On a very basic level I don’t have an issue with self-help books. Everyone motivates themselves differently. Some people are great at motivating themselves; others need outside inspiration to get them through whatever it is they’re trying to get through.
My issue with self-help is that it becomes all-consuming to the people who dive into it. That all that needs to be done in life are these little things, like thinking positively, picturing what you want, and really FEELING it and all your dreams will come true. Meanwhile others try to offer these people valid help in order to actually better their lives, their projects, whatever it is, and it’s brushed aside. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. YOU don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m going to keep thinking happy thoughts.
It’s not that a positive outlook on life won’t help you achieve your goals. They certainly will. But being realistic with your goals and what needs to be done to achieve them will help you more.
Take my writing, for instance. I’ve been at this since I was 9. I want to be published so bad I can taste it. My damn degree is in English with a minor in creative writing. I have worked for years to hone my craft so it’s good enough to get published. Still hasn’t happened yet. As I look on a spreadsheet of nearly 100 rejections for my current manuscript I absolutely had a moment of total defeat. Broke down, cried, the whole shebang. What am I doing with my life? Blah, blah, blah. Then I got my shit together a little bit and put my woes out there and people responded. There are ALTERNATIVES.
So instead of giving up, instead of merely thinking happy thoughts about my current product in the hopes that it helped, I re-evaluated my goals. I dug deep into my soul to see what I really wanted: to be published or to be read? When I found that answer, I adapted. I started researching self-publishing because if I’m going to do this I’m going to do it right. None of this his publish and done shit. Despite really not wanting to, I put my work back up to critiquing to see how it could be tightened up a little more. Now I need to start looking into stock images for cover design. It’s all a slow process but if I want to do this right then goddamnit I’m going to do it right.
What I’ve found with people who dive head first into these self-help situation is their expectations are unrealistic. They don’t seem to understand that positive thinking is only a small portion of what it takes to be successful. They also don’t have success defined in a way that’s actually attainable. Or really defined at all other than something that they’re not. It’s not about what they can do to better themselves but positive thinking and imagining what they want. I’ve often found that offering advice to people like this just falls flat. They’re not interested in self-evaluation, self-improvement, or doing what’s really hard to become a success. Like dieting, they just want the easy way. It’s easier to spend two hour on Pinterest pinning motivational posters than researching what steps you need to take in order to actually achieve a goal. Magazine collage boards are great and everything but sticking it to your wall and staring at it won’t get you that mansion that’s front and center.
It’s almost insulting the approach some of these people take and how much work real success takes is impugned. I am a successful person. I make well over the medium national income. I came from a lower middle class family. I put myself through college and am currently staring down enough student loan debt that my grandchildren (granddogs) will be paying it for me. College was hard. It was a lot of work and it was a time of much poorness. My student loan debts forced me to live at home far longer than I ever wanted to because I needed to get myself in a financial position to be able to pay two rents (one actual rent and the other a student loan payment that was equivalent to rent). I have always been someone that once I set my sights on something I work to achieve it. I figure out what I need to get that goal and I do it. That’s it. I just do it. I persevere, I drag myself through the rough times, and I get it done.
So seeing people say you just really need to FEEL it and it’ll come to you, it makes me want to scream. I didn’t feel my way through college. I didn’t feel my way through my career. I haven’t felt my way through writing. I worked my ass off for everything I have. Is positive thinking a part of my success? Absolutely. If I didn’t lift myself up by my bootstraps when shit got rough I wouldn’t be where I am today. But thinking happy thoughts and clap, Tinkerbell, clap! isn’t enough to get someone where I am. And I think that’s where self-help does a disservice to the people seeking its advice.
Self-help doesn’t involve reality. It doesn’t involve realistic expectations. It doesn’t remind you that life is hard and despite all the work you do you could still fail anyway. It doesn’t tell you that it’s still a risk worth taking, that you can recover from failure, that you can adapt and still better yourself. It makes you reach for the stars without aiming for the clouds first. It gives you shiny happy thoughts and yeah! I can do this! But it doesn’t prepare you for life. It doesn’t tell you that in order to better yourself you have to be self-aware and willing to change. People who are successful don’t waste their time putting together vision boards or actually reading self-help books. They set goals, figure out how to achieve those goals, and go do it. They follow through on the things they set out for themselves. They don’t stop at wishing. They realize their positive thinking isn’t going to tilt the universe in their favor. They have to go out and tilt the universe themselves.
Self help stuff is fine as long as you approach it only as a supplement to success, not as the one and only path.