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Book Summary: Help Me! One Woman’s Quest to Find Out If Self-Help Really Can Change Her Life

Help Me! (2018) is a record of one woman’s mission to fix her life through self-help books, from the day she finally said “enough” to the thrilling highs and abysmal lows. These summaries share the money, life, and relationship lessons she uncovered – and how they impacted her.


Motivation, Inspiration, Personal Development, Biography, Memoir, Community and Culture, Self Help, Autobiography, Humor, Psychology, Contemporary

Introduction: Find out if there is such a thing as too much self-help.

At the age of 36, Marianne Power was disappointed with life. Despite a successful career and a lifestyle that many would envy, she was plagued by unhappiness and anxiety. These feelings eventually pushed her to start a 16-month journey of self-improvement. Armed with self-help books, she tackled her flaws one by one to see if her life would change.

Marianne embraced rejection, committed to 10-day plans, and contemplated guardian angels. She even attended her own funeral. In doing all this, she tested her boundaries, put her personal relationships on the line, and unearthed truths about herself. These summaries share what she learned and how it changed her.

[Book Summary] Help Me! One Woman's Quest to Find Out If Self-Help Really Can Change Her Life

In these summaries, you’ll learn

  • how a hangover changed Marianne’s life;
  • what walking across a bed of hot coals can do for you; and
  • what Marianne learned from a bald cabbie.

A nasty hangover kicked off Marianne’s quest for perfection.

Can you think back to moments that made you reevaluate a situation and gave you just the push you needed to make a change? Maybe an unreasonable request from your boss helped you finally quit a job you hated? Or a chance meeting inspired you to move and start a new chapter in your life?

We all come to turning points like these. For Marianne, it was a painful Sunday morning after a night of drinking.

The key message here is: A nasty hangover kicked off Marianne’s quest for perfection.

While she grappled with a pounding headache and a queasy stomach, anxiety and feelings of failure took center stage. Even though she felt fortunate to be making a good living as a freelance writer in London, the 36-year-old was unhappy.

Marianne’s friends and peers seemed to be moving forward in life. They were getting married, starting families, and buying houses. But without a partner, a house to her name, or a plan for the future, Marianne felt stuck in a rut.

And it wasn’t the first time.

More than 10 years before, Marianne had been miserable in her job. So she’d turned to a self-help book for guidance. The book surprised her. It gave her the confidence to leave her job and jumpstart her journalism career. After that, Marianne was hooked on self-help. She read any and every book that promised more money, the love of her life, and career success.

Except none of those things materialized. Despite all the self-help she devoured, Marianne’s finances never improved. Her dream man was nowhere to be seen. Sure, she had a successful career, but this was all down to a work ethic driven by fear.

Then, on that hungover Sunday, Marianne had not one, but two, lightbulb moments.

First, she realized that all the time she’d been reading self-help books, she’d never acted on the advice they gave her. This, she thought, was why her life hadn’t changed. Then the second lightbulb went on: if she started doing self-help instead of simply reading it, then she wouldn’t be unhappy. Far from it – she’d be perfect!

And so Marianne decided to read one self-help book a month for a year and implement everything she learned.

You can learn lessons from facing your fears, but not every fear needs to be confronted.

Marianne’s quest for a perfect life started with the book that transformed her career all those years ago: Feel the Fear, by Susan Jeffers.

As far as Jeffers was concerned, to be happy and successful Marianne had to do the things that scared her. Fear comes up when we’re being pushed out of our comfort zones. And facing that fear is how we move forward in life.

But as Marianne learned, some fears are best left alone.

The key message here is: You can learn lessons from facing your fears, but not every fear needs to be confronted.

Can you think of a better way to start a new year than jumping into an icy pond?

You probably have several warmer alternatives in mind. But Marianne decided to face her fear of the cold by swimming on “one of the coldest days of the year.” She jumped in.

At first, Marianne was convinced she was going to die. But as her body became numb to the water’s temperature, a sense of calm took over. Afterwards, the calm gave way to excitement. She’d felt the fear and done it anyway. Now, she felt like she could do anything.

What followed was a month of wrestling with fears, both big and small. Marianne parallel parked for the first time since her driving test and started conversations with strangers on the subway. She tried her hand at public speaking and received an award for it! She even did some stand-up comedy.

