Is the Self Development Industry Selling Snake Oil?

Secret stairway
Image by ngrimshawe via Flickr

I’ve been a self-development junkie from the time I read “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day” by Michael J Gelb over eight years ago.  The book taught me the importance of keeping a journal which I have been doing consistently for at least 8 years now. From that springboard I dove into the self-growth ocean exploring all the flora and fauna with enthusiasm and delight.

I took a tough online course called Tools to Life and graduated much to my surprise about five months later…surprised because my history at completing projects was notoriously bad.

I started my own self growth blog focusing on inspiring others, and then I began a newsletter. I’m in the throes of developing my own self help tools and I have almost finished my first book.

I’ve done all this without really thinking about the self-development industry until the other night when I sat in on a call hosted by Rich German, a well known personal coach and someone I have began to pay more attention to because his message resonates with me.

During his call he suggested that the self-development industry was responsible, to a large degree for soft selling how difficult it is to create change in one’s life by making everything sound so easy. In a direct reference to Jerry and Esther Hick’s contention, through the teaching of Abraham, that everything you want is downstream, that nothing you want is up stream he asserted that anything you really want is upstream. He asked outright, “how many people in your life have it all?” and for most of us the answer is maybe one if you’re lucky.

Rich’s contention is that you have to paddle like mad to get upstream to what you want…that it takes hard work and dedication to create the life of your dreams.

Boat abandon on land
Boat with out a River

So is the self development industry selling a new, modern form of snake oil promising much but delivering very little?

As Rich spoke about the industries’ propensity for selling easy solutions I really had to stop and ponder the issue.

After all “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne takes fire from many critics who contend that she mislead people about how easy it was to use the Law of Attraction in their life with just a little visualization, a little wishful thinking, a few affirmations and untold wealth would be yours.

Her book sparked a revolution and a whole new industry and made her a very wealthy woman indeed. Millions and millions of people the world over where swept up with the euphoria of her vision. Yet when instant wealth didn`t arrive immediately people dismissed the whole topic as unworkable.

Then came Eckhart Tolle with his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61)
which again stormed around the reaches of the world and into the studio`s of Oprah Winfrey. I was one of millions who tuned into the live events clutching my tattered and post-it flagged pages, spell bound by a riveting discourse between Oprah and Eckhart.

Was that all just a delicious dream or like Eckhart Tolle asks in the introduction to his book, “Is humanity ready for a transformation of consciousness, an inner flowering so radical and profound that compared to it the flowering of plants, no matter how beautiful, is only a pale reflection?”

I think part of the problem in all of this is a semantic one. What is easy and what is hard?

Take the metaphor of rowing a boat either upstream or downstream to get to what you want. To go downstream is about letting go, surrendering to the current and letting it carry you to the shore of plenty. But! , and it’s a pretty damn big BUT, surrendering or letting go is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do in the spiritual sense. Yes it’s easy, all you have to do is let go. Like a desperate man hanging onto a rope over a roiling river, the physical act of letting go is as simple as opening your hands. You’ve done it untold times before with unthinking ease but now you are like the proverbial blind man grasping at straws. You will hang on in a death’s grip because to let go is to plunge to certain death.

Letting Go

In meditation I have been successful over time, in letting go, more and more…but that final step, the one that will send me over the precipice is still waiting for me to master because I cling onto that last bit of ego, screaming and kicking with all my might.

Rowing upstream however, appears hard, you are battling the current, and you are fighting the forces of nature with the sheer tenacity of your human spirit. Our natural instinct, groomed over a millennia of struggling to survive, is to fight, to claw to grasp for every step, every inch. We applaud it, we are inspired by it…yet in essence it is the easy way because we are bred to do it, we are just fulfilling our genetic code.

When we look around, as Rich German asked us to do, to see who among our friends and family have it all…who among them are doing what we are doing to change the outcome of their lives, and you answer, with disappointment…none, or maybe one, remember this: you have sacrificed to get up earlier in the morning to meditate, you have exercised hard to stay fit, you have worked consistently on a morning practice, writing in your journal, giving up weekends to go to seminars in stuffy hotel rooms for what?

