Get Off Your "But"
Just do it
By Steven Martinovich
The turn-off for many when it comes to self-help books and motivational speakers is what I like to call the "Stuart Smalley factor" – so named after the marginally famous character invented by comedian Al Franken during the 1990s on Saturday Night Live. If you spend any sufficient time with a guru or one of their books and begin to believe they need just as much help as you, chances are their prescriptions aren't going to be of much use to you.
Chances are that isn't going to be why Sean Stephenson fails with some people. Born with Osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break very easily and made famous by Samuel L. Jackson's character in Unbreakable, Stephenson had to be resilient mentally – if not physically – merely to make it to adulthood. He brings that spirit to Get Off Your "But": How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself, part life story, part motivational effort.
Stephenson's personal story is an extraordinary one. Hobbled by an illness which essentially made strenuous physical activity and even play a dangerous pursuit for a child, he naturally became bitter at times. His parents, however, refused to allow him to wallow in self-pity and hate and pushed him to interact with the world. Over time he began to learn some important lessons about life, chief among them that we are often the reason why our lives aren't as happy as they could be, thanks to fear, insecurities and excuses.
Armed with a personal philosophy resistant to those pitfalls, Stephenson has risen quite far in the world. He served for a time in the Clinton White House and has built a successful psychotherapy practice. He's spoken across the world and commands the respect of any number of prominent people, including other motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins, who contributed the forward to Stephenson's book.
Get Off Your "But" unfortunately illustrates the problem of taking a complex therapeutic approach and adapting it for a general audience. If self-help books can be divided into two broad categories, growth-oriented and problem specific, Stephenson's effort falls into the former. Various studies have found that there is no evidence that growth-oriented books actually work. As the late comedian George Carlin pointed out some years ago, if you're able to accomplish something by yourself – armed with only a book – chances are you didn't need the help to begin with.
Stephenson asks the reader to keep a journal and as his book progresses they conduct a number of simple exercises. Each is designed to spotlight a different negative behaviour or attitude which Stephenson argues holds many people back, everything from a poor self-image to the type of friends a person has. His prescriptions, though probably valid in general, assume a universality and ability for unassisted change. As a psychotherapist Stephenson doubtless knows that real change only comes after considerable effort – and often with the assistance of a mental health professional.
To be sure Stephenson's personal story is truly inspirational and he deserves the respect that he commands. Lesser people would have given up but he was determined to live the fulfilling life we all strive for – not to mention dedicating his life to helping others. Unfortunately Get Off Your "But" promises more than it can possibly deliver. While Stephenson's larger message of self-motivation and self-empowerment certainly rings true, and his own example shows how powerful we can individually be, it's difficult to believe that a few simple exercises can solve anything but relatively minor personal issues.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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