Am I Better Yet?: Why Self-Help Might Not Be Helping

And where to start instead.

The self-help industry brings in 10 billion dollars per year. And still, it’s growing. We have access to a vast and saturated online marketplace of courses, e-books, videos and webinars promising us upgrades in our physique, monthly income, mindset, relationships..all with the intention of bringing us closer to the best versions of ourselves. The version that is fulfilled, confident, powerful..and most importantly…happy.

For as many different programs, paradigms, philosophies and “systems” as there are out there, they all have one very important thing in common: conditional happiness and worthiness. The kind that you’ll feel only when you get somewhere other than you are right now…only when you become something other than what you are right now…or only when you have something other than what you have right now. It’s actually a nice idea, right? It’s comforting to think that all I have to do to be happy with myself is take an online course for $457.00 teaching me to triple my income by pushing through fear. It gives us something to work toward and a seemingly straight-forward formula for getting there. I’d sign up for a promise like that. Take my money, sir.

But the rapid growth and expansion of the self-help craze makes me wonder: is the self-help industry teetering on the edge of becoming yet another industry capitalizing on our self-perceived inadequacies? The cosmetic surgery industry has often been criticized for perpetuating an unrealistic and manufactured standard of beauty designed to make us view our own god-given beauty as “needing improvement.” If we all accepted the way we look, unconditionally and without question, would Dr. lip injections have a job? Likely, no. The self-help industry has positioned itself similarly: it has gotten so good at convincing us we need help becoming someone else, that it has failed to give us the tools to help us accept ourselves as we are.

It has us operating, on a very unconscious level, from a belief that presently, we are not enough without this help. And it’s from this sense of manufactured, self-perceived inadequacy that we will continue to crack open our wallets for the promise of that intangible sense of happiness, worthiness, confidence, or whatever else that Facebook ad is promising us.

But what we need now, more than ever, is a new industry. One not intent on telling you how many changes we need to make before we’re allowed to feel happy and whole. One not intent on pointing out what we’re currently doing wrong without first allowing us to see where we excel. One that doesn’t position happiness, self-confidence, or “personal power” as conditional upon our professional, emotional, financial, spiritual or physical standing. One that says…it’s actually okay to just be okay with yourself. For now…or forever.

This is the self-acceptance industry.

I do acknowledge that the above ideology begs an important question, however: does accepting myself where I am mean I can’t also strive to make improvements in my life or in myself?

Absolutely not.

Self-acceptance and self-improvement are not mutually exclusive concepts.They can exist together..at the exact same time.

Let me unpack this a bit.

The best way we can sustainably “help” ourselves is to first believe that we’re worthy and okay, without any help….without any classes, or courses, or webinars or workshops, or “top 10 tips.” It’s from there we can begin to build. When we begin to improve ourselves from a state of authentic self-acceptance, any improvements we make in ourselves or in our lives have us operating from a belief that we deserve abundance, improved health, and whatever else those self-help tools are promising. In this scenario, our success or failure in achieving results won’t make or break us, as our worth isn’t innately tied to these external circumstances we’re working to improve. In this scenario, we draw from a deeper, more sustainable well of motivation…one fueled by self-compassion, encouragement and hope. We’re not hustling for our worth, because we know we innately possess it…so any improvements we make to ourselves, or our bodies, or our careers are an added bonus. A self-help cherry on top, if you will.

Conversely, when we begin from a belief that without these improvements, we remain innately flawed, we are fueled by fear…fear that if we don’t “fix” these parts of ourselves that we will never be happy, or confident or the “best” versions of ourselves. In this scenario, we’re hustling big time…and we’re desperate because our self-perceived worth is at stake. While self-criticism and a militant inner monologue reminding us how badly we suck can be fantastic fuel, it isn’t sustainable…and we’re constantly left asking ourselves, “ Am I better yet?” Even if it were sustainable, who wants to live in a constant state of self-perceived deficit? When is enough just, enough?

In much simpler terms, as long as we believe our happiness and worth is at the end of the next self-help workshop, it will never be where we are. So forge ahead on your self-help journey, but do so responsibly and with a deep understanding that ultimately what you seek to become, you may in fact already be.