Self-help gurus helping only themselves

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (U-Wire) — “Starting today, you can have the life you’ve always desired. You can have closer relationships. Greater success in business. More money. Real happiness and fulfillment. True passion in your life.” It’s all in “Personal Power II” by Anthony Robbins. “Major credit cards accepted.”
In high school, I survived my first ill-advised brush with the world of the self-help guru. Inspired by career day, the earnest but otherwise inactive counseling center cancelled the annual visits by area businessmen and women and replaced their advice and counsel with an early morning assembly featuring the most unscrupulous of entrepreneurs: the inspirational speaker.
Overjoyed at the cancellation of first period calculus, the bane of my existence, I filed into the gym along with my fellow blazer-bedecked, loafer-shoed classmates. He arrived with a fervor evidently induced by 10 to 12 cups of coffee. Jumping to the center of the stage, he spouted definitive, specific rules to obtain unlimited success in all areas.
“Aim for the sky. Don’t stop if you fall. Be confident. Listen to your mother. Eat green beans, I mean lima beans. They are good for you.” He covered all areas of life: weight loss, health, religion, family, business. The list goes on.
He continued unabated for over an hour and a half, increasing the speed and volume of each of his phrases with each passing moment. “Reach for the stars.” I stared dumbfounded and unconscious. My mouth sagged. I started to drool. He rambled, undaunted by the lack of interest exhibited by my schoolmates, unenthusiastic and yawning, frequently and loudly. I wondered where this man came from, who inspired him to become successful by inspiring other people to become successful and, most importantly, I wondered who was listening.
Apparently, the majority of America. Anthony Robbins, arguably the most famous and notorious of self-help gurus, has tutored the likes of President Clinton, Madonna, Andre Agassi and Nelson Mandela. He has also allied with Lou Holtz to provide stadium-sized seminars on success.
Granted, the first three personalities possess arguably questionable judgment. Mandela and Holtz, however, command my undying respect.
Inspired by my admiration for Mandela and Holtz, overwhelming guilt surrounding my possibly premature dismissal of “inspirational speaker” and the nagging thoughts that if I had listened I might have earned an “A” in calculus, I decided to investigate the world of the self-help-inspirational-motivational-weight-loss guru via the Internet. (The Internet, of course, stakes claim to the most exciting and inspirational of founders: Al Gore.)
The wonders of Yahoo directed me first to the aforementioned advertisement for Anthony Robbins’ “Personal Power II” and on to “King’s Gifts: Home of Your Favorite As Seen On TV Products.”
I stood amazed at the claims. Robbins, who first gained notoriety during the fire-walking craze of the ’80s, apparently has insightful knowledge on an endless list of topics. He claims to facilitate physical, mental, emotional and financial success through advice provided by numerous books, tapes and lectures. He has compiled an impressive list of titles: “Awaken the Giant Within,” “Unlimited Power,” “Unlimited Power: The Videotape” and “Giant Steps.” Only one question arose in my mind: What happened to “Personal Power I”?
I wandered from the world of Anthony Robbins to the Web site for Deepak Chopra’s Center for Well-Being. His work varied noticeably from the “driving force” of Anthony Robbins, but, similar to Robbins, Chopra promises the keys to “healthier, happier and more fulfilled lives” and “optimal mental, physical and emotional health.” At his center, he offers two-day seminars on such topics as “The Gift of Love” and “Optional Primordial Sound Meditation” for the small fee of $495. (Lunch breaks, but not lunches, included.)
I left his site extremely disappointed. I have lived my life in anticipation of the opportunity to learn about optional primordial sound meditation, but my limited college-student funds prevented me from taking the chance.
My disappointment led to an inevitable conclusion on the state of the self-help-inspirational-motivational-success guru. They can only have successful followers. Their followers, who possess the means to spend $495 for a seminar or upwards of $100 for a Robbins one-day event, have already helped themselves. More despicably, the success of the self-help guru depends on the failure of his product. Anthony Robbins could never have written and certainly not sold “Personal Power II,” if “Personal Power I” provided the ideal life it promised.
And so, my electronic journey ended with my reconciliation with my “B” in calculus and the knowledge that in the future, I’ll take the free and unsolicited advice that I receive from my parents, friends and professors every day. But then, I have stumbled across this incredibly useful piece of knowledge. The world needs to know. A lecture tour, perhaps? On succeeding without the advice of the self-help guru?
Joanna Mikulski’s column originally appeared in Friday’s University of Notre Dame paper, The Observer.