On Self-Help – Generation Justice

A couple of months ago a friend recommended I read “The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling” by Stephen Cope. Throughout the book, Cope interweaves teachings from the “Bhagavad Gita”—an ancient allegory about the path to dharma—into various accounts of people who have found and succeeded at their dharma (Jane Goodall, Robert Frost, Susan B. Anthony) and some who haven’t (Cope’s college friend who aspired to become a poet but became a money-chasing doctor instead). The concept of dharma has multiple meanings, but what I understood is that it’s an individual’s path, action or purpose that is intentionally acted upon in order to contribute to the greater good. Finding your dharma can allow for your actions to be aligned with your most authentic expression of self, thereby creating a meaningful life full of service and love in the world. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?

When I got the assignment to write this blog on “a topic of your choice” I was about a third of the way into Cope’s book, so I decided to write and reflect on it. But I hadn’t found my dharma yet. I had no inkling of what it might be. I actually wasn’t even sure if I believed in the concept of dharma in the first place. Basically, I freaked out and began to spew out thought vomit onto the computer screen. There was no sense to what I typed up. My thoughts were jumping from place to place with no end. I felt so insecure and unsure of myself because this supposed dharma power was placed in the palm of my hand, yet I didn’t recognize it and I didn’t know what to do with it.

Since starting the book, I’ve seen this same message take different shapes all over the place. I walked into a room of people watching “City Slickers” just as the old cowboy preached to Billy Crystal about the secret to life. “Just one thing,” he told him. “You stick to that and everything else don’t mean sh*t.” As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, a Dolly Parton quote appeared, telling me to “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Ok Dolly. Will do.

So I continued with the book in hopes of reaching some sort of self-revelation. After reading story after story about people living meaningful and authentic lives, I started to feel really down about not being in that place of knowing. I saw my uncertainty as weakness and a lack of purpose.

There’s an overwhelming abundance of self-help materials out there, preaching their own correct way to live. And I’ve fallen into that. I’ve adapted a fear of missing out (FOMO) attitude towards life, so I seek out the highest-rated user manuals in order to control the process of becoming me. Just so I don’t screw it up. Yikes.

I saw some art in a museum once. It was a poster that hung next to a projector screen. The poster read “Disappointment should be celebrated more,” and the projector projected nothing onto the blank screen. Art doesn’t typically speak to me but I loved that display. In the mess of frantically trying to name my dharma, I’ve been thinking about it more and more. I’m sick of seeking out these user manuals and guides to finding myself. They overload me with advice that keeps me up in my head searching for what I lack, rather than grounded in who I already am and what I already have. I dropped the overdue, unfinished book off at the library last weekend. Instead, I’m choosing to celebrate me as I am, disappointments and all.