Hello and welcome back!
If you haven't done so, please go and read
Then buckle in for part three 😉
It’s All About YOU and YOUR Choices, They Say
Within these programs, we see a classic pattern. The teacher stands on stage or takes their place of authority, and regales the listener with a tale of their own personal pain. We all lean in as they describe living on their parents basement floor, having nothing but that dream in their heart to keep them going. We cry as we connect with the feeling of suffering described by those who have been previously lost to addiction, abuse and a life of pain we may not be personally experiencing but that we can recognize. We feel the shame, the guilt and the lack of worth stab us in the gut as the speaker describes their life ‘before’ where they were ‘working for someone else and building their dream instead of building their own.’ We see these people, healthy, fit, glowing, strong, rich, at peace - and we think - they were where I am now, and now look at them. They did it. THEY found their purpose, they are up there helping so many people, and look - they’re healthy, happy, rich and secure.
If they can do it, if it was the answer for them, it can be the answer for us too.
We’re then ‘let in’ on all the self help, personal growth, hero's journey-ing and dark nights of the soul the presenter had to engage with and in order to reach their mountain top.
We’re told that they had to ‘dig deep’ in order to believe in themselves when no one else did.
We’re told of all the spiritual practices they engaged in that gave them the power and insight they needed.
We’re taught the breathing techniques. Given the journaling prompts. We’re guided through the visualizations. We’re told about how we need to ‘heal our trauma’.
Over and over we’re handed this platter of PERSONAL CHOICES this person made in order to ‘transcend’ the mundane/struggle that was their previous life - and again, we eat it up because of COURSE we want to believe that they are where they are now purely because of choosing to be there. We want to believe it was the practices, the journalling, the manifestation, the visualization.
Because that’s all shit we can DO right NOW!
What we’re not told? All the ways in which they were helped and supported that we won’t ever be.
All the things that worked out for them that won’t work out for us.
All the ways in which they are simply different PEOPLE than we are.
All the different systems that played a role in their success and the safety nets they had.
All the ways in which it wasn’t just personal choice that allowed them to climb their mountain.
All the boring, mundane, normal actions they took on a daily basis to work towards something of ‘greatness.’
At best, it fills us with some ideas of where we can take some responsibility in our lives where this is actually true. Sometimes these talks and other self help programs ARE the next thing we need on our path where personal responsibility IS the answer. I’m not saying that personal growth work isn’t important, and that it can’t have an impact. In fact, I believe it can have a MASSIVE impact - and again getting therapy, working on our traumas, working on our mindsets, developing tools of self reliance and mastery over our emotions so we can move forward when life is hard - this is all GOOD stuff.
All I’m saying is, it’s not everything by any stretch of the imagination, and if we’re being told that it is, we’re being trapped.
At worst this kind of thing convinces us that these personal choices are ALL we need to get motivated and then BOOM - we’re ready to go out and live our FULLEST lives. It gives us the idea that the only things that *could* act as obstacles on our path are those internal things that we can fix via self help and self improvement.
We’re literally told time and time again that *WE* are the only thing that’s standing in our way, and that we are the ONLY thing that could ever be standing in our way.
Again this sounds empowering on the surface, it sounds like the self help guru is trying to help.
But the reality is, this kind of message isn’t true, and it mostly serves the guru, not the client.
Because so long as we believe that the only thing that’s preventing us from living the lives we want to live is ourselves, our mindsets, our perceptions and our emotions - when we aren’t experiencing the lives we want to be living we’re PRIMED to seek out MORE help from the self help guru rather than realizing that perhaps what the guru offered wasn’t actually the full answer we needed!
It means we’re primed to blame ourselves when we don’t achieve what we set out to achieve when implementing the tools the gurus offer us, rather than looking for where the tools may be to blame. It sets us up to gas-light ourselves about the societal, economic, health and status obstacles that are a REAL part of our situation - which means we’re going to continue to return to more self help, more self improvement, more ‘personal choice and empowerment’ in an attempt to solve our issues - even as these tools DON’T work because they aren’t addressing the REAL issue. Even when these tools are making things WORSE because they are causing us to direct energy away from what would actually help and towards things that aren’t doing anything. It means that we will have a hard time even SEEING the real issues that are standing in our way, let alone finding solutions to these issues, because again we’re being told over and over again that the only problem is us.
