If your life has always been and still is ideal in every way, you have no need for self-help books. You get to sit around and smile all day, or do whatever you want, because you were born a master of life. Since you already have everything anyone could ever possibly want, what more is there to strive for? If you are truly one of these people, then good for you. You have no reason to read this…or anything, really; so I’ll go ahead and address everyone else.
For the rest of us, books can give us ideas that we can implement in our own lives, and some books are written specifically to do just that. Although the first self-help book is only about a hundred fifty years old, it has become quite a popular genre over the last few generations. More and more people read these books, as more and more of them are written; and after awhile they almost all start to sound the same.
Don’t get me wrong; I love self-help books. The opportunity to learn even one valuable lesson from someone who is where I want to be in some way seems like it should be almost priceless. But it’s not; it’s usually less than twenty bucks. Factor in the time it takes to glean that lesson from those pages, and you’re still getting one hell of a deal. If you find more than one nugget in there, and you use them, you can see real and lasting changes in your life.
The problem I have with a lot of these people is not their claims that we can all be greater than we are now; it’s that saying they like to use so much, the one I used as a title for this post.
If I can do it, so can you!
Well, that’s just silly. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but there is a huge amount of variance between individuals. Not everyone can be Michael Jordan; even now, Michael Jordan can’t be the Michael Jordan that he became known for being. We always compare athletes of today to those of yesteryear, even when yesteryear’s sports star is still alive. No one is afraid of an eighty-year-old boxer making a comeback, and fighting better than ever; and no one will ever be able to truly say anyone is the greatest of all time at anything, without the aid of a time machine and some very cooperative champions.
Are we really supposed to believe that the only potential unique to each of us is the physical? Or that age is the only factor to be considered here? Are our destinies written in stone, as a determinist might suggest, and thus programmed to play out a certain way no matter what we do? Or is everything up to the individual, and no aspect of life beyond each of our ability to shape as we see fit?
You might not be surprised to find that most folks were pretty deterministic in their beliefs until fairly recently, even if they didn’t think of themselves that way. The generations that succeed us will surely see us in a similar light, as they learn to control aspects of their lives that seem far beyond our influence at this time. This is the first time in history that people have had a chance to rise from the bottom to the top, or at least to the bottom of the top, in the financial arena.
We all have lessons we can learn from people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs…but not everyone can become the next example of such extreme financial success, and the truth is that most folks don’t really want to. The point of personal development is not becoming the next version of someone else; it’s becoming the best version of you. Most of us would be miserable in someone else’s life, and far from adept at living it for them. It’s a difficult enough challenge to find what unique road will lead each of us to greater happiness, and only we can walk that path. No one else can do it for us, and no one else can understand the deeper meaning of what we want or why we want it.
Any good teacher knows that learning is the most important part of teaching, and that the unfulfilled teacher doesn’t have much to teach other than how to be unfulfilled. The great teachers usually deny that teaching is even a thing, and don’t like to be called teachers at all. You can lead a horse to water, or a student to knowledge; but you can’t make the horse drink, or the student learn. Great teachers know that they must lead by example, and their example is that of the perpetual and humble student.
A world full of students has a lot more potential than a world full of teachers, as one group thirsts for knowledge and the other seeks to defend their own version of what they call knowledge. If all the folks that like to call themselves teachers began to see themselves as students with a lot to learn, and act that way around the people they used to think of as their students, one might find that they have as much to learn from the other as the other does from the one. Maybe more.
The best thing we can hope to be is the best version of ourselves possible, and that is something we can only discover and define on our own. I look for the self-help books that are leading me to me, not to some version of the book’s author that I can never hope to be and would never want to. Discovering what will make us the most happy and doing it a lot is more valuable than those not doing it might think. It’s not an easy thing to discover, or an easy thing to create time for; but once you do those things, everything else changes.
The motivation to pursue material wealth can wear at a body, but chasing your passion is endlessly invigorating. When the two can come together, we realize that wealth might not bring happiness but that happiness can bring us all kinds of wealth. It’s motivation enough to keep on keeping on, even if the only wealth you’re cashing in on is waking up with a smile and a plan every morning. I spent years trying to figure out what my purpose was, and even more years trying to figure out how to strike out on a path of my destiny.
Now I’m doing my best to transform my passion into my profession, but there’s nothing frustrating about being where I am on that path. I know it wasn’t easy to figure out what I needed to pull out of me and share with the world, any more than it is easy to make sure I do the thing I so love doing every single day. I also know that it’s a lot more rewarding than wishing I felt like I had some purpose I was fulfilling, or finding more excuses to avoid doing it…that, coupled with the waking up with a smile and a plan every morning, is more than enough to keep me going.
In my life I have plumbed the depths of laziness, courted mediocrity for long stretches and lived at more levels of dissatisfaction than I knew there were to live on. I mark my success by my happiness, and I have never been more happy than I am right now. I used to wake up wishing I could go back to sleep, for a very long time; now I wake up grateful for all the hours ahead of me, particularly the ones that will contribute to my legacy. I’m no example of perfection, but I am an example of someone that has deliberately taken steps to grow in the direction of my dreams. From where I sit, that’s a pretty satisfying place to be.
And if I can do it, so can you!
That, at the very least, is surely true. If you’re already doing it, you already know it; and that’s a good reason to be grateful right there.
After I figured out what would make me most happy, and started doing it, the first thing that I wanted to do was document my own journey from who I used to be to who I was becoming. Much of the trouble I seemed to have had, looking back, was in undoing the programming I had taken in growing up. I had always asked a lot of questions, and it took me awhile to realize that not all the answers I got were wise or considered. That meant working through both the bad programming and the bitterness I had for having received it. It also meant finding what few valuable nuggets of wisdom I had collected, and putting them together in some way that resembled a life I could be happy living.
Stumbling Backasswards into the Light was my first book, and it is about this process and how it defined my own journey. Rather than suggest that there are answers out there that will work for everyone, the book suggests that there are questions we all might benefit from asking. If we find that our answers change over time, that’s a good indication that we are growing. If you haven’t read it already, I encourage you to check it out. Very few people can claim to have it all figured out, but all of us have our own brand of wisdom that we can contribute to each other in our own unique way. My books are, of course, my greatest offerings; and this one in particular holds a special place in my heart as well as a unique genre in my library.
If you have read it, I hope you loved it!
One of the many things I learned back then was that we are each on our own hero’s journey. That is great news, in many ways; but there’s one aspect of the hero’s journey that can be extremely unpleasant. We’ll talk about that next week, in a post called…
‘The hero always gets lost!’
Thanks for reading!
All the best,