The Advice Dodge: If Publishers Have Told You Once, They’ve Told You 100 Times…

Don’t let anyone tell you the book publishing industry isn’t committed to recycling.  But I don’t mean recycling rejected manuscripts or plastic water bottles or even beer cans.

They’re recycling advice.

In book after book after repetitious, derivative best selling book.

Advice, self-help, body/mind/spirit, and even business and leadership books.

All saying the same thing, often with the exact same words.

The publishers could all sue each other for plagiarism, and they’d win every case.

And we’re dumb enough to keep buying those books, even the advice is not only patently obvious…it’s identical.

The average preschooler knows well the lessons for which we silly adults slap down hard cash.  And yet we keep buying meretricious guidance and marvel at the wisdom of the authors who guide us so guilelessly.

As they laugh all the way to the bank.

A classic in the advice-mongering trade is Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, which are as follows:

Be impeccable with your word, which is a frothy way of saying always tell the truth.

Don’t take anything personally, including, presumably, the book’s rather pedestrian advice.

Don’t make assumptions, including, perhaps, this one:  “I assume that since this book is a best seller it’s chockablock full of new ideas.”

And then the capper.  Always do your best.  Really?  Not just, say, 40 percent of the time?

You can find the exact same advice, recycled and barely even reworded, in countless other books by highly regarded authors.

We’ll take the four agreements in order.

First, tell the truth.

If you open up One Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal Growth by Iyanla Vanzant, you’ll find this gem:   “Speak your mind and tell the truth from a position of love.”  As opposed to a position of, um, venomous hatred?

Or if regular honesty doesn’t cut it for you, there’s always Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton,  who advises:  “[T]o have some say in creating life, you must be willing to tell the truth.”  Radical, for sure.

And if you’d like to win valuable prizes just because you aren’t lying, all you have to do is “Recognize and tell the truth,” according to The 28 Laws of Attraction: Stop Chasing Success and Let It Chase You by Thomas J. Leonard.

Do these authors put more time into dreaming up marketable subtitles than creating original content?

On to the second agreement:  don’t take anything personally.

This applies to relationships, according to Bonnie Eaker Weil and Harville Hendrix, authors of Make Up, Don’t Break Up:  Finding and Keeping Love for Singles and Couples.  Another snazzy subtitle, by the way.  People can be rude, the authors shockingly inform us.  “Once you know this, you don’t take it personally.”  Great advice, guys.

If you’re a guy trying to get into a relationship and “you find they aren’t interested, don’t take it personally,” advises Richard Carlson in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Men.  I’ll keep that in mind if my wife ever dumps me.  By the way, is that a book title or an anti-perspirant?

And if you aren’t in a relationship at all, Jay Carter, author of Nasty People: How to Stop Being Hurt by Them without Stooping to Their Level,  “Do not introvert.  Do not take it personally.  Sit back and take a look at yourself….”  Who knew that “introverting” was a verb?  Can I sit back and take a look at instead?

Okay, on to agreement number three:  don’t make assumptions.

Not in the business world, admonish Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson in Rework:  “Don’t make assumptions about how big you should be ahead of time.”

Write your own joke.

Nor in negotiations, warns G. Richard Shell in Bargaining For Advantage:  Negotiation Strategies For Reasonable People.  “Don’t make assumptions based on wealth or position.”  I assume that includes position on the bestseller list.

And decidedly not in the sphere of leadership, asserts leadership guru John C. Maxwell in Make Today Count:  “Don’t make assumptions, and don’t try to be like someone else.”  But is it okay, Mr. Maxwell, to advise like someone else?

Which brings us to our final agreement, always do your best.

“Why aren’t you committed to doing the best you can do?” shames Susan Jeffers in Feel the Fear . . . and Do It Anyway.  Um, because…I’m afraid?

Karen Armstrong recounts this gem in Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life:  “’Our master’s way,’ explained one of his pupils, ‘is nothing but this:  doing-your-best-for-others….’”, Maybe that should be, 12 steps and four hyphens to a compassionate life.

And finally, just to show that you’re never too young to live your life by pithy restatements of the painfully obvious, Valorie Schaefer and Norm Bendel advise American Girl Library readers in The Care And Keeping Of You as follows:  “Don’t doubt yourself–be proud of yourself for doing your best.”

I could go on and on and on, but to keep it simple, take my advice: don’t buy theirs.

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