On Self-Help

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

For the latest episode of Intellectual Property, I spoke to fellow British/Brooklyn-based journalist, Oliver Burkeman. I'm an avid reader ofThis Column Will Change Your Life, Oliver's longrunning weekly missive for The Guardian, in which he investigates 'routes to mental wellbeing' in relation to self-help discourse, work culture, and technology. The archives are well-worth a deep dive.

One of the topics Oliver and I discussed when we sat down earlier in the year (and the one I've been thinking about ever since...) is the idea of work as spiritual salvation. It's no coincidence that the decline of organised religion has coincided with the rise of 'workism', as we turn to our careers in search of fulfillment and purpose: Human beings are, as Oliver points out, essentially spiritual by nature, and contemporary culture has led us to seek meaning institutions and objects that were never intended to provide it.  

It's only in the past year or so that I've had the self-awareness to see the impact of this ideology on my own life and career. Once upon a time, I might have described my interest in work as a byproduct of being 'ambitious' or 'driven'; I am now beginning that the context of my personal entry into the workforce - i.e. as part of a similarly-fixated Millennial generation - has played a significant role in shaping this perspective and the career decisions I've made since. Guess I'm not such a special snowflake after all.

Oliver and I also talked about being journalists in a broadly similar ballpark, and how our chosen subject matter has been an attempt to understand an achievement-focused inner dialogue through the lens of the external world. Oliver started writing about self-help, in part, because he wanted to know which parts of it he could use to help himself; I started The WW Club, in part, to understand why I have always been so preoccupied with the idea of work itself. I'm grateful to Oliver for the insights and clarity I've gained through reading his column over the years, and for making the time to discuss them with me. If even one sentence I've written has done the same for you, then perhaps work has been my salvation after all.

Give the interview a listen when you can and please do let me know your thoughts.