The Problem With “You Control Your Destiny”

(Or, Why There Should Be More “Self” in Self-Help)

Welcome to my sporadic series of essays where I highlight my general concerns with self-help books as a genre, despite continuing to read a ton of them.

We’ve all heard the sayings. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”  “It’s your attitude, not your circumstances, that determine how successful you are.” These attitudes can be summed up in a single phrase: you control your destiny. This belief is the foundation and promise of most self-help books in the “Success” genre; teach yourself to think and act correctly and you’ll achieve whatever you want.

Unfortunately, the same fatal flaw afflicts each of these often-quoted truisms: the message only usefully applies to yourself.

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a quick recommendation instead of a review

I meant to post a review of Eat That Frog! this week but I haven’t finished rereading it yet. Next week!

In the meantime, and also in lieu of my long-delayed “the problem with self-help-book culture” (I’ve had a partially written post stuck in my drafts for the better part of a year; I think I’ll need to break it into a series because it just keeps growing), I’d like to recommend What’s Wrong With “Productivity”. It makes very good arguments and the last point – “productivity” is not an unrestrained good – particularly resonates with me.