Confessions of a Personal Improvement Junkie

What started as a passion project to help endure the misery of COVID lockdowns has morphed into a hobby and a new way of life for me.

As longer-term followers of this blog know, a weekly newsletter has recently been added to this Deep Dive Careers adventure. You can subscribe with your email to get each edition delivered to your inbox. As of the date of this post, I have published 19Weekly Wave’ Newsletters in addition to 61 total blog posts over the course of 38 months. 

How did I reach the conclusion that writing down my thoughts and sharing them with the world was a good idea? 

It all started about 10 years prior to my first Deep Dive Careers post.

Desire and its Origin

“I tried so hard and got so far. But in the end, it doesn’t even matter.” 

– Linkin Park – ‘In The End’

There was a time in my professional life when I could have been described myself as a “wannabee” up and comer. I lacked confidence, second-guessed myself constantly, and was frustrated by every second of it. Due to this, I was slower out of the gate in my career than I would have preferred.

These were my personal development ‘junkie’ days. Perhaps my lack of satisfaction with my rate of progress exacerbated the issue of my own failings. I was never a complete mess, I just couldn’t break through in the way I wanted to.

I was confident enough to know I was capable and people around me saw that I had potential. The problem was I wanted to “succeed” so badly that I stood precisely in my own way

Spreadsheetin’ it Up

The summer after I graduated from college, I had an uncomfortable realization. Despite priding myself on knowing the value of a dollar, my bank account balance suggested that my pride was unjustified. Where did all my money go?! I wondered.

I knew that much of it went to the local drinking establishments in Plymouth, New Hampshire but God only knows where else it went.

After listening to some famous gurus in the world of personal finance and thinking about where I stood, I decided to make my first personal budget in Microsoft Excel. When I showed off my creation with pride, it was playfully mocked. I got frustrated, but I fell in love with the idea of using a spreadsheet to organize my life.

The first iteration of my budget was bad so it made sense to mock it, but this was fuel for my fire. 

“I’ll show them.” I thought, as I attempted to correct my course.

Drinking and spreadsheetin'

This is me at a bar entering the cost of the drink I had just purchased into my expense tracker.

Since then, I have forecasted my spending on annual and monthly basis and saved my receipts to hold myself accountable. In the event I don’t have a receipt, I enter it into my Google Sheet right from my phone, especially when I’m out at the bar (they don’t always provide receipts).

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to be attached to success. It has taken me a while to learn the difference and to apply it to the unique way in which I want to live. Spreadsheets have shown to be useful, in moderation.

The Junkie

Much has been discussed about junkies, especially recently as the prevalence of drugs have resurfaced as a major social issue. The term junkie is typically reserved for those who indulge in activities that are considered to be vices. It is rarely used in the context of over-indulging in something that is considered to be good, but the effects are similar.

Despite being generally aware of the folly of my ways the ability to convert the awareness into a realization was mostly hidden somewhere within. I would work twice as hard as my colleagues and I still spun my wheels. I later learned that the extra work I was doing was wearing me down and making things worse.

I was a junkie. A glutton for self-punishment.

Looking back, I now know that among other things, the best approach would have involved consuming less professional and personal development content. I had to ‘let go,’ but I didn’t know how. So I kept doubling down.

Attached to Success

I have chatted with thousands of people over the course of several years of getting paid to recruit workers, provide career advice, and aid in employee relations. We all think we’re special, at least in some way. And we are. But how we channel this energy matters a great deal.

Our culture tends to celebrate this sort of ambition, but it is not purely positive. I know I am not the only one who has noticed.

Different types of people have different paths to success. For many, their ambition carries them through to the next phase of their career and they live happily ever after. Others become “success junkies” like me. When this happens, the temptation to double down on self-improvement becomes self-defeating. But if doubling down is all we know, what else is there to do?

Beware of the Predators

Unfortunately, the genre of self-help is consumed by many self-serving actors who care more about making people dependent upon them with lofty dreams and vague promises that evoke feelings of inferiority within their followers. These bad actors take advantage of people who may have potential but are just missing one key ingredient. It is not in the interest of these folks to nudge their followers along to the next level of excellence.

Sadly, many gurus are unaware that this is what they are doing. Like a drug company that creates a treatment for a disease, the reality that it is less profitable to cure the patient’s issue persists. A similarly harsh reality exists in the world of self help. To be successful, self-help gurus require that their followers’ problems remain unsolved.

Ever seen a video ad promising a hidden secret to riches with a guy posing in front of his Lamborghini? The stereotype of self-help gurus behaving this way exists for a reason. These people are real and they dominate the internet. 


