On Jan 1, I engaged in some at-risk cliché behavior, scooping up three self-improvement volumes from my local Barnes & Noble:
Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person (Shonda Rhimes)
Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination (J.K. Rowling)
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016 (Richard N. Bolles)
I felt especially ashamed of that last one, save for its fabulous blue cover. The second isn’t even really a book, but rather a commencement speech printed in book form prolonged by half-hearted illustrations and designed to trick gullible customers such as, as it turns out, myself.
I devoured each, until I got to the petal activity in Parachute. Was the problem that it represented too much laborious introspection or that the book would not commit to the central metaphor suggested in its title?
Either way, I cast it aside. It is in fact still sitting in a basket in my bathroom amidst similarly disregarded lip glosses (to those ladies who can rock a lip gloss past the first cup of coffee, I salute you) and maimed, tangled chain necklaces (thou shalt not strangle thyself).
I am not down on any of these books. They all say true things in a compelling way. I’m very happy for Shonda and J.K. I’m also very happy for the Parachute man who has clearly made a killing on this multivolume-dating-back-to-1970 thing (And, let me add: since starting this post, I’ve decided to stop being sore on the petal in the Parachute, despite the semantic incongruity. Whatever!)
And yet, I wasn’t getting any clarity. These people were already “successful” in a very one-in-a-million way that any of us plebes seem quite unlikely to replicate.
The sentiment that best captures my reaction to their words of wisdom comes from another book I read a few months ago vaguely related to this genre of self-reflection:
A snippet of Mindy Kaling’s lessons in bullet points from p.83 of Why Not Me:
- If you believe in yourself and work hard, your dreams will come true.
- Well…I guess the people who work hard whose dreams don’t come true don’t get to write books about it, so we never really find out what happens to them. So…
- If you believe in yourself and work hard, you have a fighting shot at having your dreams come true.
I found the above mildly terrifying upon first read. The fact that Mindy is among those who reached “book-about-me-just-because” status only augmented said terror. What a fanciful dark hole. As a side note, another really nice blue color for the cover.
Having traversed (and abandoned) the sentimental terrain of the commencement speech genre, however, I began to embrace that idea and its utter randomness. What changed my mind?
Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing
As I flipped through the digital folds of this popular marketing manual on my Kindle app, I realized it contained everything I had pondered and searched for in the details of my own experience and that of pop culture entertainers.
The transformational, central takeaway?
You really just can’t plan for shit.
Was it logical to conclude that people would buy fewer cigarettes after a wave of anti-smoking campaigns and the disappearance of the cancer stick from popular movies and television shows? Yes! Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense that with the advent of personal computers and an increasing reliance on digital channels, no one would subscribe to a formal office space for much longer? Sure!
And yet, no!
None of that happened!
It’s easy enough to estimate what should logically happen, but those estimates have little to no correspondence to what people will, in all reality, do.
“You never know. So don’t assume that you should. Plan for several possible futures.” (Loc 600)
“Mistrust ‘facts.’ And don’t approach planning as a precise science. Planning is an imprecise art.” (Loc 701)
The above are some of the most poignant, beautiful words I have read in months. Perhaps years. They are true of consumers because they are true of human beings, shuffling through life in pursuit of a decent cellular network.
My reflection here is probably best concluded by a gchat surrounding the topic of this very post:
-What’s your blog about?
-It’s going to be about the futility of planning.