There is a pervasive lie in the self-help/self-development world. That lie is this:
The same level of success, wealth, health, and ambition is available to all of us right now. In fact, all you need to do is act now. All that holds you back is you.
I’m gonna sound like a bitch for saying it, but hear me out: MOST self-help gurus, success celebrities (Successeties as I’ll call them here) have achieved a level of success that simply is not feasible for the vast majority of us.
How can I say this as a woman who damn well wants to be rich AND help people achieve their dreams? Let me explain.
Results May Vary
The vast majority of success gurus came from a certain level of privilege or innate success. (Yes, even many who claim to have rags-to-riches stories). Don’t get me wrong, of course there are exceptions as well as some absolutely awesome teachers out there.
But, in the world of Successities, they tend to fall into two categories:
- The remarkable charismatic overachiever who built an empire off of said genetic jackpot. (Oddly they often have a background in finance)
- The person who experienced unimaginable loss and rose above it. (Often they tend to be predisposed to positivity even before their inciting event.)
Look, there’s nothing wrong with that. It IS inspiring to learn from successful people. But I think there should be a disclaimer, kind of like there are on diet program ads, like: “Results are not typical.”
? While these folks are inspiring for many reasons, I’d argue that often their messages can be, at best, misleading (unintentionally or otherwise), and at worst, damaging because they rarely take into account anyone outside of their privilege bubble. I think the most insidious psychological phenomena they massage is this: most of us secretly hope that we are as special/cool/smart/motivated as they are and that all we’re missing is the key to unlock our vast potential.
There is no doubt that these folks have important things to teach us. And I 100% believe that we are capable of SO MUCH MORE than we give ourselves credit for. ✊✊✊
But it’s also important to recognize that one person’s pulling up of their proverbial bootstraps is not necessarily the same as someone else’s. ??
There are those who have been pulling up their bootstraps with the most positive of attitudes for years but will never become the next Tony Robbins or Marie Forleo.
For instance, while it is true that working toward a positive mindset and reframing our circumstances can help anyone rise above their circumstances, there’s often another side to this where we compare ourselves and beat ourselves up for not measuring up to our heroes or even our peers.
Imagine we have two people dying for a promotion at work.
|Sarah is a Black single mom with a teenage son who has been harassed in the past by cops on his way home from school. He’s a good kid. But there’s always a level of fear. She has a decent apartment but a tight budget. This raise could really help.||John is a white father with two kids and a wife who handles most of their needs so John can focus on his career. They both work and have a modest home. This raise could really help.|
We know very little about these two people, but at this very surface level, we know that the stakes are higher for Sarah and that her stress level is likely higher. We also know that she’s more likely to be paid less for the same job that John does and that she is at a higher risk of being sexually harassed or underestimated at work. We also know she doesn’t have a partner to help with parenting.
? Even when presented with the same self-help tools, these two folks are inherently going to have different experiences. And while Sarah happens to be capable of beating the odds, it is going to be harder for her mentally, emotionally, and financially.
There is no competition for who has it worse – we just need to be honest about the varying realities of race, class, education, social networks, etc. Not only do societal infrastructures differ for John and Sarah, but their starting points do as well. Therein lies a blind spot of the self-improvement industry.
Not only do societal infrastructures differ for John and Sarah, but their starting points do as well.
It doesn’t make the principles self-help teachers share any less true, but ignoring it does foster an undercurrent of internalized racism, misogyny, patriarchy, and a variety of other systems put in place to further the interests of the rich, white, and privileged. Neglecting to call that out can perpetuate the misconception that certain people just aren’t working hard enough or just aren’t positive enough, or whatever.
While I absolutely believe personal growth and success are possible for anyone, we need to acknowledge that we are all starting at different points, experiencing different realities, benefiting from various privileges, or being alienated by prejudices. On top of that, our minds all work in different ways. It’s only logical to conceive that we will have different outcomes in our lives.
Accept then Adapt
I think it’s time we get real honest with ourselves and accept that our circumstances put us at not only different starting points, but on pathways littered with different types of challenges.
Why does this matter? Because in order to truly achieve we need a clear-eyed view of what’s held us back in order to undo the damage. If we don’t do this, we risk beating ourselves up unnecessarily or worse, unconsciously perpetuating oppressive systems that keep the classes, genders, and races separated by a canyon of differences.
? I’ll give you an example. I didn’t start to make true breakthroughs in my revenue until I was able to undo some of my own mental blockages around money. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that my turning point was catalyzed by Jen Sincero’s book, You’re a Badass at Making Money. This was not the first or even the tenth book I had read over the years about making more money.
So what got through to me this time?
- She spoke my language,
- She was raw, honest, and vulnerable about her own failures, and
- She gave me practical tools to begin the work of undoing my subconscious self-sabotaging mindset toward money.
It didn’t matter how many strides I’d previously made creatively or in my business. For some reason, I’d always cap out at the same amount and run into the same issues no matter how positive I tried to be. Until I understood what was personally holding me back, I couldn’t overcome it. And in this case, my subconscious was stuck in the environment that I grew up in: financial struggles and internalized beliefs about what was possible for me and what money might do to me.
That’s why I believe that having an honest understanding of who you are and what you’re up against in this world can help you identify and work through the things that hold you back. In other words, you learn how to ADAPT your approach once you can ACCEPT why you’re there. Then, you can use that experience to help others.
When the roots of your socialization and genetic code are exposed, you also begin to see which beliefs and values are truly yours and which have been imposed on you by other people and systems.
You begin to see the fingerprints of those who benefit from keeping you in “your place” all over your life. Only then can you wipe them away and grasp hold of who you genuinely are.
The beauty is that you’re adaptable as hell. You’ve already unknowingly adapted to situations and systems all around you your whole life. Once you accept where and who you are now, a vast new world opens up. A world that is actually attainable. A world in which you can achieve the things you hope for and even some that you didn’t even know were possible. You begin to remove the layers of dust and dirt that accumulated over your inner compass. You begin to follow your own true north.
That is my most fervent wish for you.
This post is part of the Power of Change series. Click here to read Part 4: How to adapt your personal vision to the New Normal.