Self-Help or Self-Destruction

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I should confess that I do read a lot of the management/leadership business type books.  I’m not against the genre because I think you can find good information in a lot of places.  But I came across one on Thursday at work and I’ve been doing a bit of a slow burn since then.  The book is on networking and I’m not going to name it and I will confess to just reading the summary but there are statements like this:

  • Do you want to get ahead in life?
  • Climb the ladder to personal success?
  • The secret that distinguishes highly successful people from everyone else

The tone of the book so obviously reflects the extrovert ideal.  You’ve got to constantly be out there making connections.  It is like the person who has the most connections on LinkedIn or the most friends on Facebook is the winner and the rest of you are just pathetic losers.  You’ll never get ahead unless you can network like me and I’ll show you the secrets in my book.

As I’ve said, I don’t have a problem with these books in general.  If networking is truly your passion, then this book may help you.  But, it bothers me that many of these all come down to this:

  • Author defines his measure for success and how he achieved it.
  • Author lists other famous people and links them in somehow.
  • Author gives you the steps you need to be successful.

The implied counter is that if you don’t do what the author does then you will never be successful.  This is where I say “stop the train and let me off”.  I would love to know how many people buy books like these and try to replicate the “simple” things the author suggests and then aren’t able to achieve the same outcome.  And then how much damage is done because the person now considers themselves a “failure”.  In fact, they may be a multiple failure and loser because they’ve probably read more than one of these books and been unable to reach the same level of “success” claimed by the author.

And you know what that happens?  BECAUSE WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT!  There is no one path to success and what worked for one is not guaranteed to work for everyone.  What is easy for someone can be painful and difficult for another.  It would be a boring world if we were all the same.  But we aren’t.  And one size fits all promises in books like these do way more harm than good.  The author gets rich and famous and they probably do multiple speaking engagements where people shell out money to hear their wisdom but they don’t really understand whether that approach is the right one for them.

Again, I’m not saying these things are bad by design.  Under the right circumstances, they can be very helpful.  They just aren’t a cure all for everyone and I hate it when they are pushed that way.

I believe the vast majority of people are good and I believe that they all have something to offer.  But society and pop culture tend to reinforce that certain behaviors, attitudes, mindsets are the “right” way to be and that we should all strive to be that way.  Which is a complete load of crap.  Society would be a boring place if we all acted the same way.  I do think too many people haven’t taken the time to explore who they are and what their strengths are.  If you are bombarded every day with messages about how you are supposed to act and who you are supposed to be, then it can be so easy to feel isolated, alone and like a failure because you don’t fit in.

Books that promise a path to happiness/success will rarely deliver because there is not one path.  You have to know, accept and like yourself and then follow your own path, even if you have to make it.  Now, I’m not saying you should never push yourself because people can often achieve great things when they go beyond their boundaries.  But, what I am saying, is that you should do it because it is something you want to do.  If you have a passion to be a great public speaker, then go for it because you’ll likely succeed.  You do have to know who you are to understand the obstacles and how hard it will be but if it is truly something that drives you, then do it.  But if you are doing it because someone has told you that you need to work on it or if you are only doing it because you perceive it is what you should do, then that’s where the danger lies.  You may find that you are good at it or you may find that it doesn’t meet your skill set and attempting to do so will simply put you under increased stress.

The first time I saw ballroom dancing on TV, I was captivated.  Just the way the couples moved on the floor with such ease was amazing and it was something I really wanted to do.  But, even though we used to have coffee next to a Famous Franchise studio, I still hesitated.  There were a lot of reasons but a big part of it was that I had been convinced that I would never be a good dancer.  All my life, I was the quiet, smart one who didn’t do well in physical activities.  Some of my family had tried music but it was never a big part of our life so it was just not something our family did.  Add to that the extra 100 pounds and I hardly looked like a dancer.  All of those things in my mind that said “you can’t do this” kept me from doing it.

Well, guess what, I found out that I am a dancer.  And, along the way, I’ve learned so much about myself.  I’m not just the logical math guy who has no creativity or artistic ability.  Dancing has met a need that I didn’t know I had because I had always assumed that I didn’t have that side.  Even though I’ve always enjoyed music, it never clicked for me that I needed an outlet like this to express the creative, artistic side that I do have.  It hasn’t been easy, as you can tell from reading this blog.  I had so many struggles with myself because it took so long to unwind that part of my brain that had convinced myself that I couldn’t do this.  I know I had all kinds of struggles with my instructor and that was in part because I was trying to be the student I thought she wanted me to be and not who I was.

So, before you go grabbing a book off the shelf that promises to give you the key to success or happiness, invest some time in yourself first.  Get to know who you are and what you have to offer.  Find the strengths that are in you and accept yourself for what you are.  Like who you are because we all have things to bring to the table.  Discover your passions and follow your own path.  If that book is going to help you on the way, then use what it has to offer.

OK, I feel better now.


  1. You are so right, there are so many self-help style books out there that claim to hold “the secret.” But really, there is no one secret. I haven’t read too many of those types of books but I’m guessing that as they describe the 12 steps or whatever to how they found success, they leave out the months or years where they worked 16-hour days, 7 days a week with little to no success. Finding your own success takes a TON of sacrifice and I would guess a lot of those books leave that part out. We have to take responsibility for ourselves too. One reason some of those hype books sell so well is because people want to believe there is a easy-to-follow formula, they don’t want to have to work that hard. But every path to success takes sacrifice. And often you do have to try a few before you figure out what is right for you!

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