Achievement and success are ubiquitous objectives with an plenty of material to help get there. But, against a backdrop of wall-to-wall self-improvement, increasing numbers of people experience reducing quality of life, depression and stagnating incomes. Is self-improvement failing us?
Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers.
Trainspotting movie intro
We’d all be echoing Danny Boyle’s introduction to Trainspotting if observed behaviour defined prosperity. A poisoned chalice of surging debt has replaced the virtue of net worth with the temporary feel-good factor. It’s not at all farfetched to see parallels between addiction and debt. Worse still, like Hotel California, it’s a place that’s hard to leave.
Speed is the key
If you want to be me
So when people say
Here, do it this way
You’ll know it’s the means to be free
The cult of personality is a sophisticated beast, often used to create desire to own things. Advertisers and marketers associate products with successful people and, almost without realising it. We can feel like we’ll be more successful if we own that product. In 1965, Mick Jagger found satisfaction from smoking a certain brand of cigarettes, and in 1979, Viktor Kiam liked Remington so much he bought the company. Since then, marketing by association has become much more sophisticated.
Charisma too is no longer only a badge of character earned through danger and adversity. Now it’s a course, a learned skill, presumably available in affordable instalments.
Competition increased the speed needed in many industries. It’s not enough to make cars. Now quicker and cheaper design and manufacture of new models is much more important. Technology is an enabler, but in businesses with low barriers to entry the result is often closer to fashion. Like the Tamagotchi phenomenon of the 1990s or, more recently, the fidget-spinner craze, one minute nobody has heard of them and next they’re at every checkout and in every popup shop.
This is what happens when chasing what’s popular.
The dazzling maelstrom of possibility distracts and confuses. Losing our way or, worse still, losing the plot. Self-improvement facilitates or aids and abets depending on where you’re standing.
Self-improvement facilitates or aids and abets depending on where you’re standing.
Whether it’s fashion, stocks or property, jumping on the bandwagon is risky unless the stakes are trivial.
Advice comes from many sources and although it may be well-intentioned it is not always helpful. I’ve long viewed taxi-driver recommendations as crucial end-stage indicators.
Human desire to improve is unique in the animal kingdom. The wallpapered burrow belongs to fiction along with, alas, Badger’s Home. Are wall paintings in some stone-age caves the earliest evidence of human DIY? But, scholarly study is the esteemed precursor to almost all progress.
No firm line divides academic literature from factual prose. And likewise, no step marks betterment morphing into Self-Improvement. Intent is the distinction, not content. The purpose of the endeavour crucially affecting the outcome.
- Better grammar — tick
- Spell checker — tick
- Haircut — tick
- And so on.
Improvement is good, at least in the case of my overdue haircut! Reading style guides — tick. Affirmations — Nope. A step too far.
Please follow us at Medium.com