I’m very weird in that I have a love/hate relationship with motivational speakers. Whether it’s TED Talk or Button Poetry, anyone who’s speech is meant to inspire or motivate or simply move me in some way…I’m either all over it…sobbing at my laptop, or I’m rolling my eyes with the annoyance of 1,000 burning suns. And the older I get? And the more my eyes open to perspectives other than my own? The less patience I have.
I always try to figure out what it is that the difference, because I sometimes am moved beyond emotion by a speech. They reach through the monitor and touch my soul. But other times? NOPE.
And I think it boils down to the line where people go from saying, “This is my journey, I hope it touches your heart in some way…” to when people say, “This is my journey and I’ve learned that IF YOU DO XYZ OR THINK XYZ YOU CAN ACHIEVE THE LEVEL OF SUCCESS/HAPPINESS/HEALTH THAT I HAVE!”
It’s kinda like the hairs on my neck bristle at the idea that anyone can just, “Choose Happy!” and their life will improve immediately.
From my perspective there’s always the mental health question. If someone does not allow in their version of the world, for people whose brains don’t work in the same way theirs do, then I tend to roll my eyes. If you tell me that anyone can just Dream big! Choose success! Visualize their wishes becoming their truths! without allowing for perpetual battles of demons of depression or anxiety, then I hear your words as reductive and normative. I find this especially frustrating around telling people me how to lose weight, or become healthy. If you don’t allow for a mental health component, like addiction, or depression, or anxiety, then I’m just going to scoff at you so hard I’ll choke.
And then, from other perspectives, there’s the truth of poverty and privilege. When I was buying my kid Christmas presents from the dollar store, or getting payday loans, or pawning jewelry, I could not dream big enough to keep my utilities on. There were practical needs not being filled so the MIND OVER MATTER approach was lost on me. And then…what about the people for whom poverty was not temporary? What about people suffering from generational poverty and trauma? How reductive is your speech about finding success in your dreams if their Dad is in jail, their Mom is an addict, and they’re having to figure out how to do homework and care for their siblings all at the same time? What about people suffering from the oppression of systemic racism? How can you fight that by dreaming big and conquering your fears?
I think it’s that some people survive big TRAUMA and find light and laughter and love and want to share it with the world. “IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU!” And I get that, but there are so many factors involved. So if you take your story and turn it into a HOW TO, then I get annoyed. It boils down to when speeches go from being narrative: Let me tell you my story to when speeches become instructive: Here is how you can also be successful and happy.
I’m even worse with self-help books. I love a good Ted talk or article on medium, but 9 times out of 10 I get really bored with books about how to improve yourself. I can’t turn off they, “Yeah, but…” responses throughout a whole book like I can while just reading an article or listening to a speech. I love, love, LOVE Brené Brown in TED talk form, or guest-on-Oprah form, or interviewed by host form, or short article form…but her books DRIVE ME BANANAS. Too much! I send everyone links to videos where she talks about empathy and vulnerability and shame…but I don’t ever recommend her books.
But I love a good memoir. Or a collective of essays. Give me a non-fiction book like Hunger by Dr. Roxane Gay and I’m moved beyond recognition. I’m motived to make changes and find inspiration. She did not tell me to do that, she did not give me a HOW TO BECOME BETTER set of instructions. She just told me her story and was vulnerable and that opened my heart to personal growth.
But give me The Secret and I’ll burn it with the lasers I shoot from my eyes in annoyance.
I know a lot of this is just me being defensive and coming at something with my own decades-worth of emotional baggage, but it really can make me crazy and the line is so fine between what I will find inspiring, and what I will find annoying. Maybe it just boils down to me wanting everyone to allow that we’re all different. No one’s challenges are the same so no one’s solutions are the same.
Maybe I just prefer storytelling to instruction manuals.