You’ve probably heard of Tony Robbins.
He’s one the most successful gurus in the self-help genre today. He’s advised everyone from Bill Clinton to Serena Williams to Usher to Oprah.
He’s announcing his upcoming seminar in Singapore with big, inspirational posters like this one:
WOW – with one “life changing” week (and an entrance fee of $1,497), you too can UNLEASH the power within and reach your fullest potential! What could be more important than that?
I used to buy into the whole self-help genre. In fact, I’ve written hundreds of articles on my other blog about how you can improve your wealth, health, productivity, and career.
For a long time, “self-improvement” seemed like a worthy goal to me. What else was the point of life other than to climb up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to the coveted self-actualization tip of the pyramid?
It’s easy to see why this is attractive. It’s like when you started school in Primary One, and you can see a clear path all the way until graduation. You polish off Primary School, move on to Secondary School, tackle University… all the way until you reach the Nirvana of Self-Actualization.
There’s just one tiiiiiiny thing: This is completely off the mark. Here are three reasons why:
We Don’t Really Know What’s Best For Us
Last week, I was watching baby Theresa (one of the kids in our community) play with a straw. Theresa’s at the curious age where she loves holding stuff. So she gets hold of a drinking straw and starts playing with it. She’s having loads of fun.
She drags the straw on the ground, then tries to put it in her mouth. This is when her dad steps in and firmly says “NO”. Obviously, we don’t want her putting a dirty straw in her mouth.
Theresa starts to get upset. She cries, and refuses to let go of the straw. If she had her way, she would chew on that dirty straw to her heart’s content. But as adults, we know that babies sometimes want to do things that aren’t good for them.
We get this when it comes to kids, but when we become adults, we somehow tend to forget this lesson. Now, we know KNOW what’s good for us. Just check out some of the things you can find in self-help books today:
From The Success Principles – a best-selling book by famed Chicken Soup for the Soul author, Jack Canfield:
How do you reconnect with your real passion? You start on the smallest level by honoring your preferences in every situation – no matter how large or small. Don’t think of them as petty. They might be inconsequential to someone else, but they are not to you.
From If Life is a Game, These are the Rules, by self-esteem and motivational expert Cherie Carter-Scott:
You deserve to have everything in your life exactly the way you want it.
At first, glance, these seem to make sense. But when you think a little deeper, it starts to get a little iffy.
I deserve to have everything in my life exactly the way I want it? What if what I want isn’t actually right? What if I had the same preferences of Hitler or Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung? Does it mean that I should still “honour those preferences in every situation?”
The truth is, we don’t really know what’s good for us. Just like how adults know that putting a dirty straw in our mouth isn’t good for our kids, God knows that sometimes, what we want might not be what’s best for us.
(And the “wisdom gap” between God and us is much, much bigger than the gap between us and our kids!)
Soooo – the whole self-actualization thing? That’s a man-made concept. How do we know that’s actually the target we should be shooting for?
We Need Higher Standards
So if only God knows what’s best for us (after all, He created us), maybe we should check out what He says about what “success” really is.
And heyyyyyyyyy, surprise, surprise – Jesus teaches us that the goal is the exact opposite of self-actualization:
Whoever finds his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. — Matthew 10:39
Jesus wasn’t just some guru who dropped wisdom bombs like Yoda: He lived it.
He didn’t come into the world to attain self-actualization. He didn’t become a billionaire philanthropist superhero, overthrowing Caesar, funding cancer research and helping the poor and founding SpaceX.
Nope. He said to His disciples: You know what’s the ultimate fulfilment of life in my eyes? Being crucified on the Cross, humiliated, rejected, having given up everything in the eyes of the world.
THAT’S the true standard that He’s looking for. It’s not about building yourself up and self-fulfilment; it’s about losing ourselves and giving up everything for Him.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta understood that it all boiled down to love:
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
We Can’t Earn Our Way To Christ
As Christians, we know that the ultimate goal isn’t worldly success, but to get to Heaven:
For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? – Matthew 16:26
Let’s assume that you are just awesome at this self-improvement thing. You’ve “unleashed the power within”. You’re now a billionaire with a six-pack; you’ve found a cure for cancer, and millions of people adore you.
But that doesn’t make a single bit of difference on whether you can make it to Heaven.
How talented or amazing you are has no bearing on how “saved” you are. Christ has already redeemed us fully and entirely by dying on the Cross. There’s not a single thing more that we need to do to “earn” His grace. It’s done – it’s given entirely to us, freely, totally, undeservingly.
The root of healthy self-esteem is not to pat yourself on the back and say, “I’m awesome”. It is to be convinced that you worthy because you know someone loves you, and loves you even if others don’t and even if you are tempted to believe that you are not worth loving at all.
As Msgr Cormac Burke writes:
On this basis even the person with no sense of exceptional human talents (and perhaps especially such a person), can develop a full Christian life.
What a wonderful message of hope! Knowing that there is nothing we need to do to earn Christ’s love, other than saying “yes” to it and embracing it.
Of course, I’m not saying that all self-help is wrong. There is merit to improving ourselves, our skills, and our lives so that we can better build God’s kingdom. But we need to remember that it isn’t the end goal.
Where I think we’ve lost our way is that we’ve become so focused on the self that we fail to see that we’re shooting for the wrong goalpost.
Today, let’s remind ourselves to remove our self from the centre of our lives, and replace it with the One who truly matters: God.