These things left Marianne feeling confident and alive. She discovered that she was capable of a lot more than she gave herself credit for. And she wondered how different life would be if she stopped running away from the things that scared her.

But not every fear she faced made her feel like she’d accomplished something.

Take the time she jumped out of a plane and fell through the sky at 150 mph. It made Marianne realize that her fear of heights was completely normal, as were her other physical fears. These fears didn’t hold her back in life; they kept her safe. There was nothing to gain from facing them.

Instead, she needed to focus on the things that were slowing her down, like her money habits. And that’s exactly what she did next.

Insecurity and a childhood of extremes were behind Marianne’s money problems.

Some people are terrible with money. They spend it as soon as they get it and can never explain how. They rack up debt and often have to borrow from friends or family.

You probably know someone like this. You might even be cringing because, like Marianne, you tick all the boxes! In her own words, she “threw money away.” Her bank balance was always a mystery to her, unless her card was declined – then she knew she was down to zero.

So, to self-help her way to financial stability, Marianne read Money, A Love Story, by Kate Northrup. It turned out that she needed to examine more than her bank balance.

The key message here is: Insecurity and a childhood of extremes were behind Marianne’s money problems.

Prompted by the book, Marianne wrote down all her memories and experiences regarding money. This 2-hour exercise revealed that her childhood played a role in her money issues.

Growing up, her family had fancy cars, and her father literally threw cash around. But all the money was gone by the time she reached her twenties. The wealth didn’t last, but it left Marianne with guilt about having more than others. This explained why she often paid for her friends’ drinks and meals. And seeing her family lose their fortune made her believe that money went as easily as it came. So, she avoided getting attached to it, planning with it, or even being conscious about how she spent it.

But her childhood wasn’t the whole story. When she looked through her bank statements, she uncovered about $19,000 worth of debt. She realized she’d been wasting all her money on expensive coffees and beauty treatments, and it brought her to tears. It also made her wonder why neither of her sisters had the same issues.

And that’s when Marianne realized why she spent so much: she was trying to feel good enough. She threw money at people in a desperate attempt to be liked. Her money problems were rooted in low self-esteem.

Marianne knew that it would take a while to fix her relationship with money. But she committed to doing it. She followed the book’s advice to organize her finances, regularly track her accounts and spending, and be more grateful for her money.

Unfortunately, her commitment was short-lived.

“The Secret” helped Marianne reconsider her ideal life, but it also disrupted her new financial habits.

After facing the cold reality of her money problems, Marianne picked up a book with a completely different approach.

The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, teaches that people can use positive thinking and the law of attraction to manifest anything they want in life. Marianne had very strong opinions about this; she thought it was all delusional. But lots of people had told her that the book changed their lives. And a small part of her wanted a magical fix to all her problems.

Her problems didn’t vanish. But the book’s message was valuable to Marianne in some ways. In other ways, not so much.

The key message here is: “The Secret” helped Marianne reconsider her ideal life, but it also disrupted her new financial habits.

A waitress who’d read The Secret advised Marianne to create a vision board – a poster with images representing her perfect life. Marianne parked her cynicism and gave it a shot.

She started with a mansion in Los Angeles, which surprised her housemate. It didn’t seem like her at all. This made Marianne wonder why she thought money and excess would make her happy.

It was time for a new vision, one that suited her better. Her version of a perfect life was being healthy and content, meditating and practicing yoga. She wanted to have a partner, friends around her, and the freedom to travel the world.

So now she knew what her perfect life looked like. But Marianne was still skeptical about The Secret.

She didn’t believe that positive thinking alone would get her what she wanted. But then, suddenly, her editor asked her to write articles about kale and yoga. This was just four days after Marianne had glued pictures of green juice and yoga poses on her vision board. She started to think that maybe there was something to this after all.

And if The Secret actually worked, one area Marianne really needed help in was her finances. So, she followed its advice and visualized money coming into her life. She wrote herself a check for the $120,000 she was hoping for. And she replaced the figures in her bank statement with the amount of money she wanted.

But only a week after committing to better money habits, Marianne stopped tracking her finances, and she fell behind on her freelance work.

A family tragedy made Marianne question her entire project, but seeking rejection led to significant wins.

When was the last time you went out looking for rejection? Chances are, it’s never crossed your mind to do this. In fact, you’re probably wondering why anyone would do such a thing.

