The Toxicity of the Self Help Industry

Everyone, play along. Raise your hand if you have ever read a Self Help book, especially if it was in the last few years.

When you were reading that book, didn’t it feel good? Didn’t it feel like someone was telling you that you can conquer the world, that you can do anything, that you only need to set your mind to it?

Self help books are excellent at doing this. They tell us how you can feel better. They tell us how you can be a millionaire. They tell us how you can lose 20 pounds.

In a way, it’s like they’re saying, you might not be as good as you could be, but let me show you how you can be better.

Seems like a noble message, no?

So what’s so toxic about it? And I don’t necessarily think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with wanting to better yourself, but I think most self help books leave out a very critical element in your quest to becoming a better person.

And what is that you may ask?

Learn to help others.

Okay, it sounds a bit counter-intuitive, I mean, it’s a self help book, not a help others book. So you’re not really expecting to find ways to help others, and in some ways you might feel you’re helping others too much (not sure if this is actually possible), and need time to develop yourself. I get it.

Here’s the thing, developing ourselves so that we may do well in life either in our career, health, financially, that’ll make us feel good, and we’ll be happy about it, but it can never do one thing.

It can’t truly fulfill our lives.

Take a look at this book here.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson - Book Cover.png

I read it, and it had some good points. But do you know what the main message seemed to be about? Well exactly as the title implies: to not give a f*** and just live a good life. Sounds great right? And, at face value you might agree, but it’s not until you really get deep into it’s core message you find the flaws in it.

Let me explain.

I was listening to a speech the other day by an author, Simon Sinek. He’s one of those feel good speakers who say a lot of things, and sometimes might be a little generic, but it works. He gets the job done by giving us that little bit of motivation to keep going. He did say something pretty profound though, and I really liked it. It’s what sparked me to write about this post, in fact.

Here’s what he said.

“You know how we get fulfillment? You can be happy because you did things at work. You can be proud that you did things at work. You can be excited because you had a big success at work. But do you how you feel fulfilled when you do something at work? When you do something that helps someone else. That’s the only way we get that feeling. It’s the only way.”

So what’s he saying? He’s saying that you can get a good job. You can have a nice car, a nice house, and a lot of money, and that’ll make you happy. But it’ll also make you wonder if it’s all worth it. He’s saying, it will leave you unfulfilled, and a life without fulfillment is a life without meaning.

And that’s what’s so dangerous about self help books. They tell you how to get the things you want. They tell you who you can cut out of your life because they’re not who you need right now. They tell you how to do all these things to make your life better.

You see, although this may be useful for the short term, it teaches us to be a bit cynical. It teaches us to doubt others because they might be trying to hurt us. It starts to deteriorate our inherent trust we have for people close to us, and what does that do? It begins to weaken our communities rather than strengthen them. Now this is subtle, but sometimes it’s the subtle things that can do the most harm.

What do I suggest we do?

Learn how to help others. And I don’t just mean that in a self-righteous, pretentious sort of way. I truly mean that. And it’s not really an easy thing to do if you think about it. It’s hard to be generous, and I’m talking about genuine generosity, the kind of generosity where you do something for someone else and Expect nothing in return.

When we can do that as a society it will inherently build stronger, more trusting communities, and that’s the real power here. When we work together as a community rather than just highly efficient individuals, we can achieve so much more, but here’s the catch. It still starts with you.

So what will you do?

thanks for reading