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Author Archive: "Robyn Okrant"

Is Self-Help Keeping Me from Helping Myself?

I have what might be described as a small library of personal growth books in my bookcases. My husband brought his own preferred titles into our marriage and we collectively own enough self-help that we should be entirely fulfilled in every aspect of our lives . And yet, when we last went book shopping, we each bought a book that we're sure will enlighten us. Where does it end? As much as I adore my books, I bet that there is a huge amount of overlap in advice and guidance. Let's throw into the mix that I read women's magazines, watch talk shows, and surf the web for suggestions. There is more advice out there than ever — the market is saturated with it — and yet we clamor for more. As a culture, I wonder: Are we chronically dissatisfied, and will we ever fill our collective void with all the self-help we gobble up?

Don’t Kill the Messenger

As a result of studying Oprah Winfrey for a year and writing my book, I have given a lot of thought about what qualifies certain "gurus" and powerful public figures to give anyone advice. Especially if their area of expertise can't be quantified by certifications and degrees. At first, I was bugged by this. There were several experts brought on Oprah's stage to teach us style, party planning, and positive thinking. Even Suzanne Somers (yes, Chrissy Snow from Three's Company) visited Oprah's stage to give women advice about hormone replacement therapy. Sometimes I would grumble and wonder, "Who made you a guru and why should I trust you?"

Trying to Have It All and Losing Myself

I am so drained tonight that I don't feel at all like myself. This has been an exhausting few days. My book release has been an exciting whirlwind, and I'm grateful for every moment... yet I'm running on empty. When I'm tired, I can't concentrate, I can't completely connect with other people, and I definitely can't safely operate heavy machinery. And sometimes when I'm tired, I think random jokes about heavy machinery are funny. Sorry about that.

I found myself in this position quite often in 2008 when I was knocking myself out to follow Oprah's ideals. When I began the project, I honestly didn't think it would impact me in such a profound manner. I thought I would be able compartmentalize Oprah's advice during an hour or two of my day, and then I'd go about life as usual. What I didn't understand is that when you take on the suggestions of a talk show host who offers solutions ranging from spirituality and relationships to diet and style to finance and philanthropy you're going to feel a little ragged at times.

Miss Understood

I've heard the term 'stunt blogger' used to describe my 2008 Living Oprah project. In the beginning, I would get slightly offended about being categorized in this way. I felt a little misunderstood and undervalued and I even once pouted like a little girl. I wondered how I might respond constructively. Following the guidelines of my project, I checked Oprah.com (which I was using as an encyclopedia for daily living) for ways to deal with this stress. Much to my chagrin, Oprah's event planner, Colin Cowie, didn't have any advice on how to throw a great pity party, so I decided to get over myself and move on with my work. Besides, I reminded myself, it's really none of my business how other people define me or interpret my work and I shouldn't focus on this. Easier said than done, of course. See, I'm used to performing and writing for live theater — where there's a more interactive flow between actor and audience. This genre of writing is new for me. After all, once my words are in print, I have no power to adjust their delivery to each reader. And if a reader thinks I am pulling a "stunt" with another year-in-the-life experiment, then I have to let it go.

Besides, I'll admit it — it is not original to write about one's experiences. It's not new to try something out for a finite amount of time and attempt to put the results on paper or computer screen. It is not new to use a blog as research to write a book. While my madness might be unique, my methods are not. But, as my mom pointed out to me recently, when James Patterson writes a new novel, nobody rolls their eyes and says, "Oh no, not another mystery. How unoriginal!" I love my mom.

Cat 1, Dignity 0

On the morning I traveled from Chicago to the East Coast to promote Living Oprah, my cat knocked one of her favorite toys, a balled-up piece of wax paper (she's a cheap date), behind the TV. She was meowing so sadly and pacing back and forth, unable to reach it on her own. A total tug on my heart strings. I couldn't watch the little puffball suffer, so I reached to extricate her plaything and suddenly realized I was in full embrace of the television. I burst into hysterical laughter, scaring the pants off my cat, who hightailed it out of the room without the toy. That moment — my arms wrapped tightly around the boob tube — could have been an alternate cover of my book.

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