But, as Marianne learned from the book Rejection Therapy, if you keep facing rejection, you become desensitized to it. You stop seeing it as something to avoid. As a result, you become more willing to try new things.

With this in mind, Marianne aimed for one rejection a day. But just as she was gearing up for a rejection that terrified her, something stopped her in her tracks.

The key message here is: A family tragedy made Marianne question her entire project, but seeking rejection led to significant wins.

While preparing to audition for a talent show on TV, Marianne received some terrible news: her uncle had passed away. All thoughts of the audition left Marianne’s mind, and she immediately flew to Ireland for the funeral.

Mourning her uncle and listening to everyone who’d experienced his kindness made Marianne’s self-help journey seem pointless. Perhaps, she thought, instead of trying to be perfect she just needed to be good to others and grateful for what she had. After the funeral, Marianne stopped looking for rejection. She fell into her old routine of sleeping, working, and watching TV.

Weeks later, she came across a quote: “Comfort is highly overrated for individuals who want to progress in life.” And just like that, she was back in the rejection game.

Except rejection wasn’t all she got. There were unexpected yeses, too. A musician let her play his instrument, and a group of women welcomed her into their conversation. These interactions made her feel like the world was full of possibilities. But then her sister pointed out that Marianne wasn’t trying to do things that could actually change her life.

As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Marianne knew this was true. And so she took things up a few notches. She pitched articles to publications she wanted to write for and approached a man she’d been admiring in a coffee shop.

The results were completely unexpected. One of her pitches turned into a weekly column. And the man in the coffee shop? He immediately asked her on a date. These rewarding attempts at rejection taught Marianne that she’d been playing it safe in far too many areas of her life.

An Italian retreat inspired profound revelations for Marianne, but it also cost her important relationships.

Having walked away from rejection with a few things to show for it, Marianne was ready to try John Parkin’s flavor of self-help. In his book, F**k It!, Parkin advises people to stop obsessing over things that ultimately don’t matter. The more relaxed they are about life, the easier life becomes.

Since she worried so much, learning to say “fuck it” to everything really appealed to Marianne. She was also excited to go on the author’s week-long retreat in Italy.

As it turned out, the retreat gave her more than just the chance to frolic in vineyards and olive groves.

The key message here is: An Italian retreat inspired profound revelations for Marianne, but it also cost her important relationships.

The exercises during the retreat sparked epiphanies about how Marianne had been living.

In one exercise that required breathing and letting go while a partner watched, she couldn’t bring herself to relax. Lying there, Marianne realized that she’d felt this way all her life. She’d been scared that if she let go and allowed herself to be happy, something awful would happen.

Another exercise asked the participants to let their bodies float in a pool of warm water, trusting someone else to support them. This was almost magical for Marianne. It felt incredible to completely trust another person. She learned that she never really trusted anyone; she was always expecting them to hurt or disappoint her.

The retreat left Marianne more in touch with her feelings – so much so that when she returned to London, she cried at how beautiful the squirrels were!

But these weren’t the only feelings she was contending with. All of Marianne’s self-help books recommended avoiding negative people. And for a while, Marianne had felt that those around her were mocking her mission to improve herself. So, when a close friend suggested that she was becoming self-obsessed, Marianne decided that this was one of the negative people that she had to ditch.

Marianne fully embraced John Parkin’s philosophy. She said “fuck it” to negative friends and to doing things she didn’t feel like doing – even her work assignments.

Marianne’s high from attending the Tony Robbins seminar was short-lived – and was followed by the harsh reality of being broke.

Marianne may have lost an old friend, but she’d also made new ones who were as enthusiastic about self-help as she was. This is how she came across her next guide on the road to perfection: Tony Robbins.

In his book, Awaken the Giant Within, Robbins teaches that we can have anything we want if we get our minds and bodies in the right state. However, rather than reading the 500 or so pages, Marianne spent around $600 on a seminar led by the man himself.

And for a while, her investment paid off.

The key message here is: Marianne’s high from attending the Tony Robbins seminar was short-lived – and was followed by the harsh reality of being broke.

Marianne spent four days with 7,000 people, all discovering what they really wanted and unleashing their energy and passion. Most importantly, they learned that they were capable of absolutely anything, even walking barefoot across hot coals. And on the last day, that’s exactly what they did.

