The False Prophets of Self Help

The Self-Help industry by 2020 was worth a whopping 29.99 BILLION dollars. Yes, that’s Billion, with a big ol’ “B”. The list of gurus seems endless. You’ve got everyone from Tony Robbins and Eckhart Tolle to the local Cracker Jack wanna be business expert, telling you to “buy his course” through some YouTube ad in front of a yoga video. It’s obvious why there are so many, the industry sells, and… we all need help. Yet, as the industry began its boom, even in the days of Dale Carnegie, there came a creeping air of horse manure, an air of disingenuous intent left behind by the plethora of dollar chasers eager to tell you what’s missing in your life so that you may fill in their own empty holes.

            I, the writer of this blog, was too attracted to the field. There was a chance to really help people. And as human beings, we have an innate drive to connect to the whole of our collective. We’re animals bound to a pack, like it or not. But as I dove deeper into the development of my own career into this “shark infested field of self-help”—I’m paraphrasing a friend’s warning—I began to grow disenchanted with the field in general. Not only was there an oversaturation of “teachers” in the market but their advice grew increasingly “fluffy”—empty of true meaning or help. I even dove into the world of professional therapy, eager to study, both at university and through my own investigations, the complexities of the human mind and those that seek to enlighten it. What I found was, frankly, disturbing.

            Through countless hours of watching, reading, listening, attending, interviewing, and conversing with these professionals, I discovered one common element: the human drive to Self-Promote. The shameless attempt to sell ourselves has become the new plague of our civilization. Whether in the office or, especially, on your own, our world is drowning in the waters of advertising. Every adult human being on Earth has become a whore to the markets, whether you realize it or not. Truth be told, you have to be a bit of a slut to survive. Attempting to sit on a park bench and “let the universe” bring you the good fortune of cash was a lucky lotto ticket won by Mr. Tolle, and those of his followers praying to find the same fortune through his means have been met with a bit of brutal real-world awakening: Life Doesn’t Give A Damn About Your Bank Account.

            Let me be clear about my messaging here in case you may have missed it: no amount of prayer, meditation, attraction, crystal-rubbing, chanting, or channeling is going to make you rich. Sorry to snipe your hopes and dreams but there is a real reason why those who finally accumulate mass amounts of wealth grow guarded and often shrill against the general public. It’s because the amount of strife and stress it took to reach their position drained them to the core, leaving a scorned etching on their bones: “this thing you value is limited and fleeting”.

            It’s simple math, really. If what it took to become wealthy was the right amount of prayer/attraction/good-intent or whatever you shake your combined hands to, then there would simply be far more millionaires in the world. But there simply isn’t enough cash to go around. Money may be an arbitrary concept-turned pseudo religion but positions of power can only be held by so many. If you attempt to counter this with the belief that everyone can live equally, then you’re either very young or in a state of denial. Humans love hierarchy. The problem we now face is that, with such a large population, more of us want to be on top.

            This is not to say, however, that there is no such thing as enlightenment or that all of the self-help gurus of the world are hookers whoring for your clicks. Men like Eckhart Tolle have indeed changed my life for the better through their simple wisdom, and even Tony Robbins changed my opinion of him when I actually sat down and listened to what he had to say. These men, are the exception, unfortunately.

            Most of these men and women grow a god-complex unlike that even seen in the world of highly-paid surgeons. I believe the reason for this is due to their access to world-wide recognition and praise, and the fact that in order to become successful, most people have to “become” their personality and be that personality in order to maintain their audience. This does happen just as frequently in the world of professional therapy. A once close friend, a therapist and hopeful self-help guru, once said that people like her “need to be above the problems they are teaching others to overcome”. You could smell the bullshit rolling off her tongue as if she just licked the bull’s asshole. No, you will never be “above and beyond” human problems. You are in fact, and will always be, human. The entirety of our human experience is loaded with “problems” because we all need a constant training in how to make “choices”.

            Choice. This word and this word alone is your path towards true mastery of life. Enlightenment is the ability to remain clear-headed enough to make ego-free choices for sustained periods of time. But let me tell you this, everyone falls below the level of enlightenment when they go to bed, when they are starving, and when popping an erection (insert female equivalent here_____). You can indeed “overcome” these primal urges and maintain your enlightened-grace on occasion but it is indeed on occasion, and truth be told no one wants to be Mother Teresa when getting down and dirty in the bedroom. Sometimes it’s nice to not be in control and dance like an orangutang.

            That said, Choice is the name of the game. Choice is what sets apart the master from the minute-men. The key to enlightenment is not restraint or fighting those deep inner urges, it is understanding your choices in the past—why you made them, what you felt when you made them—and keeping a calm enough head to ensure you can make a different choice the next time you need to. That, my friends, is what creates your fate. The future is carved by your choices now. There is no set path for you. No divine being has your name on a chart-board with lines attached that map out your future. You set those lines. The more your ego is in control, the more those lines towards the future look repetitive. The more conscious your choices are, the more your future starts to change.

            Going back to our Self-Help heroes, all of these individuals are on their respective career path, taking charge of their futures by selling something to you. The legit do-gooders will admit this to you. There is, after all, no shame in becoming rich off of your work. Blaming Tolle for living in luxury while being a spiritual teacher is asinine. His contribution to society was his wisdom and knowledge, not his wallet. We the people gave him that money. That said, the first thing I’ll do, should I be fortunate to convince enough of you people to “Buy My Bullshit”Ó, is to buy enough property and build a literal Batcave in the basement, complete with a movie theater, restaurant, and stripper pole (so I can practice my moves, of course).

Why is any of this important? Why bother smearing brown poo on the reputation of today’s motivational speakers, therapists, and yogis? Because, you deserve better. We deserve better. Humans have a need to thrust our heroes into god-figure status and those humans joining the field often are eager to take up that role. But that’s the true harm we do to each other. Our identification or ideologies about what holy men, gurus, teachers, etc. should be plants the seeds of corruption. If our therapists are “beyond” our problems then they cannot relate. And if our teachers cannot faulter, then they are like a stone wall with no give. Anything that shakes the ground will widen its crack and lead to its crumble. Martin Luther King may have had an extramarital affair, but the man still had a dream.

Till next time, folks: Buy My Bullshit

-Alan Dearing

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