When people hear about the word “self-improvement,” they tend to think about cliché and overused advice such as following your passion or being optimistic. However, Eric Barker’s Barking Up the Wrong Tree tells a different story. Yes, it is a self-improvement book about how to succeed. However, it is an atypical one that not only debunks the myths of success, but also considers both sides of the argument. By doing so, the book encourages readers to not stick to one popular belief but rather think critically about different perspectives. Each chapter’s title in the book presents an internal conflict that many of us have encountered, such as giving up vs persisting. The most common advice people hear is that they should never give up. However, the book mentions that embracing this mindset can have significant consequences because it can cause people to spend time on activities that do not benefit them a lot.
Despite the conversational and somewhat informal tone that is already established from the beginning, the author provides a thorough explanation of the benefits and disadvantages of each lifestyle choice people make. In one chapter, the author investigates to what extent we should be confident in ourselves. After analyzing various studies and anecdotes, Barker concludes that the optimal approach isn’t self-confidence but rather self-compassion. The author provides various types of evidence ranging from unusual case studies to interesting anecdotes. When the author introduced the chapters using these methods, this made me want to keep reading because of its entertaining yet informative nature. Besides providing anecdotes, Barker also offers compelling evidence from psychology and business studies. Unlike the popular ones studied in school, these studies produced results that challenged my assumptions about success. For instance, I found it intriguing that a study showed that few valedictorians became millionaires as the majority of entrepreneurs had average GPAs in college. The seemingly contradictory nature of the study’s results taught me that the science behind success was not simple and logical, but fairly complicated.
While Barker does make the book enjoyable and fun to read, he does not forget the primary goal of the book: providing helpful and practical advice for his readers. At the end of each chapter, Barker forces the reader to reevaluate their current situations in life such as time spent at work or relationships with colleagues. He also offers steps that simplify the paths to success. For example, the mnemonic WNGF (winnable, novel challenges, goals, feedback) for goal setting provides an easy template for readers to use in the future. While the book’s intended audience is people that hold professional jobs as the book discusses business relations quite often, students can benefit just as much as middle-aged readers. One section of the book that I found useful was the chapter about quitting. Before, I thought that quitting was an indication that I failed at something. However, my view of quitting changed after I read that chapter and did a self-evaluation. From the chapter, I stopped that activity and decided to pursue other ones that made me happier.
In short, Barking Up the Wrong Tree provides greater clarity about the complex nature of success. Reading this book can help readers avoid taking the wrong path or using bad advice in life. While the book may be most appropriate for people experiencing an existential crisis, I would say that I would recommend it for anyone who wants to know the nuances of success, whether it is interpersonal relationships or risk-taking.
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