Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dr. Stevie-baby?

So a former agent of mine calls first-thing this morning. (Historically, my agents tend quite rapidly to become former agents; I'm not the easiest person to deal with, even among writers.) He wants to know what else I plan to do to capitalize on my considerable investment in the research, writing and promotion of SHAM.

"Well," I begin, "I have the blog—"

"Oh, right, the blog." He says it as if it were bile rising in his throat. "So tell me, how many words have you written for free by now? A few billion? More?"

"Hey, it keeps my name out there. And it helps promote the book, you know."

"Sure it does. I bet every time you spend a half-day writing a new entry, you sell two whole books. Which is—what?—six bucks you earned there? Stevie-baby"—that is how some agents talk, still today, appending suffixes like baby to your name, ending conversations with ciao, like we were standing on Sunset Boulevard having this chat in 1965—"the kid who cuts my lawn makes more than that."

"Don't knock it. The blog's catching on. These last few months alone—"

"My ass it's catching on. So how come I don't see SHAMblog up there with Drudge and Kos? It's been two years now. Your blog ain't a mainstream enterprise, kiddo—not the kind of thing that'll ever be a must-read. Besides, vid is where it's at today anyway. Face it, one day your core readers are gonna lose interest and move on to something else, and then you're dead, babe. Dead, buried, in the ground. You're over."

By this point, I'm thinking, You know, I would really enjoy stabbing him repeatedly in a vital spot. But I hold my tongue.

"Steve," he says, suddenly using my name almost like he cares, "this isn't a vow of poverty you've taken here. It's not a religious quest. You have a right to make money off what you know. And I think there's a lot of money to be made."

"Go on." He is beginning to pique my interest. I don't feel like stabbing him quite as much. Or maybe not in as vital a spot.

"You should be doing seminars," he says. "You should make a serious push for speaking engagements. Even corporate work. Especially corporate work. I think the time is right. That there's a market for it, with this whole anti-Secret backlash. And it's not like you haven't done it. You've done appearances here and there."

"Yeah, but they were just distillations of the stuff in the book—an explanation of why self-help is a giant boondoggle. There was no how-to component. Nothing actionable. Corporations are going to want a how-to component."

"So add a how-to component."

"If I do that, then what's the difference between me and Tony Robbins?"

"I dunno...about $90 million? Dude, just go out and tell 'em what you know! The good, the bad, the ugly. Lay it all out for them."

"What I know is that most of this b.s. doesn't work. Or at least it can't be proved to work. What company is going to pay good money to hear me say that?"

"Come on. There has to be some of it that's better than the rest. And who's better positioned than you to do this! You can tell people you've surveyed the whole motivational scene, which you have, and here's what works. Like you're fileting it for them. If you get my drift. Something like that could be incredibly valuable to people."

"I guess."

"And you also have a lot of funny stuff in the book, too, things that could be developed into nice little bits. Enough to carry a speaking engagement. Right?"

I sigh. "You realize what you're suggesting here. That I switch sides. That I join the movement I'm attacking. I don't care how you slice it, if I go on a stage somewhere giving speeches about the best approach to self-help or the most effective motivational program... Wouldn't that make me, in effect, a guru in my own right?"

"Oh please." My former agent is not someone with lots of patience for things like scruples and philosophical consistency. Not when there's money involved. He continues, "Look, you say people can't use most of what the 'regular' gurus are selling 'em anyway. True?"


"So what's the diff!? You open their eyes a little, and maybe you give them some guidance about programs or tactics that are less awful, less of a waste of their time and money. How's that wrong, man?" He pauses. "Shermer speaks, you know. And gets serious money for it."

He refers to Michael Shermer, founding director of The Skeptics Society and its popular eponymous magazine. As one of America's foremost debunkers, along with James Randi,* Shermer is always in demand to deliver keynote addresses to audiences of critical thinkers. Shermer also wrote a nice plug for SHAM in his magazine as well as a column focusing on the book for Scientific American. My former agents knows this—and that the mention of Shermer would get to me.

My ex-agent and I batted things around for another five minutes, then he said ciao in order to give his undivided attention to some complex TV deal he's putting together. Which left me sitting there in my all-too-accustomed state of ambivalence, wondering about the wisdom—and the ethics—of what he's proposing.

I've mentioned before that my original conception of SHAM included an additional chapter or appendix whose working title was, "Now here's some GENUINE help." The section would've outlined my informed opinions on where readers should turn, or which paths readers might consider following, category by category: money, romance, careers, etc. My agent (not this one), editor and I ultimately agreed to ditch the chapter, and for the reasons alluded to in the dialogue above: We didn't want anyone to think that the first 90 percent of the book—where I throw darts at everyone else—was nothing more than a prolonged and disingenuous set-up for me to position myself as some "meta-guru" offering "the real deal." To do so, we felt, would've undercut my credibility as a self-help critic. But I have to admit, one question I hear again and again is, "OK, you've told us what's wrong with the self-help movement. You've told us what doesn't work. So what's your answer, Mr. Big Mouth?"

