The first self-improvement book I can remember buying was How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I read it my Freshman year of college and was blown away by the simplistic, yet profound, advice.
Become genuinely interested in other people, one chapter was titled.
Make other people feel important, another preached.
After finishing it, I couldn’t get enough. Reading a book about being a better, more socially savvy human made me feel a whole lot better about myself. So much so that I wanted to replicate the feeling. So I found another self-help book.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Not only would I be socially savvy, I would now read about organizing my life, sharpening the saw, and synergizing.
But I wouldn’t stop there. Over the next couple years, I would get Leadership advice from Rudy Guiliani. I would learn about the Millionaire Fastlane to make it big. I would be told to organize my work week into 4 hours. Peter Drucker would educate me on being an Effective Executive. I’d Start With Why, learn The Power of Habit (or was it Now… or maybe it was Postive Thinking…) and realize the Magic of Thinking Big.
For years, I was getting high out of my mind on the feeling of becoming a more well-rounded human, without actually doing anything differently or making any significant changes in my life. It wasn’t until I noticed the enormous amount of overlap from book to book that I began to question whether I was really willing to buckle down and get to work on the things I was reading about, or if I preferred to just nod approvingly to myself at inspirational quotes.
The self-improvement industry is pulling almost 10 billion dollars. Billion with a “B”. And that’s real money too, not crypto-currency or Space Cash. The aisle at your local Barnes & Noble is stacked with tomes of wisdom written by slick sages who knew how to capitalize on the profitable market. Pro-tip: It all says mostly the same stuff. If I had the time (and the totality of your attention span), I could probably outline a standard self-help book right here… surround yourself with people who support you… value your time like you value your money… etc. Furthermore, much of it is either common sense or a matter of organizational preference.
Should I plan my day in the morning, with three focus points? Or the night prior to set my mind right before bed?
Should I partition my work in 2-hour blocks or 4-hour blocks?
What book do I need to reread every month for 12 months if I want to be successful?
I guess it doesn’t really matter if you don’t do any of it in the first place. Self-help books are chocked full of nuggets of good practices and advice, but too often, that advice is useful insomuch that it makes you feel good hearing it. You can make almost any routine work, as long as you actually DO IT.
As we welcome the New Year, many of us resolve to become better people. Self-help/inspiration products play a part in that, especially for someone who is looking for fresh ideas to incorporate into their routine or is just beginning their self-reflection process.
But like all useful resources, they require balance. The goal should always be to get to a place where you can help yourself and others through your actions and routines.
So ask yourself: how many guru’s audiobooks do I need to listen to in order to have enough actionable material to work with? How many inspirational Instagram meme pages do I need to follow in order to know how to live my life? How many times do I need to hear a successful person answer some form of the same tired question, “what are the keys to success?” with some derivative of the same reliable answer, “hard work” before I actually believe it?
To paraphrase Polly Gray to John Shelby in the BBC hit series Peaky Blinders, at some point you’re going to have to be the one with all the answers in the family instead of the one with all the questions. No one respects the guy at the office who always asks how to do stuff because he’s never actually done anything himself.
This year, resolve to be the person with all the answers. The person who people go to for advice and counsel because your actions speak louder than your bookshelf. Less self-help, more self-start. New year, new you.
Not a guru. Just a guy who wasted a little too much time reading gurus.