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A smile and a shoeshine

It was an evolution.  I needed those programs back then and as I self-improved, I moved to different things.    They sound a little pathetic when I listen to them again.  You know the things I am talking about, things with titles like “the Winner’s Edge,” or “the Secrets of Success.” They seem mostly designed for people in sales and marketing or people trying to get their lives back on track or on track in the first place. 

Most are not subtle. Many have mantras. You repeat things like “I am the best” or “I can do this.”  I never actually did the mantras; even then I was not a mantra sort of guy.  But I did benefit from the programs; that I won’t deny.  I needed to develop a sense of what they called “personal power,” not only the confidence that I COULD do things. I have always been pretty good at actually doing things.  What I needed was the personal power to know that but that I deserved to succeed.   This was important. I was a little too diffident.  I would do a lot of the work and preparation but I never felt that I deserved the success.  I would not cross the finish line.

These brash and pushy people, people I would probably dislike then and now if I met in person, were exactly what I needed. And I could listen to them in my car and on my Walkman (remember those) w/o having to interact. It was useful, what I needed.

I don’t know why I was thinking about this yesterday, but I looked up some of the old tapes and found the Nightingale-Conant webpage.   I used to get their catalogs.  The webpage is pretty much the same, with many of the same programs and authors from the 1980s.  Some have made new ones and they are pictured on the covers, now much older and presumably much more prosperous from taking their own advice about winning and goal setting.   I imagine they have a society of their own increasingly geriatric where they meet to trade platitudes and tales of overcoming. But I am grateful to them.  Take a look at one of them here. This guy changed my life.

I think that the self-improvement reputation suffers because they are seen as shallow, but there come times in every life when you need to be shallower, a little less introspective. Going in with nothing but chutzpah or the old “smile and a shoeshine” is bad, but these guys often get what they are after.  I hate that, but it doesn't make it less true.  The problem for competent but diffident people is that they (we?) don’t know how to close the sale.  We don’t take the last step. We are modest people, sometimes admittedly with much to be modest about but more often with ideas and abilities that deserve ... wait for it ... to win. We have to learn to be winners AND jettison the underlying suspicion that winning is not for us or that winning is vaguely disreputable concept.

My golden age of self-improvement lasted a few years back in the late 1980s.  I should qualify that statement.   Maybe I should call it a “self-help” stage.  We should never stop self-improving and I read more and listen to more audio programs than ever.  But now I do the history, biography, literature and science.  I circled back to my old interests, even tried to relearn some Latin with the Loeb Classic of Lucretius.  It worked not at all. These things are more intellectually defensible, but they are definitely still self-improvement. They help you examine your life and your values and figure out what you should do.

There is also a matter of the hierarchy of needs.  You need to “go for the gold” when you are building a career and creating a life worth living.   If you succeed, you have the luxury of introspection and reflection.   I could disparage those still striving with the self-help programs and call them crass, but they are now what I was then and what I am now they might want to become, maybe not.  I don’t have many of the symbols of success pictured on the covers of the programs and in the brochures, but I still think I am a winner. Maybe I should repeat that mantra a hundred or so times.

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