Have you ever read a great story that inspired you in a unique way? Maybe it was a piece of fiction you read when you were young or maybe a read through history about some military leader or adventurer who scaled obstacles and lived to tell about it.
Those stories were simple. They were directly connected to real life with details we could often relate to. It’s similar to asking someone in there 80s about life advice. I’d bet that they have been through enough to relate to anything you throw at them. Nothing beats life experience.
Fast-forward to today or really the last couple of decades and you’ll see the explosion of self-help/improvement. Bookstores, ebooks, online course, and anything else media has been saturated with new ways, shortcuts, and (the one I hate the most) “hacks” for better living.
Whether it’s living the good life on a six hour work week or learning the secrets of living big, I feel if you’re at all in the media space you’ve been bombarded with slick marketing about always optimizing. If you’re not first you’re last, right?
I once overheard a student of mine talk of his roommate buying a huge stack of books. Everything he mentioned was from the self-help arena. Books that ironically were the answer he was looking for. It was as if he was more excited about reading those books instead of any action taken toward his goals.
The self-improvement industry relies on you never getting better. If you just buy that one book or course everything will be better, they say. Oh, and then here’s another, and another. Did they mention there is a five book series for sale?
I’m not special. I fell for it, too. I would buy, read, and repeat like the best of them. I don’t blame myself. It was a new genre of media that I had never been exposed to before. When you’re going through changes and challenges in life you tend to reach everywhere for answers. Self-improvement was right there at my fingertips. All I had to do was search, click, and read and I was able to spend endless hours “improving” my situation.
The sneaky truth
The reality is that very little was sinking in and working. Maybe it was me? Upon further reading (outside of the arena) I found my answer.
I read this piece from the New Yorker: Improving Ourselves to Death.
It explains a lot about the mechanics behind this whole improvement world. One size doesn’t fit all and I found that I missed reading authentic stories, adventures, and other people’s real life experiences. I thought back about the books that impacted me the most and none of them were specifically about self-improvement.
Autobiographies, biographies, stories from war, personal battles, and memoirs were the ones I remember most and now my reading list was void of them.
I bought from the snake salesman. I drank the cool-aid. I believed it was too good to be true.
I can now look at things with 20/20 vision and I’ve observed a few things:
- Most of these self-help books can be summed up into a long article.
- Most use similar formulas: state the problem, list out solutions, and flesh it out into 250 to 300 pages.
- One size doesn’t fit all and we are all have unique situations. The solutions presented don’t usually help the majority of readers.
- Many strategies are difficult to put into action.
- They all start to say the same things over and over.
And the one thing I learned from all of this is most-likely the most important lesson of all:
What do you think?
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