Ring road is a busy thoroughfare in the heart of Benin-city, the capital of Edo state in Nigeria’s oil rich Niger-delta region. Vendors, those with a stall and those who can’t afford one in the nearby malls, line the shoulder of the strip with their wares. During my many visits to the city from Auchi, 132 km away, I go sightseeing around ring road and its adjoining streets. Book vendors are common sights in the midst of crowds of vendors, having in display self-help and inspirational books written mostly by American authors.
My first encounter with a self-help book was with the new couple: the 10 new laws of love, written by a therapist couple whose union, according to them, had waxed stronger through several years of marriage. I thought that given their extensive experience in couple therapy and their living happily married together, reading their book will be worth my while. Allowing me access to some untold secrets of love. so I grabbed a copy. It was easy considering the book cost a trifling one hundred Naira; it was from a collection of old books.
After reading the first chapter, I never returned to the book again until 3 years later after several failed relationships. Then I remembered the book that promised blissful love if I or anyone else obeyed its laws. I returned to it and I read it all. Since then, frankly, I’ve experienced a spike in my relationship satisfaction.
Many of us have at one time or another come across self-help books in busy streets and pass them off as utterly useless. Only a few persons with a high enough curiosity stop by to pick up one of these books to find out if they can actually deliver on their lofty promises.
In university campuses too this books abound but, only a few students bother to check them out. My second encounter, and a more serious one at that, with self-help books was on my journey with an ex to her university to check her final results. Similar to the Benin-city experience, a book vendor, appearing more informed about life than the one in Benin, had several books on display. The ones that captured my attention the most where Richard Templar’s ‘the rules of wealth’ and ‘the rules of love.’ I had no extra money with me, but this particular vendor who apparently identified with my religious inclinations, and sighting the overly religious appearances of my partner and I, and his familiarity with our lodge agreed to sell to us on credit so he can pass by the lodge later for his money.
We dropped the 2,000 Naira with our flat mate since we were leaving town that day and later confirmed with her over the phone that she had delivered the money to the vendor as arranged.
I opted for those two books then because I was having challenges with money and in living with my partner. We fought too often, and so like the book in Benin, I thought marital issues could be solved by just reading a book. Anyone serious about fixing their love lives, I later learnt through that experience and many others, need more than just reading a book. My ex and I read both books, and frankly, I started on the journey to fixing those things in my life that seemed headed for the rocks. A year later, although, our union crashed like a pile of sticks.
In hindsight I could see the role both books played in decimating whatever there was between my ex and I. Templar’s ‘rules of love’ exposed the weak foundation our union was built upon in a way that made it extremely difficult to mend, and ‘the rules of wealth’ changed my view of money and risks. Through ‘the rules of wealth,’ I developed the interest in other personal finance books chiefly Robert Kiyosaki’s work. I began taking on risks that I ordinarily wouldn’t have had it not been for the ideas in those books. That lady didn’t sign up for an entrepreneurial husband that those books have turned me into and besides I had experienced a few failures she couldn’t take, coupled with other of my flaws she noticed, she took flight and never returned.
Also, we were not having kids back then, and she might have thought of the possibility that I was infertile. Although I remarried and now have a daughter and I hope she has kids too.
Since gaining exposure to self-help books, I’ve read tons of other books in business, psychology, philosophy, economics, and personal finance before finally stumbling on the book that has now recently alter the entire course of my existence. The book exposed me to tons of stories and case studies of masters both of this age and the past, and how they attained mastery in their respective calling. That book is Robert Greene’s ‘Mastery.’ Before reading ‘Mastery,’ I had no idea of the kind of work or career that I had a deep interest in, a passion for, and what innate talents I could develop into lucrative and fulfilling career. I didn’t even know that interests, enthusiasm, passion, and talent among other things were the foundation for mastering any skill and dominating one’s field. My childhood dream was to become knowledgeable about a specific field more than anyone in the world and with my little knowledge and exposure, I thought the only way that was possible was through the academics, by becoming a professor even though I didn’t have any interest in such things.
The self-help industry, has many unrelenting critics, but the impact, both negative and positive, self-help books had on me and countless other people world over is undeniable. They played an important role in my failed marriage, and contributed to the enthusiasm and awakening of my entrepreneurial spirit. They exposed me to all the options possible in life and helped run an assessment of my nature before choosing the career path I deemed most suitable, and upon which I am today focused. Because of the fairly recent nature of the ‘Mastery’ experience, that career path, I discovered, is not something definite and hewed in stone, as many people would expect. The evolutionary nature of careers demand that I start with a career pretty close to the meeting point between my inclinations, talents, already existing skills and experience. If all these things combined do not add value to society and do not present an opportunity for growth and lucrativeness, then I would not have found a career. What I would have found instead will be passional work that pays nickels and dimes. I would then live in constant fear of perpetual want.
Thus, after a careful assessment of all events I could remembered that shaped my formative years, the skills and the experiences I’ve gathered throughout those years, and my entrepreneurship background, I opt for a future in media and communication arts, keeping a very close eye on literature, and what is possible in enterprise for these areas combined. I haven’t stopped designing buildings, anyway, having started in architecture. I continue to pursue all existing links between my many interests and experiences. And Eventually, the perfect work will surface through constant progress and iteration.
There’s a fine line between the grain and the chaff of most things in life that have alternatives. As an audience that is constantly inundated with diverse offerings, we’re responsible for identifying that fine line and separating the grain from the chaff of self-help materials. What could be more deserving of this shrewdness? Self-help is a $10-billion industry in the United States alone with a staggering number of books churned out annually. Majority of which are more useless than you can imagine; a lot of them, although, are good if used rightly.
A good self-help book is one whose author’s credibility can be verified through his experience, his authority, and recorded successes in his field, his participation in scientific researches and so on. It must be backed with accurate and appropriate scientific researches and evidences, and its writing must be in good quality.
Many people although dismiss all self-help material has utterly useless, without any insight as to what differentiate a good self-help book from a useless one. As a result of this ignorance, they muddle up self-help books with personal development, business, motivation, sales, and personal finance books. And classify them entirely as motivational books. They go further to claim that nothing in these books works in Nigeria or in Africa.
Reading Brian Tracy’s advanced selling strategy in a public place, skeptical and cynical acquaintances show up uninvited and mutter some unsolicited nonsense to me. Something like “why are you wasting your time on ideas that don’t work in this country?” sales work anywhere even in a hamlet with no more than two families living in it. A book teaching self-employment and small business tips doesn’t work? and all over the world, small businesses employ more than fifty per cent of the workforce? People are using the tips and ideas from such books to improve their lives and businesses.
The lack of knowledge of personal development is the sole reason most people live an unfulfilled life working in dead-end jobs and failing to grow in their careers and life. In that case, it’s not personal development books but the person who shuns them that “won’t work”: they won’t function to their best.
Sales and marketing as instances, are skills that entrepreneurs and small business owners can’t be effective without. The lack of both skills is one reason a business will disappear no sooner than it is founded. Books are not the only means to learn those skills. Videos will do just as fine; apprenticeship will do even better. You could also learn those skills on your own through trial and error. But why opting to make costly mistakes on your own when you could learn from someone else’s mistakes and avoid them in your work. This is possible through reading about such mistakes and how to avoid them in a book where they’ve been documented either by the person who made the mistakes or an observer?