Why I Won’t Be Your Next Self-Help Guru

I have to confess an embarrassing secret. Several years ago I imagined myself as your next big, self-help guru. I made this my goal, I pasted it on vision boards, and I spoke it aloud to make it real. My dream was to travel the world speaking words of inspiration to awed crowds who would leave my speeches with a renewed sense of hope, feeling that they were now able to face their problems with inner peace, loving themselves. I wanted to write books that made people feel like they weren’t alone and that they were going to be okay in spite of the hands they’d been dealt. In doing this, I think I somehow believed that I too would have inner peace and self-love and be fixed. I would also, finally, after all these years be the kind of person who likes green juice, has discipline, does not watch trash TV, never spends hours on Instagram stalking former exes and the bitches that terrorized me in middle school, and oh my god feels awful when I don’t exercise every single day.


I am exactly zero of this. For the record, I feel fantastic on the days that I don’t exercise, my worst sixth grade bully made crock pot pulled pork yesterday, I want to gag when I see people chugging celery juice on social media, and I dream of spending hours watching 90 Day Fiancé or something equally tawdry and exploitative, with a king size Snickers in one hand and the remote in the other. That is who I am. Partly anyway.

I will never be a light-worker. I shudder to think that at one point in my life I proudly announced that this is what I was. Not even wanted to be, but WAS. Like for real, I can’t even change the bulb on my ceramic, probably cancer causing, scent-warmer thing without a major production, but here I was announcing to the world that I was a LIGHT-WORKER.

I gave myself a job that I now realize I am not qualified for. Here’s why:

1.      I am not a skinny blonde. The first five successful self-help gurus I can think of off the top of my head are all rail thin, blonde white women. There are even more than that. I will never ever be a skinny, blonde woman, although I am white. My natural hair color is a shade away from black. My eyes are the same color. Skinny I am not, nor will I ever be. I come from burly farm woman stock. I’m tall and thick, and I have big boobs, but not in a good way because my big boobs are real and nursed a child for a long time, so they are disqualified. The way I look is not a beauty archetype.

 

I have a working theory about the whole skinny blonde thing, and I do believe that how these women look plays some part in their success. I’m sure they would argue me on this and credit The Secret or something, but hear me out. These women DO look like a beauty archetype. They are the embodiment of mainstream beauty ideals. They LOOK like what most people unconsciously equate with success. When you look like this, to paraphrase Glennon Doyle to some extent, people automatically assume you have your shit together. People will listen to and glom on to people they think have their shit together, like that shit-togetherness and privilege will rub off on them.

 

Another thing is that these wellness-leaders look like stereotypical popular girls. The vast majority of us were not popular in middle and high school, many of us felt left-out and lonely, and those feelings have never totally left us. Inside every one of us is the kid who wanted to fit in in high school and who spent hours alone imagining how great life would be if we too could be popular. We are still trying to grab that elusive ring. Although they’d never admit to this either, the Queen Bees of self-help are essentially selling what we always wanted in adolescence – a how-to guide to popularity and perfection.

 

I can’t be a self-help superstar because nobody wants to look like me, which means no matter how wise I might be (I’m actually not, but more on that later) no one will listen to me. Also, my hair is as coarse and straight as a horse’s mane, so I can’t do that beachy wave thing that every inspirational speaker does with her expensively highlighted hairdo.

 

2.      I have no tolerance for vague BS. The entire holistic community speaks a bizarrely vague, coded language of faux positivity that doesn’t actually say much of anything. It’s right up there with the creepy jargon of evangelicals, just different. As an English teacher, who grades papers daily, when I read self-help books and inspirational quotes, it’s all I can do not to grab a red pen and x out half the page, scrawling VAGUE across entire paragraphs. What are these people actually saying?

 In the present space of the divine now, greatly brave in the lightfulness of your true source authenticity. Hold space for your vulnerability to manifest bliss at the soul level. Purge your quantum essence of stagnation. Breathe into your fullest equanimity.

 The fuck does that even mean? Nothing. It means absolutely nothing. I know because I made it up using New Age buzz words, but I guarantee you I could take that paragraph into a yoga class and recite it when people were in savasana and half the class would be in tears about how my words had resonated with them.

