A woman posted a sign in her kitchen that read simply, “You deserve it.” Every day she’d look at the sign and remind herself: I can make decisions; I can pursue my dreams; I can live exactly the way I want. I’m worth it. The three words she posted became a mantra for living a rich and fulfilling life.
“Giving yourself permission is the intentional act of putting our self-doubt and fear in their proper place,” writes Pennie Murray, author of Giving Myself Permission. “It is allowing yourself to confront and push against the brink of what you’ve been conditioned to believe are your limits in thought, belief, skill, and resources.”
It’s a compelling premise. Everyone has fear and self-doubt, and we all know how that cripples our success. Though Murray starts off with a great concept, however, she has trouble organizing her ideas and conveying them lucidly in this book. Instead, she ends up in a quagmire of her own personal and religious beliefs.
One has to sympathize with Murray, a woman who has battled many personal hardships: teenage pregnancy, racial prejudice, failed businesses, foreclosed home, IRS liens, divorce, abuse…the list goes on, and she outlines all this in her first two chapters. One is inspired to see how she has turned her life around. She is now a seemingly successful psychologist, neurolinguistic programming coach, and workshop leader. Most readers would be quite intrigued and waiting to learn just how she did it.
Unfortunately, this is the point at which Murray heads to the swamp. She divides her book into twelve rather general and somewhat repetitious chapters: “You Are the Approval You Want;” “The Secret to Success—You!;” “The Sleepwalking Stops Here!;” “Empowerment Through Self-Permission;” “Roll the Dice and Bet It All on You,” and others that sound nearly the same. Each chapter gives a broad and somewhat meandering view of Murray’s philosophies, then ties them into Bible scriptures and stories.
A good look at the table of contents shows a major flaw. There’s not a clear roadmap with detailed steps or strategies to achieve empowerment.
Each chapter ends with Murray stepping away from her pulpit and involving readers in exercises she calls “self-work.” Each exercise is supposed to gradually and subtly change the reader’s thinking and trigger “soul-searching — examining your motives and methods and then telling yourself the truth in order to make positive changes and better decisions in life.”
For instance, at the end of chapter 3, she asks readers, “What are your thoughts and feelings about self-approval?” After readers have completed the exercise, she instructs them to repeat this line in the face of fear and self-doubt: “There is nothing wrong with being self-approving, self-validating, and self-confident.”
That’s a cumbersome catchphrase. Who can remember it? Why not ask readers to remember a quick and easy one, such as, “This is my life. I’m in charge”?
Murray’s book is wordy and her points are often buried in rather dense, convoluted text—nothing is highlighted, outlined, or in bullet points. Good self-help books are full of how-to strategies, take-away lessons, and visual images that are easy to recall, especially when the reader is depressed or under pressure. Think of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Lessons are clear and organized. Key points are in bold.
Murray chooses not to present her ideas this way, claiming that the “ ‘how-to’ approach to growth also restricts our intuition and resourcefulness and continues to condition us to distrust our innate problem-solving abilities. It’s like a game of follow the leader.”
Granted, there’s not a template to happiness, but I don’t think that’s what Covey and others like him offer. The “step” or “how-to” approach is an educational system — with memory tools — aimed at instilling knowledge so that the reader can learn, apply, and adapt principles.
The best self-help books are full of anecdotes — memorable life lessons that we can’t forget. We learn through examples of how people fail and succeed. Skillful writers offer these lessons, helping readers picture themselves and think about possible personal solutions.
This is my main fault with Murray’s book. The only examples are from the author’s own life. While some authors can convert personal experiences into life lessons, the key is to step away, to evaluate the situation honestly, and to discover universal truths that others can use. Rather, Murray’s anecdotes are so emotionally charged, they obfuscate potential take-aways.
I imagine that Murray is a good speaker, and likely she has created this book as an add-on to her appearances. If one has heard Murray speak, then perhaps her book would be helpful and make more sense. For most readers, though, they probably won’t find the answers they’re looking for here. They’d be better off sticking three little words to their refrigerator door: You deserve it!
Giving Myself Permission: Putting Fear and Doubt in Their Place
GMP Publishing, January, 2013
Paperback, 306 pages