exercise that felt strange was the “My Persona” exercise (‘What “mask” do you wear in public?’). I wrote down my impressions of how people see me differing (quiet loner, unemotional, apathetic). But those don’t feel like masks – when I try to alter those impressions, it feels like I’m putting on a less authentic mask, not revealing some hidden “real me”. So I’m left puzzled as to whether I’m putting on a public mask.
The book gives good advice in the section on “Live with Passion”, with strategies similar to strategies I’ve been using, such as gratitude journalling, and walking in nature. For me, they produce some of the benefits he mentions (I feel more peaceful, more enjoyment). But I’m puzzled by his claim that they’re strategies to make people more passionate. And I’m puzzled by his claim that passion is something we can choose to have.
I mainly seem to feel passionate when I’m doing something more impressive and/or more important than what I previously done. Doing something once doesn’t guarantee that I won’t feel passionate about doing it again, but I experience diminishing returns, with results that that closely resemble that. E.g. I felt fairly passionate about winning a chess tournament once (long ago), and maybe felt passionate about winning another tournament with stronger players after that. But there were hard limits to my ability to beat increasingly strong players, and I got increasingly bored with devoting effort to reproducing the same quality of results.
He says that things like feelings and passions are “more real” than careers, activities, and plans. That seems like the exact opposite of my experience. I seem to be less emotional and/or less aware of my emotions than most people. It often feels effortful for me to introspect on my feelings, whereas it feels natural to (obsessively?) focus on plans and activities.
I can see some hints of wisdom in his claim, in that I can sometimes observe that I feel happier and more comfortable with people after discussing feelings than I do after discussing less personal topics. But those effects seem subtle and mysterious. Discussing feelings creates more valuable results, yet I still find it hard to treat either the feelings or those results as real. I’ve known at an intellectual level for years that I should talk more about feelings. Yet some parts of my subconscious still want to focus on plans and activities, and those parts of my mind are important for generating ideas about what to say.
I was a bit annoyed that the book blamed our desire to mask ourselves on our upbringing. That seems misleading. Our desire to impress people is not some quirk of our upbringing or culture. It’s something deeply ingrained in human nature. It seems perfectly sensible to try to control what others know about us, given mildly pessimistic assumptions about the friendliness of the people we meet.
The main puzzle is why we’re often too pessimistic about other peoples’ friendliness. There are a few key contexts under which this pessimism makes sense (job interviews?). Is it hard to shift our attitudes between those contexts and contexts in which it’s safe to be honest? Are people risk-averse about social interactions in ways that made sense when being exiled from one’s tribe was deadly, but are obsolete now?
Those seem like the kind of questions to ask if we want to understand the causes of masking our feelings. But the book prefers explanations that sound like excuses to believe we’re blameless. I prefer self-help books which help me think of my authenticity as my responsibility.