The Perception of Self Help

While Scott was handling the blog with his Maple Challenge, I spent my “free” time meeting with folks to talk about Maple – what it can do for them and what they can do for Maple (tell a friend!) I think great collaborations are mutually beneficial. That led to wonderful discussions and a few observations.

After sharing or demonstrating what Maple does a repeated reaction was “Oh! It’s an XYZ tool”. The interesting part is how people fill in the “XYZ”: Learning. Data management. Growth. Development. Therapy. I think my favorite was “Individual Betterment”. This happened so often that I started to anticipate it and eventually I just prompted them with “What were you originally going to call it?”


Those two little words, neither of which are “bad”, were whispered at me. Or delivered as an exaggerated question, so as not to offend. Or spoken with a head nod and palpable grimace, to convey empathy for working in this space. Such is the perception of self-help.

Perceptions are just our understanding of something. Yet we make decisions, judgements, and adjust behaviors based on them. If our perceptions were a 100% accurate, this would be no big deal, but since they aren’t, sometimes we get led astray. How we gather information, form opinions and make decisions has a big impact on how we operate, particularly when we are talking about our own personal ideas, goals, and growth.

According to Wikipedia, academics, researchers, and some authors avoid the term for fear it will be applied to their work and delegitimize it. Ugh, that’s rough. So why all the negativity about helping one’s self? Isn’t that sorta what we are here to do, become the best possible versions of ourselves.

Maybe it was the wave of self-help books and groups from the 90’s that gave it such a cheesy, laughable, fly by night reputation. Let’s be real, some deserve the bad perception, but there are plenty of reputable resources – in all sorts of formats – that can actually offer assistance. Even now, there are network comedies with characters “pretending” to be Life Coaches to earn a quick buck. I know many coaches that have positively impacted the lives of the people they work with. How can anything that encourages or motivates you to a better place be bad? (Here’s a hint, it’s a lingering shared perception.)

There is this notion that by accepting help, of any sort, we indicate we are weak or incapable. In fact, the opposite is true about asking for assistance. Recognizing that someone else’s support and expertise would be useful shows that you are competent and self-aware. We should brag about getting help!

Another interesting point, no other term seems to have replaced self-help. I’ve heard individual or career development and self-improvement pretty often in the professional space. I’m partial to the term personal growth because what we are referring to is anything that enables you as you pursue your goals. That’s where this notion of becoming your Best Self comes from.

Though I am baffled that we don’t have a name for it, I’m not as concerned about that as I am that the stigma of it holds us back. Are we afraid to say we’re working on ourselves because of someone else’s perception of that? I think for many people the answer is Yes. Which means we are making poor choices based on someone else’s understanding. We’re choosing to limit our potential and our happiness and or we are opting not to realize our purpose or follow our dreams based on someone else’s, probably flawed, interpretation of our situation. That seems unfortunate.

We are finally starting to break down the barrier around discussing mental health. Just this week @MariahCarey was discussing her bipolar disorder diagnosis and how positive the reaction has been to her choosing to share that publicly. Kudos to Mariah, because it’s time to have open conversations about our mental health. While we are at, let’s revisit those old perceptions about self-help too. Congratulations to @Oprah for recognizing that doing whatever we can to empower ourselves is important enough to be the focus of her magazine (@O_Magazine) and her online learning community (@OprahsLifeclass) and a portion of her network (@OWNTV) programming (@SuperSoulSunday).

Let’s not be constrained by perception. If our goal is to continuously learn, improve and grow as we experience life, a little help along the way is a great advantage. I say let’s use it! Let’s get help if we need it and let’s help ourselves when we are able.

Ready to embrace your personal growth? Maple is your secret weapon! #BestSelf #SelfStudy #MeetMaple

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Christine is a consultant, coach and collaborator. Her vision is a tool to nudge people towards the insights that are just out of reach; connecting their deeper thoughts and truest selves to make big leaps forward.

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