A provocative question indeed. Anybody want in on this one?

* who gave me one of my favorite interviews for SHAM.


a/good/lysstener said...

Another hilarious post. And if you ever do decide to speak about SHAM or self-help or whatever, I see no conflict there. It makes sense that you would share the lessons of what you've learned researching this. I will even drag my Mom along to see you! She could stand to hear a lot of this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Well, I guess your post was a little fictionnal and meant to underline the risk of doing exactly what the SHAM crowd is doing, or else, I do not quite see why you could not give at least lectures like professors do?
May be not within corps, but there are plenty of other circles where to start off.
As of your book, I have already suggested to have it translated too...

Vanessa Biard from Paris

Anonymous said...

I'd say do it, too: It's got to be better than the alternative.

I think a speech that starts out talking about what good came out of the 60's (the Civil Rights Movement, say) followed by what's wrong with SHAM, and eventually swings around to talking about the lessons of your old man - getting back to basics - would be effective.

Works for me, anyway.


Anonymous said...

Go for it, Steve. You can't be anyworse qualified than the people you write about!

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, Carl--I think. And thanks to all for the encouragement. To be honest, however, I was hoping for something a little more than "go for it." Perhaps an honest assessment of some of the issues raised in the post itself. Would this hurt my credibility as a SHAM critic? Would I be viewed as "prostituting" myself and my journalistic endeavors? Would it make me a sitting duck for many of the people I've taken aim at over the past few years? Etc.

Rodger said...

The only way you could speak publicly about SHAM is to keep the conversation as focused as it has been in the book and blog.

Hold the soothsayers feet to the coals and demand hard facts of SHAM's effectiveness is your only platform.

Anything over and beyond that and you're switching teams!

Dr. Swill said...

"Would this hurt my credibility as a SHAM critic? Would I be viewed as "prostituting" myself and my journalistic endeavors? Would it make me a sitting duck for many of the people I've taken aim at over the past few years?"

Yes, yes, and yes.

Let's face it these guys, the SHAMsters, are vengeful, petty, vindictive, and would happily take revenge on anyone who threatens to derail their gravy train.

But that doesn't mean you should never accept speaker's fees. It just means, anything you do, you know you have lots of enemies now, you have to perpetually be cognizant of the fact.

I don't see anything ethically wrong with being paid to warn people about "the worst of the worst". How is it immoral to be paid for a genuine service? If you design a burglar alarm, and somebody pays good money for it, they know what they're getting: something that will hopefully protect them from being robbed. Well, you would be protecting people from being robbed (or worse) by charlatans.

The thing is: I do now and always have felt that not absolutely everything that falls into the category of self-help is garbage. Maybe it's 98%, 99% garbage, but not 100%. So anyone who could separate the tiny bit of wheat out from the vast amount of chaff, would be, I'd say, performing a service of value and deserves to be paid for it. I don't see anything hypocritical about it. However, I do think...

a) it would be ATTACKED and DEPICTED as hypocrisy simply because anything you do from here on is going to be pored over by the SHAMsters to see if they can take revenge. That's just what spiteful, passive-aggressive people do.

b) the tiny bit of good stuff to be found in the self-help genre was already written a long time ago. It's a genre that's been on a steady downward spiral since the days of Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson. that's the problem with it. as you yourself have pointed out, the claims have to be more and more outrageous with each passing decade for publishers to be interested - authors have to keep upping the ante - the difference between Dale Carnegie and Rhonda Byrne is staggering: he gives advice for how to "win friends and influence people," whereas she tells you to think hard, feel good, and thereby bend the entire universe to your will!! whether you agree with Carnegie's advice or not, he never claimed the entire planet was your personal playground.

Cal said...

The questions you raise are complex. I have to admit that I am surprised that I have not seen you on television. Maybe it is because the press seems to be negative toward mostly everything except the stock market (while it is going up) and motivational speakers. Would Larry King invite you or someone skeptical when he has those shows with a multitude of motivational speakers? I doubt it.

Shermer has a monthly column in Scientific American. He also publishes Skeptic Magazine. He has also has published many books. I hate to say this, but he would seem to skew to very intellectual people. And isn't he based in California? Aren't people more care-free than the button-down East Coast and the Bible-thumping South. So there may be a built in skepticism out there. My point is, you would have to somehow raise your profile. I see many of your pieces in various newspapers, but there isn't any consistent place that I can find your published stuff. The last statement is not meant as a criticism.

As far as selling-out to make money, I'm sure you would vet everything to make sure it doesn't seem like you just wrote the book to make speaking money. But I look at it this way. Many newspapers lose their political and sports journalists to TV gig. Or many of them use it as a supplement to their careers. Let's face it. The pay and visibility is greater if they hit it big in television.

