During 2019 I will be experimenting with auto-ethnography and self-help books. I am aware this might sound quite self-indulgent, but it seems a reasonable starting point for engaging with self-help books on time and I promised the Leverhulme Trust that I would do this and they are funding me for three years. I decided to start with a more ambitious self-help text ‘Your dream life starts here’ by Kristina Karlsson ‘the woman behind the inspiring global success story, kikki.K’. Not strictly a self-help book about time management, but time is quite an important dimension to the book. I intend to spend a month working with each book, but I’m only about a third of the way through creating my dream life and it would be inappropriate to rush through the activities suggested.
The book is divided into 25 chapters and there are exercises to do at the end of each chapter, which can be completed with the accompanying dream life journal. The exercises start with writing down 101 dreams and so far I’m only at 18. For chapter 2, ‘Inspired by the dreams of others’ I have to seek out other people’s dreams. This has confirmed my suspicions about dreaming. In my 18 dreams five of the first six that I came up with were all dreams for other people (members of my family); I didn’t get to ‘me’ dreams until dream 6 and didn’t start to dream big until 14 upwards (open up a museum of unfinished and unstarted stuff, owning a pig and become a colour therapist). When I ask other people it is pretty much the same; the immediate dreams my respondents have are for other people: travelling with family, spending time with family, being happy with loved ones. In her book Karlsson provides 66 dreams she has collated from other people, 42 of these involve doing things with or for other people (e.g. having a career that involve helping others or travelling with family members), or are dreams for other people (e.g. dreams for children’s futures and health of family members). Dreams are not uniquely individual but are very much relational.
Turning to chapter 4, I ran into a problem because this is about putting myself in the driving seat. The activity I really got stuck on was ‘think of someone you know who steers their journey through life from the driver’s seat. What do you admire most about them? What could you learn from them and use in creating your own dream life?’. I’ve worked in universities all my life and have met many people who like to occupy the driving seat. My problem is that I have never found them inspirational. It is the colleagues who are good colleagues that have always made more of an impact. If our dreams are relational then this involves compromise and accepting that we are not drivers in charge all of the time; we have to share reading the road map, even if these end in disagreements.
Karlsson’s book and her advice is truly characteristic of self-help literature: take a collective challenge such as ‘a dream life’ and propose an individualistic solution. I doubt many of us would associate a dream life with a solitary one, so is the way to get there to drive there yourself? As I work through the activities from chapter 5 these are mostly about self-knowledge and I’m struck how these conform to Foucault’s characterisation of technologies of the self. Foucault argues that these technologies are historically constituted and his analysis of their genealogy considers how these have coalesced around the practice of knowing oneself. His historical reference period is Ancient Greece and Rome during which his suggest that the self was constituted through ethical practices, rather than self-knowledge.
But if self-knowledge is the technology of the self for modernity the question is what do with do with it? Karlsson advocates the need to write this knowledge down (and she sells stationery for this very purpose) so that we can re-read our dreams and consolidate our plans to put these into actions. The practices of self-knowledge become habits, but not to further self-inquiry rather to curate and refine this knowledge.