“If the self-help books worked, it would be a shrinking industry, not a growing one.” – Steve Maraboli
For much of my adult life, my reading preferences centered around self-help books and a desire to educate and improve myself based on my flaws and brokenness. I’ve read the more famous authors in the self-help genre and lesser-known authors who were just as credible. And while I learned a great deal from these readings, I noticed that these so-called “self-help” books weren’t fully helping me.
Yes, there are legions of fans of self-help books and authors who’ve achieved an almost cult-like following in society. But for me, at the end of the day, a self-help book does not hold the power to be transformative. While perhaps better represented as a tool or a guide, they are not cure-alls for our flaws and brokenness.
Suddenly, I found myself checking out more and more self-help books from the library and returning them before ever getting beyond the second chapter. I longed for inspiration, hope, and perspective as I continue along on my journey.
During a recent read, I found such a book in the 500-plus pages of The Nightingale. Written by Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale is NOT a self-help book but a work of historical fiction whose tale captures the reader with the inspiration, hope, and perspective I never received in the countless self-help books I’ve read over the years.
From GoodReads, “With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion, and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.”
While the characters of this story are not real, their circumstances are. I’ve visited museums and exhibitions dedicated to this hateful time in history and have been highly impacted by the unbelievable realities before me. But reading this well-crafted tale, which inevitably played out in real-time repeatedly, moved me more than any self-help book I’ve ever read. In short, it showed me the power and courage of endurance.
How often do we allow the slightest problems in our lives to magnify themselves into something not deserving of our time or energy? We complain, grow angry and frustrated, and harbor stress that impacts our relationships and overall mental and physical health.
Compared to all the goings-on during World War II, one can’t help but be humbled. When set against the backdrop of compassion and empathy, we realize our lack of endurance to overcome the stressors of life, which at times are self-created and even nurtured.
Theologian, author, and educator Orson Ferguson Whitney once wrote, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy.”
No life is perfect, and challenges and misfortunes exist everywhere – sadly, no one is exempt. While some might find comfort in self-help books, their impact is superficial and momentary. What truly allows us to find inspiration, hope, and perspective on life comes from those who have endured – those who have managed to muster the courage necessary to survive.
If you stopped and took the time to look around, you’d notice there are quiet heroes all around us. They’re not often in the spotlight making headlines, but they manage to inspire us all to endure, push forward, and appreciate the blessings we usually take for granted.