This week, I've been dipping into a new/old book on how to live your life. It's called A Strategy for Daily Living by psychiatrist and author Ari Kiev, and was first published in 1973. (And because I live in a bibliophile's house, it was the original, slightly crumbling edition that I had in hand.)
In addition to the book's exemplary content value, I was delighted by its hard cover and slim, compact size that fit just right in my handbag (I still stubbornly refuse to consider e-book readers). Not to mention the fact that it was handed to me by my husband with the comment, “I wish I'd paid attention to this when I was a young man.”
This comment was striking in two ways: One, my husband NEVER reads “self-help” books. And, two, he generally confines his literary efforts to novels and compendiums published before his birth and/or the 20th century.
But lately he, too, has come to accept the necessity of keeping conveniently totable (if more contemporary) reading material on his person for always-longer-than-anticipated doctor's office and pharmacy pickup waits. For this purpose, he's unearthed quite a collection of pocket-sized short reads. Many are Penguin 60s Classics: short stories and novellas, etc., penned by famous 20th century authors and rereleased for 60-pence each in celebration of the publisher's 60th anniversary in 1995. We love them but the series failed to excite the reading public. In the U.S., Barnes & Noble quickly discounted the 95-cent list price to a quarter, and then a dime. Hence our stash.
This failure to sell cheap-and-handy classic literature happened to coincide with our own, somewhat larger-sized (but still confined to 64-pages) original Commuter Press imprint. Like its name implied, the series was designed to provide inexpensive and entertaining short reads for commuters stuck on buses, trains and planes. It, too, failed to take off.
Planes were suddenly outfitted with personalized video monitors; most young people zoned out to their iPods while in transit; and even if there were readers out there, the introduction of tablets and Kindles suddenly made all earlier forms of pocket-sized print material obsolete. Meanwhile, in the name of “company research,” we'd amassed quite a collection of all kinds of miniaturized books…. Not ones to ever let a good read go to waste, we've been enjoying them to this day.
But I digress. For me, the third and primary reason why Kiev's little book was so striking (other than the fact that my husband was advocating a “self-help” volume published in his lifetime) was its actual content. Excepting a few dated formalities of language — and the fact that attributions were given to the likes of Spinoza and Herodotus! — this book could easily have been written today. And become a massive best seller — in the company of Rhonda Byrne's 2006 The Secret, Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989, and even Napoleon Hill's 1937 classic, Think and Grow Rich.
Dr. Kiev's advice is the same. His program for overcoming early conditioning and the prejudices of one's upbringing in order to find true happiness through ongoing self-actualization is no different from Freud's … or any contemporary self-help guru. The method is up to you. You can decide to spend a significant amount of time and money on a Tony Robbins weekend seminar, attend a Deepak Chopra weeks-long retreat, or you can go online and, for only about ten bucks, purchase the 2008, in print format only, latest edition of A Strategy for Daily Living.
I'd recommend the latter. It's not a long read, but so packed with information and revelation, it's best taken in short doses — the better to fully digest each elucidating point. You can start making positive changes as soon as you start. And don't worry about missing anything. At the end of the book — just like the young businessman who'd asked the author for help in the first paragraph — you are rewarded with a concise, seven-point (seven paragraph) daily checklist to help keep you on track.
The book advises pursuing your ultimate goal in small increments and tells you exactly how to take those first baby steps. For instance, Kiev advocates the notion of putting yourself and your goal first by writing it down on a card to be looked at frequently throughout the day. You might want to keep the card in your wallet, alongside your license and credit cards. I'd suggest bringing that concept into our digital age by also downloading a representation of your goal as a screensaver on your various computer devices and on your cellphone.
Another instant step would be to start saying “no” to people and institutions that suck the life and time out of you — whether through force of habit or guilt. Thinking of, and giving to, others is wonderful and also self-empowering. But only when that giving is done freely, and involves talents and beliefs that are uniquely your own. To discover your true identity, you must always make time to commune with your inner self.
Once you believe in yourself and your goals, and lay out thoughtful plans for your journey, the universe will bring you closer to your chosen path. Always keep in mind: it's the “journey,” and not the end goal, which makes for a good and satisfying life. Being employed in a vocation that you are most suited to and enjoy provides both daily fulfillment and the excitement of stretching toward, and ultimately attaining, new heights.
