After a five-year near hiatus from blogging, I came back with a bang with two controversial posts. A few of the comments stung a bit, and I wasn’t quite up to publishing another article that might open me to more criticism. But I’m not going to back away from topics I’m passionate about, especially when I know they’ll be helpful to readers. It’s not in me to be vanilla to try to please everyone. I value authenticity more than comfort.
But before you comment, I would encourage you not to say anything online that you wouldn’t say while sitting on my living room couch. There’s a person behind this screen. A person who has been through a whole lot lately (who hasn’t?) and while she doesn’t intend to create an echo chamber, also doesn’t need to field indiscriminate rants from people who obviously didn’t actually read the entire post. Or people who aren’t self-aware enough to realize when they’re triggered and sit down for a hot second to do their own work.
Let’s be kind to ourselves and to each other, ok?
Why I Quit the Personal Growth Industry
In the past, I would refer to myself as “personal growth obsessed”, and it was a fair assessment. I often had a stack of books that promised to make me better, more productive, more …. worthy. This past year, however, I’ve learned about the darker side of the personal growth industry and accompanying mindset. This is what I learned.
It’s a money making machine that feeds on insecurities and creates perpetual customers.
There is no end to books, podcasts, courses, webinars, and tools in the industry. A lot of people are making a whole lot of money on telling you you’re not good enough just as you are, but just you wait – they have the answers that will fix you.
For a price.
There’s nothing wrong with earning money sharing knowledge. That’s literally what I do, here. However, the personal growth industry keeps you hooked with a carrot that’s always out of reach. It’s always “jam tomorrow” with those folks. They make money by telling you that your success, happiness, fulfillment require something outside of yourself. And something more is always required.
It tells you that you’re not good enough
Everyone has flaws and insecurities. While it seems counter-intuitive, real growth actually comes after accepting oneself. That doesn’t mean making excuses for our flaws, or not taking responsibility for weaknesses, especially when they hurt others. But just as no one ever successfully loses weight and keeps it off by hating their bodies, we don’t really grow as people when we’re filled with self-loathing, do we?
You’re already enough, AND you can work on things if you want. Accepting reality is a path to happiness.
Just like letting my hair be its gray self makes me happier than coloring it. My gray hair IS. It triggers people who are unhappy with themselves, but that’s their work to do, not mine.
It is a poor substitute for what truly works
What has helped me more than the hundreds of books I’ve read, the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on courses and workshops, the hours I wasted on the project that is me?
Turns out, sitting for an hour with a professional in a clinical setting has done far more than all that to help me understand my emotions and deal with them in a healthy way. Leading to better relationships and more contentment.
There isn’t a shortcut for doing the work. It’s hard and scary, and it doesn’t come from pop psych writers whose personal lives are a train wreck. Ahem.
It’s cultish: it elevates a guru, and sets up an US vs THEM mentality
I’m super wary of anyone who tries to be a guru. Sharing ideas is one thing. Telling another what worked for you is fine. Selling a message of “I have the answers above all others”…. suspish. Unfortunately this kind of thing happens often in the personal growth world.
Another problem is how people who aren’t “committed to their growth” are viewed as less than, people to be avoided because they will sully you and limit you. Not surprisingly, some personal growth groups actually ARE cults, the workshops and trainings being fronts for something far more nefarious happening deeper in the organization. See Scientology, Landmark, and NXIVM, and the like.
It delegitimizes negative emotions and encourages toxic positivity
There is no such thing as a negative emotion. We don’t like to feel so-called negative emotions because they feel less fun. But, they’re important in the way that lifting heavy things is important when sitting on the couch feels better.
Anger serves the purpose of helping you establish your boundaries that have been violated. Its work is protection and restoration. Sadness helps you slow down and draw community. It releases and revitalizes. Grief reminds you of the preciousness of life and the fleeting nature of time.
Personal growth wants you to feel happy-happy-happy, all the time. (Shock treatment, I’m doing fine. Sorry, quick Ramones reference there.)
But that’s neither realistic nor healthy. Every emotion is a messenger. We ignore it to our peril. The idea of toxic positivity is now getting lots of airtime, and I’m glad of it.
How do you feel about the personal growth industry? Were you a former addict like me? Have you changed your opinion? I’d love to hear it.