We have a voracious, insatiable appetite for self-help. We live in an era where you can literally google how to do anything you set your mind to. Hell, this blog space is chock full of clickbait-y ruminations on how to get what you want. To wit, here’s just a snapshot of what just whizzed past my Twitter TL:
We have Brene Brown, Tony Robbins, Dave Ramsey, Gary Vee, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Franklin Covey, Dale Carnegie, The 4-Hour Workweek, Eight-Minute Abs, p90x, the Pomodoro Technique, the Secret, the Law of Attraction, Kaizen, the Love Languages, the Strengths Finder, Rich Dad Poor Dad … it’s a fire hose of “How to” and “Let’s go.”
Inc Magazine, Fast Company and Entrepreneur magazines all regularly cannibalize each other with lifehacks, and that’s to say nothing of Lifehacker.com, which is different from Lifehack.com, which is different from #lifehacks. Self-help is red hot. So is self-love.
We live in the most tolerant era in the history of human-kind, where a sizable chunk of people are rising to the top of their own little mountains to shout to the world, “You are enough. You are beautiful. You are perfect the way you are.” Yoga and meditation, once curiosities confined to the Eastern lands, are now mainstream in the Western World. Mindfulness is godliness. We’ve supposedly arrived at the nexus of becoming one with ourselves and the world and our dreams.
And everything that we read, everything we practice, every TedTalk we watch, every person we meet all leaves us with the kind of common-sense, simple, beautiful, easy-to-replicate, step-by-guided-step advice that feels definitive and achievable and paved in gold and chocolate. And they’re all given beautifully clickable headlines like “8 Ways to Find What Speaks to Your Soul” or “The One Secret to Bliss No One Ever Told You.” And they’re generally things we can all agree on!
- Eat more Omega-3
- Go outside
- Say “thank you” to everyone, and mean it.
- Spend 10 minutes a day in quiet reflection.
- Walk for 30 minutes
The secret to eternal happiness and boundless success rests in tips that many of us learned in first grade. So … why in the actual fuck are so many of us struggling?
What good is knowing the secret to a successful cardio workout if you’re never in the gym? What good is knowing that fruits and vegetables are the staple of a healthy diet if you’re always ordering Panda Express? What good is knowing that like-attracts-like if you’re always projecting some inferior version of yourself? What good is knowing relationships are the key to happiness and fulfillment when you’re covering yourself up on the couch binge-watching Narcos and letting calls from your mom go to voicemail? Why are so many of us settling for lives that leave us unfulfilled, unhappy and unrecognized?
This advice isn’t for the people who read “Daring Greatly” and changed their entire life to wake up happy and refreshed and awash in abundance. Congratulations to you. It’s a good book, and Ms. Brown’s a helluva woman with a great message. This is for the rest of you. What’s eating you?
Let’s set aside for a second the myriad structural inequities that hold the commoners down by design — small, petty disturbances like institutional racism, bigotry, sexism, cronyism, nepotism, government debt spending, oligarchy, neo-feudalism, rising authoritarianism and a biological predisposition for group-think — and examine the crux of why, on a micro-level, a lot of us reach our 20s, 30s and 40s and feel like we’re fading and failing.
I mean — really get to the core of what makes us ache. Not for the sake of some pageviews. Not for snackable content. Not for something you can grab, paste as a pull-quote in Helvetica and post on Instagram.
It isn’t that you don’t know what’s holding you back. It isn’t that you don’t know how to succeed. It isn’t that you don’t want it bad enough or that you don’t believe enough or that you aren’t close enough with your god or your inner soul or the universe. They’ll tell you you’re lazy. They’ll tell you that you don’t have what it takes. They’ll tell you that you lack the talent, the resources, the VC, the fortitude, the knowledge or the connections to make it happen. And that with a little coaching and a little self-love, and a subscription to a newsletter that comes inundated with a $2,000 3-day pass to a conference where you’re free to mingle with motivators and possibly also buy some more expensive shit, that the world is yours.