Kiev advises starting small — all the better, and easier, to enjoy your small successes. And always keep in mind that every successful person on the planet became that way after multiple attempts, and failures. The count of Abraham Lincoln's many past failures in life is almost as famous as his legendary successes. Our greatest scientists, artists and composers never waited for inspiration to strike; they sat themselves down each day and got to work.
To conquer our natural fear of failure, we must see each drawback as an inevitable and necessary step toward success. So long as you can look back calmly at your mistakes, you can use them as opportunities to learn and do better next time. Kiev also recommends tension release exercises such as deep breathing, yoga and walks in nature as a way to combat anxiety and negativity. Sound familiar?
I found it eye opening, to say the least, that all this wisdom had been “out there” during my youth, mine for the taking. Just as its lessons are still available to anyone today. And yet, had I received this book back then, would I have taken it to heart?
Even now, when people ask — as they always do — what I'm reading, and I tell them a wonderful life advice guidebook written in 1973, their eyes tend to glaze over. As if the sages of the past have nothing to tell us about success in today's world.
Then I'm reminded of King Solomon's proclamation: “There is nothing new under the sun.” And he is probably right (at least concerning human nature). Still, whether for good or ill, life's lessons appear new — and to be learned anew — by each successive generation. Perhaps that's why, at least when it comes to living the good life, we tend to be forever rewriting the same book.
Recently, I attended an Open House featuring classes at my favorite cafe, where I generally go for music nights, but little else. To keep in business (and rent spare rooms), the cafe also hosts a plethora of lectures and workshops dedicated to self-help through “alternative” means. Here was my cost-free chance to see what all those strange-sounding “spiritual mediums,” “angel healers that connect to past lives,” “sacred sound healers,” and even astrology-like, “What's in the Stars for You?” presenters were all about.
There were so many of these sorts of services on offer, I couldn't help shaking my head in wonder. Do people today still actually believe in fortune tellers and séances — even if they now call themselves “angel readers” and “spiritual advisors”? Do they still trust them to forecast the future and provide messages from their dear departed? (Um, “Nothing new under the sun,” again, it would seem.) And while crystal balls may have fallen out of favor, why do so many willingly submit to the randomness of a tarot-card reading to show them their life's path?
I interviewed a few of these workshop leaders who seemed to genuinely believe they have a “gift” for intuiting a person's nature and path. At least, I generously thought so; to my husband, even they don't believe in the nonsense they're spewing — it's all a well-rehearsed, money-making scam.
But what they are all tuning into is our generation's (as have generations before them, and so on, forever back in time) need to understand themselves and find meaning. Many are willing to believe and pay good money for a quick fix: to allow someone else to show them the way toward a better, freer and more satisfying way of life. It's easier than admitting their failures and doing the daily self-work — as Dr. Kiev, along with all reputable psychologists and those in the helping professions — advise.
These types of shortcuts may provide a balm in the short run, but can never last. The only way to achieve true self-fulfillment is by looking deeply into yourself and committing yourself to being the best version of “you” that you can be.
Around the time Kiev's book came out, Marlo Thomas (accompanied by celebrity friends from the entertainment world) produced a record album and TV special called, Free to Be…You and Me. It was expressly designed to teach young women that they could be anything they want in life, and not to succumb to the day's gender stereotypes. In a sense, it was Dr. Ari Kiev's message, yet again, made palatable for young girls. And it, too, put a person's destiny squarely in her own hands.
Because there are so many quick-fix charlatans out there eager to cater to your weaknesses and part you from your money, it might bear repeating. Letting the fortune tellers and spiritual readers guide you may seem like a shortcut to salvation. And they may even be right in some of their guesses about your true nature — and so, at least, set you on some sort of change in path.
But the true work of becoming your own person — what esteemed psychologist Abraham Maslow termed a “self-actualized” human being — can't be short cutted away. It's a daily exercise that begins with small steps in a long forward march that only you can commit to, and take, to create your best life.
© 2015 Mindy Leaf