What Is Your What? by Steve Olsher, 240 pages, Wiley, 2013, $17.00 hardcover.
The back cover and initial pages of this book tout it to be a life-altering experience for every reader, claiming that anyone who completes the book and follows the steps as presented will walk away with a clear indication of their “what,” which is how author Steve Olsher refers to a person’s life purpose. As is often true with self-help books, the readers’ results may vary, based on some key factors.
For example, this book asks the reader to consider personal life experiences and then to extrapolate on them. A reader (or a social worker’s client) who lacks personal insight or who has not yet processed the effect of a trauma might seriously benefit from being required to baby-step through this portion of the book.
In another passage, the book instructs the reader to write about how she or he wants to be perceived versus how she or he believes others perceive her or him. For someone lacking self-awareness, this might be a great exercise. That said, it is also very possible that a client who has been working on personal growth might find this to be pedantic. Since those who would benefit most from these exercises might lack the ability to complete the exercises individually, a social worker may find that such tasks would be more helpful to complete as a discussion or with the social worker’s immediate feedback during a session.
The author presupposes that every reader has at least one gift or major talent, something that may or may not be universally true and something that may be very difficult to process for someone in the midst of depression or who lacks self-esteem. In addition, folks who do not appreciate the implication that everyone is a sort of “special snowflake” may find this book pandering to a very different crowd than to be meant to reach those whose beliefs of self and others are more focused on the task than on the goal. Additionally, big-picture thinkers would be much more likely to find this book appealing than those who are short-term oriented.
With such disparity regarding the benefits of this book, it is possible that the guided self-reflection may benefit someone debating whether to pursue a career in social work. However, a practicing social worker would likely do better to keep this book in her or his office and utilize the exercises individually to encourage self-reflection rather than to recommend that a client purchase this book.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, LSW, LMSW.