For the joy that comes from finding that special presence in your life that lights up the world with brilliant light, that fills you with love to busting and brings tears of profound emotion to your eyes. To shine as one with the universe, to dance among the stars, to feel the power of oneness within your tiny body and your infinite soul,  this is your birth right, your destiny.

To get there is very hard: all you have to master is the simple act of opening your hands and letting go.

Rhonda Byrne with “The Secret” awakened a slumbering planet to the possibility of a different path. They might grumble now that it was all nonsense, that there really isn’t anything in “that law of attraction” stuff. Yet…the secret is out of the bag. There is no way back.

The simplicity of the concept hides the complexity of simply applying the Law.

When Eckhart Tolle held out the possibility of enlightenment for millions of excited people all over the planet, he stirred us all to a new vision of a new earth. That his promise did not materialize in the bright morning that followed does not diminish the impact his words have had on a planet struggling to consciousness.

So is it snake oil, or healing elixir? Is it upstream or down? Is it easy or is it hard? Deliciously, and mischievously, it is both, which brings us full circle to that wonderful, mystical duality in which we all, as human beings live.

Nick Grimshawe

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13 thoughts on “Is the Self Development Industry Selling Snake Oil?

  1. I think it’s an interesting talking point, but that’s about it. I think every self development thing I’ve ever ingested says that you might feel some immediate good feelings, but that things really don’t change overnight. In The Secret movie, for instance, Esther Hicks (I have the original movie) states that the universe listens, but doesn’t give anyone instant gratification all the time because people aren’t often ready for it, so it’ll take time.

    I think there’s more snake oil in areas such as telling people they’re going to make all sorts of money by creating template websites and the like.
    Mitch recently posted..Securing Your Blog

  2. I agree with your point. Self Development takes time, and I don’t think (the industry) has ever suggested otherwise. Trouble is we live in an instant gratification society. When the gratification isn’t instant, off we go to some other program offering the latest sexy in thing. Self development takes commitment. I am a huge fan of Esther Hicks and their very simple on step at a time approach.

    As for the other on-line schemes offering instant riches with little work and investment…snake oil.


  3. Pingback: ngrimshawe
  4. I’ve always had an issue with how self-help coaches proclaimed how simple it is to reach perpetual happiness or whatever other self-help item is being talked about, because although it may sound easy (for instance, be in the present moment), these things are much harder done than they are said, but marketing them as being simple and easy is a great advertising technique that gets people interested in finding a quick-fix when in reality it usually isn’t so simple.
    Plato recently posted..Being a Part of the Conscious Evolution of Humanity

  5. Hello Plato,

    I think the real irony is: it really is simple, it’s just so hard to grasp, how easy it is, and that makes it difficult…if you get my drift. You would think letting go is easy, you just open your hands, and boom!But in reality you have to work through all the things that are keeping your hands in a death grip.
    And the problem of course , is we think. We have to learn not to think…that’s hard.
    Again it is all about duality.

    Thanks for your comments I really appreciate them. And now I am off to have look at your blog.


  6. Ahh yes, that’s what I meant to convey, that they are difficult to grasp. I’ve found that learning not to think can be greatly helped by certain meditation practices.

    Nice blog you have here by the way, all the best


  7. Hi Paul,

    LOL. I think I stopped thinking I think. Yes meditation is the way to get there. Just this morning I had a big breakthrough on letting go. Still have a little bit of a grip, but getting there.

    I enjoy your blog too. I’ve subscribed so I don’t miss anything.

  8. I think Mitch is correct. Its the gurus selling one click IM scams that make me mad. I think genuine self-help courses have real value but not ‘make money overnight’ junk.

  9. @Paul I 100% agree with your comment. That “it takes years to have an overnight success” is what most people don’t realize or don’t want to hear. The marketing of most of these so called gurus is one reason that people’s expectations are so unrealistic.

    On the other hand this is the same marketing other industries such as weight loss or fitness use as well. Most people just don’t want to do the work it requires to be successful I had my own business for over 3 years now and it as been a difficult road, but I’m seeing results from my hard work now. It was definitely no overnight success, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

    David recently posted..Der richtige Moment dein Date zu küssen

  10. Hi David,

    Over night success sure is an over used phrase and hardly ever truthful. I am happy to hear about your business and the value you place on all that hard work. You are right…too often we are in it for the quick fix…rather than the long view.

    Thanks Nick

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