.Friends, this is a must-read.
was a self-help guru. Here’s why you shouldn’t listen to people like me.
I learned the hard way that the people trying to solve your problems often need help the most.
Updated by Michelle Goodman Jan 23, 2017, 8:00am EST
"Deepak Chopra is a fraud". This is what I was thinking as I lingered 20 rows back, waiting for Bree, my boss, to finish huddling with Deepak onstage about the presentation he would give that evening.
Bree ran the San Francisco chapter of The Learning Annex, that mainstay of adult education courses for the personal-growth set. This was the mid-’90s, when people still called the New Age movement “the New Age movement.” Deepak was our big get that season. We proudly positioned the blurb announcing his lecture at the front of the newsprint catalog on its own two-page spread, rather than tucked away amid the litany of courses taught by shamans, sexperts, and self-professed real estate tycoons.
I had nothing against Dr. Chopra.
I just found it surprising that moments before the dry run now underway, this beacon of enlightenment, a man supposedly above the trivialities of ego and self-doubt, had asked Bree if the khakis he was wearing made him look fat.
Apparently, I learned, gurus are people too, even gurus lining the self-help shelves of friendly neighborhood bookstores. They aren’t infallible, all-knowing oracles above worrying about their generous muffin top or widening backside. They are businesspeople — businesspeople with books, keynotes, and openings in their consulting practice to peddle.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” my friend Cherise, a ghostwriter for a number of these bestselling gurus, told me the following week over tea, her Mission District apartment stuffed with piles of self-help books, CDs, and videos. “Many of these people are no more qualified to dole out life lessons than you or I.”
How I became a self-help “expert”
A decade and change later, I got a firsthand taste of the guru trade. It was 2007 and my first book, a career guide for creative types who didn’t want an office job, was approaching publication.
“Wonderful!” my mother said when I called to tell her my advance copies had arrived in the mail. “When do you go on Oprah?”
I explained to her that most authors, especially small press authors like me, don’t get the opportunity to meet the queen of daytime television. I also broke the news that I would not be flying first class around the country on my publisher’s dime or drinking Champagne from dollar-bill?shaped flutes anytime soon. For most nonfiction authors I knew, “going on a book tour” meant blogging obsessively and visiting a couple cities where you had couches to crash on and knew someone who knew someone who ran a conference or an event space at which you could speak. More often than not, you footed the bill yourself.
“You never know,” my mother countered. “Look at that Eat, Pray, Love lady. She certainly didn’t sell herself short. Just keep me posted so I can tell everyone what shows to see you on and when.”
I met a lot of other self-help authors along the way. And I discovered there were two types of us: people who lived to write, and self-appointed experts hoping to get rich and famous. “A book is just a means to an end,” one A-list blogger told me in the green room of a local TV station, where we awaited our upcoming live segment. Eyeing her crisp red blazer and perfect blowout, I smoothed my rumpled blouse and tried to forget about my frizzy mane.
“Your book is basically your calling card,” she continued. To her, a book deal was a business plan — a stepping stone to ad revenue, keynote invitations, corporate sponsorships, consulting gigs, even startup capital. If you wanted to make money writing books, you had to be a thought leader, a guru. Basically you had to be Deepak Chopra.
Attaining Chopra-like status was tough but not impossible, my fellow authors assured me. The key was to monetize my expertise, as though every person I’d ever encountered was loose change waiting to be salvaged from the couch. To do so, I needed to pepper my website with authoritative photos of myself — arms crossed, face confidently arranged into a tell-me-something-I-don’t-know expression. I needed an e-newsletter promoting products my many acolytes could buy, like webinars, ebooks, and $499 coaching packages. I also needed to invest $10,000 in a media trainer who could teach me to hold my own with Terry Gross and Anderson Cooper. Never mind that $10,000 was far more than I’d received for my advance and I was already behind on my rent.
If Deepak Chopra was a fraud, then so was I. As I was beginning to glean, playing pundit was a hypocrite’s game.
Finally, the author's health broke down.
nd then I started having chest pains
Around this time, I started having chest pains. My doctor thought I just needed some TUMS. Three weeks later, the TUMS I was popping like Life Savers stopped working. The tornado in my chest was all I could think about. My doctor now on vacation, I was left to my own neurotic devices. I called the 24-hour number on the back of my insurance card.
“When did the pain start?” the hotline nurse asked.
“About two days ago.”