 So why do people eat this stuff up and spend tons of money to hear it? The answer is precisely because it’s meaningless. They can project their own meanings onto it. When people say these words speak directly to them, it’s because they’ve attached their own meaning, which means they don’t have to hear actual concrete advice that is usually difficult, unpleasant, and not fun or magical at all. This stuff is way easier and much prettier.

 I suggest that if you enjoy lyrical language so much that your soul would be much more nourished by reading actual poetry.

 3.      Food is wonderful. I have fraught and complicated issues with food because I am a middle class white woman in America and I am basic AF, so of course my relationship with food is problematic. The problem is I have no will power whatsoever and I love food more than I wish to be thin. I constantly say I want to be thin, but I am not willing to give up deliciousness to get there, so there ya go. I love to eat, and I love to eat all kinds of things. In order to be a successful self-help guru one must develop of deep and pervasive terror of food, but it cannot be for vain reasons (even though it is). It is for HEALTH reasons, because TOXINS. I have yet to develop this level of fear for long enough to make any sort of difference in my physique.

 Entire food groups must be eliminated. Questionable science should be cited. In fact, forget science period. You can just blatantly make up health facts and if people want to be skinny enough they will accept it without question.

 For real, I know people who ate actual clay and charcoal because they swore it was healthy.

 3A. This is kind of a sub-point. I’m not willing to body shame anyone in the name of enlightenment or self-improvement. The majority of the wellness community engages in horrific backhanded body shaming, and they get away with it because they make it sound nice, and positive, and like it’s all about self-improvement and being your best self and health. It’s the equivalent of your annoying aunt who points out at Thanksgiving that you shouldn’t have seconds of stuffing, and when you get mad she says something like “But, sweetie, it’s just because I love you so much and I care about your health and I don’t want you to be alone forever, because you know how people are.”

 4.      I trust my liver. The holistic wellness folk are obsessed with toxins and cleanses and ridding your body of whatever these mysterious toxins are. They are completely preoccupied with and phobic of toxins. Here’s the deal, if you are worried about toxins, you probably don’t actually have any. Stop being obsessed with purity. It doesn’t exist. You’ll never get to a state where you’re like “okay, I’m pure now so I can stop worrying about this.”

 I don’t do any of those things. I think my liver can handle the relatively small amount of actual toxicity I impose on it, and I figure if I’m too pure, my liver would get bored. I have to give it SOMETHING to do. Come on.

 5.      No one wants to see my ass on Instagram. Sex sells. And it sells to New Agers same as everyone else. They just reframe sexy pictures as anything other than sexy, add some quickly googled inspirational quote that’s probably misattributed and BAM. Watch the likes pour in. I can’t even count how many times I have seen comments on ass pictures saying how deeply life changing, inspiring, and moving that ass picture is. I’m like “IT’S AN ASS PICTURE.”

Am I jealous? Obviously. See? I’m also too petty to be a New Age influencer.

I don’t really like to take or post a lot of pictures of myself. I’ll do it every now and then if I get one where I don’t look old and misshapen, but I don’t want to make a habit out of it. I feel like, why would people just want to look at a bunch of pictures of me? That seems so narcissistic. I prefer turning the camera lens outward. I’d rather show you the beauty in the world as I find it, rather than have you look at me and tell me I’m beautiful.

 6.      I am an asshole. I don’t want to be an asshole, but I’ve had to accept the fact that I am far too much of an asshole to ever be a self-help guru. Everything gets on my nerves. I am perimenopausal and please don’t mess with me. I have no patience for your nonsense. I just want to sit in bed and play with my phone. Go away. I do not radiate divine light, and I am not floaty or dreamy or breathy when I speak.

 To be a successful Light Worker, one must be your standard manic pixie dream girl. I’m not happy about this, but I am far from the days of ever being a supporting character in a Cameron Crowe movie. Even that reference shows my age.

 I am now a depressed crone-like middle-aged nightmare woman.

 

7.      I don’t think everything that happens to us is our fault. At some point I probably did believe this, but I looked more deeply into this belief system, which is pervasive in American culture in particular, and I’m not buying into it any more. Someday maybe I’ll write more in depth about this, but essentially what I’m saying is that we have this culture where we’re told that we create our destiny. Everything is up to us. Our choices shape us. We are in control of everything. Hard work pays off. If you don’t have what you want you are obviously doing something wrong. This is a core American belief, it’s part of a lot of Evangelical beliefs, and it’s been repackaged with different language and pretty crystals in the New Age world. But just because it smells like palo santo doesn’t mean it’s anything different than the same old you get what you deserve nonsense.