So I think that money-making horse has left the barn. You wouldn't be the first or the last to "get paid", as we say in urban slang. I wanted to go into journalism, but was talked out of it. Many times I have regrets. I know newspapers, magazines, and TV news aren't exactly growth industries. When I look at the Washington Post, I see many reporters who have it as a stepping stone to greater rewards (Woodward and the Bernstein are the most famous, but also Wilbon and Kornheiser for the sports crowd). But if I had and I got to the paid TV gigs, I know I wouldn't look back personally. But we all have to deal with our own consciences.

There is going to be a motivational seminar in my area in September. Some of the speakers include Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Steve Forbes. What if you, Shermer and Christopher Hitchens (among others) had some kind of SHAM seminar? I think it would be a hoot.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, I was going to let all of these comments sit/settle for the most part so I could assess whether there was any consensus sentiment before I replied. But you make specific points that are very sagacious and intuitive and, really, take a much wider lens on things. So I thought I'd give you the response your remarks deserve.

Not that you asked or particularly cried out to know, but yes, I took a very scattershot, unfocused approach to writing in my early years--when it usually matters most--and yes, I'm paying for it today. If you check my bio (on my professional site,, you may be surprised to see that I did in fact spend a couple of decades writing for the creme-de-la-creme in American journalism. My byline was everywhere, and I had one of the best editorial Rolodexes (now Palm Pilots) in the biz. I wrote cover pieces in Harper's, did plum interviews for The New York Times Magazine, and had a regular gig writing "seems to me"-type essays for the Wall Street Journal, which for whatever reason gave me the kind of leeway that is given to few non-staff, non-syndicated writers. For much of the decade of the 1990s, I was getting assignments to do the types of investigative features that are every magazine journalist's dream job.'re right in your implication that there's no "there there"--no real theme on which to hang my hat and, I must confess, no single WoodStein-like triumph that was, well, triumphant enough to put me over the top. Hell, even tonally, I was all over the map: a "serious writer" one day, a Dave Barry clone the next day, a true-crime hack the day after that. Young journalists today, like the ones I taught at IU, seem to have a much better idea of the areas in which they'd like to concentrate, and the voice they'd like to do it in.

I did get to do a fair amount of PR in the early days of SHAM--but again, I didn't make the most of it. I didn't have my talking points down as well as I should have--few authors do--but worst of all, I didn't see the "bigger picture," and thus didn't present myself in bigger-picture terms to the high-powered media types (like Anderson Cooper, Tucker Carlson, etc.) I got access to. As a result, I'm sure they saw me as "just another author plugging his book." I know that I could've built SHAM (the book) into a much bigger phenomenon. Now? It may indeed be too late. I guess we'll see.

But I love your idea of an ANTI-motivational seminar! We could be the Cindy Sheehans of the self-help movement. Let me think on that one....
P.S. I love Hitchens. He can be a bit much at times, but I'd hate to have him for an opponent in a debate.

Anonymous said...

Would you be selling out, or just proving your theory?

I think you can do the entertainment/dinners stuff, and as long as you are not selling ancillaries, then you are more akin to the skeptics - pointing out absurdities, fraud, and money squandering by folks who aren't thinking for themselves.

Cal said...


Thanks for the correction. I meant anti-SHAM seminar.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve -
I think you could do well on the speaker circuit if you'd just KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid! You needn't promote any one process over another. Just pick a few and hold each up to the light of common sense. Even the worst of the hustledorks' products contains a grain of something their customers instinctively know to be true, beyond the wand-waving and ludicrous promises. Point out that typically minuscule thread of wisdom, and show how the hucksters have trashed and aborted it with their swill. In short, let people see the methodical process by which they are scammed.

As you might have gleaned from my earlier posts, this is an attempt to find true balance, and that "silver thread" that runs through all belief systems. I wrote a book about just this topic several years ago... just got so tied up in doing other people's books that my own sits comfortably on my computer.

No self-help system is 100% garbage; each contains a seed of wisdom. Show people how to find that seed, while discarding the rest, and they will listen - and pay for the privilege.

Sure, you'll get some hustledorks up in arms at you, because you'll be pointing to the weakness in their schtick. On the other hand, you'll be taking the high road by not attacking the whole system - just the useless and nonsensical portions.

Just a thought...

Rodger said...

I'm going to be honest with you. As a writer, your "very scattershot, unfocused approach" is a testament to your talent.

I know you're not looking for back-slapping complements, so I'm just calling it as I see it.

From "a 'serious writer' one day, a Dave Barry clone the next day, a true-crime hack the day after that" this reflects real talent. And I could never understand the myopia of up-in-coming IU journalists.

