Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rambling: My Changing Thoughts On The Self-Help Industry

When I was a child, I thought that one of the things that defined being a "grown up" - aside from the ability to order Big Macs and Peanut Buster Parfaits without having to ask your mom - was being able to do things on your own, without having to ask for help. I mean, as a little kid, you need help with pretty much EVERYTHING. Or at least, I did. Before I turned ten, I did almost everything with at least cursory supervision and guidance: driving (the tractor), making food, doing chores, etc. I don't know if that is because I was bad at a lot of stuff, or if my parents were a little overprotective, or if that's what happens to most kids. But I always felt that I grew up with every little task that my parents deemed me capable of doing on my own.

(As an brief aside: this mindset is likely why I don't like doing anything I'm not immediately good at, particularly sports & other physical activities. If I can't do it successfully the first time, then I generally don't try again. I think that has some kind of basis in the "you shouldn't need help" mindset; if I need to ask for help or guidance, then I obviously shouldn't be doing it.)

When I graduated University, I kept that idea in my head. Being an adult means that you don't need help with anything. Or at least, you shouldn't. Particularly in your field of "expertise." I mean, you have a degree now, doesn't that mean that you should understand pretty much everything about it? And if you don't, all that means is that you need to read more, study more, and figure it out for yourself. And that's pretty much the way I've operated my entire life. Until this afternoon.

I'm not going to go into the fine details, but to sum up: there was a motivational speaker at my school division's big meeting today, and he was talking about changing your life by changing your outlook. I've never put much stock in motivational speakers, new-age gurus, or self-help books. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The Purpose-Driven Life, How To Win Friends & Influence People: all of these smacked of people who were just trying to make you feel good while taking your money, psychological snake-oil salesmen at best and spiritual saboteurs at worst. I equated Steven Covey, Dale Carnegie, et al. with televangelists like Jim Bakker and Peter Popoff. Besides, who has the audacity to tell you what to do to "improve" yourself? You live your life, not some guy with a business suit and sandals who wants to talk to you about "realizing your own potential." I wouldn't trust a guy like that to mow my lawn, let alone organize my life.

And yet...

...today, those thoughts were tested a little. Not by anything specific the speaker said, but by a thought I had while listening to him. A thought that was basically: "Why NOT ask for help?"

It's hardly a breakthrough, I know. But it had never honestly entered my mind before. I had half-heartedly entertained the notion of getting a financial advisor, but never actually acted on it. The truth of the matter is, though, that the world I live in is incredibly complex, and there is no way I can possibly make all the decisions I would like to, correctly, the first time. I still believe that most of the self-help gurus out there have done more harm than good. But there are experts in varuiys other fields that I respect, and I seek out their guidance and trust their opinions. And there are people who have already done the things that I am going to do, and they might have insight into my current situation. So why NOT ask them? Why NOT brainstorm with them and try to be better?

I'm not saying that I'm going to start spouting aphorisms and trademarked catchphrases; it's unlikely that I'll buy into any of the self-help cultures out there. I can't stand new-age spiritual claptrap, I almost ripped my copy of The Alchemist into tiny pieces as I read it so no-one else would have to read it EVER, and the metaphors and figurative language that most book authors use make me feel nauseous. I'll never be the guy with the life coach, telling people to live their lives according to the Four Directions. But maybe I can feel comfortable asking for other people's opinions, and maybe branching out. Because I know now that I honestly can't do everything on my own.

I know. Not really mind-blowing stuff. But something I think I needed to consider.


Bookmonkey said...

I'm always a big fan of little epiphany - for me it was three years into post-secondary school when I suddenly realized - Hey, these teachers are here to help me! (Until that point, I had always suspected that teachers won prizes based on however many students they failed).

Like you, my new idea wasn't necessarily new, but it felt new to me, like a part of my brain had unlocked (or perhaps I had "levelled up.")

Mike The Bold said...

I also begin and rapidly abandon anything that is hard. There's much less failing when you don't try.
And when you try and fail, asking for help does seem like a good choice.
Good on you, sir.

Also, if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask Bookmonkey... becaiuse I'm both really busy and really lazy.