In the past four years, I’ve gone from a no-name blogger to an author, coach, and top online writer earning more money than I’d ever made behind a corporate job desk.
My main topic? Self-help.
I’ve spent a lot of time on self-help, both using it in my life and teaching others what I’ve learned. I’ve read countless books, bought online courses, hired coaches, and created a ton of self-help products that thankfully, have gotten great reviews from my customers.
But there are lot of rampant problems with self-help, and not everyone feels the same way about the industry.
I’ve met countless cynics who claim self-help is total B.S. They claim it’s run by rich white gurus who take advantage of people by promising empty solutions that don’t really help anyone. Others claim self-help doesn’t even work, it’s just a scam to take your money.
True, there have been countless self-help “gurus” who were really just scammers and fakers selling worthless junk that have made millions of dollars taking advantage of their customers. Self-help has built a lot of resentment and frustration, much of it rightly so.
As a successful self-help writer for the last four years, here are my three biggest problems with the industry.
1. True Happiness Doesn’t Come From Self-Help — It Comes From God.
No amount of achieving goals will ever give you True happiness and joy, with a capital “T.”
Self-help tends to exaggerate the results it can bring in your life. True happiness, lifelong relationships, ultimate productivity, a ton of money, fame and fortune.
But in the end, none of this will ever bring you ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment. That can only come from God, from a deep and committed spiritual connection with your Creator.
For me, that’s Jesus Christ. I’m a born-again Christian, and I believe Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the light. He’s the guiding force of my entire life, and I fully believe He died for my sins and rose again from the cross.
First — if you’re not a Christian, that’s cool with me. I have millions of readers from all over the world who are committed Hindus, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, and all manner of religions. I love that, and I strive to welcome every person in my life and make them feel valid and loved, no matter who they are or what they believe. If you’re not a Christian, thanks for reading my stuff even though we have different religious beliefs!
I’ve been guilty of over-promising the results of self-help. You can go really far in this world with the principles of self-help, and I still stand by them — perseverance, consistency, personal evolution, hard work.
But the ultimate, True joy is a spiritual connection with God, your Higher Power. In many ways, the self-help industry tries to convince you it itself is a god, and has all the solutions to your problems.
That’s simply not true. If you fully commit to self-help as the only guiding force in your life, you might become rich and famous and achieve all your goals.
But that’s not true happiness or fulfillment; self-help can’t give you that. Only God can. That’s a lesson I need to remember in my own work.
2. Self-Help Usually Assumes Its Readers Have All the Privileges Of White Men
Another horrible aspect of self-help is the level of privilege many content creators assume their audience has, which leads to frustration and pain.
Admittedly, a lot of self-help creators are white dudes. They’re probably straight, and are routinely out-of-touch with the struggles minority groups deal with every day.
For instance: one extremely popular self-help writer I used to follow would constantly say things like “If you’re not successful, you’re not working hard enough,” or “You have no right to be poor, just believe you’ll be rich and you will.” For a while, I believed these things. As a well-off white guy, they made sense to me.
But after I started taking long, hard looks at my white privilege and hearing stories from minorities who tried self-help with mediocre results, I started to realize it’s much harder for people who aren’t white men to “be successful” in traditional ways — to get rich, climb the corporate ladder, become a well-known public figure.
In many ways, self-help seeks to reinforce this obtuse mindset, ignoring the fact that things are much harder for minorities in many parts of their life than white men, that their path is much more difficult.
I’ve been guilty of this myself. After a while, I noticed all the books I was reading were written by white men, and they were all saying the same tone-deaf things, which I was repeating in my own work.
One particularly egregious example of a book I read was Acres of Diamonds, a series of lectures by Russell Herman Conwell in 1882, a white man and founder of Temple University.
The crux of Conwell’s message is simple: “The idea is that in this country of ours every man has the opportunity to make more of himself than he does in his own environment, with his own skill, with his own energy, and with his own friends.” Basically, you have everything you need to succeed right here, in your own backyard — if only you’d look and work hard.
At the time, I was also reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and he told a much different story of what it was like to be an American citizen. He was Black, born in the 1920s, and experienced the full effects of being Black in the South. An excerpt from the first couple pages:
“[Malcolm X’s father] had seen four of his six brothers die by violence, three of them killed by white men, including one by lynching. What my father could not know then was that of the remaining three, including himself, only one, my Uncle Jim, would die in bed, of natural causes. Northern white police were later to shoot my Uncle Oscar. And my father himself was finally to die by the white man’s hands.
It has always been my beliefs that I, too, will die by violence. I have done all I can to be prepared.”
Does this sound like a person who would appreciate being told, “Just believe you can be rich, and you will be?” Or “Just work hard, and you can rise through the ranks of society?”
Self-help has a long way to go to start recognizing and understanding the harsh realities of minorities, the LGBTQ community, and non-white non-men, and how the same self-help advice that helps white men has virtually no effect on others. Just because an educated white man can achieve enormous progress really quickly in just about every area of his life doesn’t mean everyone else can.
Us self-help writers, especially other white dudes like me, need to understand this before we tsk-tsk another single mother of three working two jobs and say, “If you want to achieve your goals, just work harder” or “The reason you’re not rich is because you need to believe you’ll be rich.”
3. Self-Help Claims There Is Only One Right Way To Do Things
There is no one best way to do things.
I’ve felt like crap after reading a lot of self-help stuff. They make me feel that if I’m not doing things exactly their way, I’m lazy, undisciplined, and will never achieve my goals.
It’s hard enough to succeed in this world without constantly being told you’re “doing it the wrong way.” Different people have different strengths, and they should use those strengths to make progress in their lives.
You don’t need to wake up at 5:00am every day to be successful.
You don’t need to exercise all the time to be successful.
You don’t need to eat healthy all the time to be successful.
You don’t need to read books all the time — well, you actually probably need to read more books.
Still, what works for me might not work for you, and vice-versa. Self-help needs to understand that different people need different setups, and no one way is right or wrong — it’s all about what works for you.
There are a lot of problems with self-help.
I want to be a self-help writer that truly helps people, that gives them solutions that actually work, a person that understands not everyone has the same level of privilege and opportunity I do.
What are you biggest problems with self-help? Let me know so I can keep giving you better stuff.