Among my friends, we debated the swing to the focus. And Carol Polsgrove candidly told me I'd make a better life in PR than in journalism. She was right!

Having swung to the other side, as a PR pro, I use that myopia to my employer's advantage.

Your book and the information you've uncovered is WoodStein quality. It needs the right spin though.

Self-help is positive, and people want positive, so you gotta spin the information that way. People, in general, want benefits, so presenting your information with some benefit is how you communicate your message to the masses.

Touting the scientific method and burden of proof only resonates with academics -- and even some of them are as wacko as SHAM soothsayers.

Basically, there's two broad ways of getting you book on the radar:

1. WOM
2. Mass media blitz

Using these in tandem will get better results. We should talk off blog sometime about this.

Tony said...

Hi, Steve!

You are in a tricky position. If you begin delivering lectures/seminars, then you run the risk of being seen as an anti-SHAM "guru" - or even becoming one! And that's not mentioning the potential backlash from the people you've railed against.

One more item is the fact that there is no sign that an anti-seminar seminar would sell! I would think that the market for your speaking engagements are people who don't necessarily attend speaking engagements. (I have no data to support that; I am merely basing that assumption on the premise that if someone were against self-help, then they would probably feel they have no need to attend a seminar to tell them that self-help is bad.)

With that being said, is there a way for you to develop another book about SHAM and successfully do seminars, DVDs, audios, and all the other products that the hustledorks produce and promote?

Yes. Here's the idea.

As you know from first-hand experience with your blog, people LOVE controversy and debate. So, give it to them.

In my view, your next book should be a collaboration with another author - someone who is PRO-self-help. The book will basically be a debate about the merits and demerits of SHAM. A pro/con view of the self-help world. Of course, you will be the voice fo anti-SHAM and your co-author will be, ideally, someone in the self-help field who will counter your points. I haven't figured yet what format the book should take, such as interview style or chapter by chapter or alternating essays, but a debate style book would definitely be something people would be willing to explore.

When that book is complete, the doors are wide open for public seminars/speaking engagements (Who doesn't want to watch a fight?), DVDs, and audio.

Plus, the marketing possibilities are wild! Radio stations would eat up something like that - two guests having a debate on a topic of which most people are familiar.

From my analysis, that is the best (if not the only) way to go with what you do. (Perhaps the one other thing you can do is to make an in-depth video about self-help, but that would take time, money, interested people to organize things, and some video production experience - and I don't know how much of any of those items you possess.)

I hope you give this some thought. Quite a bit of thought, actually. I'd be excited to read a book like that. And I think many people would as well.

Have fun ... Tony.

Steve Salerno said...

Once again, Tony, you raise points that deserve an individualized response.

Your idea is intriguing--and, you'd think, SHOULD sell. In practice, however, it violates one of the cardinal rules of latter-day publishing, which is basically that--in order to find its audience--an idea-based book must have a clear, usually extreme, message. Though you'd THINK that an even-handed, MOR* book would appeal to everyone, too often it ends up appealing to no one. I've had any number of publishing insiders tell me this.

If you want to see the proof of this pudding (or at least evidence for it), go to your local bookstore and walk the political aisle. There are books written from the left, and books written from the right--so many of the latter, actually, that conservative authors are lately complaining about the impossibility of selling into such a glutted marketplace. (Ann Coulter seems to churn out several hundred books a year all by herself.) Now, you'd think a book that coolly examines both points of view--left and right--would be a smash hit, drawing from both audiences. In reality, there is almost no market for a "centrist" book. Some publishers know this from their market studies, and other publishers (usually smaller, niche publishers) have found this out through their own experience of publishing centrist books that bombed. I understand what you're saying, and that the book you have in mind is not quite a "centrist" book: It's more of a debate. Still, the CW is that people don't really want debate--they don't want ambiguity. In fact, one could credibly argue that most people don't really want to think that hard--even when they say they do.

What people really seem to want is to have their preexisting biases confirmed. Once upon a time, I naively thought that a fair number of self-help addicts would've bought SHAM (my book), just to see what the fuss was about. Crown's marketing people tell me that in truth, very, VERY few of my buyers came from that camp. Self-help addicts simply don't want to see their hopes dashed, and the more powerfully you make your case against self-help, the less likely they are to pay attention. Sad but true. My audience was almost exclusively composed of people who already agreed with me, and just wanted to "root me on" as I savaged the self-help marketplace, page after page.


Cosmic Connie said...

Hi, Steve: I'm coming in very late to this exchange because I was caught up in other "matters of consequence." But this is too important to let slide.

I absolutely do not think you would be selling out to go on speaking engagements and even to do workshops. (And I love the idea of an anti-SHAM seminar or conference.) You could be a SHAMbuster (a la Ghostbusters -- make it humorous), but your serious message could be a call for common sense and balance, as Ron said. And bring your dad's principles into it, as Sam suggested. What you advocate would be so simple anyone can do it: "No four-step, six-step, or twelve-step formulas; no complex diagrams; no quantum physics."

