In a world in which material success counts as much as in ours, self-improvement books are bound to proliferate. A lot of people do want to be successful and envy the successful, so there is definitely no shortage of books that want to teach you how to be successful.
While some of those books are probably well-meaning, some of them just produced for commercial interests, some of the can be downright dangerous. What a lot of these books tell you, is that anybody can be successful and if you are not it is your own fault. This is plainly both false and potentially harmful, as it tells any person who is not successful, that they are a losers (this definitely does not help self-esteem and self-improvement).
The truth is, that financial success is due to a lot of factors, among them hard work, intelligence, the right background and connections, sheer luck, and finally also personality. Among those only hard work is one thing you have entirely under your own control and it is by itself not a recipe for financial success in the 21st century.
Your personality is definitely something you can work on, however, there are also limits. If you have a look at the statistics for income by personality type (Myers Briggs), you will quickly find the limiting personality traits. On the left (low income) side you will find mostly introverted (I) types. Introversion limits the amount of time you can spend interacting with a lot of people without rising stress (cortisol) levels. So, a 10-hour day in a 200+ employee company would get an introverted person quickly into burnout.
At the top earning end are TJ (extremely competitive and ambitious people) types, with ESTJs leading. The recipe for a low income person would therefore be the opposite INFP (Is earning less than Es, Ns earning less than Ss, etc.)
While an ESTJ might be able to work a 10-hour day in a high testosterone environment and then just have a relaxing 8 hour sleep, the opposite INFP would struggle with working that long plus not be able to relax because he or she would still need time to process all that information leading to a sleepless night. Under such circumstances it would be more than bad advice to tell an INFP that she or she can work 10 hour, only if they go to bed early enough, if they prioritize this or that, etc. That person wouldn’t make it anyway, because you can’t change the way you are.
Of course, self-improvement is a noble goal in itself. However, first you have to be aware of what you want to improve and what the premisses of the self-improvement book you read are. Most are:
- Making a lot of money is the ultimate goal to achieve everything you want in life
- Making a lot of money will bring you happiness
- If you can’t achieve that goal there is something wrong with you
- If there is something wrong with you you can fix it yourself
- If you can’t fix yourself you are a loser
None of these premisses are true. Human life has never been about financial success. Of course it can bring you status, but that is only one part of our social life. Friends, family, meaningful activities are generally more important for our happiness and well-being.
Self improvement has to start with the ancient wisdom of γνῶθι σεαυτόν “know thyself”. Only if you know yourself you can start making the right kinds of decision, like if a conceived weakness is really a weakness or it is just the way you are and if you want to go with the mainstream. Learning to love yourself - is the greatest love of all, like Whitney Houston once sang. Trying to be someone you are not is a recipe for disaster.
I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest
Love of all is happening to me
I found the greatest
Love of all inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all