Friday, October 30, 2009

Really Crappy Advice -- And How to Keep It From Killing You

In recent weeks I’ve been watching events unfold in Sedona — that whole James Arthur Ray thing and how people died in an ersatz sweat lodge. I suppose for many people, a terrible event such as this (where people paid $9,000 for the privilege of dying a horrible death, surrounded in the gloom by their vomiting and fainting companions) is so exotic that most people might think, “that could never happen to me.” And that would probably be true.

However, this whole clutch of motivation and self-help teachers has been bugging me over recent years. Most of them are pretty small potatoes. But they promise big, and encourage people to take risks with their money, relationships, future, and careers that they might not otherwise take. The cumulative effect of little damages everywhere can be very destructive indeed. I’m worried that the general public might be even more at risk as the economy continues its stagger, stagger, crawl mode. These are emotional frontiers we’re in, folks, and the woods are lousy with snake oil salesmen – people who promise to give you a breakthrough secret to life in a week or a weekend, for the price of a semester of college or a small car.

I have had in my bookshelf for a couple of years now the book, SHAM, by Stephen Salerno. And I’ve been really reluctant to read it. Primarily because I knew he would blow the lid off of the mechanics behind self-help gurus and their business models. And at the time I was also reading Martin Seligman (the very legitimate founder of the very legitimate positive psychology movement), and I was also dabbling in more than a little Jack Canfield, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson and even Joel Osteen. And, frankly, I still like the way their messages make me feel. And while I certainly didn’t buy The Secret’s promises hook, link and sucker (I mean, sinker), having grown up in a family whose mantra was mainly, “ain’t it awful, ain’t it tragic,” I knew there is definitely something to be said for willfully focusing on the positive side of things. A positive attitude is more conducive to creative thinking and endurance during a time where everything seems to be hitting the fan. At least it makes the ride a little more tolerable.

But I also know a manipulative head-game when I see one. (At least I hope I do.) I certainly learned to recognize the signs when I bought into one, much to my ever-lasting regret pretty quickly thereafter. So, I thought I’d lay out a list of danger signs for you – with the hopes of helping you keep your money in your pocket. (I get the fact that this could mean that I might miss out on a few sales of my own books – but at the end of this post I’m actually going to offer you my first book for free. I won’t even ask you for your email address as one of those cheesy quid pro quo gambits.)

Avoid any course with titles containing such words as “breakthrough,” “success,” “transform,” “dream,” “vortex”and whose tuition includes a comma. Speaking from personal experience here. These kinds of courses are mostly warmed over material drawn directly from the texts of books that you can purchase for $20 to $30. There will be much playing of John Denver and hugging of total strangers — most who look like they either haven’t been hugged in decades or they’re really really really looking forward to hugging you. The break times are dedicated to urging you to sign up for the advanced course at twice the price (but today – and only today – slashed to the same amount you just paid for the basic course). My memories of those break times involve softly trance-inducing singing from the stage and a certain zombie-ness of the people moving to the back of the room where tables are conveniently set up, where staffers cheerfully accepted credit cards. Did I get anything of value from that basic week? Yes…my mastermind group is still intact after almost five years. We meet on the phone every other week and have become supportive friends. But have our circumstances changed significantly since we met that that “breakthrough” week? Nope. (As you can imagine, I’m usually the cranky one on our phone calls.)

If you go to any course with a title that includes the words “spirit,” “warrior,” “vision quest,” make sure there is an EMT on call at all times before laying your money down. Most spiritual quests are flat-out scary. Who are these people to say they know the way, and will lead us there through a regimen of fasting, meditation and bodily deprivation? The way people refer to spirituality as Spirit, as if Spirit is their next door neighbor with handy cable piracy skills, is revolting. And the way white Americans romanticize the mysteries of Native American life and traditions is deeply hypocritical or willfully shallow. If they’re so enchanted by the Native American way, how about coming out to the Southwest, don’t stop at the spas or casinos, and spend that week teaching Native American children to say no to crystal meth addiction and alcoholism? Share the inspiring benefits of your own education, skills and privilege, rather than trying to siphon off a few sips of mysticism from authentic traditions that you will never get anyway?

If someone wants to teach you how to be rich (for whatever price), first find out how he got rich himself. Look at the frequent fliers of this particular line of work, and you’ll find out that most of them got rich by sticking their hands into pockets of people just like you (and me). And they’re getting richer. Did he ever grow a company, other than the staff of eager minions he has working for him now? Did he turn around a major corporation? Did he emerge from his own family of alcoholics and desperados to blaze his own trail by making something or contributing something useful to society (that is other than an ultra-expensive retreat)? Is he an unimpeachable researcher who has the gift of translating esoteric, hard-to-understand information into immediately useful ideas that anyone can have for the price of a book? That might be someone worth paying some attention to.

When someone tells you that you’re nowhere without his secrets or gift, laugh and walk away. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I know of one so-called Buddhist guru (she’s American) who actually replaced the words “Higher Power” in the 12 Step Program with her own name. That’s amazing. But what’s even more amazing is that hundreds of otherwise intelligent people said, “Duh, okay.”

Just say no to any product marketed to you via email by someone you’ve never heard of but endorsed by someone you have. These people exchange mailing lists, knowing full well that purchasers of self-help products are the most likely to come back for more and more. The cynicism is mind-blowing.

Avoid self-help books that were Number 1 on Amazon for, like, three hours one day. Again, it’s the lists at work. These people know how to game the system and they use each others’ lists to snag that coveted spot, even for an instant. This way they can call themselves “bestselling authors.” Big whup.

Don’t give up your own dreams. Life is full of true mysteries. My personal favorite one is the mystery of synchronicity. I’m a total sucker for those stories, and I have true, first-hand stories of my own that would curl your hair. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on a synchronicity that I perceive to be an omen. (Even though, in my heart of hearts, I kind of hope it is.)

We all need fresh infusions of inspiration now and then. And personal growth does involve keeping your mind open and venturing into uncomfortable zones now and then. But no breakthrough experience should involve group puking or even close bodily contact with strangers to the strains of “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”

Keep your wallet in your pants. Or purse.

(Now for the free offer: I will give you a free copy of my very first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life. For absolutely nothing. Not even your email address. Just click the green button on the home page of Unlock the Hidden Job Market, and it will lead you to free downloads. You can also have a free sample chapter of our new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market. Naturally, Duncan and I would love it if you also purchased that book. But you know what? You don’t have to.)

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