Why The Self-Help Industry Won’t Change The World

Oct 26, 2023

For the past two weeks, I have watched horrific, genocidal actions inflicted upon the Palestinian people. I watch from the safety of my bed, from the bathroom, from the stairmaster at the gym, from the kitchen as I cook meals, and from my desk as I work. I cannot look away.

Many people in Gaza don’t have a safe bed to sleep in, they wait several hours in line to use working toilets, they have minimal water and food – parents are fasting so that their children won’t starve to death, they are writing the names of their children on their arms and legs so that the children can be identified in case of the worst. Homes, schools, churches, mosques, and hospitals are being bombed relentlessly.

There is no safe place for these people. I cannot look away.

I’ve faced many questions in this time, trying to wrap my head and heart around this magnitude of violence. This violence which is funded by my tax dollars and enabled through my ignorance.

In 2016, I wrote “Why the Self-Help Industry Isn’t Changing the World” in response to the blaring silence and bypassing that I was witnessing in the face of the state-sanctioned murders of Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Aiyana Jones, Tamir Rice and many other black people and children. I channeled my rage, my disappointment, and my pain into this piece that both called out and called in thousands of coaches and healers around the world, inviting us to reflect on how our vocations are inherently political.

Much has shifted in the personal development industry since then. It has become more of a norm to speak about systemic injustice and oppression in this space, to actively practice inclusion and diversity.

Yet I look around in this moment, with Palestine heavy on my heart, and I wonder:

Where are the coaches who once made commitments to anti-racism?

Where are the healers who once spoke out against injustice and oppression?

Where are the spiritual guides and teachers who once declared their opposition to supremacy and colonialism?

Where are the transformational leaders, companies, and organizations that use language like “change the world” or “revolution” in their messaging to suggest that their work is bigger than the individuals they work with?

Where are you?

I write this with immense humility and compassion. For many years, I accepted the messaging I received from teachers, professors, media, etc. that the Israel/Palestine “conflict” was too complex to wrap my head around. I accepted their contempt for my ability to think critically. I accepted the narratives given to me rather than investigating for myself.

This issue became quite simple when I decided to look beyond the veil of “confusion” that Israel and the US have used to shield themselves from accountability and looked to the Palestinian people who have been enduring settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing at the hands of Israel since 1948, the Jewish rabbis and activists who have stood in opposition of Israel since it’s inception and the Black and Indigenous activists, writers, and educators who have expressed and acted in solidarity with Palestine for decades.

With what I know now, and as I witness the pain and terror inflicted upon Palestinians, my stomach has remained in knots, I can hardly sleep, my appetite has changed, and I’ve cried and screamed and raged.

This violence is intolerable, it is gut-wrenching, it is heartbreaking and I cannot look away – to do so would require me to call into question everything I say and believe about who I am and what I’m about.

So, why won’t the self-help industry change the world?

For 7 years, I’ve worked with coaches, healers, therapists, and transformative leaders to connect the dots between their work and their larger collective responsibility. Here are three observations I have for this moment:

We are unaware. We exist in a bubble of individualism and haven’t yet seen the intricate threads that weave us together collectively. We don’t see how our own pain is influenced by and influencing the cultural and systemic pain being inflicted upon humanity. We don’t see that the healing we’re called to facilitate extends beyond the individual.

We are afraid. We don’t want to say or do the “wrong” thing and we cling to our comfort to avoid the risk involved in figuring out and acting on what’s “right”. We use our fear as an excuse to stay stuck rather than as a sign that something of utmost importance is at stake – life itself – and we must move to protect it.

We are incompetent. We don’t yet have the necessary skills to navigate and facilitate change, healing, and justice on a collective level. And we don’t require ourselves to develop those skills, even as we bear witness to unimaginable terror.

This is not an absolute indictment of the personal development, mental health, and wellness industries. I know and believe in the power of the work we do, the skills we have, and the gifts we bring to our communities.

My intent here is to call us into our power.

We have a precious opportunity and responsibility here.

What are we doing with it?

This is about Palestine. This is about Congo. This is about Sudan. This is about mass shootings and police brutality in the US. This is about Maui. This is about Indigenous Australians.

This is about every threat to and violation of human rights on our planet.

To quote Gwendolyn Brooks:

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

If ushering in a more just, loving, and peaceful world is a part of what drives our work, whatever we’re doing right now will not get us there.

And what is the point of the work we do, the skills we have, and the gifts we bring if we’re not using it on behalf of collective liberation?

I stand for the human rights of all people.

I stand for the safety and flourishing of Jewish people.

I stand for the sovereignty, humanity, freedom, and joy of Palestinians.

I stand against apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

I stand for peace – the kind that requires the embrace of difference, not the annihilation of it.

What do you stand for?

Figuring out what’s ours to do in times of tremendous pain and injustice may not be easy, and yet it is necessary. If you want to explore this for yourself and your work, I’m offering a space for us to grapple with and answer the questions:

    • What is your responsibility as a coach, healer, or transformative leader in this time?
    • How are you tending to your responsibility?
    • What now?

Coaching as Activism: A Responsibility Forum

Join me on Wednesday, November 1st from 12-2pm EST / 5-7pm GMT.

Together, we will:

    • explore frameworks for defining our personal and collective responsibility
    • tend to the fear and despair of “not doing enough”
    • envision possibilities for what using our gifts and skills in this time could look like
    • clarify what support you need to show up for what’s most important
    • …and more!

The cost to join live, via Zoom, and/or receive the recording is $47.

Click here to grab your spot.

15% of proceeds will be donated to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

Hi! I’m Andréa – leadership coach, speaker and artist.

I help leaders create the cultures and futures they envision without sacrificing their integrity or wellbeing.

I approach Leadership Development and DEIB work with a compassionate, anti-oppressive and person-centered lens that allows us to weed out any barriers that are getting in the way of the sustainability or impact of your work while also developing vision-aligned skills and systems that will fortify your work.

Together, we make your vision actionable and achievable.

Curious about hiring me for private coaching, consulting, group training or a speaking event? Click here to book a call with me.