Don’t be average, they say — pic by Animesh Bhattarai

I went from curious to perplexed when I was watching the Tony Robbins’ Netflix documentary. I’m not a fan of his but he clearly knows his act.

It was the premise behind the title — “I’m not your guru”– that made me feel even more intrigued. “Is he or is he not?”, I kept asking myself as I watched it.

I couldn’t but think of the psychology principle that people denying a fact, actually confirms it.

“When you know how to listen, everyone is the guru” — Ram Dass

I’m very apprehensive to the celebrity and manipulative status of many leadership or productivity coaches. I see it here at Medium too. Many “self-proclaimed” gurus trying to brainwash people for pure personal benefit.

I don’t want to join their “club”.

As I’m going through another –hopefully the last- round of editing of my “Stretch for Change” book, the grammar and the flow are no longer my priority. Sounding like a guru is my biggest concern.

Save Me, Save Me

“Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.” — Leonardo da Vinci

The pupil chooses the teacher. So, it’s safe to say that the followers are the ones who turn a leadership coach into a guru. No fans, no fame. Right?

Coaching is the second-fastest growing profession in the world, rivaled only by information technology. Over one-third of U.S. adults have purchased a self-improvement book at least once, according to Psychology Today. Life-coaching is an industry that is growing at an 18% annual rate in the U.S.

Looking at those facts, it’s easy to blame people searching for self-development. Their need for help puts them in a weak position: they are more susceptible to being manipulated. But gurus should know better.

They tell your their advice will save your life. Being a Guru is not enough, they want to perform a miracle. And expect the audience around to cheer in awe.

“Save me, save me, save me
I can’t face this life alone
Save me, save me
Oh I’m naked and I’m far from home” — Queen

Are gurus trying to help you or to manipulate you?

Are they helping you discover your own potential? Or simply trying to impose their standard of who you should become?

That’s the problem with many self-improvement gurus: they sell an “ideal self”. Their manipulation comes in one-size fits all approach. There’s only “one” secret formula for you to become that ideal person: theirs.

Don’t Die Average?

“They will say you are on the wrong road, if it is your own.” — Antonio Porchia

These self-proclaimed gurus want to make you feel bad about your current state. “You were born original, don’t die average” — they say. If by average, they mean normal, what’s wrong with that? You don’t need to become famous unless that’s what you want.

In mathematics, the average number is affected by extreme highest values. Likewise, outliers -extremely successful people- dramatically affect the result of what being an average person is. Which means that, if you are “average”, you are probably in much better shape than most people.

The “average approach” is a trap to make you feel vulnerable and turn you into a prey. It’s a trap because it forces you to compare yourself to others. And comparisons only cause disappointment.

Looking at people that are much better than you, will only make you feel intimidated or discouraged. Comparing yourself to those who are in worse shape, will lower your bar and push you deeper into the comfort zone.

The assumption that what worked for the gurus –or for others- will work for you, is just that: an assumption. Not everyone is the same.

Be your own benchmark. Aspire to be the best version of yourself. Regardless of where you rank compared to others.

What Leadership Gurus Get Wrong

“GDP measures everything, except that which makes life worthwhile.” — Robert F Kennedy

Before you take any medicine, it’s wise to start with a clear diagnosis. Who are you? Where do you stand in life? What are your goals and dreams? What are your fears? What fuels your passion?

Most importantly, what is preventing you from being the best version of yourself?

Write the answers on a piece of paper and keep it handy. Once you have a more clear understanding of what you are trying to solve, you can start looking for other people’s advice.

These questions will help you challenge your guru of choice.

Is success the only thing that matters to them?

Success at any cost will only make you unhappy. Your life should have a bigger purpose than just accumulating achievements. Success is about saying yes to more. Happiness is about saying “no”, it is about how we feel about what we do.

Are their set of values aligned with yours?

Building on the above: where does guru’s advice come from? How do these self-proclaimed gurus see the World? What’s the meaning of life for them? And how do success, leadership and productivity fit? What’s their perspective on relationships like family and friends? Funny enough, many of these gurus can’t keep their own families in good shape.

What’s your current change fitness?

Change doesn’t happen overnight: it’s a progressive journey. Before running your first-ever marathon, you have to prepare. It requires starting slow. Gurus cannot expect you to improve your fitness, air capacity and endurance overnight. They should know better. Gurus should get to know you better before they prescribe you their success formula.

Do they care more about their ego than about yourself?

Pretending to know what their audience is thinking is just another form of manipulation. Because, in the end, so-called leadership gurus love to stick to the microphone. If their voice is on 80% of the time, that leaves no room for empathy. What about your stories? Their ego talking and talking doesn’t leave much room for your needs.

Do they believe that our clocks are all the same?

Like the advice of joining the 5 AM club. Not everyone is a morning person. To avoid over-sleeping is always a good advice but not everyone needs to start their day at 5 AM. If you are a night owl, waking up that early could be suicidal and kill your ability to do any work at all.

Are they turning personal growth into a religion?

Personal growth is a transformative experience. The energy from a room full of people who just saw the light can cloud anyone’s vision. Gurus can easily fall into the trap of believing that their advice and beliefs can solve everyone’s problems. Don’t take their dogma for granted. Challenge their “religion”. Try it before you buy it.

Does their productivity method leave room for joy?

The notion of becoming more productive –to constantly increase our rate of doing- as a measure of success, is misleading. We are not machines. Productivity is a paradigm for the Industrial Era. Doing is an important aspect of our lives. But there are others things that matter much more. Like loving what we do, helping others or sharing our passion with those we love.

Find Your Right Cadence

I encourage you, my readers, just as I ask my programs and workshops participants… If I fall in the manipulation trap, please call me out.

Avoid being manipulated. Buy frameworks, not a magic formula in the form of listicles. No one knows better than you what will work for you.

Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to be better than others.

Be the best version of yourself. Build your own approach. Find your right cadence.

End Note: the references to leadership speakers -such as the documentary or “don’t be average”- are, by no means an assessment of them. They acted as triggers for me to write this piece.

Before You Leave

Gustavo Razzetti is the founder of Liberationist. You can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Liberationist is a Change Leadership School that will help you become more adaptive, experimental and resilient. We promote new mindsets and behaviors so you can outsmart –not depend onyour master.

Want to stretch for change? Reach out: stretch@liberationist.org

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