No Help From Self-Help

– by Albert Berkshire

I’m afraid to be old.

I’m not afraid to grow old. I’m not afraid to die. I am afraid to be old.

I know plenty of people who one might categorize as old. It’s not comfortable. They don’t have it easy. They have to give their children daily bowel reports. I’m certain it is written into their genome. They are, as I fear I will be one day, beyond the point of growing old. They have grown old.

It’s very past tense.

You might argue this is nothing more than forms of adverbs and a series of conjugations that make add up to semantics, but it is more than the meaning of these words. It is the thought and process of where it takes us.

Few of us ever think we are getting old. We think other people are old. When I was a kid, I thought my dad was old. Odd thing is, as I realized today, the age I am now, he was when I was born. And I probably only thought he was old because all my friends’ dad’s were much younger than my dad; me being the youngest of my six siblings. Maybe I thought dad was old because my friends thought he was old. I’m sure the grey beard didn’t help him look younger – by the time we were at the age of recognition – but it certainly was something that everyone else noticed. Being a kid, I just accepted it for what it was – he was old. In hindsight, he never got to grow old. He was there, and then he died.

No one in their 58th year is old.

I’d never given being old much thought until tonight. I’ve felt I was “getting old” after a half marathon, or a long mountain bike ride, or a four or five day backpacking trip in the mountains, or even after 13 hours on a airplane in a seat designed for the passenger who is going home to Hong Kong, but those are just feelings of fatigue. Being old was never a consideration, or a concern, until  I saw the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

It’s pointless to try to explain the plot, and really, why would I ruin it for you any more than I would tell you the dénouement in my novel (yes, I’m still writing it, Mom), but consider the movie to be about people facing the fears of old age. And before you yawn, let me tell you it’s the best film I’ve seen so far in 2012. If only I had Academy voting privileges. Yes, it’s that good. The point is, it was like a self-help movie for the person who’s never felt the compulsion to read a self-help book. I guess the closest I’ve every come to that is Jeffery Gitomer’s Little Gold Book Of YES! And that was more “self-business-help.

The self-help in the movie, for me, was that being old is probably not as scary as we might think. I always figured if I focused on not focusing on growing old – the thing I least feared – that one day I would just be old and since I was already there, I would just check in and resign myself to the fact that I would, sooner or later, check out. If you follow that at all. I’m not sure I do.

This may be why I avoid all self-help books like a plague. Firstly, and certainly most dear to my heart, is the crude fact that I like being a terribly flawed individual. I may not have shared this before, but I firmly believe that Jimmy Buffett’s friend Desmadona was right, “Human beings are flawed individuals. The cosmic bakers took us out of the oven too soon.”  I am completely okay with my squirrel stashes, my annual failure to get my taxes done early, and my unique ability (at least I feel it is a rather unique quality) to master the art of deadline procrastination. A consultant friend of mine likes to pile work on my plate at the last moment because he says I work petter under pressure. Procrastination, in his eyes, is my Muse. Ghad, if he only knew. What he doesn’t know is that it only sheer panic that sparks my creativity to the levels I like the to be at, and subsequently when the levy breaks, Albert’s brain barfs all over the page.

Maybe that is my best work. When I just page-purge. Sounds dandy, but it is usually pretty good stuff. Well…that was self-satisfying to say aloud.

Roit. Back to my point. The second reason I avoid self-help books is because the whole self-help book thing leaves me wanting for a match. I could be the guy on the pitcher’s mound having a book burning party. And while I believe every book is sacred – EVERY book, no matter what you posses for a belief system – some just will never get read, or have any shelf space in my book case. They make me wonder how a one-size-fits-all approach to psychology, or psychiatry, can possibly work. It makes me wonder why we need to self-analyze. And really, it’s one step closer to self-diagnosing. Being married to a medical professional, I know how much self-diagnosis is not appreciated by those educated and experienced in the science of diagnosis. It’s like the time I had hot tub folliculitis. I was convinced I had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. That was met with a swift, “No you don’t. And stay off the internet.” 

If I told my wife I was old, she’d just tell me I am aging. And that’s the whole reality shaker about growing old. If you just roll along with what is happening around you, you’ll never really notice that you are growing old – or aging. Sure you’re going to take a little longer to get up that mountainside, or to run that last five kilometers, or you’ll feel it in your knees after a long run or a big ride, but it passes with a little rest and a few little blue pills – Aleve, not Viagra (although that’s another part of aging, I guess.) The physical aches and pains are not that different from the mental aches and pains. Just the physical ones leave shallower scars and heal more quickly. The mental ones linger for as long as we have our memories intact, but that’s the beauty of being a flawed individual devoid of the need for self-help of any kind, you just roll with the flaws like you roll with changes in your life. In all, it’s a process. It takes steps. It takes time. There is a starting point and an ending point.

And as I learned today, watching The Very Best Marigold Hotel; In the end everything will be okay. And if it is not okay, trust me, it is not yet the end.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes more now than when he was younger, and appreciates everything a lot more each day. Unlike his father, he didn’t have six kids by the age of 43, but he has a lot of things to accomplish in the next 15 years. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Gaining knowledge and insight as he grows older, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.