We are busy, we are stressed, we are overwhelmed. Everyone is going crazy trying to sort out all he has to do throughout his day, everyone is facing the increasing social pressure which derives from the massive use of social networks. Everyone, more than ever, is constantly comparing herself to her friends, to her colleagues, to her boss.
Given this context, there is no surprise that personal development websites and coaches are getting more and more famous. There is no surprise that more and more people are trying to find ways to overcome the feeling that they are not good enough, that they are not living up to the society’s standards.
But, sadly, like most of the things out there, personal development is a business. Some people spotted the opportunity and found a way to successfully transform people’s insecurities into profits.
Self-help is certainly not a new concept and it is indeed possible to find self-help books written in the 1900s. Nevertheless, we are now facing a real explosion of this concept, with an increasing offer of courses, techniques, one-to-one coaching sessions and whatever else you want to add to the list. Does this mean that in the past people were ok and that now suddenly everyone is getting weird and needs the help of a professional life -coach? Does this mean that the increased quality of life which we have reached in the third millennium actually gave people a deeper understanding of the importance of their lives? Or is just that some smart person found a way to make us feel inadequate and is exploiting our insecurities to make riches?
Honestly, I believe it’s a combination of all these three factors. Yes, the way society is changing is actually making us crazy. The increased amount of information we process every day, the possibility to get in touch with and get to know about every part of the world and the introduction of social networks put us in a reality in which it is almost impossible not to compare what we are doing, what we are achieving and what we are missing to what others are doing. In this context it is normal that we tend to compare, to judge, to crave for more. The worst is that many tend to see their lives as a show, as an exhibition. They emphasize only the good, the exceptional, while hiding the dark spots. Nobody can positively compare to this monster-stereotype of the perfect life that society is giving to us.
Secondly, the quality of life is surely higher now than in the past (at least in western countries). People are able not only to satisfy their primary needs, but have a sufficient income to pursue passions, go on vacation and buy all sort of goods they desire. The possibilities to increase our social status are higher than ever. We are free to change career, to move to another city, to define what is success to us.
All this freedom is amazing, but is also a double-edged weapon. I believe we are now required to take much more decisions than in the past. The possibility to take decisions is a gift, it gives us the chance to pursue the kind of life we dream. At the same time, every decision lights our uncertainties, make us feel uncomfortable and can lead to sleepless nights. We would like to choose only the best for us and thus we look for help, for guidance.
All this gave the impulse to the massive increase in personal-development tools. Self-help can be a useful tool, it can give us the motivation, the desire and the courage to change. I am myself reading a lot about this topic. But self-help is also dangerous. There is no recipe to get out of our doubts, no perfect decision, no perfect behaviour, nor the perfect hack to solve our issues. Never believe those people who pretend to have everything sorted out, they are most likely lying. Don’t believe those who are alluring you with quick fixes, with easy solutions, with well-tested systems. They are just trying to exploit you; they just want your money. When you are tempted to follow some advices or to enrol in some life-coach sponsored course remind yourself that personal development is a business, people are getting rich on your uncertainties. Remind yourself that they lose a customer every time they solve a person issue definitely. What they want is to get more customers and to keep the ones they already have and thus they give your small “pills” which make you feel better as you take them, but have no long-term effects. This way you have to come back, you end up becoming addicted to self-help courses and coaching sessions.
What the answer then? What should we do?
I believe that personal development can be useful and can have a positive impact our lives, but that we should always keep in mind that there are no easy solutions, that there is not such a thing as easy and fast change. It might seem that some people suddenly change dramatically, that their lives suddenly get incredibly better, but usually this is the result of a slow process which required quite some time. When you think you are unadapt, don’t run to the first “self-help expert” you find out there; remember yourself that we tend to compare the best sides of others with the worst side of ourselves.
To feel better and to live a more peaceful life we should probably just make the effort to stop comparing ourselves to others, learn to be enough for ourselves and practice a little bit of disconnection.