Let me get something out of the way first: I sometimes think self-improvement and motivational-type stuff is a crock. But sometimes I swallow every bit of it. I grew up watching Oprah, possibly the queen of self-help, who gathers other gurus under her wing, from Deepak Chopra with his new-age spirituality to Dr. Phil's emotional tough-love to Bob Greene's weight-loss boot camp to Suzi Orman's no-nonsense financial advice. I used to regularly read Martha Beck's "emotional health" column in Oprah's O magazine, in which Beck presents hypothetical life problems and solves them with complex, often numbered lists.
"This looks like a load of b.s.," I say these days upon opening a self-help book. And then I stand and read it, because of course I want to know how to become a more confident, successful, happy person.
Colin Wright, an author and dedicated world traveler currently based in Missoula, has recently written Act Accordingly, a motivational manual of sorts that, while not billed specifically as self-help, will be familiar to anyone who reads the genre. In contrast to the cacophony of many titles in the "Self-Help and Diet" section of bookstores, Wright's work and aesthetic is simple, free of any lists or acronyms or worksheets.
Act Accordingly is a manifesto full of the kind of concepts espoused by Wright and his friends, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who collectively call themselves The Minimalists. The book itself is a slim paperback with a plain white cover, dominated by text in a sans-serif font. "You have exactly one life in which to do everything you'll ever do. Act Accordingly," it reads. It's pretty hard to disagree with this concept, unless you believe in reincarnation or something.
The rest of the book expands upon the idea with chapters like "Freedom as Focus," which advises maintaining "a set of beliefs and personal goals that allow for a great deal of evolution and growth," or "Logos," which says to avoid brand names. "You are an individual and completely unique—remember that, and aspire to be frustratingly unlabelable." Wright's writing is direct and straightforward throughout, with the occasional light dose of humor.
And who is Wright to give us this wisdom? He was born in 1985, started a professional career at 19 and, by his own telling, worked his way up corporate ladders, eventually running a profitable design firm in Los Angeles. A few years ago, he gave away most of his possessions and started the "Exile Lifestyle" blog, in which readers vote which country he'll visit for the next four-month stint. Wright doesn't give many personal details in Act Accordingly, but we are left to assume that, for him, his lifestyle is the source of his epiphanies. He emphasizes throughout that his exact path isn't necessarily what he's advocating, and rather, we should do whatever makes us happy, be it making money or writing or eating "all of the pie."
Act Accordingly is sometimes simplistic to a point that's maddening, like when he says that too often "we focus on the small, silly things; our religious beliefs or politics or what sports team we cheer for ..." Rather, he says, we should invest in "issues that greatly impact the entire world." I fail to see how faith and politics are not, in fact, two of the biggest things impacting the world.
If you feel pretty good about where you're at in life and who you are, you might not find Act Accordingly of much use. But of course, books like this aren't written for people who aren't seeking any answers. Anyone who's unsure of themselves, trying to find a career path, unsatisfied or distressed might find that Wright's basic words of encouragement fit their needs perfectly. I can see a recent college graduate or unemployed person keeping this by their bedside to read a chapter at night (or downloading it to their Kindle, I suppose).
The preponderance of self-help manuals in America is due, in part, to everyone's very different lives. What speaks to one person doesn't speak to another. Wright has the admirable goal of creating a philosophy basic enough to suit many people. Whether he succeeds is up to the reader to figure out.