Stepping on the burning coals was so easy it was “almost underwhelming.” Marianne left the seminar feeling like a different person – one who could have anything she wanted, including a perfect life. All she had to do was commit to Tony’s 10-day challenge. It included, among other things, ice-cold baths and monitoring her urine’s pH levels.

But halfway through the challenge, Marianne lost momentum. And a few weeks later, she was hit by something that put a stop to all thoughts of 10-day challenges and ice baths.

A declined card forced her to look at her bank statements for the first time since reading a money self-help book five months earlier. She was late on payments and nearly $4,000 overdrawn! While chasing the dream of a more successful life, Marianne had ignored her bills and the freelance work that provided her income.

Her first response was to contact a debtors support group and a debt charity. But Marianne quickly realized that her money problem was not a disease. She had the power to fix it.

So, she put self-help aside and got to work. She sent out countless article pitches and worked 24-7 for a month. By the end of it, her debt wasn’t completely gone, but it was manageable. And Marianne gained an appreciation for her work and her ability to support herself financially.

When self-help started to make her angry and sick, Marianne was inspired to turn her attention away from herself.

It’s hard to keep going once you’ve taken a knock. And after hitting rock bottom financially, Marianne wasn’t sure about continuing her self-help project. But she didn’t think she’d be happy facing the real world, either.

Then, a phone call from her editor pointed a way forward. Marianne was asked to write an article about the growing popularity of angel therapy – the practice of asking guardian angels for help.

Motivated by the promise of a paycheck, Marianne bought Doreen Virtue’s angel therapy books and the “angel cards” that go with them. She started investigating. But she was far from impressed by what she read.

The key message here is: When self-help started to make her angry and sick, Marianne was inspired to turn her attention away from herself.

Even though she’d consumed no less than eight self-help books at this point, Marianne just couldn’t get on board with angel therapy. The idea of talking to angels was just too strange. She ended her investigation angry at herself for even trying – and for indulging in self-help in the first place. After all, it didn’t seem to be helping her. As a matter of fact, it appeared to be making her sick.

Marianne had a history of getting sick whenever she was burned-out, and ten months into her self-help journey, she started showing symptoms. Perhaps all her introspection was taking a toll on her body.

But Marianne couldn’t accept that this was simply a case of her health acting up. Instead, she turned to self-help gurus in search of a psychological cause. It took her mother and an elderly neighbor to snap her out of it and force her to change tack.

At first, Marianne was annoyed when her mother suggested that her project had made her self-centered. In her mother’s opinion, Marianne wouldn’t obsess over herself if she took care of other people. But as much as this offended Marianne, she knew that there was some truth to it.

Later, while basking in the warm feeling she got from clearing leaves off her 85-year-old neighbor’s driveway, Marianne considered her mother’s words. She felt good helping someone. Her mother and her neighbor were both helpful people, and they were content with life. Maybe the life she was looking for would come when she put other people ahead of herself.

Imagining her own funeral caused Marianne’s breakdown – and eventually her breakthrough.

Have you ever imagined how your funeral will go? Maybe you’ve thought about what you’ll be wearing, or how many people will show up. Or, you’ve wondered what people will say about you.

This fairly morbid exercise was a step in Marianne’s bid to become selfless. She was following the advice of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, who believes that happiness comes from being good to others.

Now, thinking about your funeral would probably be uncomfortable for many people, but for Marianne, it’s what sent her over the edge.

The key message here is: Imagining her own funeral caused Marianne’s breakdown – and eventually her breakthrough.

In Marianne’s vision, only a handful of people attended her funeral. Most unsettling of all, she’d killed herself at the age of 42. This idea combined with the pressure of trying to decide how she should spend her remaining years. Together, these thoughts triggered a depressive episode that lasted over a month.

Noticing something was off, Marianne’s sister suggested that she visit a trusted friend, Gemma, in Ireland.

Marianne made her way to Ireland. But instead of seeing Gemma, Marianne lay in bed for three solid days, listening to the sounds of the TV. It took Gemma showing up at the guesthouse door and taking her on long, silent walks before Marianne could open up about her depression.

Marianne wasn’t keen on seeking medical help, as Gemma suggested. She was determined to work through this on her own for a little while longer. But spending time with her good friend helped Marianne start feeling better.