I think you'd be doing corporations a huge favor by spreading the word that expensive motivational seminars are pretty much a waste of money and, if anything, they deplete employee morale. Again, take a humorous approach! Have hustledork and New-Wage guru impersonators. Freely admit up front the apparent inconsistency between your criticism of traditional workshops and seminars, and the fact that you're conducting a workshop. The big difference is that yours will be cheaper, simpler, tons more fun -- and won't require a lifelong commitment to refresher courses. Maybe it could even be hip for a company to become "certified SHAM-free."

The prisoners of the cube farms would love you!

Of course, it's the smirking execs to whom you would have to sell the seminars in the first place. And selling an anti-motivational seminar to motivational-seminar-oriented corporations would be challenging... unless, of course, they thought it was cutting-edge. Which, in fact, it would be.

I'm glad to see my pal Tony in on this conversation... hi, Tony! Tony's idea about the "pro v. con" book/DVD etc. project is interesting but, for the reasons that you noted, Steve, it might have a limited audience.

I also disagree with one small point that I believe was in Cal's comment -- the implication that the West Coast has the monopoly on skepticism (Hollyweird notwithstanding). After all, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publishers of Skeptical Inquirer, as well as the Council for Secular Humanism, the publisher of Free Inquiry, are located in Buffalo NY.

I do agree with Rodger that your "scattershot approach" is indicative of talent. It shows that more than anything else, you are driven by a love for the language and writing. (In fact, that could be one of your hooks, and I say this because one of the things I hate most about SHAM / New-Wage thinking is the way it has bastardized the language and helped destroy clear communication. You make mention of this in several spots in your book, SHAM.)

In any case, being a one-trick pony isn't necessarily the road to success, even though -- yes, I know -- having an "extreme" message seems to be what's selling these days.

But I have to believe that eventually this will turn around. Eventually people are going to get burned out on the "extreme" messages about miracle breakthoughs. After all, I got burned out on this stuff YEARS ago, and I'm not all that different from the people who buy all the self-help books. It would seem that eventually, as a *culture* we would grow weary of all the hype and false promises offered by the SHAM industry.

Or do people's desires for easy answers trump everything else?

Perhaps, Steve, the key to taking your work to a "new level" lies in glamorizing ambiguity, or at the very least, in convincing people that taking a more moderate POV is not "settling." Which may be like saying that the key to world peace is to end all wars. Sheesh, I don't know.

This definitely deserves some more thought. And I know I was probably no help at all, but I am glad you're exploring ways to expand your horizons.

Steve Salerno said...

Hmmm. "Glamorizing ambiguity," huh? Well, they say the best defense is a good offense, and maybe the "way out" here--if there is one, and I'm still not convinced--is to (somehow) frame ambiguity and uncertainty as positives...I dare say, to wear one's ambiguity as a badge of honor! (I can see the tee-shirts now: "I'm not sure, and I'm PROUD!")

Lord knows, the folks who are "absolutely certain" about life haven't done such a great job of showing us the way--beginning with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Mary Anne said...

Steve, are you any good in front of an audience? You maybe great on the written page, but can you engage an audience? I see from your bio that you have a background in teaching, but that is not the same thing as doing seminars. There is nothing worse than watching someone who is not very good at public speaking do these seminars. For some reason everyone is doing them who should not be. Malcolm Gladwell comes to mind for me. I loved BLINK and TIPPING POINT, but I would rather watch paint dry than go to one of his talks. He is not the only by far. No offense, but not everyone is cut out for the speaking circuit.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, I've been told that I speak better than I write--although, of course, there are several ways to interpret that...

Dr. Swill said...

"is to (somehow) frame ambiguity and uncertainty as positives..."

I think you're overcomplicating things. Micki McGee kept emphasizing the negative about self-help, but as she was doing so, she pointed out that people should take useful action instead.

her message wasn't negative, it was just negative about certain things. i don't see any contradiction between trashing Tony Robbins or Rhonda Byrne and finding something optimistic to say about life.

here's something i think everyone should read. I have no idea who this guy is, but this piece is interesting. it's about 9/11, and ties in people's behavior on that day with classic political theory (it's not a dry read dont worry).

here's the link:

now, if you follow the idiocies of The Secret, that kind of massive crisis and tragedy cant even happen unless the victims somehow invited it into their lives!

what rankles about self-help is when the authors portray the universe as a giant playground or giant sandbox. if we think we see a huge dry desert, we're deluded: it's really a sandbox. that's a comforting notion, but it's a lie.

but so what? the universe is what it is. saying that doesn't have to mean pessimism. it's not pessimism it's just realism. but the article I linked shows that in the face of a harsh reality, people can still be counted on to do the right thing as long as they're not in the grip of some half-baked fantasy. you could argue that correct, brave action in circumstances like that largely **depends** on people **not** believing in a benevolent fantasy/playground/Secretron universe, that such beliefs would actually diminish one's capacity to think and behave responsibly in a time of crisis. (if you think people's thoughts totally create their reality, and that's that, how willing are you going to be to save anyone from harm?)

