Many tell us what to think. I ask my readers to be skeptical. Question me and others.


Drowning in the deluge of futile advice

Image by Kazkar from Pixabay

“Motivation is the key to massive success,” advises Dr. Roopleen, a motivational writer who is an eye surgeon.

I feel sorry for Dr. Roopleen that I am picking on her article. It is just one in the avalanche of almost identical texts flooding the Medium Daily Digest and showing in all the searches. 

In her article, she lists seven traits that keep highly successful people motivated every day. All of them are trivial. She writes that we must commit to something and work through routines without killing ourselves. Then, we need to have checkpoints and objectives to reach. When facing obstacles, we need to ask others for help. Those are the elementary skills one should learn in school and, by early teens, follow instinctively. Without those skills, there is no way to pass math, physics, or chemistry classes. 

Statistics tell us that, compared to others, Americans have fallen behind in those strict science subjects. Likely, they did not learn in school these fundamental life skills that Dr. Roopleen writes about. They are her audience on Medium.

Bits of advice, like the ones from Dr. Roopleen, focus on the behavioral technicalities of successful individuals but do not ask why these people are highly motivated in the first place. She does not know or is afraid to tell the truth that successful people are motivated because they have a purpose in life. It could be raising children the best they can, building a business, advancing a cause, or developing a talent. Obsessed with the mission of making their life meaningful, they instinctively gravitate toward the most efficient ways of doing it.

I suspect that many readers click on articles like the one by Dr. Roopleen because they are disappointed with their lives. The last few generations have witnessed incredible progress in our civilization. Most of us enjoy better lives than our parents had. But it is true, as well, that most of us have advanced much less than the very few fortunate ones. Our aspirations are far above what we have. Thanks to the media, we know the opulence some enjoy. Statistics tell us that in the United States, but also in most other places, the rich got richer in the past few decades, and the poor became poorer. The middle class is shrinking.

Young people in the United States feel it. The cost of education is skyrocketing. Getting a satisfying job seems harder than half a century ago. Big corporations are structured to treat workers as easily replaceable cogs in their machinery. Getting economic independence by opening a small neighborhood shop is not as easy as before the internet era. Making money by going on the internet means competing with Amazon. Uber is the best example of how many entrepreneurial individuals were lured into an illusion of gaining financial independence. They ended up enriching a few who were already rich.

In the United States, some people hoped that Barack Obama would bring a change for the better, while others bet on Donald Trump. The political stalemate still holds. Americans feel its economic consequences, which propagate all over the world as well.

On Medium, this stalemate manifests itself in pessimistic political writing. One needs to be blind and deaf not to see and hear the hopelessness all over the platform. Articles that are at the top of searches and are frequently recommended by the Medium algorithm proclaim that the current global economic system is due to collapse soon, if climate change does not annihilate our civilization earlier.

In that emotionally unhealthy environment, most people have difficulty making strategic life decisions. It affects youngsters more than others. Their major challenge is not polishing their skills to fulfill their life commitments successfully; they are confused about finding their life’s purpose. Fears, rational and irrational, can be incapacitating. In their anxiety about becoming a failure, they might attentively read articles like the one by Dr. Roopleen. If they follow her advice and make some commitments for the pure sake of doing so, will it bring a meaningful change in their life? It might, but failure is more likely. The real problem is understanding the world around us and finding our place in it.

It is not easy. Americans can agree only that they disagree on almost everything. A profound disagreement of that magnitude could not be possible if only one side were wrong. It means that differences among Americans are rooted in disillusions on both sides. It is optimistic that the new CEO of Medium noticed that disagreements among Americans boil down to both sides thinking, “The other side is running a con.” The video Tony linked to summarizes it perfectly. Among American major media outlets, some can be seen as aligning with con men, others with con artists. No one wants to find out what is going on.

Medium has a shot at filling that gap. The bad actors abuse the complexity of the new technologies, feeding the scaremongering of the bards of fatalism on Medium. Interestingly, another writer sees a similarity between Medium and evangelical churches. Comparisons to the grim outlook of a religious cult come to mind as well. There is no way of building a successful business by gathering people around a cataclysmic vision.

Medium needs an injection of sober reality and practical optimism. With a calm look, one can see our problems as a variation of the challenges our ancestors had. After all, people cause problems. We may have better toys now, but human nature has not changed since ancient times. As I wrote in one of my previous articles, we can shape the future by learning from the past. Today’s biggest challenge is not in perfecting our ability to execute our commitments. With our deep fundamental disagreements, the primary challenge is finding out what these commitments should be. To do that right, Coach Tony needs to switch to Tony the Mentor mode.    

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