by Robyn Okrant, January 8, 2010 10:40 AM
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?
Most of my books say the same thing. They advise me to listen to my own voice, trust myself, find inner strength, peace, and happiness. And yet, I'm hungry for more. I buy new books which give me the same message in different formats and styles. Will I ever find the right one? Or is it time to close the books and try to do this on my own? I'm 37 years old and I've done a lot of reading, watching, and surfing in my time. I feel as if I should have all the information I need in the database in my brain. I want to try to put it into action on my own. Take off the training wheels and dare to ride on my own power, with my own intuition as navigator.
So, that's what Living Oprah has inspired in me — the desire to unplug and strive toward my goals without dependence on outside validation. I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and give it a go in 2010. I'm creating my own declaration of independence and I'm going to step forth without using my usual crutches. To be honest, I'm terrified, but it's
by Robyn Okrant, January 7, 2010 3:16 PM
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?" If an expert's specialty is organization
, let's say, perhaps they've come by their skills through trial and error and not by earning a Master's Degree in Orderliness and a Bachelor's in Efficiency. As my yearlong experiment wore on, I became less resistant. Here's why — I don't think we should follow anyone's advice without asking lots of questions and doing our own research. We need to take responsibility for our choices and hold ourselves accountable. Oprah's stamp of approval isn't enough.
So, as long as these self-proclaimed experts aren't hurting anyone, does it really matter if they aren't authorized in some concrete or academically approved manner? And if there are people who believe their lives to be improved by Oprah's advice, who am I to judge? I believe the message and its result are more important than the
by Robyn Okrant, January 6, 2010 10:29 AM
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.
I think this happens in the real world in a less noticeable manner. I believe we're deeply affected when we're inundated with advice, pressure, and expectations from outside sources. It's impossible to be bombarded on a daily basis without it chipping away at the psyche and self-esteem. Absorbing this force saps our energy, even if we don't always digest or act upon it.
I have to wonder how much of my valuable time and energy has been spent knocking myself out, trying to fulfill our culture's ideals of beauty, success, and happiness, instead of trusting my own?
My spiritual bootcamp began with an Oprah's Book Club pick, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. I read it with the assistance of the required 3M Post-it Flag Highlighter. Oprah told her audience this was a
by Robyn Okrant, January 5, 2010 10:09 AM
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.
For better or for worse, this genre is here to stay and I'm really grateful it exists. It was very important for me to step into the shoes of a complete Oprah acolyte for a year because I learn best by doing, rather than simply speculating. I'm not an academic; I'm a performer and completely amateur social scientist. I wanted to come to a conclusion in an active, down and dirty manner. I think that's why these books are getting published, because readers enjoy putting their feet in the "stunt" bloggers' shoes for 300 pages. We reorganize our lives in a manner that allows us to devote 24/7 to our curiosity so other people don't have to.
I can't speak for other "stunt" authors, but I can assure you that when I strap on my elbow pads and helmet in the morning to get ready for work, my intentions are
by Robyn Okrant, January 4, 2010 12:32 PM
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.
I spent an entire year completely affixed to The Oprah Winfrey Show, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Oprah.com. I followed every single bit of Oprah's advice for a year for many reasons I'll discuss throughout this week. One of my major hopes was that my exaggerated example might inspire others to reflect upon their own lives and ask themselves how much time, energy, and money they spend following self-help in the media — whether it be on Oprah or other sources. What I didn't expect was how difficult it would be to extricate myself from my project once it was complete. My experiment ran from January 1 through December 31 in 2008. I thought when 2009 began, I'd be able to flip off the constraints of the project like a light switch. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. I'm still drawn like a magnet to magazines that scream, "FLAT ABS IN 4 WEEKS!" from the newsstand, and television programs that promise "EXCLUSIVE, NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN!" secrets to a steamier sex life or a balanced check book. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but it's true...I'm completely susceptible to the idea of finding short cuts or easier paths toward a more fulfilling life. I, Robyn Okrant, am addicted to others' definitions of happiness, beauty, and success. And while I rarely come up with New Year's resolutions, I have dedicated 2010 to taking back my own power and learning to rediscover trust in my own voice.
Step one: no more hugging the