Self-Improvement is no doubt a popular topic. There are innumerable blogs, books, podcasts, and seminars to satiate the mind on this subject.
Some may say there are too many resources out there, to which I’d nod in agreement. The reason there are so many resources out there on this subject is because the topic itself has captivated the minds of many since the dawn of civilization.
In fact, advancement and growth is the fundamental backbone of civilization. Passing down information from one generation to the next is what has sustained us and allowed us to get where we are today. It is interesting to note, however, that this advice has changed over the centuries.
A Lover of Wisdom
One interesting anecdote that always comes to mind is the tale of ‘Thales of Miletus’. Thales was a pre-Socratic philosopher in the true sense of the word. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of wisdom and truth.
Like most philosophers, he was not interested in material pursuits. This caused him to be the target of jokes and insults.
“What a silly lifestyle”
…friends and neighbors surely thought. Thales decided to indulge their skepticism to show him what he was really capable of.
With his keen knowledge of astronomy, Thales predicted a large olive crop next season. He bought all the olive presses he could, and when the crop came he made a fortune.
But again, Thales of Miletus had no interest in business or making money. He didn’t spend the rest of his life dedicated to growing a business empire. Rather, wisdom, astronomy, and math were his life’s calling.
We can then compare this to 20th century self-improvement with the likes of Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill. Their books are in large part about making money (e.g. Think & Grow Rich). Had the anecdote of the olive presses happened to one of these authors, they would have reveled in the income and wealth.
So what changed?
It’s clear to see that society has gone a shift from the pursuit of wisdom, to the pursuit of material wealth. It’s an inevitable aspect of capitalism, such that the accumulation of capital is the highest goal. This isn’t an issue so long as wisdom is still appreciated, but the problem is that today it is NOT appreciated. Not anywhere near as much as having money or fame is. This has led to the blatant disregard of wisdom.
Beyond the accumulation of wealth, Carnegie and Hill really do provide tremendous information. As of this writing, I’m reading Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living—truly a fantastic resource.
Vital knowledge of building relationships, developing an abundance mindset and purging worry from your mind will do much for a man’s mind and soul. Yet, reading these books alone aren’t enough. The pursuit of worldly wisdom is imperative, and the classics are where we find it.
To make matters worse, many of the ‘self-help’ books today are lacking even more in depth and wisdom. In fact, they’re really just filled with empty platitudes, and are often bad rip-offs of Carnegie’s and Hill’s—bad ones on that. The others are just woo-woo nonsense. I call this the: Modern Self-Improvement Scam.
When in doubt stick to the classics for powerful advice. After that, move to the classics of the 20th century. The classics of this century have yet to be decided, so be skeptical when choosing your reading material.