It’s just a theory… gurus and mid-life crises

I had an idea I wanted to test — that business texts and self-help books are written by people who are sufficiently compelled to do so. Here’s the principle: we keep going with our humdrum lives until we reach a point we don’t want to do it any more, for whatever reason. Some of us reach a kind of crisis point — which we emerge from, sometimes feeling all the better for it. An even smaller subset exits from this stage thinking, “Eureka! I’ve worked out the answer!” and feels sufficiently compelled to write a book about what they have learned. On occasion the book gets extremely popular and a new “guru” is born.

Now, I’m not going to say whether this is good or bad — but I thought I would test the idea. First I looked at the ages that people tend to hit mid-life crisis: this chart comes from a “2008 Gallup phone survey of 340,000 Americans” cited here:

As you can see, the “happiness slide” starts at about 34 and troughs at about 50. Now let’s look at the ages of a few popular “gurus”, and when they published what is generally seen as their seminal work:

I didn’t restrict this list in any way — if I thought of someone (or they were suggested for me), and I could find their date of birth, they they were in. There’s a question on Richard Carlson (Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff), rest his soul starting so early — as he was in the psycho-analytical game anyway — but then so was M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled).

I’m not saying that everyone has to fit — after all, it’s just a theory; there’s also the question of whether one needs 40-odd years’ experience before anyone, including publishers, would take you seriously. But it certainly would be interesting to know the back-story on some of the authors.

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