 Sometimes people do get what they deserve. A lot of times they don’t. Sometimes hard work is just hard work and makes us sick and exhausted instead of rich and famous. Often we can make all the right choices and the rug still gets pulled out from under us. Sometimes shit just happens and it isn’t for a reason. I tend to embrace randomness. That’s probably why I have panic attacks.

 Sometimes it really seems like the bad things that happen to people occur as a direct result of their choices, but only sort of. On the surface it can often look like this, sure, but what about when you go bigger? What about look at why people make those choices in the first place, or look at how limited those choices often are and why. Turn it around in your head a few times, go beyond the obvious, and you’ll see that things aren’t usually as simple as blaming everyone for what went wrong in their lives.

 I’m more a fan of blaming the collective over the individual. Not in every case, but in most.

 When that’s what’s going on, the advice and language used by the wellness community is actually, dare I say it, pretty toxic. I’m not saying that the gurus are intentionally harmful. I know most of them are coming from good places, and I always give credit for meaning well (I think it’s awful not to), but I also think that maybe instead of so much telling people they aren’t breathing right and trying to sell vagina crystals and luxury spa retreats in third world countries, that they could direct some of their time and “energy” and MONEY toward working on dismantling the systems of oppression that societies have in place that are what’s actually making everyone sick, sad, anxious, and unfulfilled in the first place.

 8.      I am so not fixed. Some days I’m fantastic. Some days I’m a mess. I’m usually pretty honest about it and I do possess a decent level of self-awareness even if I don’t have the skills to act on that awareness and make changes. I think some of the reason my aspirations for being a Light Worker never panned out is that I’m still a work in progress. I just haven’t earned it yet, baby. Besides that, I cuss way too much.

 9.      I can’t afford most of this stuff. Holistic healing in an expensive undertaking. That’s because, like anything else, it is a business. I don’t have a problem with that, except when it tries to make people think that it isn’t the industry that it, in fact, is. I mean, just be honest. These people who are trying to sell you essential oils, meditation retreats, kombucha workshops, mala beads, yoni steamers, and whatever the trend is this week, are trying to make a living too, and I don’t necessarily begrudge them of that. I also don’t necessarily think that it’s all a sham (some of it is, some isn’t) but I do think that to really be able to live this lifestyle, which I’m sure is undoubtedly healthier than most alternatives, you truly need a lot of money. That means that the healing promised isn’t accessible to everyone, and therefore it’s no different than the mainstream healthcare system in our country where the rich people are the ones who get to heal and be healthy, while people with less means stay sick and struggling. That’s not fair. So would I be healthier if I could consistently afford weekly acupuncture, all organic produce, a personal trainer, meditation classes, salt therapy, float therapy, a weekend yoga vacation, and all the other treatments and supplements that go along with it? Hell yes I would. Obviously. But is any of that practical for most people? Definitely not. And that’s my point. And I have a problem with people who can afford all of that stuff telling people who cannot that if they would just do these things that they’d be fixed.

 

We need self-help for poor people that doesn’t make them poorer, and then blame them for not being rich and beautiful already.

 

So here’s where I am instead. I’m fine with my failed career in New Age holistic wellness woo-woo. But I still want people to know that they are not alone, and I began to look deeply at what I was actually trying to accomplish. I want to be a helper. That’s the root of this. But perhaps the world doesn’t need me to help out by charging people thousands of dollars to go on a fancy vacation with me so I can tell them, gently, to love themselves more.

 I needed to take my own advice about that dismantling stuff, and it was overwhelming at first, like, what can I even do? What do I have that can help? And then I figured it out. I had an education, and I could teach. I DO teach. And wait! I could work to dismantle a lot of wrong and unfair shit just in my little classroom alone!

 So I’m starting small and I’m working hard and I’m still trying to figure things out as I go. I’m doing my best and I’m okay with it.

 The reasons I’d be a terrible self-help guru are the exact qualities that make me a great teacher. I question everything relentlessly, even obsessively. I love to analyze. I don’t take anything at face value. My BS detector is state of the art. I will always love the wellness world – it’s very pretty and relaxing over there and there’s a lot that’s very appealing. I just don’t think I’m as cut out to lead workshops in vibrational vortex healing as I am in rhetorical analysis.