1987, Books, Non-Fiction

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (1987) by Susan Jeffers

This self-help book is only 34 years old, yet it feels like it was written some time earlier, perhaps in the ’60s even. Reading this book, especially after you’ve read more recent self-help books, is like going back in time. It’s incredible how sophisticated self-help and “wellness” has gotten in the interim. (That is both a good thing and a very bad thing.) Because I have read plenty of self-help books in my life – and begun and dropped many more – I really felt how archaic this is. Most of the self-help I’ve read has either been published since 1987 or updated since then. This particular book, which my father lent to me more years ago than I can count, has not been updated. If there is an updated version out there, and you can find it, I would strongly suggest reading that instead (if you must read this book).

I only read the whole thing because it’s so damn short. I would never have finished it if it was longer. So you can count its length as its first virtue.

As you can tell, I don’t have much else positive to say about it but I’ll start. Jeffers is accessible and not remotely challenging so if you are looking for an accessible book over how to overcome your fears, this would be it.

And Jeffers is very much focused on obvious fears; so if you are afraid to do something – or you are generally unhappy and think it could be because you are unwilling to risk your current situation – then this book is absolutely for you and may come in very handy. If you constantly put yourself down, this book is also for you.

Jeffers doesn’t waste your time and she has practical tips. Also, Jeffers wrote this before the self-industry completely took off, so there is pushing of products but basically just books and tapes, none of which she wrote. (There is no “system” beyond that in the book.) Though she did write later books and clearly turned this into a career, in 1987 she was just trying to help people. If this book is right for you because you are afraid of change or you are unhappy and don’t know why, the fact that you only need to buy this small little book and not get involved in some awful “system” is perhaps the book’s great virtue – it’s all here.

But this book was just not for me in basically any way. There were one or two things that I thought might help me with getting out of my way, but not very much.

And that’s because of how unsophisticated the book is and Jeffers’ insight and solutions are. I am not, for a second, trying to toot my own horn, or brag, but my problems are a little more sophisticated than what Jeffers is discussing here. And though I don’t want to project my subjective experience on the rest of humanity, I suspect that many of us in 2021 are in this boat. (There is far more general understanding of human psychology now than there was in 1987, I’d wager.) I “feel the fear and do it anyway” already, at least when I have to. And sometimes when I don’t.

I don’t beat myself up very often, at least not in really self-destructive ways she discusses. Sure, I put myself down. But it’s always half joking. And it’s far, far less than I used to. I am an extremely self-reflective person – again, why I don’t want to project my subjectivity onto anyone else – and I think about why I do things and don’t do things every single day of my life. When I am criticizing myself, it’s to a purpose, to do better next time. (Or, in company, to make a joke.)

I am quite self-confident – not that you would know it if you met me as a stranger – and so a book that is focused on talking yourself up is just not for me. (I am shy, for example. But I have spent the last 20 years becoming less shy, without this book and usually without implementing any of the tips in the self-help books I’ve read. I know what works for me and it’s not looking in the mirror talking to myself.) That doesn’t mean it’s bad but it makes it impossible for me to fairly evaluate.

But here’s the real problem: I am really good at coming up with ways of not doing the things I am actually afraid of doing. Really, really good at it. I suspect you are too. That’s why this book doesn’t work for me and that’s why I’m worried it’s not worth the time for most people. When I don’t want to do something, I don’t just say to myself “I don’t want to do this right now” or “I am scared of doing this so I won’t do it” – does anyone actually admit the latter???

Rather, I come up with things I want to do and do them instead. I have elaborate justifications for why those things are valuable. I literally have two podcasts I can work on so I can avoid growing my business or writing my book. This is the kind of stuff I’m up to. And Jeffers has no solutions for these complex webs of avoidance. She just thinks you should “act.” Well, I already do that. But I put the energy in the wrong places. I need a different kind of help than Jeffers is offering and I wonder how many other people do things like this. If it’s a lot, I don’t know how helpful this book is.

Jeffers also cannot help herself by ending up in the woo world. Mercifully, she waits until the last two chapters, but she still gets there. Why is it that virtually every single self-help guru believes in things that aren’t real? It’s possible to want to improve yourself, and to actually improve yourself, without believing in nonsense. I know that because I’m pretty damn confident I am a better person at (nearly) 40 than I was at 20 or 30 or even 35. And I did it without believing in stupid mystical bullshit. Jeffers only briefly dabbles – and never explains what she means – so you can avoid it in this book, unlike many others, but it’s still there.

As I noted at the beginning, it’s been a long time since this book was published. And basically every other self-help book I’ve ever picked up has a better understanding of human complexity than this book (even the really mystical ones). Jeffers’ book feels like it’s written for people with no education, no imagination and no internet (the latter of which is obviously not her fault). I’m sure there are people out there who benefit from this book and I’m not trying to put you down. But it’s got very little for me and, I suspect, very little for anyone else who’s ever tried to make themselves better without help from one of these books. (Or even for anyone who is just aware of some of the reasons why they do things.)


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