Jewish World Review March 7, 2005 /26 Adar I 5765

Marty Nemko

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Consumer Reports

Beware of Self-Help Gurus | Imagine a doctor urged you to undergo a treatment but failed to mention that it fails with 90 percent of patients like you. You'd sue and win in any court in the land.

Yet self-help gurus routinely make low-success recommendations without reprisal. For example, haven't you heard a guru intone that key to success is self-esteem or affirmations? Or urge you to "dream it and you can do it."? Or even "Don't push. When it's meant to be, it'll be." The gurus persuade you with tales of how they or an acolyte went from depressed to delighted, rags to riches, dung shoveler to diva.

What gurus don't tell you are the odds. Sure, it worked for their cherry-picked exemplar or for themselves. After all, they were smart, driven, and/or lucky enough to get a book published or appear on Oprah. The problem is that most consumers of their nostrums aren't as smart, driven, and lucky. The gurus don't admit that for every Million-Dollar-Baby success story, countless people bought their exhortations yet are still mumbling in their beer.

I'm tempted to attend some guru's introductory lecture designed to up-sell attendees an expensive workshop or set of CDs and ask, "What percentage of your attendees significantly improved their life as a result?" If the guru were honest, he'd probably say he doesn't know— few gurus are brave enough to validly evaluate their efficacy. Or if she were professional enough to do so, based on my discussions with many colleagues, career coaching clients, and friends, I know the efficacy rate would be low. Barbara Sher, one of the few self-help experts I respect, author of Wishcraft and the nugget-filled Barbara Sher's Idea Book ( agrees. "I ask my audiences, 'Raise your hand if you've actually been helped by positive thinking?' No one does."

What has more often helped my clients?

  • Get a family member, colleague, or friend to hire or refer you into a better job than you could land in the open market.

  • Rather than a career change, consider a career tweak: delegate or outsource your job's yucky parts, become expert in one of your field's niches, or change bosses or workplaces.

  • Accept, at long last, that your laziness is hurting you too much. Then, become aware of each moment you're deciding whether to work or shirk, and more often choose to work.

  • If you have, or suspect you have, a problem such as depression, bipolar or attention deficit disorder, consider having an expert evaluate you regarding medication.

  • Stop analyzing and start acting: take a low-risk step. An object at rest tends to stay at rest— the slacker syndrome.

  • Develop a plan broken down into baby steps. Yes, that's a cliché, but it works. Sher urges her clients to constantly ask themselves, "Does this get me closer to my goal or not?"

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  • Look better: lose weight, get nicer clothes, haircut, or makeup.

  • Consider going back to school. I hate to recommend that because, if you're self-motivated, mentorships and self-study can teach you more of value, faster, less expensively, and more conveniently, but many people need school's structure and the threat of a bad grade to motivate them.

  • Run a simple business, perhaps one (or more!) you can run from home such as editing, tax preparing, tutoring, agenting, brokering, virtual assisting, or coaching. That too is a favorite Sher recommendation. She knows coaches in: charisma, fashion, cooking, performance anxiety, writing, parenting, decorating, organizing, and business. Or make dolls and offer them at craft fairs, sell your to-die-for fudge to restaurants and caterers, sell gift baskets, flowers, and kids' toys in the halls of corporations to workers too busy to go shopping.

  • Another recommendation Sher and I agree on: consider getting support. Many but not all people attain goals faster and more pleasurably with a buddy or "success team" to brainstorm with and report to weekly or even daily. Each session, after you get help, help the other person(s).

  • We're all capable of behaving better or worse. Decide to be your best self.

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02/02/05: Overcoming Fear of Rejection
01/24/05: Crackberrying: ‘I can quit. Really, I can’
01/05/05: The pain of being ignored
12/21/04: A Dozen career resolutions worth keeping
12/01/04: Straight talk about your career
11/09/04: Bush voters may not be so stupid
11/05/04: Career Lessons from the Bush Win
10/20/04: In Search of a candidate I can be passionate about
10/14/04: Better than a management book
09/29/04: ‘Deep Down, I Don't Wanna Work’
09/14/04: How to tell what career you should choose
08/23/04: Nemko's Rules: A contrarian approach to career and job finding
07/29/04: Are you lazy?
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06/11/04: The case against work/life balance
05/13/04: The Dumbing of America … and how to make it (and you) smarter
04/26/04: Do you talk too much?
12/08/03: How Open-Minded Are You, Really?
11/05/03: Driven to an early grave
08/18/03: The Truth About Teaching
05/12/03: Today's #1 hirer
04/30/03: What Are You Good At, Really?
04/10/03: Career advice I'd give my child
03/04/03: Under the radar: The One-Week Job Search
02/11/03: The World's Shortest Course on Managing Diversity
02/03/03: The Good Employer
01/29/03: What do you want to be when you grow up?
01/15/03: Passion Finder
12/18/02: Curing procrastination
12/12/02: The World's Shortest Course on Self-Employment
12/05/02: Men as Beasts of Burden
11/21/02: Beware of going back to school

© 2005, Dr. Marty Nemko