The self-help guys are gonna hate me for this one

I’m not sure of the most recent statistics but the self-help/self-improvement industry has to be a multi-million dollar business. And if you’ve dipped a toe into this world of finding your passion or your purpose or your chi you’ve seen the articles. “12 Steps to a More Fulfilled You” or “7 Ways to find Your Calling” or “9 Things to make this your best year ever!” I know you’ve seen them and probably read them too. Because who doesn’t want this stuff? We’re only human after all.

We look for the best, happiest and most rewarding life we can find all the time. Whether that’s going the extra mile at work or pouring ourselves into our kids’ lives and activities or searching for the reason we were put on this earth. We all shoot for the top. So it only makes sense that we would read these books and articles and blogs about how to get there. The thing is we have a tendency to go overboard with them.

We look toward these authors for answers. We think that somehow they’ve figured something out about life that we just can’t seem to see. Little do we know (or care probably) that they’re just people like us. Sure, they’ve gone into some detailed analysis of the question at hand but it’s not as if they’ve done research on their steps or ways or things to show scientifically that they’ll produce results; let alone the results we are looking for in our lives. So why do we do it? Why do we continue to subscribe to their methods?

Now, believe me, I realize this isn’t helping our inclination but I can see five reasons why we’re hung up on numbered lists.

1. They’re in print.

I know this sounds a little nuts but we tend to give more credence to something just because it’s on the page or screen in front of us. Somehow we make the leap that if the information is good enough to have been disseminated that it’s somehow verified. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Take it from someone who is delving into publishing, you don’t need to meet any kind of standard to be

published. In fact, for a price, you can “write” your own book and with the right support make a best-seller list.

2. We want an ordered, linear path

The impression given by these lists is that discovering our reason for being here is a matter of following several clearly laid out steps. We need merely to follow step one with step two and so on and the answer, the conclusion, will open up before us. In almost none of these lists do you see the disclaimer that if you bomb on step five it’s best to return to step two and start over from there. Life is a messy proposition and it frustrates us so I get it. However, just because we struggle with balancing work and family and everything else we shouldn’t realistically expect this development or growth process to go cleanly; but we do.

3. We are lazy

Now I know this got your hackles up but hear me out as I consider myself lazy also. Growth and development and fulfillment personally and professionally take time. More than that, they take effort and soul-searching and an examination of our lives both looking back and going forward. And who has time for that? Furthermore, who has the staying power and the energy at the end of the day to sit down and analyze this stuff? Doesn’t it make more sense to follow someone else’s rubric to lead us to our conclusion? Of course it does.

4. We don’t have to be invested in them

Beyond the time we spend to follow these steps or ideas to some breakthrough we aren’t personally invested in their results. How many of you have gone through some of these processes or seen the steps and arriving at their conclusion, said something like, “Oh, what do they know!” Partially because we don’t have time invested and partially because after all these aren’t our processes; we feel completely empowered to ignore them. They were just a fun little thought process to go through to maybe, hopefully give us some small insight. Going any further would take commitment and work and more time and we just can’t spare any of those right now.

5. We aren’t willing to examine our lives

Apart from being lazy, this is probably the biggest reason we rely on these lists. A philosopher once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Unfortunately, aside from the superficial trappings of our lives many of us, myself included, are living lives that too often are unworthy of the gift that we’ve been given. We are given one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything we ever wanted, in one moment (many thanks to Marshall Mathers) and we opt to chase a bigger home, nicer cars, more perfect family and an image of happiness rather than the fulfillment of our purpose. The numbered steps that we go through, far from being the destination, are barely the beginning. If they lead to real examination, great, but unfortunately they usually lead to us saying “Huh! That was interesting” and leaving it at that.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I realize my little rant here won’t in any way stop these numbered lists from occurring. They’ve been around for eons and personally I blame David Letterman for making them really popular but that’s another topic for another time. In any event, it’s my hope if you choose to go through these exercises you take the time to really think about them. They can be the jumping off point to self-discovery or just a fun little process. It’s up to you.

I’ve read a lot of personal development books, probably too many. I stopped reading them partly because I got tired of looking for the golden ticket and partly because I realized without doing the work I was just wasting time. Hopefully this is some food for thought and if you think someone else might benefit, please share it with them.

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