Life is all about tradeoffs.
Every movement, every organization, every activity has baggage. There’s always something you have to put up with in order to reap the benefits. For instance:
At the symphony, you have to deal with some hoity-toityness. Orchestra concerts have a bunch of unspoken, seemingly arbitrary rules like this one:
During a multi-movement piece, no clapping between movements. Ever. God help you if you clap between movements. Except if, like, it was a really well-played movement. Then it’s a nice gesture.
If you’re new to classical music, rules like this are irritating (and there are a bunch of them). But you still go, because having a transcendent musical experience is worth a little hassle.
Or take homebrewing. If you decide to start brewing your own beer, you’ll have to learn a bunch of weird terminology.
- Wort = beer that hasn’t fermented yet
- Carboy = big glass bottle where the wort turns into beer
- Sparge = to spray hot water on grains while lautering
- Lautering = a term my computer autocorrects to “loitering”
There are a bunch more, you guys. These are just the funniest-sounding ones.
Finally, consider baseball. At a baseball game, you have to deal with crowds, drunken fans, the hot sun, and $9 nachos with soggy chips. But you still go, because you love supporting your team and being around other fans.
Personal development is no different. If you want to make a conscious effort to get better at life, there’s some stuff you’ll have to deal with.
Here are two problems with personal development.
1. Slick Salesmen
If you don’t trust the salesperson, you’re not going to buy.
This is true even when the currency is attention, not money. If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not going to read my stuff.
We are all products of our time, and today, people value clarity and frankness. We also distrust old-fashioned salesman. If someone talks like Harold Hill and is slicker than a mashed potato sandwich, we’re not interested.
And some of the old-school personal development speakers were pretty slick.
Two of my favorites are Zig Ziglar and Jim Rohn. These guys got me into personal development, but they’re products of another age. The following video is a perfect example. (Just watch the first 10 seconds.)
Now Zig is a master storyteller, and this video’s core message is timeless: If you want to change other people, change yourself.
But in the first 10 seconds alone, two things stand out:
- This video is dated.
- Zig is a bit of a salesman.
With old-school personal development, it’s easy to let a few outmoded details overshadow the timeless message.
Solution: Start with new-school personal development experts.
- Instead of watching a Jim Rohn seminar on YouTube, watch a Seth Godin talk.
- Hold off on Zig Ziglar’s audiobooks, and check out Tim Ferriss’s podcast (try his interview with 29 year-old Oxford professor Will MacAskill)
- Instead of watching a 1980’s Tony Robbins seminar, watch his 2006 TED Talk (in which he tells Al Gore, to his face, why he lost the 2000 election).
Don’t get me wrong: the old-school stuff is ageless and worthy of your time. But if it rubs you the wrong way, start with something more accessible.
2. Big Promises and Easy Fixes
It’s so easy to over-promise.
Self-help and personal development experts are particularly guilty of this. If you believe deeply in an idea, you’re likely to over-promise in order to convince others to try it (for their own good).
- “Follow these 5 easy steps to get out of debt!”
- “Eliminate workplace stress with this productivity system!”
- “Read a book a week and transform your life!”
It’s easy to get disenchanted by promises like these.
Solution: Remember that personal development is simple but not easy.
All five of these are challenging to implement. Personally, I’m way behind on reading. I’ve been working through The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for over two months, and I’m not even halfway done. If it weren’t for audiobooks, I wouldn’t be doing much reading at all.
We personal development nerds don’t always make the distinction between simple and easy, but it’s a critical one.
I’ll have more problems with personal development (and solutions) in the next post!