The most pernicious mantra of our age is “you can do anything you set you mind to”. The recent death of Steve Jobs resulted in a rapid spew of links and references to his address at Stanford in 2005. I’ll confess to being guilty of posting one of the many soundbites from that speech on my Facebook page. I don’t regret it, because there was a lot of wisdom in his address and I was inspired by his life story. The problem is that it was just one more dollop of soaring aspirational rhetoric at a time when our society in saturated in self-help culture. It’s probably a lot more chronic in the US than it is here in theUK, but it’s an unhealthy condition which needs to be reined in.
I don’t know anything about the research evidence but I’d love to know what proportion of self-help users – cultish disciplines of exploitative psuedo-experts like Paul McKenna – actually become more anxious from imagining “future selves” than less. I think we’re in danger of being crippled by self-help cultivated aspirations; convinced that we can achieve anything and to disregard our limitations. I wonder if it is our expectations of the present and future, fuelled by aspirational overload, which are the cause of the greatest discontentment, not the reality of our lives. Given disturbing levels of anxiety and depression in the UK this is a real concern. The aspirational hyperdrive of self-help excites us about the future, but arguably demoralises us about the present.