Why the Character of Your Heroes Matters

The missing part of self-help advice that deserves more attention.

Anthony J. Yeung
Feb 27 · 6 min read

“We know a lot of good coaches, but how many of them are good people?”

I almost fell out of my seat when my friend asked me that while we were having lunch and talking about our journeys in personal development. We were both in a tight-knit industry and studied the same coaches — folks who knew every detail of their craft and taught it well — but we also knew a lot of them had a less-than-stellar reputation.

Mean to their employees. Arrogant. Womanizing. Smarmy.

And it made us think about their lessons, the meaning behind them, and what they meant for us.

The Problem With Self-Help Advice No One Talks About

I’ve had this internal debate for a long time. In my life, I’ve admired quite a few people only to have my image of them destroyed when I met them in real life. They were nothing like I thought—or how they made themselves look—and were super disappointing with poor character traits.

In one hilariously bad example, many years ago, I met a few super popular fitness professionals at a large conference. I’ll withhold their names, but some of them wrote New York Times bestselling books and created leading websites and resources. (Basically, if you know about fitness, you’ll know them.)

We all went to grab a late dinner and I was excited to meet those legends in person and, literally, break bread.

It was, however, one of the worst dinners of my life.

Look, I’m no saint, but wow — most of them were very unpleasant people. Self-obsessed, pompous, and boorish. Everyone was trying to outdo the other and there was visible friction during dinner regarding a woman a few of the male fitness coaches liked (lol).

To cap it off, the night finished when one of them ordered two dinners for himself (and a shit ton of drinks) and suggested we split the check evenly. I was speechless and I sat there silently trying to hide my disappointment.

Maybe I caught them on a bad night when they were exhausted, jetlagged, or just drunk. But when I shared my story with others who knew them, they pretty much nodded their heads and said, “Yeah, that’s how they really are.”

And in the self-help world, it might actually more common than we think, even among the “top dogs” in the industry:

“I met a lot of other self-help authors along the way. And I discovered there were two types of us: people who lived to write, and self-appointed experts hoping to get rich and famous. “A book is just a means to an end,” one A-list blogger told me in the green room of a local TV station, where we awaited our upcoming live segment…

Practicing what you preach is tough. And not just for me. I’ve known dating advice columnists who don’t date. I interviewed a career expert who advocated nanny care for telecommuting parents while trying to manage two crying children between sound bites. I know a “turbocharge your freelance income” workshop leader who’s privately admitted he has no idea how much he makes because his wife handles all the money. The dirty little secret of those in the advice business is that we wind up teaching others the lessons we most need to learn ourselves.”

— Michelle Goodman

You get the point — some people are great; some not so much. But what I haven’t gotten a straight answer about is this:

When Does Character Count?

Let’s say so-and-so writes a bestselling book that helps thousands of people around the world change their lives. They offer great quotes and strategies to make more money, get your life on track, change your body, and revolutionize yourself. And they even raise a lot of money to donate to charities!

Now, let’s also say this author is also a mean, egotistic person who treats others poorly, especially those who offer them no value.

There’s sort of a moral conundrum, I feel. On one hand, their advice is fantastic and life-changing, and they make a somewhat positive impact on the world; on the other hand, it was born out of less-than-great circumstances. (For example, maybe the reason they were so motivated to succeed was mainly to empower their ugly side.)

So is it a good deed or a corrupt deed?

“Who cares?” some of you might reply. “They helped a lot of people.”

In that case, does character not matter as long as the result is good?

I have plenty of time to change my mind, but after 33 years on this Earth, I find that hard to agree with. I believe “who you are as a person” is just as important as the successes and achievements we attain in our lives. (Sometimes, it’s even more important because “who you are as a person” is the foundation that everything in your life is based on.)

I believe we should weigh both of them equally.

Years ago, I did a podcast interview with a man who runs a very, very successful men’s personal development site. (Again, you probably know this person.)

I never published the interview.

It was appalling. His advice was crass and he sounded pretentious, immodest, and frankly, impolite toward men who needed help. But again, his site is super popular, he’s interviewed some of the world’s biggest stars, and I’m sure a lot of men would say he “changed their life.”

And hey, if I released the podcast, maybe I would’ve gotten a big traffic boost because of his name or any of his linkbacks. But I didn’t want my name associated with it so it never saw the light of day. (I still have the recording though, lol.)

To me, the ends don’t always justify the means.

Why You Should Meet Your Heroes

There’s a saying: “Never meet your heroes because they’re sure to disappoint you.”

But whoever created that saying may have had the wrong heroes.

Instead, I suggest that, whoever you learn from and look up to, make sure to assess their character and personality just as much as their lessons. Watch their interviews, see what people say about them, and meet them in real life. Imagine them teaching their wisdom, but also imagine how they act in daily life.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe character is just as important as results—if not more so. Because it’s not what you do when all the cameras are pointing at you, but it’s what you do when no one is looking that really matters.

Someone might offer tremendous financial, career, writing, health, or travel advice. But if their character isn’t great, take their wisdom with a big ol’ grain of salt. In that event, extract only the technical information from their teachings — facts that can’t be affected by personality or integrity. For example, if a successful financial coach teaches which banks or credit cards to use, you should probably be okay.

But for the rest of their lessons, be careful with how closely you follow them because they might take you on a path you don’t want to go.

If you want to achieve success in a way that aligns with your values in life, look up to people who not only teach great lessons, but who are also great people.

Character counts.

And let’s show just how much it does.

Ready to upgrade your success? I’ve created 5 free life hacks that will boost your results. If you use them, your life could change very quickly.

Get your 5 Life Hacks here.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thanks to Travis Hubbard and Eric Sangerma

Anthony J. Yeung

Written by

Featured in Esquire & GQ. Founder. Full-time traveler. Ready to upgrade your life? Get my 5 life hacks to boost your results here → https://bit.ly/2IDx15y

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Anthony J. Yeung

Written by

Featured in Esquire & GQ. Founder. Full-time traveler. Ready to upgrade your life? Get my 5 life hacks to boost your results here → https://bit.ly/2IDx15y

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store