I am not a fan of swear words, so I was going to skip my friend Amy  Alkon's latest book, Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence. Alkon and I agree on a lot, even though we are polar opposites in many things. (She swears. I don't. I'm a church-going Mormon.She's a cultural Jew who's an atheist. I'm married with kids, and she's single with a boyfriend.) But we both strongly believe that we are responsible for our own choices.

As I said, I planned to skip the book, but I listened to an interview Alkon gave where she shared a story of her life. Living in New York City in her early twenties, Alkon was always the first one there to help out a friend. She helped countless people move from one apartment to the next. When she needed to move she assumed everyone would help her, but not a single person did. 

She came to the realization that the people she had helped weren't really her friends and had simply taken advantage of her. She felt stuck as a loser--someone who couldn't even get a bunch of people to help her pack. She decided to change, and she did. Her new book, she explained, tells the story of how she got unstuck and became a strong, confident woman that people would happily help move if she needed it.

In that story, I saw myself in certain relationships and I thought I need to read this book. If you, at all, have wimpy tendencies or have people (a boss, a "friend," a boyfriend, a ne'er do well cousin) who take advantage of you, it's time to crack open the book.

Alkon doesn't just write anecdotes about how she succeeded; she focuses on the science behind the changes.

Her first step was to look around at people who seemed strong and copy their behavior, even if it seemed scary. This fake-it-til-you-make-it behavior worked. And a surprising thing happened, Alkon changed herself until she didn't have to fake it anymore.

She learned to stand up and say no and push back when she needed to. 

If you've ever been the person in the office who works extra long hours only to see your co-worker get the promotion, you'll recognize yourself in this book. Learning how to stand up to people in authority and say no when you need to can actually help advance your career.

My favorite advice from the book is that just because you're afraid to do it, doesn't mean that fear is a good reason not to. When we talk about bravery we often think that "brave" people have no fear, but the reality is, brave people are afraid, they just go ahead anyway.

Alkon teaches a technique called "cognitive reappraisal" for helping you get through this. This means rethinking how you view a situation.When you come across something scary, like Alkon says, introducing yourself to an important stranger, you can either be paralyzed by fear, or you can rethink.

That rethinking would go something like this: No, this is not a fearsome experience; it's an opportunity. In fact, you could see it as multiple opportunities. It's an opportunity to show your courage. And it's an opportunity for opportunity. As I say about why I regularly strike up conversations with people I don't know, "Be friendly; magic sometimes happens."

An entrepreneur has to do things that seem scary but are actually opportunities. If you have fears that are holding you back, and you don't mind a bit of off-color language, Alkon's method of getting unstuck may be a help to you.

Published on: Jan 23, 2018