Anonymous said...

Hey Folks, had to drop away for a while.


I agree with Dr. Swill, that you're gonna get attacked, we all know that: Cultists always go on the attack.

Ethics? "Selling out"? You're kidding, right? Take the work, get the money, buy me lunch, man.

As far as becoming "the Cindy Sheehans of the self-help movement" (hyperbole alert - yea, you taught me new word:) kill-me-now. And Hitchens is "spot on" as the British say. It's the rest of you that have lost your spine, making someone like Hitchens seem extreme. Like all the stick-thin "healthy" people thinking everyone else is extremely fat. (I'm of average weight, BTW) I don't like the way American men have been metrosexualized, looking to be sensitive and stuff. It's silly and has cost America dearly, IMHO. I'm glad Hitch is an American now to remind us what we lost.

Of course, I think ALL of SHAM is worthless and harmful, and would gladly lead the first book-burning, fire the first bullet, or whatever (sorry, guys - I lost my wife, marriage, and sense of identity: they can go to hell.). I don't expect you, Steve, to be as extreme. Rev's suggestion sounds about right as a substitute, with a bit of your dad thrown in, as Connie and I said.

About Steve becoming an anti-SHAM "guru", and this line from Steve himself:

"Lord knows, the folks who are "absolutely certain" about life haven't done such a great job of showing us the way--beginning with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."

Though I'm an atheist, I like Georgie-boy and his wartime leadership. Like I said, the metrosexualization of the nation is what sickens me - especially in wartime. And the fact GW doesn't listen to the wusses (and "leads" instead) is a testament, to me, to the kind of personality Real Americans have.

Like, I've said a billion times that Steve's one of my heroes (for writing SHAM and showing me the way out of my initial confusion about what had happened to me and my ex) but I'm not gonna fawn over him because I like him, or the book, or anything. He's my friend, and that would be whack to do to a friend. Nobody learns anything that way, and our friendship would just be some lousy one-way street thing, which is worthless. I've been beat up by one of my best friends - for my own good - and that's as it should be: He stopped me from being stupid, and I'll always cherish the guy for it. Here, in the SF Bay Area, most people wouldn't do that for their friends because they want to believe they're O.K. and such an act would be "mean". (Personally - out of love - I'd like to take a baseball bat to the whole place.) My point: Steve'll never become a "guru" with me around because, hopefully, we'd call him on it in a heartbeat. Who loves you, Buddy?

Which all leads nicely into Swill's final comment, on the positive/negative thing:

There's nothing "positive" about "nicely" leading people astray, and there's nothing "negative" about grabbing a friend/child/loved one/fellow human/whatever by the arm and saying "Oh, no, you're not". (Steve, have I ever gave you one word of protest when you held one of my angry/depressed/whatever posts?) It's what people SHOULD be doing. Screw the 60's: we can't all do whatever we want - and anyone who says we can, or should, is the true unfeeling jerk. People need help (I know I do) and, sometimes, that help is best expressed by saying "no". I wish more of my former so-called friends had backed me up on that, when it came to my wife's beliefs, opting instead to convince me, years ago, they were harmless:

Hell, I wouldn't be talking to you guys now. Whatever. I like you guys fine.

Go get 'em, Steve.

Mary Anne said...

I agree with the last anonymous about friendship. I am a native San Franciscan, but I believe that is what true friendship is. If you see a friend doing something stupid, you speak up and do what you have to do to help them. They may bitch, moan, groan, and say horrible things to you, but if you are a true friend you will turn a deaf ear. Most people just tell people what they want to hear. That's why we have train wrecks like Lindsay and Britney. Obviously, they never had people who really cared about them and their families are pretty sorry too. I have friends who are quite wealthy and can pay people to tell them what they want to hear, but they know they won't get that from me. I always say sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. I have a good friend who was a corporate shark and he has fallen on hard times. All his "good" friends abandoned him when the money left due to his corporate mistake, which led to his nervous breakdown. When he looked around the room, I was the only one who was still there. I agree with Rodger about the whole "positive" problem. I would go further to say that people want easy and that's why self-help has blossomed. People want a positive spin on everything as if we live in a Disney cartoon. The good stuff in life is NEVER easy. There is no perfect marriage, child, job, career, or fill in the blank. People want some form of escape from their reality. A reality that most people have actually created for themselves. I find most people do things out of fear and lack of ethics. Instead of being honest with ourselves and others, most people want to be "nice." That's why the road to hell is paved with "nice."

