The self-help industry is founded on the notion of personal re-invention, the idea that people need to re-invent themselves in order to be successful, have amazing relationships, be happy, have the work they want etc. etc.
Personal re-invention can work, but the effects are temporary; it’s a short-term fix for the earlier stages of life, offering the promise of a shiny new career, lifestyle, relationship, level of fitness or body shape. Such transformations tend not to last, and the knee-jerk response to their failure is…another reinvention.
If we’re not careful, we end up piling personal reinventions, one on top of another, until our identity resembles a Russian doll. When we get to that point we are in grave danger of losing sight of who we truly are.
The industries that claim to facilitate personal re-invention – gym chains, dieting programmes, self-help guru’s business empires, yoga franchises, Botox clinics and the rest of them – have a vested interest in keeping us feeling dissatisfied with our selves.
This book offers an alternative – and more relevant - perspective; that of de-inventing yourself, “getting rid of the person that never was”, the ‘false self’ people construct in the early stages of their lives in order to respond to who and what other people – parents, educators, bosses, partners– need them to be.
It is common– particularly in mid-life - for people to experience the failure of their false self. It just stops working for them. They suffer a crisis in which many of the things they valued, pursued, acquired, were motivated or energized by…have little or no meaning.
For these people, re-inventing yourself yet again is not the answer.
De-Invent Yourself is about ditching the baggage of a made-up identity. It’s about letting go of beliefs, habits, attitudes, people, work, interests and relationships that no longer work for you. It takes you through the process of stripping away the accumulated layers, not adding more.
The book mines psychology, philosophy, literature, mythology, economics, sociology, popular culture and individual experiences for insights into how false selves are created; how, sooner or later, they tend to break down; and how to get through that experience to enjoy a more authentic way of living. It offers practical advice; for recognizing the signs that this process is happening; for staying sane while you navigate through it; and for emerging as a truer, more resolved, calmer and ultimately more effective and enjoyable version of yourself.
Me? I’ve lived through this process of de-invention and come out the other side saner, nicer, clearer-headed, more effective and altogether a better person.
“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another, and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” - J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan.
Barrie wasn’t referring to money or possessions or qualifications or awards when he talked about ‘the volume’ but he might as well have been. We’re all prone to ‘comparing the volume’ when it comes to assessing where we’ve got to in our life, whether that’s in terms of how many bedrooms our home has (or even - for a fortunate few - how many homes we have), how many zeros there are at the end of our pension pot or how many victories we can claim on the tennis court or golf course.
Less than four years ago - on June 29th 2013, to be precise - the New York Times carried an obituary of the author Philip E Slater, who had died aged 86, under a headline that characterised Slater as a 'Social Critic Who Renounced Academia'. Whilst this is undeniably true, his professorship was by no means the only thing that Slater gave up, nor was it the most interesting or significant.
As I tentatively map out the territory to be covered by De-Invent Yourself, I keep tripping (myself?) up on the issue of whether this is essentially a book about midlife or one that documents a major life event that can happen at any age/stage. This is more than just an academic debate I'm having with myself; it affects all sorts of fundamental things about the book, including the crowd-funding. Why…
These people are helping to fund De-Invent Yourself.