Personal empowerment IS a thing, and making better choices that support us in getting what we want ARE helpful - but they aren’t everything and they certainly don’t address everything that could be stopping us from having the lives we want.
Self help/improvement people tend to gloss over all the ways in which they DIDN’T face the same obstacles that others do, and they tend to gloss over all the ways in which they were helped/supported in achieving their goals that aren’t the choices they made - because of course.
When the one thing you have to offer is motivation and giving people personal empowerment tools, you’re going to make it sound like personal empowerment is the KEY to everything - any other message would eat into your bottom line. So much of the time these self help gurus don’t acknowledge all the systems and compounding factors that ACTUALLY led to their success (including that they may only be successful because they learned to TELL people that they could teach them how to be successful…) because this would mean they don’t have all the answers - and this decreases the drama of their message and makes their products seem less enticing.
Thus, they rely upon the narrative of personal choice above all else because that’s what makes them the most money.
When Their Credential Is Their Own Story, Their Own Story Is Going To Be Manipulated
I’m not saying that all self help/personal growth gurus do this, nor am I saying that they are all intentionally hiding details about their story or intentionally misleading people. I think that oftentimes people over-inflate how much they did and underestimate how much they were supported because we all have a tendency to slip into ‘main character syndrome’. Where we see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories, and where we project our own situation out onto everyone else.
A lot of self help/personal growth gurus aren’t trained professionals. Rather they are people who went through some challenges, achieved something that the average person values, and therefore their qualifications are simply their own experience. This means they have to make it sound as though their path was ALL or at least MOSTLY personal choice - because the more that’s true, the more credential they have. The more it was them being supported, helped, given things by others and so on, the less impactful their main selling tool is. The less they can SELL that they can teach you to do what they did so that you can have what they have - because if it wasn’t something THEY DID, then they have nothing to sell at all. When your sales pitch depends upon your story being one of you making choices, you’re going to see in yourself what you want and need to see so that you can keep selling your choices as being the REASON you achieved what you’ve achieved, and you can keep telling people that they too can have what you have, if they just do what you did.
A lot of these people have a self image that’s geared around being a survivor, being capable, being powerful and so on - and they keep that image alive via editing their own stories in their own minds.
It’s very common for us as humans to have a hero complex when we’ve been through hard things, because oftentimes DOES require an extreme level of self confidence to get through the challenging things we need to get through in this life. We often HAVE to develop an image of self as being extremely capable, independent, strong, smart or otherwise connected to some higher wisdom or knowledge to get THROUGH what we’re facing - but this can then become something that causes us NOT to see all the ways in which we’ve been and are being helped and supported.
It’s a totally human thing to over assume our capacity in order to get through hard things - but then to hold onto what is ultimately a false view of reality and the role we played in our own healing, which then becomes our story, and eventually our livelihood if we become a personal growth teacher. So now we have all these reasons to over-inflate how much of our story was ‘because of us’ and this can lead to accidental lying about what it actually took to get us from point A to point B on our paths.
I believe a lot of these gurus really need to believe that their stories of ‘I got here because I was strong, disciplined or found the secret to success’ are true for their own personal sense of feeling like the hero in their own life, AND they really need to believe it because that is what lends them the legitimacy they have. That’s what gives them a right to a platform and to charge money for their advice. They are seeing what they want to see, because their livelihood, and often their self image, depend upon it.
Also, we tend to be blind to the ways in which we’re privileged or living a life that isn’t the same as everyone else. It’s super common for people to ‘project’ themselves and their experience onto everyone around them.
Have you ever found yourself judging someone and their choices, believing that if you were them, there’s no WAY you would be doing what they’re doing? Have you ever found yourself believing that anyone who hasn’t made the choices you’ve made must be lacking in intelligence, weak-willed or otherwise lost in delusion? If so, there’s a good chance you were projecting your set of circumstances, your vantage point, your education, your experiences, your access and your resources onto them, and believing that since they have all of that, if they’ve made a choice that’s different than what you perceive you would have - this means they are just stupid.
