“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.” — George Carlin
So, I got this question yesterday on Quora and it’s something I’ve been thinking about myself. It’s really easy for me to write motivational posts, tell people what to do, and play the role of the “wise old man”. But am I just bullshitting people?
“Are successful people who give motivational talks, write self-help books, do seminars being deceptive or inherently lying?
It seems to me if these people have figured the game of life out and how to become rich and successful, why would they give anyone else the tools or ‘secrets’ to divide up the money pie? Are a lot of these people like Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy our modern day charlatans giving false advice out?”
There’s no doubt that there are a lot of charlatans and hucksters out there.
Some are making a living by giving the perception that they have answers, systems, solutions, shortcuts, etc, knowing full well that all they’re doing is selling people false promises.
Then there are those who think they’ve figured out some kind of secret that they want to share and figure they might as well get paid for it. These people aren’t necessarily being intentionally deceitful, they’re just misguided.
As far why they want to share their advice? One part might be to make money, another part might be that they actually want to help people.
I can’t tell you that Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy are charlatans, nor can I tell you that they’re the real deal.
Having read some of their work I can tell you that some, definitely not all, of their advice is actually useful.
Now, would I trust every single idea and opinion they throw out there? Hell no. It might not be applicable to my situation. Some of it might even be downright dangerous.
It’s important that we exercise critical thinking.
I’ll shift focus to something I know a bit about: Me.
I spend my days trying to help and advise people on how to maximize their creativity. And to be honest, sometimes I ask myself: “Am I just fooling myself and other people into thinking that this is actually helping them?”
Then I look at their performance and compare, are they performing any better now? I find that most are. Would they have performed better even if I didn’t get involved? That’s a counterfactual and hard to know. I know I’d like to believe it had a positive impact, but there’s no way to be 100% sure.
There are times when it seems to have little to no impact at all. Those times it’s easy to say: “Well, it’s because they didn’t listen to my advice.” or “They aren’t applying themselves.”
I try not to, because that’s like blaming the victim. Nothing good can come of it, except an inflated sense of self-righteousness.
It could very well be that I am in fact a snake oil salesman. I’d like to think that I’m not, and it’s definitely not my intention.
Part of why I’m doling out advice here on Quora is that I actually want to help as many people as possible. It’s something I can’t do when I’m in a 1-on-1 session. The difference is that here the advice becomes kind of general whereas the 1-on-1’s are more predicated on the individual’s wills, wants, and needs.
In the interest of full disclosure it’s also about leaving something behind where I’m “on the record” about stuff. If clients want to know where I stand on certain topics before hiring me, they’ll get a decent picture.
As a bonus Quora invites interaction and an exchange of ideas with other users which I enjoy. Plus, it helps drive some traffic to my blog. So, it’s not completely altruistic. But I’d probably still do it even if it didn’t do all of that.
This leads me into the “why would they give anyone else the tools or ‘secrets’ to divide up the money pie?”-part of your question.
I can only speak for me, and try to bear with the goody-two-shoes answer you’re about to receive.
There’s enough money and education to go around for everyone. However, as with many resources in the world, the problem is that it’s unevenly distributed. We need to fix that. One way to do it is by having those who have more than enough share with those who don’t.
The reason I share the lessons, experiences, and ideas I’ve learned is because somewhere along the way someone else did it for me.
And I can never, ever pay them in kind.
Call it guilt, but the only way I see to balance the scales is by paying it forward. To share whatever knowledge I can with those who need it.
I’ve been very blessed in life to meet some amazing people who’ve lifted me up when I’ve needed it the most. They’ve given me tools, advice, and support that I didn’t get from my friends, family, or the community growing up.
Now, I was very lucky to have loving parents who raised me well. I could never criticize them for doing anything less than they possibly could to give me a good life. But they didn’t know everything. They gave me what they could, but the rest was up to me to figure out for myself.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I happened to meet mentors and have chance encounters with insightful people, I might not be here today. My life could have turned out very differently.
Was all of their advice great? Nope. I’d say about 10% were worth my while. But those 10% helped me put my life on a different trajectory.
And had someone else met the exact same people, the advice that would’ve helped them would probably not be the same as mine.
That’s why it’s important that we take what works and discard what doesn’t. While the underlying principles might be sound, what’ll work for you might not work for me.
Here are some numbers we should be aware of:
- Publishing statistics seem to suggest that about 80% of people who buy self-help books are repeat buyers.
- The most likely buyer of a self-help book is someone who bought one 18 months earlier.
Should the self-help section really include the word “help”?
The problem isn’t really so much that people don’t have access to information. Spoiler alert: ALL the information contained in the books is freely available on the interwebs. And you don’t even have to illegally download it either.
No, the problem is in converting that information into action. And that’s where I believe the crux lies.
We who willingly dole out advice should really do a much better job in packaging the information in a way that enables the person on the other to actually put it into action. We shouldn’t fill our books, sessions, programs, and seminars with endless motivational speeches and inspirational quotes.
Instead of adding our “unique take on it”, we should focus on figuring out how to get people to actually DO something rather than just listen to, watch, and read about it.
It’s easy to criticize and tell you that it’s a problem. It’s something entirely different to actually do something about it.
I know there are quite a few people out there who see the same problem I do. We just haven’t figured out how to solve it yet.
The single best outcome I can think of is that everyone will have all the answers, knowledge, and actionable advice they need to succeed in life just one click away.
So what about me? What would I do for money if nobody needed my advice?
Well, it’d give me the chance to exercise my own creativity. To see whether I can actually turn all the advice I’ve doled out into action and succeed.
Could we build a successful life based on our own principles? Something that wasn’t predicated on motivational talks, seminars, or books?
That might just be the ultimate measure of whether people are the real deal.