Re-Branding The Self Help Section Of The Bookstore

It’s time.

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash

You do a lap. You pick up a novel for cover. Maybe you hide behind the high collar of your winter coat like a Cold War-era operative. You’ve gone to the bookstore to shop for self-help literature and you don’t want anyone to know. It’s embarrassing. It suggests a broken-ness. It’s a sad endeavor. It shouldn’t be. This situation is bad for business, and we can fix it. We just need some new PR, that’s all.

I do realize that bookstores, on the whole, are dying. Self-help sections probably had very little to do with their demise. But if I can contribute even one small morsel of sustenance to their survival than I’ve done a good deed this day. Bookstores are a weight-bearing Jenga piece in human culture and they must be protected far better than we’re protecting them now. In fact if, after reading this, someone proudly walks into their local bookshop and Instagrams themselves #selfhelpshopping I’d be quite proud. Anyway.

Self Help as a retail section implies a negative. This branding was flawed from the start. It instantly insinuates that you need help, and are therefore deficient in some capacity. Oh, you’re in the Self Help section? Wonder what’s wrong with you. Isn’t that just like our society? To kick a person in the shins just as they’re trying to do something good for themselves, thereby negatively reinforcing a good behavior and decreasing the probability that the behavior will continue. We’ve Pavlov’s dogging ourselves into darkness and I won’t go quietly.

I see no shame in Self Help. I see bravery, really. Someone who not only went out into the world in search of betterment, but also had the presence of mind to acknowledge their own need for same. It takes a viking these days, it really does. We should be applauding them, applauding ourselves, rolling out a red carpet that leads us directly to the section of the bookstore we’re looking for, as opposed to hiding it so far in the back and to the left that we have to ask someone where it is. The humanity.

What if we rebranded it? What it we gave it a connotation that not only alleviated shame and reluctance, but inspired and motivated people to action, instead? I have an idea for what we can call the Self Help section moving forward. I think we should call it: Accomplishment.

Accomplishment is a good word. It’s a positive word. It suggests that you’ve put in work and are now reaping the benefits. It’s a word that implies reward, one you give to yourself. Did you read what I just said? The word “accomplishment” is a word that lets you give yourself a reward. You make yourself feel better. If that isn’t the whole point of putting on deodorant and shoes to go to the bookstore for self help in the first place I don’t know what is.

Note that I said “Accomplishment,” not “Success.” First of all success implies that you’re walking into a section filled with nothing but books written by finance CEOs just months before their inevitable sex scandal hits Twitter thereby prompting the individual they had their sex scandal with to write a book of their own. Success is too cold, too imposing. It puts too much pressure on the reader and asks too much. Accomplishment is far more manageable.

Accomplishment is a good word because it leaves scale up to the individual. We are allowed to determine what counts as “accomplishment” for ourselves. Some think of it as launching a new business or finally finishing that novel. Other see it as making their bed every day for a week. All are equally valid and important to our own wellbeing. The more tailored the accomplishment, the better in fact.

It’s also just good foreshadowing. It gives the shopper a lovely hint of what’s to come. Hey there, come shop over here if you want to feel really awesome about something soon! I just like its optimism, you know?

You can be proud walking into a bookstore section labeled “Accomplishment.” Others can look at you with a sense of wonder and envy that you can actually see in person as opposed to just assuming it’s there based on your number of Instagram likes. And instead of approaching a book store section head hung low in shame (which it might already be for other reasons so this is really no time to make you feel worse), you get an instant boost of vigor and motivation. How could you not? Accomplishment is so neat!

We should be flocking to self help literature. And maybe we are on Amazon, but we should be doing it in person—for many reasons. We can keep the independent bookstores of the world in business while simultaneously alleviating the stigma attached to an entire section of them that implies there’s something wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with seeking out personal improvement, comfort, or clarity. There is however quite a lot wrong with branding the people strong and evolved enough to even enter this section of the bookstore as sad.

I see nothing sad in growth. I see nothing sad in feeling better. And I see nothing sad in the very need for self help in the first place. I see strength, and bravery, and I hope everyone out there currently scrolling through self help books online makes the decision to visit a bookstore in real life today. They’re wonderful places and we should be just as proud to frequent their Self Help sections as we are the Bestsellers table right a the front. Because it means we believe in ourselves, and in our futures, and that sounds like a huge accomplishment, in my book.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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