In order to succeed, you have to be bold, badass — and not afraid to be you, says author and businesswoman Sarah Robb O’Hagan. Our serial sceptic is, briefly, won over.
I began reading Extreme You with extreme reservations. I’m deeply sceptical about books that promise to change my life, more so since I started dating a self-help junkie. If I once took a passing interest in reading #Girlboss and Lean In, now I’m faced with a man who brings home a new self-improvement manual every week. In the past six months he has gamely ricocheted between learning The Power of Now and The Power of No, how to Spartan Up!, take Extreme Ownership and discover The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.
I would ignore this obsession, except somehow I always become a test bed for these books. Every time he starts a new one, the whole family (me and the dog) are expected to get on board with it. So each week we attempt to reinvent ourselves as tidier, more motivated and more organised. And each week our attempts are short-lived. The appealing, unusual thing about Extreme You is that while most self-help advises some ridiculous reinvention, this is a career guide that’s about becoming more like you.
In Extreme You (subtitle: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat), Sarah Robb O’Hagan suggests success won’t come by following some prescribed formula but by being bold, brave and (as she would say) ballsy enough to follow your unique path — to become an extreme version of yourself. Extremers, as she calls them, are “those who reach the summit of their potential by developing their unique mix of abilities in their own personal way”. She offers some compelling examples. Take Sam Kass, who combined his interests in food and politics to become a White House chef, working with the Obamas on food policy. Or Alli Webb, who turned her obsession with straightening her hair into Drybar, a multimillion-dollar blow-dry business.
O’Hagan, a New Zealander who followed the corporate American dream, also shows us her own life: steamrolling through executive positions with Virgin Atlantic, Gatorade and Nike, before finding her niche as CEO of boutique sports company Equinox, a role combining her attributes as an ambitious marketer and endurance athlete. She is certainly more relatable than your average guru. She’s a chatty, cheeky, sweary Kiwi, who talks about being “badass” in a style typical of the latest matey self-help books — see also Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass at Making Money and Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*** — although you wonder how her manic enthusiasm would play out in a British office. Desiring to be “badass” is not classic water-cooler chat.
O’Hagan is also appealingly honest about her mistakes. She admits to the presentations she’s fluffed, the jobs she’s been “painfully, crushingly, embarrassingly” fired from, and the struggles of managing a business while getting zits. Best of all, she meets my hesitations about self-help head-on, confessing she’s “as far from perfection as you can get”. Finally, a mantra I can get on board with.
The idea that you can succeed by being an extreme version of yourself is obviously appealing to narcissistic millennials like me. We revere authenticity. We don’t aspire to be suits and want the freedom to be ourselves. O’Hagan’s suggestion that we find our vocation by following our interests chimes with my generation, obsessed with building start-ups and slashie-careers. It’s also exciting at a time when the job market is all doom and gloom, to be empowered to create opportunity. She advises us to Get out of Line, which means instead of queuing up for someone else to notice you, start capitalising on yourself.
So all I have to do to make my fortune is decide what an extreme version of me would be like. This turns out to be the hardest bit. O’Hagan suggests starting by Checking Yourself Out, exploring all your interests and how they might lead to a career. So I ask myself, what do I love? “The sound of your own voice,” my boyfriend suggests. Brilliant! I have wanted to start a podcast for ages, so I email a friend suggesting we do. But that’s just the start. As O’Hagan says, once you’re extreme, don’t stop. Even after some success you have to keep finding bigger goals. Put your balls on the line. Be More Extreme.