Chasing self-doubt away with a good book

Authors Ravi Vig (standing) and Karl LaRowe signing copies of their book, You Are Good Enough!, for readers at The Straits Times Book Club on Wednesday.
Authors Ravi Vig (standing) and Karl LaRowe signing copies of their book, You Are Good Enough!, for readers at The Straits Times Book Club on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

The average person can have 50,000 negative thoughts every day, and authors Karl LaRowe and Ravi Vig aim to change this mindset with their new book, You Are Good Enough!

At The Straits Times (ST) Book Club on Wednesday at the Central Public Library, the writers shared their strategies for dealing with anxiety and loss of purpose, which are increasingly common emotions in today's world.

LaRowe, 64, has worked in mental health and stress management for most of his life, including nine years of crisis intervention in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. It led to burnout, him rethinking his life and moving to Singapore in 1989 with his Singaporean wife.

Seven years ago, he met his co-author, 46-year-old Vig, a fellow alumnus from the University of Chicago. Vig was then taking a sabbatical to recover from burnout in the corporate world.

The two decided to write a paper about their similar experiences with what they call "enoughlessness" or the pervasive, consistent feeling that one is not good enough.

They call it "the pathos of the 21st century", where one's sense of self is shaped by the expectations of others and affected by the rapid pace of technological change and decreasing job security.

LaRowe said: "So many of us feel our identity is based on what we do. But today, we may have more than one job, more than one career in our lives. When we measure our value by what we do and what we earn, when we don't get what we want, our sense of our value collapses."

He added: "We've been brought up to believe that if someone else says you're a good person, then you're good enough. What we suggest is that we're born good enough. We've forgotten somewhere along the line that we have an innate value as human beings."

This session of the monthly book club was moderated by Mr Tan Ooi Boon, senior vice-president and general manager of Straits Times Press and Straits Times Education. It attracted 145 readers.

Questions lobbed at the authors focused on how to cope with losing one's job or being passed over for promotions. Vig noted that it was at times like these that one had to focus on one's intrinsic value, rather than external validation.

Strategies to do so, as discussed in the book, include taking an honest look at oneself - self-reflection - and owning one's feelings and behaviours, or self-responsibility.

A reader at the book club, Ms Yeo Whui Mei, 43, who works in technical strategy, is rethinking her life goals and reading You Are Good Enough! in the hope that it would help her.

"The first part of the book is good; it explains and validates a lot of what most of us face. But it's short on solutions," she said, adding that the author's suggestions were hard for a novice to practise by herself. She would have liked a real-life coaching programme to accompany the book.

The ST Book Club runs every last Wednesday of the month.

The next session on June 26 will discuss Tan Ooi Boon's true crime thriller, A British Serial Killer In Singapore, the tale of John Martin Scripps, who was the first serial killer convicted in Singapore. Readers can register for the talk at str.sg/oV8k.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2019, with the headline 'Chasing self-doubt away with a good book'. Print Edition | Subscribe