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In my sophomore year of college, my sociology professor had us read this book by Edward Bellamy, called Looking Backward. The story, theoretically, was about a guy who pulls some Rip Van Winkle stunt and sleeps himself into the next century. Really, the book was an excuse for Bellamy to use characters as his mouthpiece for his theory of the perfect utopian society. The story felt lifeless, the theory was full of holes, and the phrase “heaving bosom” appeared near the end of the book (one of my top five least favorite phrases in the English language).

I was outraged. I could have written a more believable societal structure in my sleep! And a better plot! When I pulled my professor aside after class to rant at him for five minutes about how much I hated the book, though, he was oddly pleased. It didn’t matter to him whether I loved or detested the reading material he assigned; what was important to him was that I got invested enough to be passionate about it.

Which brings us to present day. I mentioned before that I’m currently reading a career development book by an author who I find completely insufferable. He comes across to me as one of those slick, arrogant, narcissistic types who only reaches out to remind themselves of their own power: “You look so miserable down there. Let me tell you about the amazing things I did to make sure I’ll never be like you.”

“I like my work,” I snarled at the pages. “I don’t buy into the outsource-your-life philosophy you’re selling. I want to live my own life, thank you very much.”

Then I remembered Bellamy. So I put down the book for a moment and tried to figure out what it was that was irritating me so much about this author. I decided I didn’t like the way he presented what seemed to me to be very difficult tasks and acted like everyone should be able to do them. Contact celebrities, for example–who was he to assume that some anonymous person could call up someone important at random for an interview? What happened to pounding the pavement with the rest of the proles, you jerk?

And then I realized I didn’t like the way I was sounding, so I decided, you know what, I’m going to try it. There’s an article I’m writing about diets and eating disorders and how to teach children about being healthy, and I emailed the president of the National Eating Disorder Association to ask for an interview.

And I got it. It’s scheduled for Wednesday.

Being annoyed is not always a bad thing. Knowing why something gets under your skin can reveal a lot about you–what you’re scared of, what your ideas and theories are, which direction you need to push yourself. I may not agree with the rest of that insufferable book, but I’m going to keep reading it. If his life principles irritate the hell out of me, it’s not the worst place I could start to get a firmer grasp on my own.

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