Like many entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, I'm a big proponent of self-help, which I define as:

  1. Taking charge of your destiny by setting goals and moving towards them.
  2. Focusing on what you can change rather than what's outside of your control.

Based on my extensive reading, that's the gist of 90% of what's inside 99% of all the self-help books, courses, videos and everything else.

If you do those two things, you will be successful. This does not mean that you'll inevitably achieve your goals. It means that you'll learn and grow and achieve... even if you never achieve those goals.

However, I have noticed that some people take that simple philosophy--which is meant to be guide for your own thoughts and behaviors--and use it as club to beat up other people. I see this happening in three situations:

1. When CEOs cram self-help down their employees' throats.

his usually takes the form of a top-down directive that everyone should think and act positively and act as if they're happy.

However, forcing employees to smile makes every smile phony. Forced positivity immediately creates secret negativity, ultimately to the company's disadvantage.

An example here is Chipotle where the famously-touted corporate culture became more about lifestyle than food quality or cleanliness.

2. When the "self-made" insist anyone can replicate their success.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson is an excellent example of this. While his personal story of how he emerged from poverty is inspirational, it's not evidence that "anyone can do it."

While self-help means taking action rather than trusting to luck (or blaming fate), not everyone will be successful following a self-help program. Many, many, many people do their best to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and still fall on their face.

3. When CEOs use self-help as an excuse to shaft employees.

The best example that comes to mind is the YouTube video where an Uber driver took then-CEO Travis Kalanick to task for changing contracts after the driver made a significant investment based upon the continuation of Uber's stated strategy.

Rather than admitting that there might be a problem with his company's pulling the rug out from under some of the drivers, Kalanick ranted about how the driver wasn't taking responsibility for his life, etc. It was pretty disgusting.

But far from unusual. Almost all "gig economy" companies use the lingo of self-help and entrepreneurism to justify hiring contract employees.

Look, we are living in a period of time when almost all the wealth created in the entire world is flowing upward to a tiny group of individuals and families. It is absolutely in their interest to convince everyday people that they can "join the club" if they put their nose to the grindstone.

But it's not true. Most people aren't suited to be entrepreneurs and, frankly, even people of below-average intelligence deserve a living wage, which won't happen through self-help alone.

If I were to sum it all up, the world needs a bit less "you go!" and a lot more "go vote."

Published on: Jul 24, 2018