A smart and humorous look at the self-help industry and the pervasive impact of social media in our modern world.
HOW TO STOP TRYING:
Rejecting Empowerment Culture, Ignoring Bad Advice, and (Finally) Giving Yourself a Break
by Kate Williams
Harper Wave, Summer 2024
(via Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary)
You can think of this as straddling the line between Jenny Odell’s sparkling How To Do Nothing and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck if it had been written by a woman who considers Mean Girls a canonical film. Delivered with the whip smart humor and grace of someone who has made a career writing about everything from Wu-Tang Clan to colonics and odor-resistant underwear, HOW TO STOP TRYING has short chapters like Death Is The Ultimate Life Hack that helps you jump into perspective shifts and You Don’t Have to Be Who You Think You Are that teaches you to start living beyond the nouns in your social media bio and think of how you want to be instead of what you want to be.
Kate Williams has spent her career crafting narratives for women—as a ghostwriter for celebrity books, a magazine journalist, and an editorial director at companies like Urban Outfitters and Calvin Klein—but she has come to the conclusion that these narratives of never giving up, pushing through, soldiering on are causing a lot of harm. As a lifelong consumer and maker of media, Kate is keenly aware of exactly how these campaigns are working to sell you stuff, make you feel bad about yourself (so they can sell you stuff) and keep you from enjoying the actual life you’ve already built.
When Kate gave up trying to have a second child after several miscarriages, the most common response she got was: “Don’t give up. Keep trying. It’ll be worth it in the end.” She understood that this response was usually coming from a well-meaning place, but she bristled as her aha moment arrived—at what point do we have to quit, move on make peace, stop trying? And why is everyone else so invested in me not giving up? She did something revolutionary and just…stopped. As she began to turn her attention to what was already in her life instead of what wasn’t she began to see a bigger life theory come into focus. Not just about trying for a baby but trying (so hard) at all the things all the time.
There is no shortage of self-improvement books (Kate has ghostwritten many of these!) but there is a gap in books that really focus on bringing awareness to assumed cultural norms that are damaging so many of us. In the post-pandemic world, the conversation about stepping back is prevalent but what it misses is that stepping back is not just another pit stop before gearing back up to breakneck speed (in the way self-care has become) but instead it’s a whole new road of a gentler way to move forward.
Kate Williams is the author of the YA series The Babysitters Coven and the novel Never Coming Home (Delacorte Press). Her nonfiction has appeared in Cosmopolitan, NYLON, Elle, Women’s Health, Shape, Time Out New York, Monster Children, Russh, Oyster, The Fader, NME, H&M, Popular, Style.com and more. As a ghostwriter, she has written New York Times bestsellers, celebrity tell-alls, memoirs, how-tos, and beauty bibles.