On rah-rah self-improvement

I’ve always had this love-hate relationship with self-improvement. On the one hand, I can’t get enough of it. I love reading about it; talking about it; and even occasionally actually acting upon the new things I learn about. On the other hand, self-improvement has always felt corny and overhyped; and oftentimes self-improvement “gurus” simply promise too much.

Today I read in a book how a fan of self-improvement and motivational paraphernalia countered the criticisms of someone not so keen on them. I thought it was simply fantastic, and have quoted it in full for your full viewing pleasure below. It comes from the book Work like you’re showing off! by Joe Calloway:

Almost 30 years ago, I learned a significant life lesson from a coworker named Wayne Bredberg. Wayne was a poster boy for positive thinking. Wayne listened to motivational tapes. He read motivational books. His office space was decorated with motivational sayings. I thought Wayne was ridiculous. I thought he was gullible and naive. I, however, was tough and smart. I was a realist. I had no time for rah-rah motivational cheerleading.

I’ll never forget the day that I confronted Wayne about his positive attitude. I said, “Wayne, all this motivational junk that you fill your head with is completely worthless. You think that listening to motivational tapes that tell you to wear a big, fat, happy, stupid smile on your face will make your life better. Well, it won’t, Wayne. It’s a myth. It’s a little children’s fairly tale. It’s a waste of time, and it won’t work.”

Wayne smiled and calmly said, “Maybe you’re right, Joe. Maybe it’s a waste of time. And maybe it won’t work. But, on the other hand, I’m happy and you’re miserable.” I simply stared at him. I had no response. He had hailed me right between the eyes. The truth was that Wayne’s life did work better than mine because Wayne was tough enough and smart enough to find opportunity, while I was the wimp that waited for the world to treat me better. I was the “realist.” Yeah, right. The truth is that I was the loser.

I tend to feel a little self-conscious and awkward when it is found that I enjoy self-improvement. It is almost, dare I say, uncool? But the thing is, just thinking about self-improvement perks me up; makes me feel happier; and oftentimes gives me hope of a better tomorrow.

And without without hope for a better tomorrow, what is life worth living for?

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