All you need to know about How to Be Yourself
Simon Doonan, author and Creative Ambassador-at-Large for Barneys has figured it all out and has a solution for all of life’s challenges
Simon Doonan does not recommend you follow your dreams. “Dreams are not to be trusted,” he writes in his useful and brilliantly funny new book, How to Be Yourself: Life-Changing Advice from a Reckless Contrarian. “Dreams are just nightmares with better furniture.”
He is equally disparaging of the bucket list, those ponderous selections of experiences we feel we must try before kicking the bucket. In Doonan’s opinion, a wish to, say, zip line across a mangrove swamp, doesn’t show creative forward planning, but rather an abrogation of more immediate concerns. “The excessive focus on that zip-lining future allows you to abdicate responsibility for self-expression and self-development in all areas of your current life,” he writes.
Instead the British-born, US-based author, columnist, Barneys window-dresser, TV personality and all-round font of contemporary wisdom, suggests we set our life’s course via a less evanescent source of guidance: ourselves.
"I beg you, focus on yourself,” he writes in his new book. “If you have neglected to nurture your true self, your dazzling future accomplishments will afford you no joy. Yourself, therefore, is your most precious resource.”
Of course, Doonan doesn’t just abandon us to our inner impulses. Instead his book, subtitled Life-changing Advice from a Reckless Contrarian, offers us a wealth of left turns along the way in a spirited narrative that's packed with outrageous practical advice.
Consider his take on the perils of social media. “The only surefire way to achieve self-knowledge is to stop wanking around with your life as if it were a series of upcoming, as-yet-unscheduled Instagram posts and to simply explore yourself this instant,” he implores.
Or take this, much more marked and sobering argument against procrastination and complacency. “In the ’80s, I watched as AIDS decimated an entire swath of pals and colleagues and acquaintances,” he recalls. “Even though my friends were cut down in their prime, many had already lived adventurous, imaginative lives. It was as if they had already understood that life is short. Life is for living. Having been gay when it was reviled and illegal, my generation was obliged to self-validate. The lesson: external approval is nice, but do not rely on it.”
In lieu of approval, his book sets out a series of chapters, each examining how to be oneself successful in love, in the workplace, among one’s family, at parties, and in a fashionable setting. Consider these directions toward a good life partner.
“The key to finding the one is to stop giving a shit,“ he writes. “Lose the desperation. This does not mean that you do not need to make an effort. Au contraire! All the energy previously squandered dealing with your anxieties should be diverted into a vigorous marketing campaign, for yourself. Get the word out, telegraph your availability, charge ahead with your life, but, most importantly, lose the insecurity, or at least make every attempt to mask it.” And if you do find that life partner, he says, make sure your wedding is as feral or as oppulent, as you are!
Or this, on the joys to be had from a well-fitted garment. “If a garment fits well—I’m thinking in particular of shoulder seam, sleeve length, and waist rise— you, the wearer, will experience a physical pleasure that is sensual bordering on orgasmic. Find a skilled tailor in your neighborhood, and always remember his/her/their birthday. Drop off a ham on Christmas.”
Or this on punctuality in the office environment. “In an era when employees are loosey-goosey about timekeeping—Heather just texted from her reiki session and she’s running behind— the punctuality habit will mark you as an enigma, a strange combo of reliable and unknowable. Nobody will quite know what to make of you. Colleagues will project all kinds of stuff onto you. You, meanwhile, will be craftily learning the ropes.”
Or this on the joys of breaking up. “People stay in gruesome relationships because they are scared of dealing with reality solo,” he says. “The way around this is to recognize all the benefits of being alone, lying diagonally across the bed and listening to Burt Bacharach’s greatest hits while eating Turkish delight being the most obvious. You get to be your most selfish self again!”
Doonan doesn’t limit the book’s purview to his own life experience, but also takes in wise words from across the ages; Homer, Jean Paul Satre, Diana Vreeland, Ed Sheeran, Mahatma Gandhi and Young Thug are just a few of the cast of characters the author calls upon when drawing his delightfully, and effectively off-centre guide for contemporary living.
How to Be Yourself is an effective primer for anyone launching out into life, as well as anyone who finds him or herself adrift at later points. Followers of fashion and New York social life will adore the way Doonan praises and appraises the guiding figures in his life; take this description of Vogue’s Anna Wintour: “I would describe her style as having a base note of power chic, with a top note of intelligent flamboyance.”
The book dishes up delicious biographical details from Doonan, who went from a modest background in the south-east of England, to scale the peaks of East Coast high society; but it’s also a title that, like its author doesn’t take itself too seriously. For every frank piece of guidance there’s a funny aside, or a beautifully wry observation.
In an era when personal improvement books can prove to be dour and overly pompous, How to Be Yourself offers a funny, contrary route to a life lived very much in the moment, both your way, and Doonan’s way. Find out more, and order your copy of How to Be Yourself: Life-Changing Advice from a Reckless Contrarian here.