Unexpectedly, talking with a stranger turned out to be the thing she needed next.

Many people have had meaningful conversations while riding in the back of a cab. But when Marianne shared how her year of self-help had driven her to depression, she was surprised to find that her driver could relate. The bald cabbie explained that he’d experienced something similar, and it comforted Marianne, as did his idea that Marianne wasn’t trying to be a better person – she was just trying to find the freedom to exist without fear or anxiety.

A therapist and a German spiritual teacher helped Marianne understand the root of her struggles with perfection.

How often have you set goals at the beginning of a new year, only to look back after a year and find that you haven’t reached any of them?

It can be discouraging. But many of us dust ourselves off, reassess our goals, and try to figure out how we can do better. Marianne was no different. When she entered the new year without the perfect life she’d set out to create, she consulted a therapist.

The key message here is: A therapist and a German spiritual teacher helped Marianne understand the root of her struggles with perfection.

What Marianne learned in the therapist’s chair was reassuring. She realized that after so much introspection all on her own, breaking down was a normal reaction. This one therapy session did more than just validate Marianne’s feelings. It also pointed her toward a book that clarified everything for her.

When Marianne read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, every word felt like the gospel.

She discovered that she constantly told herself that she wasn’t good enough. What’s more, she was, in a way, attached to these beliefs. They were familiar, comfortable stories she’d been telling herself. And so, she gravitated toward situations that would confirm them.

But perhaps the most important revelation from The Power of Now was this: in trying to become the most perfect version of herself, Marianne was prioritizing her future while ignoring her present.

This, she realized, was something she’d done her entire life. Instead of appreciating the steps she was taking, however small, Marianne kept thinking she would only be happy once she achieved her goal. She obsessed over a perfect future and beat herself up when she failed.

Once Marianne took this to heart, she began focusing on the good things in her present. The world around her was beautiful. She had a healthy body. She was surrounded by friends and family.

A month after she’d experienced a depressive episode, Marianne was calmer than she’d ever been in her life. Her self-help journey had, finally, brought her peace of mind. But there was one question people kept asking: When would it bring her love?

An awkward date revealed why Marianne had trouble connecting with others.

When Marianne decided to self-help her way through the dating world, she was surprised to find that she had no problem approaching men. All the fear-facing and rejection therapy had done its work. So, meeting a man would be easy now, right?


Marianne did go on several dates, including one with a man she was genuinely interested in. He seemed to like her, too. But when she backed away from a kiss in a panic, Marianne realized something: her single status wasn’t just about not meeting the right man.

The key message here is: An awkward date revealed why Marianne had trouble connecting with others.

Marianne had stumbled on a deep-seated belief that held her back in romantic relationships – she didn’t think that anyone could love her. It was the first time she’d admitted this to herself. Soon after, she discovered Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. The author’s philosophy captured Marianne’s difficult feeling perfectly. It was shame – the sense that she did not deserve to experience love and belonging. This was behind so many of Marianne’s destructive habits.

According to Brown, when people are ashamed, they chase impossible perfection. And when they fail to reach it, they turn to alcohol, food, mindless television, anything to numb the painful feeling. This rarely works, and their last resort is to isolate themselves from other people.

Marianne had gone through all this, including cutting herself off. Ironically, connecting with people was the antidote to her shame. By sharing her feelings with an empathetic person, Marianne could start chipping away at the shame.

It all made sense. Marianne had tried desperately to help herself, when the truth was that she needed to reach out to others.

Marianne followed Brené Brown’s advice and healed ruptured friendships and connections. Then she ended her self-help journey with Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life.

Hay teaches that cultivating self-love is the key to improving every other aspect of life. And as Marianne took this message in, she realized that – finally – she truly did love herself. In trying to fix what she thought was wrong with her, Marianne had done crazy and brave things. That spoke to her strength, and to the fact that she was alive. She was done finding flaws with herself.

Final Summary

The key message in these summaries:

While Marianne chased perfection, she uncovered truths about herself, her relationships, and her outlook on life. The happiness she was after wasn’t hiding in the page of a self-help book or in magical affirmations. To achieve it, she had to look past herself and her perceived flaws, and connect with those around her.

About the author

Marianne Power is a writer and journalist who lives in London. She has written for The Daily Mail, The Irish Independent, Good Housekeeping, and Glamour, among others. Help Me! is her first book.

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