“Self-Help Is an Oxymoron”: An Essay by Kate Vargas

Kate Vargas
Kate Vargas
Eccentric experimental indie darling Kate Vargas explores anxiety, sobriety, the dark side of humans and their flaws in her music. Today she shares her thoughts on the term “Self-help.” Truth be told, she thinks it is an oxymoron.
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Self-help is an oxymoron.

by Kate Vargas

It sounded much more revolutionary in my head than it looks in text. But I stand by it.

Did the term ‘self-help’ exist before the now multi-billion dollar industry? It’s a marketing term, isn’t it? And a good one. It compelled me to think that someone else was better suited than me to tell me and only me how to help myself. In magic, this is called misdirection. It’s a mental sleight of hand. The trick is fooling us, the audience members, into thinking we’re in control the whole time, that we are the ones making the decisions. Free will and all, right? It plays right into our swollen egos. I know exactly what I’m doing. And then the ace of spades is on the inside of my left eyeball and I have no idea how it got there because, I swear, my eyes were in my head the whole time.

I know this because it’s happened to me more times than there are fist bumps at a Tony Robbins seminar.

Not the eyeball bit.

But the one where I’m desperate to change something, so I buy a book, listen to a podcast, get hypnotized, only to find myself spit out at the exact place I was when I started.

“If you’re looking for self-help, why would you read a book written by somebody else? That’s not self-help, that’s help.” – George Carlin

The thinking goes, usually because I read an article or because Oprah said so, “Of course! I see it now! {Insert personal shortcoming} is the thing that’s holding me back from realizing my true potential.” Because, certainly, my potential is much bigger than this. This is just a temporary state that’s lasted my whole life thus far. I am so much more.

This thinking was with me like a shadow, stretched beneath me, dark and distorted, throughout my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. It felt like everyone got the handbook to life but me. Living for Dummies. A how-to for existing in the world. But the more I searched for the missing piece, the more I met other searchers. There are loads of them! Everywhere you look. I realized I wasn’t unique in that way. Perhaps it’s something in my every day run-of-the-mill humanness that’s been causing me this torment. Perhaps it’s not something I can find on a page or in an infomercial. In fact, maybe it’s not a thing I need more of, but a thing I need less.

I don’t need more information, more self-control, more muscle, more grit. I need less ego. It’s not that “self-help” books don’t work, it’s that I’m filtering their words through the exact me that got me to where I don’t want to be. Just thinking about it twists my mind into pretzels. To put it simply, if I really want a shot at this whole changing-for-the-better business, I need to have an eye on my ego. Because it’s not what I thought it was. Latin for “I”, ego isn’t just about thinking I’m the best, most smart, most beautiful being in history. It also has a hand in thinking I’m the worst. Or that someone else knows the secret to winning at life and I don’t. So, before I hand over more of my dollars or hours to the next charismatic slogan-slinger I see on Instagram, let me check in with my ego. If there’s an imbalance, I don’t need another book, I need an adjustment.

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Stream: “Church of the Misdirection” – Kate Vargas

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