Thankfully I never fully succumbed to these obnoxious marketing tactics enough to take them seriously. But sadly, when I instructed YouTube to stop showing me ads like these while I was just innocently watching videos, I kept getting them. And that’s even more annoying!

GO AWAY TAI LOPEZ. You are the worst!

The Personal Improvement High

“You lock the door and throw away the key. There’s someone in my head, and it’s not me.” 

– Pink Floyd – ‘Brain Damage’

An excellent episode of the popular podcast The Jordan Harbinger Show dives right into this topic and delivers a scathing criticism of many of the toxic forces shape the genre of self-help. It is well worth a listen. At the very least, in the extended show notes, there are a number of resources that dive even deeper into this important topic.

In one blog post from the show host, Harbinger says the following:

“Motivational videos, or “hustle porn,” do not answer the more fundamental questions of self-development. They might push you a little harder, but it will often come at a cost to your psyche.”

For an unscrupulous guru to successfully captivate their followers, it is necessary to exploit inner feelings of inadequacy. A scrupulous guru will set their followers free to improve on their own accord. Unfortunately, the latter is both harder to sell and to monetize than the former.

Like a traditional junkie, the short-lived reaction of extreme positive emotion can be a misdirection. In the immediate and short term, it makes you feel like meaningful change is occurring. Taking action is comforting because it satisfies the ambitious craving.

The problem is, when the ‘personal development high’ wears off, you are right back where you started.

5 Lessons

Take it from me. As the junkie descends further into the rabbit hole, it eventually becomes clear that there is only one way out – to let go.

Here are 5 Lessons from my experience:

  1. You are not Actually in Control

A expectation or desired outcome is not set in stone. Like the anticipated results of an election, the outcome is never certain. Clinging to a steadfast desire for future success can be all consuming. And it can eat you alive.

It is fine to want a better life for yourself but becoming so attached to the outcome can be unhealthy. Change is constant because of external circumstances. Adaptation is key because of the inevitability of uncertainty.

  1.   You are always Your Biggest Enemy

10 years ago, I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t lost. I wasn’t in danger. Despite this, I was still not living my best life. No matter how much I tried, no matter how much I cared, nothing changed. 

Ambition is a wonderful thing, however, people who become junkies like me are unaware that the genre can be incredibly self-defeating.

Doubling down on what doesn’t work is no way to get what you want.

  1.  Spreadsheets are Not Life

Life transcends the self. We know that a life well lived cannot exist solely within a data-tracking system, but sometimes we try to wrap our arms around it anyway. If this is not done with spreadsheets, you may do this in some other way. Although I love spreadsheets, they are merely a tool, not a source of spiritual wisdom. 

As a tool, spreadsheets have transformed my life. More often than not, they have had incredibly positive impacts. However at times, I have undoubtedly taken it too far. Sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad.

  1.  Success is Empty

Our culture is incredibly self-indulgent. In western nations, this problem seems to be worsening. A recent poll asked young people across the world what they want to be when they grow up. The results were interesting, if not concerning. 

The top choice for children in China was astronaut (56%). In the U.S. and U.K. the winner was Vlogger/YouTuber (29%). In both the U.S. and U.K. only 11% of children wanted to be an astronaut.

Many people believe that western culture is in danger of forgetting that the purpose of our lives is to serve others, not merely ourselves. Many argue that the sort self-glorification that inspires one to become an internet influencer is not as useful to human civilization as becoming an accountant, a police officer, or even a rocket scientist.

Life is not about you, it is about everyone. The United States celebrates our collective identity with the phrase E. Pluribus Unum, which appears on our money. For the uninitiated, the famous Latin phrase translates to “out of many, one.”

Your work and life is your own unique contribution to the collective good of society. To avoid the emptiness that success brings, it is important to treat people well and help them where you can within the role that you have chosen.

It is up to you to know your role, align it with your own uniqueness, and embrace it.

  1. Let it Go 

Most of all, my addiction to content that taught me how to get what I want led to things I didn’t want. Oops.

It’s funny how something could be so paradoxical. Despite what anyone’s common sense would say, it was only when I ‘let go’ of my cravings to succeed that I actually achieved success. 

Life is to be lived and many of the folks I have spoken with about their professional lives are missing this awareness. Letting go of the attachment to the outcome is half the battle. Most professional development gurus are either intentionally ignoring this or oblivious to it.

Choose who you follow wisely because the consequences will strike you – for better or worse.

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