Bull. Shit. None of this is true. Zero. Those are things people tell you to get you to agree with them. That’s their pitch. As a counterpoint, here’s mine:
There’s a reason why the self-help industry does billions in revenue while 8 out of every 10 startups fail within 18 months. There’s a reason why there’s literally trillions of words out there on the Internet designed to help you live your very best life possible and yet very few of us are. There’s a reason why it’s still not going to click after the next inspirational video, the next bestselling book or the next viral sensation.
Literally, for free, I will tell you everything you need to know about achieving success beyond your wildest dreams. I will tell you everything you’ve ever needed to hear about becoming great, about saying goodbye to the self-help machine and becoming your best self. Everything you ever wanted to know about living the life you imagined, finding your soulmate, earning 50% more than you are right now and getting what you want. It’s so simple, it won’t even require words. You ready? Here we go.
Nike had it right. But not for the reasons you think.
What holds many of us back is that we aren’t allocating enough of the 24 hours in our day to being the person we want to be. But why? Why, in the face of overwhelming knowledge at our disposal about what makes a truly happy, successful, enriched, brilliant life do we clam up?
Short answer: We’re all very fucking afraid. And the thing with fear is on a surface level it’s indistinguishable from laziness. 90% of the time it’s the former, and 90% of people will assume it’s the latter.
Here’s how I know: Do you talk to your boss differently than you talk to your colleagues? Do you talk to your love interest differently than you talk to someone you have no vested interest in? Do you spend six hours watching Black Mirror instead of spending six hours slashing and burning through a passion project? Can you spend an evening out and not feel like you’ve had a meaningful interaction the entire night — making nothing but small talk when you’d rather be finding a way to finish your book or find true love? That’s not laziness. That’s fear. And it’s messing with your head.
Fear doesn’t manifest itself like you think, because often times we don’t give it the chance to. Fear isn’t always the sweaty palms that stop us cold in a job interview — fear is generally what prevents us from applying in the first place. It’s so subtly limiting that we often build around it without even noticing it’s there — it leads us to say things like, “I’ve got everything I want right here,” and not really mean it. It leads us to small talk with loved ones, instead of disclosing with them about the ways that you ache. It leads you to light up another cigarette in the face of overwhelming evidence that it’s terrible for you on about 28 levels, or leaves you a little too politely stuck in a conversation with a complete stranger who’s droning on about chem trails.
Success isn’t about knowing more. It’s about acting on imperfect information. You’ll learn more by doing than you ever will by reading. Making decisions takes logic and reason. Acting on those decisions requires emotion. Those are two separate parts of the brain that don’t always play nice with each other. If they don’t agree, and if our dominant emotion is fear, we’ll remain paralyzed while in motion. And you’ll nod in tacit approval when you read things like this:
Fear is why you do not have what you want. If you get over your fear, if you can embrace your fear, if you can lean into your fear, you can get the things you want. Here’s how you overcome it:
There is no step 3. There is no “One Weird Trick.” There is no profound aphorism. It is that simple. The key to making it work is trying it for the first time. And that’s what defeats us.
Everything you do the first time sucks! Sex! Long division! Writing lengthy diatribes to help people feel less lonely and more permanent! And yet some people grow up to be writers or math teachers or absolutely fierce in bed! Ever hear a fourth-grade band play “You’re A Grand Old Flag?!” It’s like listening to elephants orgasm! And yet, one of those kids is going to grow up to play a jazz club on a Friday night. Everything sucks at first. Very few things suck forever. You don’t train for a marathon by running a marathon over and over. You build up to it. Slowly. And you get better at it. You get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s how you overcome fear.
If you’ve never climbed a mountain before, and you set out to do it for the first time, you’ll be scared to death (or — depending on the mountain — actually dead). The second time you climb, you’ll be excited to see the view and you’ll pick up little nuances about how to climb it better and enjoy the journey more. The 100th time you’ll do it you’ll be bored stiff, and you’ll wish you had a taller mountain to climb.
The only way we make any change in our lives, after reading all there is to read, consuming all there is to consume, internalizing all there is to internalize and learning all there is to learn, is to do the things that scare us.
So, seriously, stop reading this. I love you, and I wish you the best, and I know you can do it, but there’s nothing in this last sentence I haven’t already told you or that you didn’t already know.