The County of Los Angeles Public Library system is a manifestation of my subconscious. I put books on hold with its online tool and then forget all about them. Later I get a notification that the book is waiting for me at my local library, and I go pick it up and read it. Simple.
More often than not, the latest book that emerges from the system is the exact thing I need to read at that time in my life. Tina Fey’s Bossypants when I most needed a belly laugh. Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane when I needed an escape.
When I picked up Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, it turned out I needed some high-level motivation delivered with a wink and a raised eyebrow.
As usual, I had forgotten I put it on hold. I had seen a photo of the book shared on Facebook by a colleague. It’s bright yellow and has the word “badass” in the title. Naturally, it caught my eye.
I first thumbed through it with idle curiosity. Why did my colleague, who seemed so put-together, enjoy this self-help book so much? What would I gain from it? Did I even have time to read this?
But Sincero’s voice grabbed me right away. Her first line, after quoting Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, is, “I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.” This wouldn’t be your usual self-help book after all. She uses salty language, makes fun of and then embraces traditional soul-searching techniques, and shares her own journey of self-discovery and success.
Determined to improve her life, Sincero gave up on the way she used to do things and took a chance on the extremes of the self-help world. This included retreats where she had to scream and beat pillows and write letters to her uterus. But with a cheerful eye roll, she uses these moments as entertaining stories that segue into the deeper subjects at the heart of this book: how to get your act together, stop wasting time on self-doubt and live a life that makes you happy.
I’m a writer, so I’m fairly well-acquainted with self-doubt. Using that familiar subject as a touchpoint, I found that many of Sincero’s short, easily digestible chapters had commentary about what’s happening in my life these days. Feeling insecure about applying for a new opportunity, I read this line: “[W]hat if you had the audacity to leave your excuses and your shame about wanting to be huge and fabulous behind and really went for it full-on anyway?”
The next day, I found myself giving my 10-year-old son advice about speaking up in class. “Don’t let fear of embarrassment keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Way to preach, Mom. I held my breath and applied for that job.
Another day, I was handling a conflict with a difficult friend. I happened to be reading the chapter “Millions of Mirrors,” which advises us to examine the people in our lives. If they’re unpleasant and crazymaking, why are they there in the first place?
Sincero doesn’t tell us to dump difficult people outright — first, take a look at what they mean. Are we the problem? Is it time to own our “ugly”? Or are we enabling them, allowing them to beat us up? She writes “Don’t miss the glorious opportunity to learn what’s being handed to you by the person whose mouth you’d really love to stick your fist in.” Reading this, I was reminded to take a step back and be more patient.
In most self-help books, there is God, of course. Sincero doesn’t skip over this concept in favor of being cool and snarky, but she does allow for skeptics, suggesting the reader can choose her own name for divine inspiration: “The Universe,” “Source Energy,” “The Force.”
Faith is a through-line in the book, and it only got heavy-handed for me in her section about attracting money. I’m not ready to buy an expensive car I can’t afford with the faith that doing so will force me to go out and make the money to pay for it. But hey, it worked for her.
As contemporary and relatable as Sincero’s language is, every chapter in You Are a Badass ends with the advice to “love yourself,” in specific ways that incorporate the chapter’s topic. That may sound a little bit too self-helpy, but I’ll allow it. We can all benefit from that advice.
I returned the library’s copy of the book and bought my own, a bright yellow reminder to pay attention and be awesome.
Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.