Practically Perfect in Every Way: My Adventures through the World of Self-Help—and Back
As a person who has always been suspicious of self-help culture in all of its forms—from the traditional I’m Ok, You’re Ok quick-fix-for-life bestsellers, to the recent influx of mega-preachers and spiritually informed The Secret-style fads—I was grateful and delighted to discover Jennifer Niesslein’s debut non-fiction book, Practically Perfect in Every Way: My Misadventures Through the World of Self-Help—and Back. Jennifer tracks her readers through a two year experiment in which she follows, verbatim, the advice of our country’s most popular self-help gurus. The mission, quite simply, is to find out whether these self-help programs will really improve her life.
At the bequest of Suze Orman, personal finance expert extraordinaire, Jennifer writes journals about her “money memories” and dutifully organizes the contents of her wallet. To appease Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Jennifer puts lipstick on every night and French-kisses her husband hello, which allegedly makes a man feel appreciated and is therefore an integral part of a successful marriage. Other hoops the self-helpers make Jennifer jump through include spiritually cleansing her house (yes, this involves incense and holy water), exercising for eight minutes every morning and forcing her husband and child to fill out various questionnaires that are pertinent to Jennifer’s relative success as a wife and mother.
What makes this book so revelatory is Jennifer’s carefully balanced combo of open-mindedness and critical thinking. She approaches each program with the attitude that this one just might work, yet also points out any and all cases of sexism, contradiction and just plain absurdity that she encounters on her journey. No secrets are kept from the reader—we are clued in on the details of Jennifer’s familial and social life so that we know what she is aiming to improve. The result is an entertaining and thought-provoking adventure through what must have been two very strange years in Jennifer’s life.
The best part of all is that you are able to see what happens when a person actually follows these self-help programs—without having to do them yourself. Most people pick and choose which components of a given program they will follow, and this is precisely Jennifer’s point. No one person can purport to know how to help the impossibly specific lives of millions of individuals. Not to mention the time and effort that these programs entail—keeping a clean house, eating healthy foods, exercising daily and managing one’s finances assumes a person with expendable income and a good deal of free time.
The bottom line? There is something to be found on the self-help journey, but be sure to pack in tow a very large grain of salt.