Michael W. Dean, A User's Manual for the Human Experience, Kittyfeet Press, 2009.
Also available as a free download under Creative Commons License, and a free audiobook (also on iTunes and Podiobooks). Audiobook read by the author.
This book combines a structured self-help manual with autobiography. The author draws on his own life experience in order to explain the system that helped him. This reflects a holistic approach to life, where every aspect in a person's experience is connected to everything else. Readers can experience this book on two levels simultaneously: trying to take from the system the things that they believe will work for them in their lives, and getting to know the author's life and attitudes.
I chose to listen to the audiobook, read by the author, and this was a very intimate experience. Hearing someone speak about his own life and the lessons he has learned made it feel like a (one-sided) conversation. As I have noted in previous posts, I love listening to lectures, and this was one of the attractions of podcasts in the first place. But most lectures are somewhat, or very, distanced from the lecturer's inner life, and few have the sincerity and authenticity of this audiobook.
The self-help system, known as LifeAmp (short for Life Amplification), consists of two main parts: removing negative influences from your life, and working towards doing what you love for a living. The first part builds extensively on the author's experiences in overcoming addictions through Twelve-Step programs. He adapts the methodology, along with his own insights, and applies it to removing negative people from your life.
Readers may wonder if a method based on recovery from addiction is applicable to people who have never been addicted. LifeAmp assumes that many people may never have been addicted to substances and destructive behaviours, but that remaining in negative relationships is also a form of addiction. Many people are in codependent relationships, or simply allow others to waste their time and drain their energy. The method calls upon people to free themselves from these destructive relationships and become self-sufficient.
The second part of the book aims to help readers realize their dreams and work at the things they love. It includes a time management system that is so simple I expect many people have thought of it independently of each other. There is also advice on collaborating in small teams on various projects.
Not much of the advice here is new in any way, but that is to be expected in such works. The innovation is in the combination of the self-help with the autobiography, so that readers can understand how the author reached his conclusions from his own life experience.
Michael W. Dean's life is an interesting story, told with great passion and sincerity. He has been through a lot that most readers may find difficult to identify with: addiction to alcohol and narcotics, several destructive relationships, the death of his daughter (one of the most touching descriptions), and eventual recovery and success. He has become a healthy, happy, productive and useful person, and is devoting his life to helping others recover and thrive.
Another aspect of the book is the author's libertarian ideology, which permeates every aspect of the program (and of his life). I have encountered this sort of ideology mainly in my reading of various science fiction authors, and feel very ambivalent about it. This is an issue that will require further study for me, and I intend to write on it further one day. In the context of this book, the libertarian ideas of freedom and individual self-sufficiency make sense, both for recovery and for thriving as a productive person. But I am aware that many readers may feel some discomfort about some of the ideas presented. As with any experience, wise readers will take what they feel is good from this work and apply it to their lives.
I enjoyed the company of Michael W. Dean for the duration of the audiobook, and felt I understood what he was trying to get across, despite the great differences in our life experiences. I found him a sympathetic character, respected his toughness, admired his honesty, and was pleased to discover that, like me, he is a cat-lover! And for similar reasons. The writing style was casual and chatty, and his reading voice in the audiobook was pleasant and professional.
This book has given me much to think about and inspired me in many ways. It may not appeal to everyone, and has the tag-line "Not your mother's self-help book" (though surely some of the readers must be someone's mother?!), but I consider it worth a try, particularly (but not only) for those who find some of the ideas mentioned here relevant.