Volume 77 / Number 35 Jan. 30 - Feb. 05, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Courtesy: Courtesy HarperCollins
Looking for cash, cleaner closets, and life-coaching, Beth Lisick chronicles a year of self-improvement, with varying degrees of success and hilarity.
The road to self-recovery

One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, And a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone
By Beth Lisick
Morrow; 288 pp.; $25


Thirty-something Beth Lisick, writer, mother, and occasional purveyor of fruit, wakes up on New Year’s Day, 2006, her leg in agonizing pain. Squinting into the camcorder that recorded the previous night’s festivities, a horrified Lisick watches herself perform the splits, for the first time since the ’80s. Her husband, Eli, reminds her of a resolution she made five years before, “something about exercising and being better at answering emails.”

Noting her stained ceiling and the place on the wall where a smoke detector should go, Lisick makes a mental inventory of other resolutions that should be on her list. “What if,” she wonders, “I could just look at everything in my life I wanted to make better, and systematically fix it all?”

Thus, with a newfound focus, Lisick sets out to help herself, putting well-known improvement programs to the test.

There are 30,000 certified life coaches in the world, she writes, “and lord knows how many unlicensed practitioners on Craigslist.” Lisick’s skepticism about the effectiveness and necessity of such an endeavor is part of what makes her a trustworthy guide. Plus, she confesses, “I can barely get a pedicure without feeling ridiculous for imposing my feet upon someone for twenty minutes. How could I dump my whole life in someone’s lap?”

Lisick is also the author of “Everybody Into the Pool” (2005), a high-octane essay collection about the (mis)adventures of her childhood and early adult years. Her new memoir is, thankfully, told in the same tone: energetic, honest without being overly confessional, and enormously entertaining.

Framed around 12 goals and their accompanying gurus, each chapter unfolds over a different month. She starts on January 2 by reading the latest guide to success by Jack “Chicken Soup for the Soul” Canfield. After noting his swaggering account of luxury vacations, Lisick settles into her couch, “the one with the stuffing peeking out of the armrests that my ex-roommate’s ex-girlfriend’s neighbor put out on the street six years ago.”

In her search for holistic transformation, Lisick travels across the country to attend seminars and conferences taught by myriad figureheads, from John Gray to Deepak Chopra. She confronts and organizes details of her life that she long ago opted not to think about—messy closets, the interest on her credit card. One of the wildest experiences is the weeklong “Cruise to Lose” on a Carnival cruise ship with fitness fanatic Richard Simmons, who unabashedly flirts, cries, poses, primps, and leads aerobics classes like a rock star.

Despite its bestseller status, Lisick’s last book didn’t garner much in the way of money, and one of the major themes at play (work?) here is Lisick’s scramble to pay the bills. At Canfield’s suggestion for highly successful people, she creates a fake one hundred thousand dollar bill and tapes it next to her bed, where it remains for the duration of the year.

Lisick’s journey is remarkable less for the author’s transformation than for her humor, which fuels every chapter. She sometimes earns money by donning a banana suit and doling out fruit, a job that offers better compensation than writing. She does the work without embarrassment, in between attending $700 self-improvement conferences.

As a writer, Lisick’s greatest gift is her voice. Reading “Helping Me Help Myself” is like spending time with your most charming and humble friend, whose stabs at improvement are all relatable enough to make you cringe.

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