The problem with personal development

Jay, Caleb and I just spent the past 3 days attending a personal development seminar.  It was inspiring on some levels – and unsettling on others.  First, I found Brendon Burchard’s presentations helpful and encouraging.  Brendon is a student of positive psychology and I usually learn something new from him.  As a professional life coach, I find actionable information valuable for both myself and my clients.

The other presenters, not so much.  I felt bad about this as I really wanted to like their presentations.  I met some of these folks when I was interviewing for a coaching position with their company so I felt on friendly terms with them. 

Why the disconnect?  I found the amount of ego on parade staggering.  The name dropping of celebrities and the mention of excessive consumerism masked as a virtue because money was spent in the name of relationship building.  (One presenter boasted of a birthday party for his child that probably rivaled the amount of a week’s pay for many of the attendees.)  

Bragging about spending $100K for a few hours of mastermind…ah ooga!  (This was the precursor leading to the sales pitch of their mastermind for only 19,997.)  A fishing vacation that included the impulse purchase of chartered helicopter services.

My disconnect increased as I chatted with fellow attendees and heard some of their stories.  So many of them were looking for hope.  Many (most?) of them could ill afford a 20K coaching package – much less the payment option that was offered.

The conference featured Rachel Hollis, 32, a rising star in the personal development world.  She is an excellent speaker and demonstrated some solid coaching skills.  But I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of emotional cleanup would be needed afterwards when the 40 and 50-somethings weighed themselves in the balance and found themselves wanting, because she seemed to have figured it all out and well, what the hell’s the matter with you people?

I think it is dangerous to put a young person in the lime light to advise people with decades more of life experience.  Yes, I know, timeless truths are timeless truths but I believe there is a necessary wisdom and compassion element that is only brought by getting your teeth kicked in a few times.  This only comes through years of experience. 

And speaking of getting your teeth kicked in.  One presenter cited another story by Tony Robbins, another personal development guru. (I find his level of arrogance especially repugnant.)  After a pilgrimage to India and South America, Robbins had the revelation that he never need suffer again. 

Perhaps I am naïve but I believe that is utter nonsense.  If you are going to love, you are going to suffer.  

I was also horrified at one of the interactions between Hollis and a women in the audience.  Hollis had people shout out their obstacles to their dreams and one woman shouted out “Getting people to support my non profit.”

When asked to explain, the woman proceeded to tell how after she participated in one of the costly coaching programs, as she was trying to launch a program to help the homeless.  As Hollis asked probing questions, it was clear that this woman had not yet done anything to launch her vision.  She wanted people to give to her cause even though, as Hollis rightfully pointed out, she “had no proof of concept.” The woman had cashed out her 401K and was working “very part-time.” 

My lawd.  What a disaster!   Hollis demonstrated good coaching but I can’t imagine that this setting did anything for the woman except wake up every shame trigger known to mankind.  Hollis’ then offered advice which seemed clear cut (“You need to get a job!”) and “helpful” but it also reminded too much of Republican, get the bums off welfare and “God helps those who help themselves” sort of advice. (Advice giving is NOT coaching, by the way.) 

I believe this is a huge failure of the personal development industry.  It assumes that everyone is coming from a place of strength.  That everyone is ready to “take it to the next level!” or be a “servant leader.”  I cringe thinking of single moms who are barely holding their heads above water, being admonished to “up their game 25 percent!”.

Most of us have so many unhealed wounds and traumas and until those are loved into a place of wholeness, we are going to continue the same dysfunctional behaviors.  The inner journey to peace and true success isn’t something you obtain attending conferences or buying coaching packages.  (Though those can certainly help facilitate.)

I’m not saying any of this to negate something I fiercely believe – everyone has innate worthiness and strength within them.  You are more powerful than you know.  

You are enough.  Just the way you are.  

I have observed in myself this continuum between striving to be the best version of myself – and resting in knowing that I am enough – right now.  I think of it as the Brendon Burchard - Richard Rohr (a Franciscan priest) spectrum.

As I get older I find myself drifting toward my favorite Franciscan.   

I am grateful for the experience I had these past few days but I think this marks an end of the personal development season for me.  I think any future conferences I attend will be focused around building a legacy that will outlive any bank account I try to fatten.

I want to help people heal and discover the great beauty and strength they possess.  I want to brainstorm with people who are working to alleviate suffering in the world - by getting into the trenches with them.  Sure, some would howl that all these things take money but I think there is an economy emerging that is greater than this…love.  Starting with loving your neighbor – as yourself.