As you may have heard, the past 10 days in the U.S. have been quite a whirlwind, and most are still assessing the fallout in hopes of anticipating the changes to come. However, with that said, in many ways it doesn’t feel like anything has changed.
We’re still in a pandemic with numbers rising every day. The lack of financial support from our leaders, who keep asking the public for money as if millions didn’t just lose their jobs over the last 6 months, is still leaving most beyond weary and frustrated. And we’re still a little afraid of what the year 2021 will bring.
I share these reminders not to fill you with angst and depression, but to address a popular perspective held by many people who offer advice on how to be successful, by self-proclaimed influencers in the holistic wellness community, and by elevated voices or gurus in esoteric spirituality circles. In each of these groups, which are often frequented by many of the same people, there’s a belief that each individual is the creator of their reality and any abundance, wealth or harmony you achieve is entirely up to you.
You can’t scroll through any social media app (pick one, any one) without so-called thought leaders and purveyors of “living your best life” telling you that you’re doing something wrong. You’re either eating the wrong foods or engaging in the wrong exercises or not exercising enough or not waking up early enough or not using social media right or not developing a sound strategy for crushing it or a host of other things that if you just listen to them (and perhaps sign up for their highly revered $250 course), you could achieve eternal happiness, success and abundance.
Every day, people around the world are constantly shamed for being overweight, eating processed food, getting their news from certain sources, not being grateful enough, shopping at the wrong stores, not volunteering enough, reading the wrong books, not recycling more, not meditating more, not spending enough time away from electronics, not spending more time outdoors, not spending more time with their family and friends, and so on. Our global society is trapped in an infinite loop of trying to fix all the “problems” the rest of the world judges us for based on an arbitrary scale or an outmoded, skewed measurement that should no longer be taken seriously (I’m looking at you BMI scale).
What many of these self-appointed experts and influencers fail to acknowledge is that no one -- in any nation -- goes through life unaffected by the world around them. Yes, when it comes to sociopolitical change, change can be slow. But that’s all the more reason why it can be even more debilitating to those who are affected by the systems of inequality that plague our culture, every culture.
Telling someone that they’re not owning up to their obesity while they’re working 60, 70 hours at a job with little or no vacation, while surviving off of 5 hours of sleep each night, and living in constant fear they may lose their job in an economy built to serve the wealthy is, quite frankly, irresponsible and inexcusable.
If a person who has a 90-minute commute to work each way and has to rise before dawn to meet a traffic window or risk being late for work isn’t immediately going to the gym after putting in 8-9 hrs to exercise for at least an hour, then stopping by the farmers market to buy all fresh, organic ingredients to cook a meal from scratch, leaving room in the evening to read another chapter of their novel, clean their home, spend time with their partner and children, organize their plans for the next day, then meditate for an hour before going to bed at 10:30pm, that doesn’t mean they should feel shame. This so-called ideal lifestyle is virtually impossible for anyone who isn’t in such a place of privilege and abundance already that it would be disingenuous to claim that this version of “living well” is nothing but a myth.
If every successful person is an early bird, then they’re not getting enough sleep. If every successful person only eats organic, fresh ingredients, then they’re not working a job that would rush to fire them if they were late too many times. If every successful person has a home that is always impeccably tidy, then they don’t have kids or pets.
My point is we keep insisting that our lives will only become wondrous balls of joyous fulfillment when we do everything just so and have everything down to a textbook routine in a chapter on “Perfect People Living Perfectly.” And this is simply not true, nor has it ever been true.
We are affected by our political systems -- local, state and national, our economic systems, our social structures and caste systems, our environment -- local, regional and global, our neighbors, our friends, our families and our psyches. And yet, the majority of those doling out self-improvement advice refuse to acknowledge that your reality is absolutely influenced by the world around you. Or worse. They tell you to shut it out, ignore it, and do everything you can to remain unaffected by it.
No amount of 4-hour meal prep on Sunday is going to change the fact that you simply don’t have time to eat healthy every day when you’re working 2 jobs and maintaining a side hustle to make ends meet. That’s not healthy for anyone.
No amount of morning meditation or keeping a gratitude journal is going to change the fact that we live in an unjust society where some people are historically and currently disenfranchised and it has nothing to do with them “attracting the energy they put out.” That’s not healthy for anyone.
I’ve seen people accuse Americans of living to work while nations like France and Italy have greater work/life balance. Although I would argue most Americans don’t “live to work” but instead “work to live,” it’s irresponsible to advise people to live like the French or Italians when most Americans (where 50% of the population lives at or below the poverty line) don’t have the financial agency or privilege, job security, or civil rights to live the idealized life so many gurus are selling.
Do we have more power than we think we do? Of course. But we are most certainly affected by our environment -- whether it be political, social, financial, physical or psychological, and to ignore that for the sake of peddling “love and light” and telling everyone that they are “the creators of their own reality” is an insult to say the least.
To put it bluntly, it is morally wrong to perpetuate the idea that generational poverty is caused by a scarcity mindset or that work/life balance comes when you embrace infinite gratitude. Such statements not only ignore the inequality that persists for those who are not able-bodied, are systematically disenfranchised, or must dole out their authenticity is socially acceptable measurements or else risk unemployment, harassment or even violence.
I want the successful thought leaders, holistic healers, and spiritually “awakened” to integrate a message of embracing internal self-improvement with the acknowledgment that, as of today, achieving your best life is not all up to you.
The world is changing, and we are simply creatures with complex psyches who are also always changing. Regardless of who our political leaders may be, we can work to become the people we want to be, but we do ourselves a disservice if we treat every recognition of life’s harsh realities as an “excuse.”
Excuse is a favorite word of the guru-set, as well as those who assume their challenges are the same as everyone else’s, so if they can conquer them, so can you, apparently. As if we’re all the same, and all it takes is having the right perspective and mindset.
This is a call to end that toxic approach to self-help, self-improvement and self-actualization. If we can truly be better than what we currently are, then let’s be better than this. Let’s uplift without shame. Let’s allow everyone to define success by their own terms. And let’s stop pretending that the world around us doesn’t affect our lives and the lives of others -- sometimes, if not oftentimes, unequally.
If we are truly experiencing a dawn of a new age where old paradigms are being challenged, hopefully for the last time, then we can help each other get there by facing reality together, doing the dirty work together, and crafting that ideal life for all of us to share together.