Why self-help and best practices aren't

posted by Jeff | Thursday, July 11, 2019, 10:45 AM | comments: 0

It's astounding at how big of an industry "self-help" has become. Ditto for the countless books about business and professional development, as well as countless consultants and bloggers, are a big deal. Even in software, we have so many experts that are anxious to prescribe process and practice for you.

I think that self-improvement is a noble and even necessary pursuit. However, if there's anything I can generalize about all of this stuff it's that it's... generalized. It's all high-level, starting points, abstract, general. Its usefulness is limited because it's not contextual. Real life has a lot of nuance.

So what do you do with that? You engage professionals who can work with you in context after you've exhausted the usefulness of the general stuff. I can read a book on self-confidence, but if I'm going to really have a shot at improving it, I need to see a therapist. I can read a book about how some CEO worked hard to be successful, but I have to consider that person is an anomaly and an exception to the rule. I can see a talk on implementing some stellar best practice at work, but my chances of success with it are higher if it's done by someone who has experienced using it in a similar situation.

The harsh reality that I've come to accept is that experience (or inexperience) plays a huge role in everything we do. I know, duh, we do really stupid things as teenagers, somewhat less in our 20's, and by the time we really have things figured out, we're closer to retirement, or empty-nesters, or unfortunately on non-first marriages. Experience seems to be the only thing really indicative of long-term success, which makes sense considering how environment becomes such a huge influence early in life.

If that reality is bona fide, then I wish someone would have explained that to me around the time I was in college. The early success in my first career came rapidly because I pursued experience, but the advice I was given was to be relentless. That relentlessness only served to make me tired, in retrospect. Today I'm back to looking for the experience, and have worked very hard to build a network of people who can help me with that. TED Talks and books aren't enough.

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