investing · Personal Finance · Self-Improvement

The Problem With Self-Help

Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, there has been an explosion of new self-help guides on the internet dot com. Old legends like Tony Robbins keep cranking it out, while young orangutans jostle for their piece of the pie. Almost every online following seems to devolve into the genre with varying degrees of intensity and commitment.

That’s all good, but an unfortunate theme appears to pervade most of the books: complete disconnect from reality. I happened upon this realization after reading through The Compound Effect  by Darren Hardy. It’s a short and compelling read that rehashes the timeless principles you typically hear, such as:

  • That $4.00 coffee at Starbucks every day adds up to $51,833.79 after 20 years.
  • If you make only $40,000, bring a bag lunch and cancel your magazine subscriptions, plus change your cable provider. This will save you a lot of money which could be invested for a higher return.   
  • If Stacey puts $250 in her Roth IRA each month starting at age 23, she’ll have $1 million by age 67, in this case ASSUMING she gets an 8 percent return, compounded MONTHLY.
  • If Chad does the same but delays his start by a a few years, he’ll have only $300,000 at the same age.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and energy.
  • You’re 100 percent responsible for your actions/decisions/choices.

The last hyphen point is especially interesting. Hardy does attempt to push the gospel of self-improvement, laying into the folks who blame other elements for their misfortune, such as family or the government. He hoists the individualist banner valiantly, yet towards the end of the book there is a brief disclaimer which can be summarized as follows: You’re 100 percent responsible for whatever you do, but those choices are INFLUENCED by powerful external forces.

At precisely this moment, the “Stop complaining and focus on yourself” mantra is dealt a fateful blow. Obviously one can apply all those principles, but there is nothing preventing a Black Swan from tossing it all back to square one again. These gurus seem to forget that prior to the 2008 collapse, companies like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were well-respected, with both residing in various investment and retirement portfolios. Concurrently, there was no shortage of self-help spin doctors encouraging people to “Save every penny so you can invest” for the future. No doubt others adhered to those philosophies, but nothing stopped the macro-level malevolence of corporate and governmental interests.  We can look at the oil collapse of 2014 (and even 2020), along with the Coronavirus financial spanking to see a steady dynamic afoot. The train rattles on.

I suppose the takeaway should be that for all the benefits of helping yourself and “being an individual,” there are always factors at play well beyond your control, and those unwelcome guests can easily crash the self-reliance party.

Anyone bring the Natty Light?

3 thoughts on “The Problem With Self-Help

  1. These are sad times. I’m seeing articles where big companies are taking the PPP loans and small businesses are going bankrupt. Man are refusing to pay back what they took. As a accountant working for a small CPA firm, it infuriates me to know end. Clients are asking us for help on PPP applications but I know deep down that closures are coming and big business is going to win. And we can do nothing about it. Your predictive insight is amazing, Martin. I hope that your work lives on so that people in the future can read it. This country will need it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s the problem with living life. Things can go wrong. And it may depress some people, for me yeah, I have suffered long time thinking this way about what can go wrong, and still do from time to time.

    Why many people report that self help helped them is because

    1. The message take charge helps to just start doing things instead of just constantly overthinking about what can go wrong and not doing anything.
    2. Think Positive helps to reduce the constant negativity, but it may also make people dumb with hope.

    Some of these problem may stem from childhood where parents are too critical on mistakes that the child has to adapt when parents make big issue out of things and small mistakes are treated like mistake of a lifetime. The child becomes negative because it’s not about what can go right, they are never appreciated for that but to avoid the wrong.

    The self help might prove useful as it says that you have to do things and instead of the parent telling that you are fuck up the author says the universe will conspire to help you my child.

    This may lead to dumb shit but still helps some to escape the negative cave to see the forest for first time and see how beautiful the world is ( although there are snakes and lions around and flash floods ).

    Or most probably, this has been my experience and I’m just projecting it onto the world.

    Liked by 1 person

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