Subjective Success in the Self-Help Web

I’ve been thinking a shit ton about success as I work on the final part of my one-man trilogy on the underbelly of the self-help movement. Kicking Ass and Taking Names (tagline: Measuring Success One Failure at a Time) has been one of the projects I’ve been mind dumping onto my laptop all of December. It’s been a lot slower than expected.

Usually my shows pour out of me this time of year but I decided to allow the script to go in several directions. Those places include poetic musings, dance numbers and focusing more on my interactions with my characters rather than completely becoming them. Several people who have seen my work have said “I want to see more Seth” so I’ve taken that feedback to heart to allow this show to be a more vulnerable process.

Not that I don’t try to continually create an intimacy with my audience through any of the shows I create. It just seems that I keep getting told that my own personal reflections and stories within the pieces strongly captivate and keep people yearning to sympathize. So I’ve decided to show the audience the process of what it’s like to relate to these characters that I develop.

You are Me and I am You (Huh?)

My characters are a mish-mash of other people (who are merely reflections of myself anyway). I hope to examine how relating to these “others” is a constant process, as is relating on the human plane on an everyday basis. In many cases the characters seem to carry some type of authority or expertise about success and/or failure. Most of the time I am taking issue with their views and that creates a conflict which leads to a series of conversations that are funny, awkward and cringey.

I usually do a ton of research when I’m writing the show. I read every book and blog I can get my hands on regarding the topic however I’ve noticed that I’ve hardly needed to because of the amount of email newsletters that arrive in my inbox everyday, ones that I eagerly signed up for.

The Marketing Game

As an artist who needs to constantly self-promote I’ve been hunting for the best marketing approaches for years. Ones that don’t feel manipulative or slimey. Ways in which I can be myself and tweak things enough so that I peak people’s interest without hitting them over the head. It’s a constant process and the amount of advice on how to go about marketing oneself is immensely ridiculous. Even the subheaders I’m using in this post are based on “how to blog better” earfuls I’ve come across. Christ.

I’ve taken pdf and audio courses, scanned through data sheets on current trends in social media, written out illustrious plans of how to sell without being “selly”. I keep coming back to the same conclusion. Not one of these people that I follow (and I have a lot of respect for them as people and their methods to help others rather selflessly) is right for me.

Why Why Why?!

What interests me is why I gravitate towards them in the first place. I’m the type of person who comes across something and then researches it to death. I’ll go to a supposed expert’s site and scathe their blog posts, product description and interactions with their customers. What’s their magic? I wonder. I analyze the formula of their formula and try to see how it hooks me, squint and scour at what type of approach they use (casual, commanding, relatable), observe how my emotions waver when they hit a personal hot button.

I mean they must know what they’re talking about if so many people are following them on twitter, right? The thing I’m most interested in is the obsession our culture has with being successful. Of course success is a subjective experience but it seems to come down to a basic human emotion: jealousy.

That person has what I want and I need to know how to get it. Those people seem happy and when I try to be like them I don’t seem to feel the same way. I must be doing it wrong.

That is So Wrong Said the Self-Help Spider

Feeling this wrongness is how we end up measuring ourselves against others success and reveling in how to make them the perfect nemesis. What gets me about the self-help world (which has seeped into every known marketplace) is that there is a huge contingency promoting acceptance of where you are at while simultaneously blaring images of perfect yoga bodies, six figure inspiration blogs and retreats that will bring you to the true knowledge of your imperfect self so that you can transform into your perfect self. See? Solved!

A tangled web if I ever saw one. Fact is, I’m still drawn to the self-help spiders, many who are disguised as thought leaders completely separate from anything new agey. Sorry folks, you’re using the same rhetoric… or are they using yours? Eh, no bother.

My shows aim to start a dialogue of how to extricate oneself from supposed truth and come to one’s own conclusions, even if that causes more confusion. Personally, I’d rather be befuddled at this point in the game than tout a wisdom that is based on exploiting our faults.

So marketing gurus, keep the emails coming because it’s very useful fodder.