Improving one's self s thought of as a worthwhile endeavor, pairing ability, psychological, physical and even financial health in one neatly curated topic. The industry itself makes about $10 billion annually, through a plethora of books, videos, courses, celebrity associations and large scale conference events. With all the material readily available, we should all be fixed by now, right?
Why Help Yourself?
Let's get one thing straight- it is imperative to undergo self-improvements as part of an actualized, meaningful life. Things like happiness and fulfillment are highly unlikely to happen upon a person spontaneously, and therefore require conscious effort. That effort, in turn, will need some kind of guideline or map to follow- which is the whole point of self help in the first place. Put simply, self-help is a "guided self-improvement" (source: wikipedia).
There are many reasons individuals choose to walk the path of self-improvement, but they mostly have one thing in common: unhappy distrust for the paths carved out by society, family, or other imposed groups. Self-help opens the door for miraculous life-changes to occur, and promises to uproot the most stubborn of wayward paths to lift one up to a higher calling and a better life.
I mean, who wouldn't want that? Right?
There are dangers in self-help not often acknowledged. While it's true people are becoming more aware of the selfish nature of the industry, and the expertise of the author, speaker, or whatever, there's another growing concern hidden in the most well-intentioned self-help works: That of this formidable "ego."
I've noticed many self-help proponents have laid siege to this seemingly insidious aspect of the self they term the ego- a part of yourself some self-proclaimed experts suggest is damaging to happiness. Many years ago, when I happened upon these ideas as a fresh young woman searching for meaning, it was a provocative concept: if I were more humble, I'd clearly be a better person, and that would inevitably lead to happiness, surely.
Almost two decades later, I find the idea repulsive. What a clever lie that was- to tell an audience to practice humility while the "master" rakes in all the cash. Meanwhile, continual self-denial keeps a person in that unhappy, self-help pursuit- a lifelong customer. Whether intentional or not, the self-help industry preys upon the vulnerabilities of unhappy, unfulfilled people and delivers a method to keep them there...and keep them quiet about it.
Finding Real Self-Help
All hope is not lost, however. Self-help as a general concept has merit, and let's remember the SELF part of the deal. The problems occur when a person latches onto someone else's methods and ideas wholeheartedly- which is obviously oppositional to the "self" part of the deal.
My advice- for what it's worth (and it's free either way), is to trust yourself. Don't be too hard on your "ego," whatever you've determined that is. Instead, pick it apart into the good parts and bad: confidence versus arrogance, self-esteem versus self-hatred, gratitude versus jealousy, desires versus denial. Understand your deeper self as it is, without judgment, and accept that it is who you are for better and worse. We can't all be the height of humility, just as we can't all be the depth of greed. Trust that your differences will lead you to a place you can belong as a helpful member of humanity, and that it will help you to do so as well.
Take advice, lessons, concepts and the like as suggestions that may or may not work for you. Take what helps, and discard what doesn't. And always turn inward between your external searches to really analyze what was said before accepting any truth. And, as always, if you find yourself truly, irrevocably and disastrously stuck- seek actual professionals, such as therapists, trained in these matters to help you help yourself.
I know I don't usually take such a hard stance about things, and it may seem odd that I would advocate against an industry that seems to want to help others. However, it has been my experience that what we are looking for through self-help cannot be found outside ourselves. Searching externally only helps insofar as it can help shape our environment enough to provide circumstances conducive to us doing the internal work with fewer distractions. Don't get distracted by the helpers along the way, too.
Just an odd, awe-inspired, avocado advocate (not necessarily advocating avocados, though!) with a mission to put more joy into the world.