“Shortness of breath?”
I took the nurse’s advice and went to the ER. Six hours and multiple tests later, a cardiologist told me there was nothing wrong with my heart. I’d probably been having a panic attack. The prescription? Less stress, more rest.
Publicly I was the poster child for the well-balanced, successful freelancer. Privately I was unraveling. Writing a book about creating a self-styled career you love had led me straight to a job I hated. I was supposed to be this emissary of work-life balance, the queen of controlling one’s career destiny. Yet Sunday evenings now gave me the same fetal-position dread my book claimed to help readers avoid. I’d gone to the hospital with chest pains in my 30s, for chrissake, racking up $4,000 in out-of-pocket expenses in the process.
The lesson: practicing what you preach is really, really difficult. So I decided to stop preaching.
Practicing what you preach is tough. And not just for me. I’ve known dating advice columnists who don’t date. I interviewed a career expert who advocated nanny care for telecommuting parents while trying to manage two crying children between sound bites. I know a “turbocharge your freelance income” workshop leader who’s privately admitted he has no idea how much he makes because his wife handles all the money.
The dirty little secret of those in the advice business is that we wind up teaching others the lessons we most need to learn ourselves.
This my friends explains something.
It explains why the many successful self help gurus are often outed as being
abusive and exploitative.
How did they become successful?
By having a feeling of entitlement before becoming famous.
Kind and unassuming persons probably wash out early in their self help careers
because they get exhausted. They get exhausted precisely because they are unhampered by conscience and because they feel entitled to special treatment
long before they are famous.
So the successful self help types race with an advantage. Early in their careers
they safeguard themselves from stress by acquiring entourages of devotees
who are willing to work themselves to death on behalf of the guru long before
the guru becomes famous.
This keeps the guru looking fresh as a daisy when giving lectures all over the world: The hidden network of early disciples who are doing all the unseen
labor that safeguards the guru's sleep and leaves plenty of time for spa treatments and facials.
After the guru becomes a celebrity, these loyal early disciples are often
discarded. Or they realize their loyalty is unreciprocated and chose to leave.
Once gurus become famous and acquire public images, they often resent
that they needed so much help to became renowned. A resentment of dependency
and utter ingratitude are hallmarks of narcissism and abound in the guru
Corboy suggests that the successful gurus avoid stress overwork by, at the start of their careers.
They do not do this because they have mastered meditation or by having an
inside pipeline to God or kundalini, or by Loving What Is.
The secret of the guru is -- acquiring a small, effective, invisible
entourage of helpers early in one's career.
Wanna look freed from suffering, be charming, and enjoy a fresh complexion?
Have servants. That is "The Secret", boys and girls.
So, those all important early devotees are like the Sherpas who help
rich Westerners get to the top of mountains they could not climb on their own.
Every guru who has summitted the Himalyas of celebrity and without getting breathless has done so because he or she has a hidden group of devotees
who have done the heavy lifting - tasks such as the following:
* Worked as the aspiring guru's administrative assistants
* Designed the website and the online store
* Wrote or at least edited the guru's books and tapes
* Distribute fliers and pamphlets - still an important way to get
the word out. If you can find a lot of devotees willing to distribute
these for free, you dont have to hire a distribution service
* Researched and hired appropriate venues for seminars and retreats. This
is an important skill. One must know how to arrange chairs and curtains
to make a room feel just right according to the number of listeners
* Booked the plane flights and finding affordable accommodations, whether
at a devotees house or a hotel.
* Handled appointments
* Did the aspiring guru's laundry, hair and makeup
* Saw to the luggage to and from the airport
* Booked the rental car or Uber
* Kept audiences placated so that the guru could arrive late (on purpose)
and for the audience to believe that patience is good for ego annihilation
rather than being fucking impolite.
* Cooked for the guru. The founder of the Hare Krisnas got himself
a disciple in his first years in American whom he trained to become his
personal chef. Prabhupada grew up in affluent circumstances in India. He felt entitled to this level of service -- and got it.
In short, the successful aspiring guru is someone who early in the game feels
ENTITLED to be waited on hand and foot.
Persons from India and other South Asian countries may also enjoy an advantage
in this area: in South Asia it is considered normal and desirable to have
servants and to make excessive demands on them - it is part of the culture.
More material here. There are times when it is just not possible to separate
a harmful guru from the technique used by that guru.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/27/2017 11:50PM by corboy.