While self-help may be a good starting place for personal growth, it’s a terrible destination. Here’s why.
As an inspirational speaker and best-selling author, I’ve often been categorized in the genre “self-help.”
And I have to be honest with you: I’ve never liked that term.
But this isn’t just personal preference: I believe a “self-help” mentality gives people the fundamentally wrong framework for thinking about themselves and their relation to those around them.
Let me tell you why (and what I suggest instead of self-help.)
1. Self-help discredits our need for each other.
The biggest problem with self-help is in the title itself: Self-help implies that you can help yourself, by yourself. Yes, you have to do the work to make real change in your life, but the work almost always involves saying yes to opportunities that others offer you—or reaching out to someone yourself.
Most of the life transformation I see people achieve has been guided by amazing mentors, parents, friends and professionals who saw something in them that they couldn’t see in themselves.
It’s been through surrounding themselves with healthy, whole people who can encourage them—and by giving the crazy-makers fewer lines in their life.
It’s been through finally going to therapy.
It’s been through getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and making a major career change.
And it’s almost never because they picked up a self-help book one day and then changed their life the minute they read the last page.
You cannot read enough books or think enough positive thoughts to change your life: You also have to get help outside of yourself and lean on the people around you.
2. Self-help blames you for your problems.
The darkest side of self-help, in my opinion, comes from books like The Secret. Read this quote:
“Remember that your thoughts are the primary cause of everything.”
― Rhonda Byrne, The Secret
The philosophy outlined in this book suggests that because you can help yourself and because you can control the trajectory of your life with your thoughts, any problems or trials you experience are somehow your fault. It also implies that you can take full credit for your success.
This is not how life works. The unexpected happens. Tragedies occur by no fault of anyone’s thoughts. And people born into poverty or suffering from chronic illnesses did not bring those circumstances upon themselves.
Yes, you can set goals. You can write a new script for your life. But you are not guaranteed that just because you wrote the script for your show that uncontrollable things don’t happen in the live performance.
3. Self-help glorifies The Way.
Far too many self-help authors position themselves as a guru, and they say that their opinion is the way when it’s really just a way.
Everyone is biased whether or not they know it. People only know their path to success, and they only know that it worked for them—unless they can back it up with some serious research.
All that to say—one person’s “secret” might not work for you. In order to find your path, you have to look at lots of different paths and discern what’s your way. (And by the way: If someone ever tells you that their way is the way, it’s best to run away.)
4. Self-help makes it all about you.
In my keynote, I talk about how you are the star of your own life. (Which you are.)
But just because you are the star in your own story doesn’t mean that your show is all about you. And while one-person shows are great on the stage, they simply do not work in real life.
What makes a story great is the connections the main character makes with someone else—not when the star focuses exclusively on their own needs. (By the way, the characters who only focus on their own needs are called villains.)
Think about the most influential people in history: Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Thersa to name a few.
No one ever changed the world by reading a book and spending their life focusing on themselves. They’re all known for the work that they did to help and better the lives of others.
What good is it to empower yourself if you live in a vacuum and never share it?
Now I’m not saying that taking time for yourself doesn’t matter, because it does—you can’t give away what you don’t have! But the goal is to be enriched and take time for yourself so that you have more to give to other people. That’s not self-help—that’s truly helping your community and helping others.
And that’s what we should all be chasing after.
As a speaker and author, Curtis Zimmerman has impacted over one million people with his life-changing messages and award-winning programs. Curtis is an expert at transforming organizations by inspiring individuals to live their lives at performance level.
Want to be inspired? Check out his podcast The Next 24 Hours.