I was intrigued by a story from Bloomberg, reproduced by the SMH, headlined “Think like a millionaire, and you'll get rich? Ignore self-help gurus!” That’s my exclamation point and I have to say I have been worried about my excessive use of this grammatical tool but I guess I can’t help feeling I need to exclaim about some of the stuff I read, hear and see in my beloved media.
The author of this anti-self help book was Barry Ritholtz and I googled him to see what his claim to fame was, apart from being eloquent and literate enough to impress the bosses at Bloomberg.
He is a wealth manager/financial planner, but I don’t think it qualifies him to be an expert on how huge millionaires, say of a Donald Trump or Richard Branson size, are made. Like lots of financial planners, I reckon he would help people become millionaires, the slow way, and he should be good at keeping his clients’ wealth growing, but explaining how millionaires make it in a short timeframe would not be his specialty.
His track record about making many millions isn’t evident, so it makes me ponder whether he’s shut the door on self-help books without ever giving them a chance to actually help his bottom line.
From my point of view, and I have to confess that I’ve made a million or two or more, I can put my hand on my heart and say self-help books have damn well helped me along the road to prosperity.
That’s not to say that non-self-help books have not also helped.
I remember fondly how useful Samuelson’s Economics was for making me think like an economist. And every textbook I used to learn from, and eventually teach economics by, have all helped me be what I am today.
But the disdain for self-help books really perplexes me and to be honest, I’m not sure how broad or narrow the category of self-help books is.
For example, I know lots of millionaires who belong to the Entrepreneurs Organisation — a breeding ground for millionaires, where you have to have a business with a million dollar plus turnover to be accepted — and they have told me how they have benefited from books from the likes of Michael Gerber and his E-Myth and Verne Harnish with his Rockefeller Habits.
The founder of Roses Only, James Stevens has told me how authors such as Gerber, Harnish and Jack Daly have been inspirations to him as he built his formidable business.
And what about Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? And seriously, if you can’t get something positive out of Anthony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within, then you either have never read it or you’re so far up yourself you don’t know what potential you are not living up to!
If John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership doesn’t make you a better leader then you must be on par with Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Winston Churchill.
And mind you, I think even Winston could have done with John Maxwell when he was a younger British Minister in charge of the ANZAC debacle! (There I go again but I reckon most of you would support that exclamation point.)
Anyone wanting to get a handle on the world’s most unusual leader — Donald Trump — should check out Netflix’s documentary called TRUMP: An American Dream.
Of course, his self-help book The Art of the Deal was a best-seller and considering what this former property developer turned casino owner has been able to sell — himself to middle America as a US President — shows there must be something in self-help stuff.
There’s no evidence that Trump is a committed reader of academic books on business greatness and for that matter, he’s never, at least on my reading, confessed to be a self-help book reader, but hell he looks like he’s the kind of guy who would have consumed those kinds of books as a young man on the way up.
Like him or not, Trump has achieved beyond what many would have thought possible and a lot of it is linked to his self-belief.
One of his greatest influences, beyond his real estate entrepreneur father, was the famous US preacher — Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
Peale was the author of The Power Of Positive Thinking — one of the all-time greatest ever self-help books. It was translated into 15 languages, it remained on the New York Times best-seller list for 186 weeks and sold 5 million copies.
And the Trumps from Queens used to go to his church in Manhattan for Sunday sermons, along with others who wanted to use positivity to “inherit the earth”, as the good book promises!
In the Trump doco, Donald, as a young man, was asked by a journalist about his determination to eventually buy the building that housed Tiffany & Co.’s most famous store, which later made way for his Trump Tower. This was seen as the greatest commercial trophy building in New York, and when asked how he was able to achieve this milepost, after prompting he conceded that maybe it was “mind over matter”. Of course, this is often the kind of advice that a lot of self-help gurus solemnly believe in and advocate others commit to.
Gwenda Blair, the author of The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate and Donald Trump: The Candidate, refers to Trump’s “relentless self-confidence” and I’d bet Dr. Peales sermons and writings have helped stoke the fire in Donald’s belly.
Blair told us in a www.politico.com opinion piece what Donald thought about his preacher. “I still remember [Peale’s] sermons,” Trump told the Iowa Family Leadership Summit in July. “You could listen to him all day long. And when you left the church, you were disappointed it was over. He was the greatest guy.”
According to Blair, “Known as ‘God’s salesman’, Peale merged worldliness and godliness to produce an easy-to-follow theology that preached self-confidence as a life philosophy.
“Critics called him a con man, described his church as a cult, and said his simple-minded approach shut off genuine thinking or insight. But Peale’s outlook, promoted through his radio shows, newspaper columns and articles, and through Guideposts, his monthly digest of inspirational messages, fit perfectly into the Trump family culture of never hesitating to bend the rules, doing whatever it took to win, and never, ever giving up.”
Peales book starts with: “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities!”
This was certainly a self-help book with a powerful punch that not only created a millionaire but a billionaire, who eventually defied the odds, and people like Barry Ritholtz, to become the President of the USA!
Here’s another Blair piece on how the self-help preacher assisted The Donald.
“In 1990, after splurging on a third casino, an airline, the world’s second-largest yacht and the Plaza Hotel, Trump found himself nearly a billion dollars in debt and the banks were threatening foreclosure.
“But after weeks of round-the-clock negotiations, he emerged relatively unscathed, and in a 2009 interview with Psychology Today he gave Peale’s book credit for his survival. Citing his father’s friendship with Peale and calling himself “a firm believer in the power of being positive,” he said, “what helped is I refused to give in to the negative circumstances and never lost faith in myself. I didn’t believe I was finished even when the newspapers were saying so.”
From my point of view, I can remember doing something very unusual about five years ago with my wife, in the company of a bottle of Moet.
After looking at a book that she bought me called Think and Grow Rich gathering dust on my library shelf, she got it off the shelf and we started to read it together and found it compelling.
It made the argument for being rational about how you make your goals come to a reality. The author Napoleon Hill recommended writing down your business goals and put numbers — say dollars of profit or wages and years to make your dreams come true.
We did this very task and set big goals, some of which have actually come to fruition one year ahead of schedule. Others are getting there.
Of course, not all self-help books will turn you into a millionaire but they can make you happier, smarter, fitter, wiser and even nicer. And not all self-help books are equal but what’s the opposite of self-help?
Sure, some self-help books have created the likes of Donald Trump, but they have also helped create some wonderful entrepreneurs, who have created beautiful goods and services, trained and employed millions of people and have been positive forces for good and niceness, as Maxwell Smart might have put it.