“You know what the problem is? The problem is people don’t trust themselves. They truly do not believe in themselves or trust themselves; that’s the root of all this self-help revolution.”
That’s what a good friend of mine recently told me as we were browsing in the “Self-Help” section of a large Barnes & Noble bookstore. We were wading through shelves of sub-categories for self improvement — anger management, anxieties and phobias, art therapy and relaxation, communication and social skills, death and grief, dreams, eating disorders, happiness, memory improvement. The subcategory list is expansive, and it includes categories I would not have expected (handwriting analysis? To help yourself? Who writes anything by hand?).
Regardless, my friend was trying to boil down all these categories — and books — into a simple philosophy: “Believe in yourself and trust yourself.” Sounds simple, straightforward, and solid, right? Well… perhaps it’s a little more complicated than that.
The “textbook definition” of self-help is:
The act or an instance of helping or improving oneself without assistance from others.
Working for one’s self without assistance from others.
Of, pertaining to, or useful for the process of developing one’s capabilities or solving one’s problems.
May I offer my own explanation?
Self-help doesn’t mean solo
First, consider the phrase “helping or improving oneself without assistance from others.” We’re supposed to go this alone, to build ourselves up with no outside help or interference? Yes, I’m asking a question; I’m certainly not stating this as truth. I must ask: Why not get help? Why not ask for information, assistance, counsel, advisement, or tips from others who have been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it? (I think we call them “life hacks” now.)
I believe that’s the original intent. Certainly, self-improvement requires significant effort from us and we need to have “goals” of improving; however, SMART self-help is learning to benefit from the experiences of others. It’s important to cultivate the ability to carefully judge advice given to you. (I’m reminded of two quotes here: 1) “Anything free is usually worth what you pay for it”; and 2) “If it’s free, it’s advice; if you pay for it, it’s counseling; if you can use either one, it’s a miracle.”)
Not all advice is sound advice, or it might not apply to you and your situation, or it might be just “someone’s thoughts” that have nothing to do with your efforts. However, benefitting from experience is certainly valuable, and many people have been through life-changing experiences that may provide some clarity to you. (Isn’t that why we read self-help books? To benefit from others’ experiences and direction?)
How much better to find people around you who are a few steps or a mile ahead of you in life? Go find and cultivate relationships with people who have solid experience and ask them for specific advice. Not just general stuff (such as, “What’s the meaning of life?” — [the answer is 42] — “Why are we here?” kind of queries). But ask specific questions relative to your situation, your problem that needs solving. After judging the source, judge the advice. Apply it, if both source and advice are worthy of your action.
Self-help needs facts and feedback
My second key point relates to the third item in the definition: “…useful for the process of developing one’s capabilities or solving one’s problems.” I don’t know about you, but one of the primary actions I’ve developed for solving my problems is the gathering of facts. I get these “facts” by asking others — not by trying to figure out things by myself. I ask around and collect all the data I possibly can!
In particular, I ask people I trust. In fact, I ask people whom I trust to tell me the truth (even if it’s not “pretty,” as they say). I pride myself on having enough self-confidence to ask for the hard truth, and when it’s given, I don’t take it personally. I don’t brood over criticism or avoid asking tough questions that have tough answers. After all, I need that data to solve my problems and set future goals. If I get criticism I take it in the spirit in which it is given.
A word here about criticism. You’ll get all kinds of it over the course of your career. Some of it is biting, obnoxious, and meant to hurt you. If you receive that kind of criticism, well, consider the source first and strive to rise above it. You’ll also receive “constructive criticism.” This is the tough one.
I used to tell people “there is no such thing as constructive criticism; it’s just a phrase to couch what you’re criticizing me for as an act of help!” I was wrong, very wrong! (I was also young and prideful; now I’m old and humbled.) Many people in my past have given me excellent constructive criticism. It’s just that sometimes I wasn’t smart enough to accept it.
I’m reminded of another old saying: “Praise makes you feel good; criticism makes you BETTER.” I now prefer to use the term “constructive feedback” (it seems to be easier to take than “criticism”), and I find that people who are willing to take feedback constructively and apply that feedback to their lives/businesses/problems are people who are constantly improving their situations.
Self-help needs a second opinion
Certainly, we have to help ourselves. Sometimes, the best advice comes from your own heart. However, it’s always good to get a second opinion. When we hear this phrase, we think of medicine — getting a medical second opinion is almost a given these days. When we receive a particular diagnosis from a physician, we immediately think, “Wow, that’s major, I should probably get a second opinion on that before I go into surgery, take this treatment, start physical therapy”, etc.
We think nothing of going to another physician who will either confirm or contradict our primary physician’s diagnosis. So, why not get a second opinion on your own thoughts and directions? Often we are faced with big decisions in our lives, facing major changes that alter the course of our business, personal lives and/or careers.
Why not get a second opinion from someone you trust? I get second, third, and fourth (and so on) opinions and advice when I’m facing a big decision. Why not? Self-help and self-confidence are terrific, but learning from someone else’s experience is also pretty darn handy.
Self-help doesn’t mean blind trust
Which brings me to my final point: Who do you trust and why? Trust is earned — usually over time and experiences. Some people trust blindly (not a good idea) until proven otherwise; some people never trust anybody (again, not a good idea). “It is logical” (said Mr. Spock) to learn to trust by assessing experiences, knowledge, and wisdom. (Don’t confuse the two; they are different, more on that next time).
Talk to people you respect, people you feel are willing to share and who are willing to listen to you, as well. Don’t talk to people who claim to know it all (none of us do, you know), people who won’t listen, and people who act like they don’t have time for you. I always avoid those who, while I’m speaking with them, are checking their phone, their email, being interrupted several times for trivial things. I don’t need advice from those folks!
Trust is an essential element of mentoring/advising. After all, if you don’t trust someone’s opinion, you won’t follow their advice. Try to find someone with extensive hands-on experience. (I’m not saying academic credentials are unimportant, but this again brings up the question of “knowledge vs. wisdom.” Never confuse degrees with expertise). I’ve met many, many Ph.D.’s, M.D.’s, and lots of other “D’s” who were brilliant in their particular (narrow) field, but I certainly wouldn’t take advice from them on other things.
Self-help books and beyond
So, build trust with some solid people who can — and will — help you to help yourself. While you’re in the self-help section, look at a favorite, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s been on the bestseller list, well, almost forever. Build your self-confidence by being well-networked, well-spoken, and by becoming a GREAT listener.
It is possible, certainly, to help yourself grow and gain confidence, but why not take in great advice and use great mentors to gain even more self-confidence? Before you know it, others will trust YOU and your opinions.
Self-help books aren’t bad, either; they have great advice in them. But why not get even more advice directly from those you trust? Again, experience has few substitutes — and getting the benefit of others’ experiences? Priceless. Especially their mistakes. After all, TRUST ME. I’m writing these blogs for YOU! Right?
Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.
Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on April 27, 2021.