Written by Jen Brown



Q. When is a self-help classic not a self-help classic? A. When it’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, a “neat parcel of shit” seemingly determined to send former fan Jen Brown’s blood pressure through the roof.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

I used to love reading Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff until I realised the stuff wasn’t small at all. It was enormous. And worse, it was now in my life where it hadn’t been before.

I found the book lying on a friend’s coffee table a decade ago. She and her husband were going through a rough patch. They are now divorced. It lay like a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room and upon perusing this 1997 bestseller, I immediately felt ill and more than a tad scrutinised. But I still wanted a copy for myself.

I didn’t employ the book for long because when I have worrisome thoughts I’d rather talk than read. But it was compelling enough, at the time, with its short, snappy chapters to get me hooked and wonder, seriously, if it would be as well to kill myself now.

Pre-Stuff I was a happy and reasonably carefree person (well, you know), but the day the theories in this neat parcel of shit turned in on me, and did the exact opposite of what they were supposed to do, was the day I chucked the book against the wall. I’ve only picked it up again now to write this article.

It wasn’t anything specific that brought about my rebellion. It was all of it. What got on my nerves most was the central message of ‘Let’s all try and be jolly about everything that’s awful in the world and be ultra-kind to those we find hateful.’ I just couldn’t do it.

I suspect the tipping point might have been:

“Praise and Blame are all the same.”

Because they’re not. Praise feels lovely; like a warm, fluffy cardigan (probably pink), and blame is prickly and it scratches and it hurts. (And I’d like to bet it’s coal black).

And is the following really true?

“Agree with criticism directed towards you and watch it go away.”

Well, it pains me to say it but this pearl of wisdom actually worked for me, once, when I achieved the unachievable and typed and distributed the worst set of minutes ever to leave North Tyneside Council – and didn’t get fired. The powers that be implied heavily that I was useless but instead of trying to defend myself, I agreed with them, wholeheartedly.

“I know. I’m crap,” I said.

To my surprise and absolute delight, my superiors began to argue, profusely.

They cried, “No, you’re not, Jen! You have sooooo much to offer. This was not your fault. At all!”

Oh, that’s alright, then. Phew.

“Didn’t it occur to this smart-arse know-it-all that it’s sometimes impossible to lighten up when sad, murky clouds are floating all around you?”

Other than that one occasion though, I find agreeing with criticism directed towards me hard to take and even harder to agree with. It also leaves me wondering more and more often why folk are so bloody cheeky in the first place.

Then there’s this lot:

“Don’t expect your day to be perfect or people to be friendly.” (I never do)

Lighten up.” (Helpful)

“Just think, ‘Ah, another hurdle’…Rather than fighting life, try dancing with it.”

Oh yeah? And trip over the next hurdle?

Didn’t it occur to this smart-arse know-it-all that it’s sometimes impossible to lighten up when sad, murky clouds are floating all around you? I vote that it’s beneficial and cathartic to sometimes ‘darken down’ rather than to pretend to be happy. A complete black-out might even be in order.

From this moment, therefore, I declare ‘lighten up-ism’ to be rude, redundant and uncalled for. “Redundant” and “uncalled for” – now, they could be classed as both the same but I’m not going down that road because I’m only too aware of:

“The snowball effect of my own thinking.”

It’s me who wakes up every morning in the avalanche, so of course I’m aware. I don’t need a self-help book pointing it out and enhancing my misery. So, before the snow gets any heavier, I’m going to:

“Put out the rubbish – even though it’s not my turn.” (Haha!)

I will, I’ll do it, but you can be sure I’ll make a lot of noise about it, lest anyone forgets I did it last time.

Now I am sweating: lathered, in fact. I’m in a right state and I’ve only been flicking through the pages. See what I mean?

Not even Carlson’s clunky reassurance that, “In 100 years from now, all new people”, has managed to cheer me up. Not one jot. I get that a flat tyre today will mean nothing in the next century. But the very thought of my family and friends being dead then as well has upset me more than words can say.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff was fine when I wasn’t perspiring. I’m done with it now, though. We’re parting company, …Small Stuff and me. It’s going in the bin.

Yes, those loud noises you can hear are me – putting it out, along with the rest of the rubbish.




  • googleplus
  • linkedin
  • rss
  • pinterest

Written by Jen Brown

A Hollywood based Geordie pensioner living on her wits. Affectionately known as Nano to her granddaughters. Instantly likeable. (Daughter's words!) @MmePcato