Steve Salerno said...

I really enjoyed your comment, Mary Anne: a succinct philosophy of interpersonal relationships, very nicely rendered.

a/good/lysstener said...

Mary Anne, I go back and forth on this. I agree that a friend, a true friend is unafraid to tell you things she thinks you need to hear (instead of just telling you what you want to hear). OTOH, as Steve has written on this very blog, who gets to make those calls? What I mean is, who says the friend is "right" and you are wrong? Therefore, I think a real friend understands that we're all unique, and though she may see things very differently from the way I do and even have very strong feelings about it, that doesn't mean she's right and I'm wrong. And in most cases, unless you're talking about homicide or something of that nature, who gets to decide what's right or wrong for each of us anyway?

Therefore I feel that a friend should generally support you in *your* idea of what's best for you as an independent and free-thinking person. Isn't that what "self" is all about in the end?

Steve Salerno said...

I'm glad you brought this up, Alyssa, because I have long been mystified by what the notion of "true friendship" means, and what function such a person would ideally serve. Cheerleader? "Conscience"? Devil's Advocate? The ultimate port in any storm? All of the above?

Frankly, I don't see how a person could be "all of the above."

Mary Anne said...

Hi Alyssa,

Actually your question is not that difficult. If you see a child walking in front of a car, do you let the child get hit? If you have a conscience, you push the child to safety. The same goes for a friend, which means you have to have a conscience and know your morals. If I see one of my friends doing something morally bankrupt (and I have), I tell the person the truth and give him or her options, because the truth ALWAYS comes out. I will use a personal example. I have a friend who was involved in a backdating scandal. He was also getting into a lot car accidents. He was smashing into trees, the curb, the house, and the only one getting hurt was him and his cars. All his cronies were backdating and screwing people over, but he was smashing up his vehicles. He did not want to speak to me, but I told him the truth. I said "you're trying to kill yourself and make it look like an accident so your sons can get the insurance." He protested and said I was WRONG. He kicked me out of his mansion and said I was crazy. The next day he totalled his car. I went to the hospital and said, "either you come clean or I will MAKE you come clean." He kicked me out of the hospital room and said, "no one is going to believe a nobody like you." I had gathered quite a bit of evidence of his backdating and called up my local paper and gave them the info on my friend. My friend no longer can work in the industry and has to make a new life for himself, but he is not crashing his cars anymore either. His sons still have their father and I sleep better at night. That is true friendship to me. By the way, the said friend said recently to me "thank you." Most people are afraid of being rejected or hurt by being honest with someone. Should have waited until I went to my friend's funeral? Should I have just consoled his sons with, "your father really loved you." MY conscience would not let me take that route.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a hurry so I can't think this all through right now:

"I think a real friend understands that we're all unique, and though she may see things very differently from the way I do and even have very strong feelings about it, that doesn't mean she's right and I'm wrong."

But that's just it, Alyssa: you just may be wrong and need to, seriously, acknowledge that. There's no big deal to being wrong - though, to listen to most people, you'd think it was the worst thing in the world.

And why does it need to go to 'homicide" to get there? Does reason and logic, "the golden rule(s)", or past behavior, come into it at all? If a person doesn't have a record of proven respectability, then, yea, ignore 'em, but when a "friend" speaks, I weigh what they said as though my own brain (which, I know, is fallible) came up with it, and then it's time to wrestle. To be open and honest with yourself and everyone around you.

And I think the whole "self" thing is over-rated: Just an excuse to be "selfish".


Anonymous said...

You crack me up! I told you you're jealous and you want in. Now you're trying to figure a way to do it without seeming like the hypocrite you are.

More power to you, Steve. You're finally seeing the light!

Steve Salerno said...

I'm not sure I'd publish this last comment under ordinary circumstances, since it's almost entirely a personal attack. But it does sort of show what I'm up against if I go this route, no?

(Incidentally, I get a few of these comments most weeks; they almost never have any redeeming "blog value" and are often vile/profane.)

Scott Pape said...


I think you have a lot more to offer.

SHAM is refreshing in its honesty - exposing the manipulative practices of the industry.

However, it was overly negative. And people will always gravitate to the positive.

That being said I think this is where you message can be the strongest. By highlighting the fake, plastic gurus - hellbent on making as much money as they can, you are in a position to create a shift in thinking.

Why not highlight the real heroes in everyday life, who are peddling a multi DVD information product, and a tail end bootcamp?

Genuine heroes whose character is built on old fashioned virtues of honesty, integrity, and caring - with no ulterior motives than helping another person?

The average suburbanite at some level realises that the self-help movement is murky and overly materialistic.

Your offering could well be to bring some much needed sense and decency to the table.

AND There's nothing wrong with you profiting from the best seller you write on this (as it would be), or the speaking tour that spins off because of it.

