That's the question my wife posed to me early Monday morning. We were sitting at the table, halfway eating breakfast, halfway watching CNBC's series The Millionaire Inside. She had heard someone on the show — Robert Kiyosaki, maybe — say something pithy and cute and nebulous. For instance:
I am, by nature, a guy who's cynical about a great many things. For example, I have an innate distrust of someone who professes that vast wealth can be achieved via real estate — but who himself got rich mostly by selling personal speaking engagements and 25 million copies of his books. But does that mean that what he has to say is entirely worthless?
I'd say no, it doesn't. I strongly believe that value is where you find it.
So when an Anthony Robbins or Larry Winget or David Allen or Robert Kiyosaki starts gesturing and spouting to the camera, I'll listen — at least for a while. But I listen from a position of "Show me that you have something of value for ME." At that point, I'll make a decision as to whether you can have a spot on my bookshelf, or in my truck's CD player, or whatever.
Yeah, But Am I Learning Anything?
For me, the value I derive from watching self-help gurus spout their wisdom on shows like Millionaire Inside is minimal. I mean, as I write this, the show ended just over a day ago, and my feeble brain can't recall a whole lot of what was said. I know some little snippets caught my attention. I know that, at least a couple of times, the speakers made me think. But what was it they said?
Couldn't tell you. It's gone now.
But such shows can be good for one thing: If there's a guy up there I've never heard of, and he says something that flips my switch (in a good way), I might just go looking for more. Perhaps "more" means buying a book from Amazon, or an audiobook from Audible. Or maybe it just means I'll browse his book the next time I'm in Barnes & Noble.
Either way, once I have those nebulous guru-isms in tangible form, whether it's in book or audio, then finally those guys are doing something for me.
They're making me think.
And the offshoots of that?
Motivation. Creativity. Re-examination of ... well, of my environment.
None of these are bad things.
Laugh all you want, but so long as I can return to these guys' words from time to time, when it's not just one of those "in one ear and out the other" soundbites, then I've found that what they say does "stick" with me. And I begin looking at things differently.
And often, for instance, I'll start getting more stuff done. This applies to my Day Job as well as my writing here. (Like Stephen King says: If you want to write, you have to read. Doesn't so much matter what you read; it just matters that you do read.)
Are all these authors and motivators simply telling many of us exactly what we want to hear? Sure they are. And we pay them for it. The question I'd ask, then, is why is that necessarily a bad thing?
In the end, I don't care whether Robert Kiyosaki got rich from real estate, book sales, or from selling his childhood Matchbox collection on eBay. What I care about is that Rich Dad, Poor Dad is, overall, a mediocre literary package which just happens to contain some highlightable nuggets that changed the way I look at money.
I've found that same sort of value with other personal-development gurus' stuff, to greater and lesser degrees. And if I found some value in their work, well, what else matters, really?
I gave them some money, and they gave me (on occasion) a different perspective.
Oh, I used to be a full-on scoffer of "self development" stuff, too. But now I know myself better. Now I have a decent idea of where I can find the little things that give me a spark.
Now, when I consider my wife's question, when I ask myself Do I really learn anything? from these authors, I have to answer in the positive.
After all, I spent way more money on textbooks in college than I have on self-development paperbacks and CDs. But not a single one of those textbooks motivated me to find a way to do what I really wanted to do in life — which was to write, to read and be read, and to create something of (hopefully) some value to others. When I look at where I am today, I'm pretty certain that I'm better off for having read those books.
For all the cash I spent on those college textbooks — for all that hardback, higher-ed "learning" — well, not one of those textbooks motivated me to change my life for the better.
Turns out that I just wasn't reading the right stuff ... yet.