The reality is that it’s very likely that the person you're looking at DOESN’T have your awareness, your access, your experience, your resources or your set of circumstances, and that’s a big part of the reason why they’ve made choices that don’t reflect what you would have done. They are living a totally different life - and the REAL reality is, if you were ACTUALLY in THEIR shoes - living their life exactly as it is, you would have been far more likely to do what THEY did than to do what YOU would do within YOUR circumstances.
We all have a tendency to assume that our lives are ‘the universal’ experience. We assume that everyone feels how we feel about life. We assume that the tools we have access to are accessible by all people. We assume that our level of intelligence and awareness is the same basic level of intelligence and awareness that everyone else is working with. We assume that everyone has the same access as we do and the same support.
When the reality is, a lot of people are living with totally different circumstances than our own. A lot of the time the obstacles we face in order to create the lives of our dreams aren’t the ONLY obstacles one can face, and they aren’t the only obstacles MOST people are facing. Oftentimes what we had at our disposal in terms of tools and resources aren’t there for everyone.
Long story short, it’s very common for us to believe that the experience we are having is the same experience everyone is having, so we believe that again if we just tell people what WE did, the kind of mindset WE had, the kinds of steps WE took - that this *should* mean that anyone who follows is able to get the same results we got in life.
Our self help experts are no different - a LOT of them see their own circumstances as being THE circumstances that everyone else is in, and they see the choices that they were ABLE to make as being choices ANYONE could make - instead of appreciating that others are not them. So when they get up on stage or write their books or create their programs - they’re working from their personal experience and they’re projecting that onto everyone. They talk about the dietary choices they’ve made, the ways that they set up their day to improve productivity, the meditations they used and all the way’s that they ‘chose’ to ‘hack’ their lifestyles - without realizing that not everyone is in the same position to make those choices as they are. They then make it sound again, like getting what we want is simply a matter of CHOOSING what they chose, and often times this comes with an underlying sense that if we DON’T choose what they did, that if we CAN’T choose what they did, that this means we are failing, weak and to blame for our own suffering.
Usually it’s the people who have the MOST access, privilege and help in achieving their lofty goals that are the ones that end up becoming ‘great.’ We then listen to their stories, which often includes some narrative of starting off in a bad/underdog place, doing some ‘inner work’ to become strong, then facing all those obstacles in their path - eventually rising to the top as a ‘self made’ whatever it is that they are.
Again this story usually over inflates that good choices they made and the impact of those choices and neglects to pay attention to all the ways in which life was already set up to support them and their success - to the point where the choices that they made WERE the only things they needed to do to get to where they are now.
They aren’t addressing the system that makes it so that working a regular job is shitty - and THIS is what’s ACTUALLY going to change MOST people’s lives.
We wouldn’t need so much self help if we could create a reasonable life out of working a normal job - a job that is required to keep society functioning for the most part.
There would still be struggle, there would still be people who wanted something different, there would still be room for all the truly functional personal growth work that DOES improve our lives in terms of helping us reach higher levels of physical health, mental health, connection in our relationships, connection with what matters to us and so on. Reasonable working conditions for most people wouldn’t solve EVERY issue - but it would go a LONG way towards solving many of the things people are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on self help to fix - that self help CAN’T fix.
Alright, we will take one more break here, and return for the final section next week!
Remember, you don't have to do this self love path all alone.
Figuring out how to support ourselves, how to be on our own side, how to figure out what our emotions are saying, how to problem solve so we can build lives that work for us - it can be confusing.
That's why I've built the Mystery School - a three year self study program designed to take the guess-work out of this path, so you can start to really connect to who YOU are, what YOU need, and how to create a life that supports that.
It's a program designed to help you begin thinking in 'systems' so you can be a part of the positive change we need to see on this planet.
It's all about finding compassion and working with curiosity so we can understand ourselves and life in general better, and so we can use that understanding to create BETTER models for LIFE!
I’d love to have you as part of the community - remember we also meet as a group once a month for an exclusive live chat where we address whatever's most pertinent for everyone at the time. The course itself is self-paced so you can work through it at whatever speed works for you - starting whenever you like!