Part of the profits could go to fund some of the projects that the subjects of the people you profile (who can choose to keep their anonymity if they choose) - and the rest can be spent on the keeping Steve from living in the gutter fund.

Go on Steve, lampoon the spruikers, but leave the reader on a high. You've got the keys mate.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Scott. Good thoughts, all. ONe sentence kind of threw me a bit, so I'm thinking you omitted a negative. (The one where you suggest that I "highlight the real heroes in everyday life...") But I definitely get your point.

Again, I'll have more to say about this when all the "votes" are in. I'm giving it a few more days to see if anyone else has 2 cents for the conversational kitty.

Mitch Axelrod said...

I have a book coming on this subject, "NO More Success BS!"

There is a big distinction between SHAM and honest wisdom.

To lump everything by the Success BS artists into one SHAM category doesn't help us distinguish the truth from the stinky poop.

Not everything we think is bad is bad, and not everything we call good is good. Life is nuanced, and richer when we make distinctions rather than see things as black / white (all self help is stinky poop).

That's what critical thinking is for, exercising the most fantastic muscle (brain) we have, we can distinguish the stinky poop from the honest scoop.

Five years ago I wrote a manifesto, "Why 90% of Self Help Doesn't Help" and it echoes much of what you say. I do say that if only 10% of what you extract is real truth, that 10% just might be the wisdom you need to hear.

If you close off the 10% of wisdom because you can't listen to the 90% of the Success BS, you might miss a game changing distinction. Do we want to shoot the messenger before he delivers what might be a life saving message?

I have learned to embrace truth, even when it comes from a Success BS artist. It doesn't alter my view of the person spewing, but I do allow enough space to accept truth wherever I hear it.

Discard the 90% and seek out the 10% that is honest, truthful, real wisdom and use it to elevate your game beyond self help to self insight and self discovery.

IMHO, it's a myth you can't teach if you preach SHAM. It does NOT make you a hypocrite to teach what you know to those who seek to learn. I invite you to shift your thinking.

WHO you are is not what you think. As much as I cannot listen to most of the crap that passes as wisdom, especially from the self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, self-serving BS peddlers who see humans as "buying units' I am also aware that the SHAM messenger just might have something to teach me.

I used to cut off my ears to spite my face. No longer. Instead of rejecting the message outright because I can't stomach the messenger, now I keep my ears WIDE OPEN to quickly sort the poop from the scoop.

There has never been a more important time for people to tell the TRUTH. You have truth that can add value to people's lives. Why not share it?

You can be a messenger for good. You can do a lot to encourage us to think for ourselves, make smart distinctions, and elevate the game of life above being an all or nothing win/lose contest for last entertainer standing.

You can benefit more people by sharing what you discovered with people who want to hear it. Why limit it to people who read your book or find your blog?

I've been in and around this industry for 29 years, ranting against Success BS wherever it rears its ugly head. I never heard of you until I happened to stumble upon you. That's a shame. I would have liked to known about you sooner.

With all you have to give and teach and share, please don't let labels, black/white thinking, or the opinions of others limit your ability to make a difference.

It just might be worth breaking your own rules to bring your unique value to those who want and need to hear what you have to say.

Here is a nugget of "self help" I know is true:

"To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground."

You're a Player.
You can change the game.

I'm happy to have found you.
I look forward to meeting you on the field.

Mitch Axelrod, CEO - Chief Encouragement Officer
No MORE Success BS™

Author, The NEW Game of Busines

Mary Anne said...

Wow, Mitch sounds like he knows a lot of the people I know. I like the terms "success BS" and "buying units."

I found Steve the same way Mitch did, I could not believe people were buying what was being sold without question.

As far as getting wisdom from anything, that is purely subjective. I do look at the person or institution that is delivering the message though. The proof of any message is how the messenger lives the message to me.

I find that most of new "success BS" peddlers do not even believe their own con jobs. The arrogance that they take with their audience is quite sickening to me. I saw this with Tim Ferriss and a few others. A very "do as I say, not as I do" approach.

If you want to get kicked out of any of these "success or leadership seminars," ask a question the "leader" cannot answer. You will be shown the door VERY quickly.

happy atheist said...

Dear Mr. Salerno,
I'm with your original post, the suggestions made to you would undermine your credibility and open you to criticism of the sort you dispense.

Here are my two cents in. To use the words of Sallust, "Few Men desire Liberty; most Men only wish for a just master." Humanity needs a serious lesson in independent, critical, reason and logic based thought. Take the word to the people that you desire not to be a substitute master for Dr. Phil, or Mr. Robinson, and want your reader to question everything, seek evidence & learn what constitutes evidence. Start by telling the audience a semi-believable BS story, and ask them if their BS meters went off. Make the world cynical, pay your bills in the process. :)