2018 in Review: The Year I Became A Self-Help Junkie

December can be a month of reflection for many. A time to think about what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, what contributions we made. As I was doing my own musing on 2018, I decided I could sum it all up as the year I became a self-help junkie. The year I just jumped into the deep end full of good vibes, positive thinking, fear-conquering and dream-following mumbo-jumbo. I totally drank a whole darn pitcher of that Kool-Aid and I’m ready to crash through everyone’s wall spreading the good news that is self help. I was originally a critic myself and it was not a change that happened overnight. It was a gradual realization that I had after being bombarded by multiple sources repeating the same messages.

Has anyone heard of these things called audio books?

OK, so audio books are not new things. But 2018 was the year I harnessed their power to better myself. My husband had discovered the not-so-secret awesomeness of borrowing ebooks from our local library to read on his Kindle. For some 2017 road trips, he had also downloaded some e-audio books that we could enjoy while driving long distances. It finally occurred to me I could download some of these audio books (for FREE, this IS a finance blog) and use my daily commute to and from work to better myself, rather than mindlessly listen to the radio. Recently I stumbled upon my borrowing history and I wanted to recap the 10 best books I “read” and many of which I recommend to broaden your horizons and improve thyself:

  1. How To Be Rich – OK, so technically I listened to this one in late 2017, but it was the first audiobook I borrowed. It’s actually a compilation of multiple books on the subject of focused thinking and building wealth…all from the first half of the 20th century. My mind was blown so much I wrote a synopsis of this book last year, so just check out the link to see all the insights I gleaned.
  2. You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero – This book really did it for me. Put me over the edge. Made me stop thinking that this self help stuff was only for hippies and flower children. It taught me all the basic principles in a way I could understand, relate to, and put into practice for myself. I felt so motivated every time I listened to this book. I listened to it THREE TIMES during the 3 week library loan period. I bought the book so I could have a copy to reference and take notes. Eventually I bought a cheap digital download of the audio book so I could always have it to listen to when I needed a mental boost. I recommend this book to EVERYONE. It’s funny, it’s down to earth, and it’s all TRUE. It even has a lengthy chapter on building wealth and making money…that actually references many of the classic texts covered in How To Be Rich (I told you I was getting the same messages from multiple sources). If you want to know how I could make such a big life change in 2018, I attribute a lot of it to THIS book. Read it. You will NOT regret it. It turns out I heard a lot of the themes covered in this book from other sourcesas the eyar went on.
  3. Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes – This is actually a novel that I had seen recommended in my daily news email called The Skimm. It was a fun change from the non-fiction books filling my ears for the months leading up to it. And for someone who has struggled with weight most of her life, it had some positive messaging to stop obsessing about my weight and just be HAPPY with myself. Easier said than done, but a good reminder.
  4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle – One of my childhood best friends has loved this book since elementary school when it was required reading for her class (but I was in another class so I never ended up reading it). The movie was coming out and I really wanted to read the book before I saw the movie. Audio book to the rescue! It felt like an accomplishment to finally “read” it after all these years. Lessons learned? Be your weird self and don’t succumb to the darkness.
  5. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – The author of this book was interviewed on the first episode of a finance podcast I started listening to in 2018 (see podcast lists below) but the book is not about finance (though it can certainly apply to it). It’s about the author’s year-long journey of focusing on being happier, one month at a time, each centered around a different theme or area in life. Lots of tidbits and ideas to glean from this one from decluttering your life to being generous. It reminded me that little tweaks in your life make big changes.
  6. Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin – Same author, different book! The Happiness Project alluded to the power of habit change and how it can improve your life, but Better than Before dives deep into habits and why it’s easier for some to develop them than others. She identifies 4 tendencies of people based on how they form habits and get things done. She actually has a quiz on her website to figure out your tendency. I didn’t need the quiz to realize I’m an obliger (as are most people, actually), meaning I’m motivated to get things done if I know someone is counting on me or I have to meet someone else’s deadline. My own goals are harder to accomplish. It’s not hopeless though, I learned that if I attach my personal goals to other people, I will have a better chance at success (and by the way, this is also covered in You Are a Badass). I declared to my blog readers that I would post once a week and some weeks I’m writing on Sunday afternoon, but I feel obliged to make sure that a new post email is in your inbox every Monday morning! Better than Before is full of great advice on how to build great habits intentionally and break the bad ones. It explains how your habits make up who you are. It’s what you do when you’re not thinking. It took me a while to put this into practice but I actually ended up breaking one habit by replacing it with another. I was constantly picking at and biting my nails. I hypothesized that it was because I had idle hands that needed to be busy. I took up knitting again, an on-again-off-again hobby for me since I was in elementary school. I knit while watching TV, while sitting in meetings or listening to the sermon at church. Now I’ve knitted 5 scarves in less than 2 months and my nails are longer and healthier! I love that I started knitting again for the activity, but it actually creates an output (scarves that I can gift or maybe even sell one day), too!
  7. MEG by Steve Alten – Another book that I wanted to (re)read before seeing the movie. This book was published in the mid-90s and read to my friend and I by an awesome 8th Grade Science teacher. It sparked a now lifelong passion for sharks in my very girly friend. This one book made my friend grow up to be a driven woman who traveled to South Africa to go cage-diving with great white sharks and Mexico to swim with whale sharks. For many years she made annual trips to a shark lab in the Bahamas to swim with and tag sharks for research. Oh and did I mention she saved up for all these trips and paid for them outright? She’s a financial maven, too, being smart with money so she can use it follow her dreams. I love that. This friend had told me years ago about creating a vision board, which I re-did this year and figured out the most effective place for it to hang and motivate me when I needed it. You need to create a vision for yourself, and remind yourself of that vision often, soak it in, immerse yourself in it so it consumes you. Then you will achieve it. Told you I’m a self-help junkie.
  8. The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon – OMG, another must-read! I’d heard about this book in 2016, picked up a free copy in 2017, and still hadn’t actually read it by 2018…until I finally checked out the audio book. So it turns out this self-help book is actually written as a story. Another 2018 lesson learned from multiple sources – stories are better digested than facts, lists or preaching. Our pastors always incorporate stories into their sermons because it better conveys their messages. I’m trying to be more intentional about anchoring blog posts with stories that hook you, the reader. I actually listened to a podcast interview with a professional story-teller who helps others craft their own stories. Yes, this is a thing. Big lesson learned for me. But The Energy Bus is a story about the power of positive thinking. Negative people
    stay in ruts and bring you down, but positive people
    overcome obstacles to achieve goals and lift others up. Positivity has been a pervasive theme for me in the last several years. Being intentionally positive has helped me take charge to change my own life.
  9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler – Speaking of positive, I loved this memoir of sorts. I loved Amy’s positive yet honest takes on parenting, divorce, and career. This is a woman who followed her passion and achieved her dreams, so I could learn something from her. And also be entertained!
  10. Bossypants by Tina Fey – Reading Amy Poehler’s book that referenced Tina Fey made me want to read Tina’s memoir as well. I really liked this one as well. Tina’s story about 80 hour workweeks while producing 30 Rock taught me that when you love what you’re doing, you find the energy to get things done and it doesn’t feel like work. Another fun read.

