I am not a fan of the self-help, personal improvement, motivational genre. To be specific, it’s the I can [teach you/help you/motivate you] to be [happy/rich/successful] if you buy my [book/blog/course] merry-go-round I don’t care for. I don’t care if authors have academic, research, finance, religious or sales backgrounds, they’re mostly shysters in one form or another.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t get anything of value out of the who knows how many thousands of books that claim to have the formula for [fill in the blank]. Of course you can. Maybe. What are the odds? Who knows? And therein lies the rub.

The problem is you don’t know if the advice in a specific book will suit your situation until you click that Add to Cart button, give Amazon a credit card and read it. How many do you have to read before you find one that helps you in some material way? Five? Twenty? A hundred? Who knows?

And nobody ever stops to ask that all-important question: How did this guy become rich/successful/whatever in the first place? The answer is usually by selling suckers that he has the all answers. And round and round it goes.

But here’s a question for you: If you’re not feeling well do you just go to the medical section of a bookstore and start reading random books until you maybe find something that fits your ailment, or do you go to the right kind of doctor so he can ask you questions, examine you and make an informed diagnosis?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. The same is true of every professional need, from medicine and law to construction and IT consulting.

You see every self-help book has one thing in common: Each one is a one-trick pony. Each one is built around a trick, a shtick, a viewpoint, a premise, a straw-man argument, a habit or 7, some cheesy parable (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) or complete and utter BS.

And for each trick, I can give you a pretty good argument that shows it to be an illusion that gets people to see what they want to see.

Every week it seems I come across yet another author or book that sets the self-help world on fire. There’s one called So Good They Can’t Ignore You that explains why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love.

Sure, why not.

But you know, if Albert Einstein, Andy Grove, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos had bought that advice, we’d have no relativity, Intel, Virgin, Tesla, SpaceX or Amazon. Passion came first with those guys, not skills.

In reality, you want to find something you love doing – hopefully something marketable – and strive to be the best at it. You can call that passion, skill, both or whatever the hell you want, but it’s a little more nuanced than saying one word trumps the other or the other way around. Guess I can write a book about that but you know it wouldn’t sell.

Look, the notion that generic advice can somehow help you and millions of others in some material way for like $12.99 is really nonsense, unless you get really, really lucky.

My advice, for what it’s worth? If you’ve got issues, get professional help. If not, don’t waste your time on self-help BS.

Image credit Mr. Brian via Flickr