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What to do if your life 'sucks'

Self-help author offers tips on positive thinking and doing

Alan Cohen
Alan Cohen  

By Todd Leopold

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Alan Cohen knows that your life sucks.

He knows because that's the title he gave his book -- "Why Your Life Sucks" -- and why he also gave it the subtitle "... and What You Can Do About It."

He also knows because his life has sucked at times, and he found ways of climbing out of that deep, dank, soggy straw.

But why be so blunt? Because there are a lot of self-help books and self-help gurus out there, and you have to have a gimmick -- even if it means stepping on a few psyches.

"I wanted to meet more people where they live," he says in an interview during a book tour stop in Atlanta. "I thought, Wouldn't it be cool to get more in people's faces?"

Tips from Alan Cohen 

The goal of his book, he says, is to encourage people to stop being so negative, to follow their passion, their muse, and see where it takes them.

Sounds like something easy to say, hard to do? Cohen agrees. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, he adds.

"Passion is very energizing," he says. "When you follow [your passion], you're energized, creative, you come up with solutions you wouldn't have thought of if you haven't.

"There are two ways of changing your life," he says. "One is by changing your conditions, and the other is by changing your mind."

The epiphany

The 52-year-old Cohen, who specializes in group dynamics and communications and has been in the motivational business for 20 years -- he conducts "life mastery" seminars at his home in Hawaii -- had to work quite a bit at the latter himself.

"I grew up uptight and nervous in New Jersey," he says. "I was living in my head, playing games."

He had his epiphany in graduate school, he says, when he went to an encounter group.

The epiphany

"I got that my act wasn't fooling anyone. I got that it was OK to be who I was," he says. "In just that moment of realization, my whole life changed. ... I asked for what I wanted."

That philosophy is at the heart of "Why Your Life Sucks" (Jodere Group). The chapter titles express a lot: "You give your power away," "You expect it to suck," "You waste your energy on things that suck," "You think you have to do it all yourself."

Focusing so much on the self -- sometimes, it seems, at the expense of others -- may seem like something out of Ayn Rand, but Cohen says he doesn't buy into a completely Objectivist, "I got mine, Jack" viewpoint.

"My belief is there's no private good," he says. "My good is relative to others. So as I follow my own path, I'm better able to serve others."

Making space for others

"Relative" is another idea central to "Why Your Life Sucks." Cohen points out that what seems awful to one is wonderful to another.

In one case, he was in a restaurant where his girlfriend was chilled by the air conditioning blowing over their heads; they moved to another table.

Meanwhile, another couple came in, took their old table, and obviously welcomed the cool air.

In another instance, he was at a parking lot and noted that the toll collector in his booth -- a man who held a job listed as "most boring" in one survey he'd read -- was singing opera to every car and having a blast.

"He'd turned a prison into an opera hall," Cohen says. "That's an example of taking what you have and making it into what you want."

Still, he says, not everybody feels so liberated. Cohen commissioned a survey from the Harris Organization that concluded that 25 percent of Americans believed their lives sucked because of someone they couldn't control -- their bosses.

At seminars, when Cohen brought up this statistic, he found that some of the dissatisfied were bosses themselves.

"Once, a woman stood up and said, 'I'm a boss that sucks. When I go home, I don't like myself,' " Cohen says.

What's missing, he says, is a sense of compassion -- from both sides. "Anybody who wields power without compassion feels powerless," he says.

If an employee can understand that, then they might be able to have more sympathy for their boss -- if the boss is worth it.

Asked about the corporate chieftains of companies like Enron and WorldCom, Cohen hopes other managers get the message that you risk a mutiny if you treat people poorly. "It's a wakeup call," he says.

It all sounds so easy, but Cohen is a firm believer in you get back what you put into the world.

When he was trying to do it all himself, he says -- giving his lectures, writing his books, running his business -- he put in long days and came back home angry and grumpy.

Eventually, he hired others, believing that if they did their jobs well, he'd do better himself. And "that's the way it is now," he says.

"So I'm true to my unique gifts, and I make space for others," Cohen says. "And we all end up winning."


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