The Generation of Podcasts

But maybe an audiobook requires too much commitment and you need self-help in bite-size chunks. 2018 was also the year I embraced podcasts. Here are 2 that have shaped my year:

  1. HerMoney with Jean Chatzky – In April, I started listening to this podcast from the beginning (I had about 2 years of episodes to catch up on) because I learned that Jean Chatzky was going to be one of the keynote speakers at Fincon18, a conference I’d be attending in September. What I love about this podcast is that each week Jean interviews a guest and they talk about life. Not just money. As I mentioned earlier, her first guest was Gretchen Rubin who writes about happiness and habit formation. It relates to money, and they certainly made that connection, but it’s more about life. It’s something I hope to accomplish with my blog. You can’t think about money as separate from everything else. It’s irrevocably intertwined in your life and mentality. You can’t talk about money without talking about life and vice versa. If you are looking to learn more about finances but also about life in general, I highly recommend this podcast.
  2. You Turns – I learned about this podcast from an episode of HerMoney. Two women friends both going through life change started a podcast to interview others and learn more about how we can these handle life changes. The tagline is “Because Shift Happens” and I love that. Since I went through my own You Turn this year, I’ve been relishing in this podcast and it fuels me and keeps me running in the direction of my dreams and reminds me I’m doing the right thing. So many themes from this podcast are repeated in You Are a Badass and other sources I’ve encountered this year. This is also the podcast that interviewed the professional storyteller coach I mentioned above.

Pay Attention at Church

One thing I feel is lacking in the self help world is the connection to God. Authors and speakers gloss over God in favor of more general-audience-appealing terms like “higher power,” “source energy,” and “the universe.” It’s sad to me that people are more turned off by the word God than all these other hippie-sounding fru-fru words. All the authors acknowledge that life is governed by something bigger and you COULD call it God, but they choose not to. What I love about older works written in the first half of the 1900s is that they openly reference scripture and God when they talk about the value of building wealth or being successful. Now everything is too politically correct.

Not surprisingly, one safe haven to talk about God’s impact on our daily lives is at church. This year our family got back to our regular weekly church habit as we got very involved volunteering in our church’s new campus. I was inspired by many messages this year that reinforced and supported my dream-chasing journey.

A key theme that I often think about to this day is that we are to use our God-given gifts and passions to serve others. I love that I am doing this now – helping others improve their finances with this blog and ancillary coaching activities as well as helping people navigate the overwhelm of planning a magical Disney vacation. I feel like I’ve drastically increased my impact on others this year and it has truly blessed my life. I feel like I’m using my superpowers.

Another theme from my self help books and podcasts that was reinforced at church was the importance of taking risks and overcoming fear. Taking a risk puts us in a place where God can show up to do great things in our lives we could never accomplish on our own. When we play it safe, we think we can do everything ourselves. Facing our fears forces us to lean on God. In 2018, I quit my corporate job and our family took a paycut. We’re technically living a monthly budget deficit for the time being. If this goes on forever, it will be a problem. But I know it won’t. I took a risk and put myself out there and God is going to show up. I’m using my gifts to serve others and God will bless us with the means to live our best lives.

A Solid Financial Foundation

It doesn’t require that much for our family to live our best lives. We know that happiness is not about one-upping our neighbors with fancy cars, mansions, vacations, and expensive gadgets. We have no shame in couponing, in fact I quite enjoy it. Our only debt is our mortgage for a modest home. We bought our last (used) car outright and plan to drive it until it dies. We have an 8-9 month emergency fund, healthy retirement accounts, and a fair amount in non-retirement investments. We were able to take a calculated risk. We know how to live a minimal life without feeling deprived.

Have you ever heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? It’s a pyramid of different human needs, from basic to complex. On the bottom of the pyramid is the foundation of physiological and safety needs. We need to feel secure before we can meet other needs. We need to survive. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization. The need to thrive. My self-help junkie journey made me realize that we often get stuck somewhere in the middle of the pyramid. So focused on surviving, we never get to thrive. 2018 is the year I became determined to thrive. When your financial foundation is clearly established, you can climb that pyramid to self-actualization to live your best life and follow your dreams.

If you are feeling inspired and armed with the resources to begin a new year of growth, change and all around “self help,” think about the goals you’d like to achieve and stay tuned for next week’s post!

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