The concept of self-help has played a role in my life since adolescence. It appeals to the seeker side of me that is always looking for hope and is also bound up in a complicated web with my spirituality and faith life. It has its flaky side for sure, but I’ve always approached it with a healthy attitude of skepticism. A fair amount of what comes down the pike as self-help often only benefits the bank account of the pusher.
I’m not sure that I want to reveal myself as a fan of Oprah, per se, but I do watch shows on her network. My DVR records Super Soul Sunday because I enjoy the discussion of faith, creativity, and how people overcome obstacles. I will admit that the Oprah Cheese Factor turns me off – like at the end of the opening credits, she holds up a mug and says “get your chai on”, which is a plug for her Starbucks tea line. Oh, and if her guest says something she deems profound, she will call it a “tweetable moment” and say “tweet tweet”. Sigh. I am a dork for continuing to watch this show. However, she has had some wonderful guests on like Brene Brown, Steven Pressfield, and Diana Nyad.
I am cynical about empires of indoctrination like the one Oprah helms. Her reach is so powerful that her company commands $375 for a weekend pass to attend workshops and events presented by gurus who claim to help you “Live Your Best Life”. Having been exposed to a fair amount of content by many of these people, I am well acquainted with their tone of “If I can do it, so can you!”
So often, these stories involve light-bulb moments where the protagonist has a revelation that includes one of these possible scenarios:
- A marriage falls apart/family problems emerge due to over-work
- Near-death experience or loss of a loved one
- A non-life-threatening tragedy, like a fire or when health has limited one’s abilities to continue living life as usual
- Some sort of mistake that has repercussions on one’s relationships
As a result, they can no longer keep going in the way they have been for the last several years.
As a consumer of Oprah culture, I’ve asked myself how much impact this content has had on keeping my own life on track. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and have gone through some times that, frankly, I can’t believe I’ve emerged from. I, too, have had a light-bulb moment in the last several months that shares similarities with some of these stories. While rowing a boat for the first time in my life on my honeymoon, I realized I had missed out on valuable time with my loved ones due to a rigid work schedule.
The difference with my own “Aha moment”, as Oprah would call it, is that I’m not like these folks who appear on TV, blathering about how wonderful life is, now that I’ve had this moment. I have no book deal, product line, or anything of the sort to promote. Every one of these guests is there to hawk something. These folks might allude to things “being hard”, but it’s a safe bet that none of them were exactly a paycheck away from homelessness when they had their moment. People who work themselves to death at the expense of their families can probably afford to scale back…sell off a vacation home, nix the weekly family ski trips, or get rid of the BMW and drive a Honda instead. For most normal people juggling their jobs and families, suffering through ongoing rate hikes on their rent, transportation, or health insurance while not getting raises, just picking up and changing it Oprah-guru-style probably feels pretty impossible.
I suppose the allure of watching these stories isn’t much different from the appetite millions of us have for diet books. Or reality shows. Or lottery tickets. Maybe we want to keep hope alive that these relatable people on TV are just like us. After all, if they can do it, so can you!