The Self-Help Paradox

The Toxic World of Self Help: Hustle Culture, Toxic Positivity, Addiction, and Fake Gurus

Edward Muldrew
5 min readSep 21, 2020

According to some studies the the self-improvement industry is estimated to Grow to $13.2 billion by 2022. The fact that it is an industry in itself is slightly unsettling given the nature of profiting from vulnerable people.

Having said this, I am an avid consumer of ‘self-improvement’ content online and much can be said about the benefits of some of the information out there, but for this blog I want to delve in to some the negatives of what hustle culture can bring.


Here is where it can get complicated, you get hooked by every last word of a self-help book. The satisfaction of finishing the book, convincing you that you have a greater sense of self, being and understanding of what it takes to become successful/happy.

It can be become an endless loop of a surge motivation after finishing the book and then immediately on to the next one to gain more information. Which leads me to the information and action issue. You can never act on what you learn or what is being taught as you are constantly seeking the next words of wisdom which will empower you and bring you to the next level of “improvement”.

You can also have the feeling of empowerment that you are somehow better than the next person as they spend their time watching Netflix whilst you are hustling, reading, working. When in reality you can just be feeding in to the industry's hands and consistently feeling of “not being good enough”.

The “lul”
This next part is what I call the “lul”. Picture this, you are doing great, following your routine, getting up early, going for a run, journaling, meditating, eating healthy before a break in routine happens.

Life puts a stop to your ‘perfect’ routine and suddenly you feel awful. You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing and you mind is making you pay for it.

This is what reading too much self-help can do. It makes you focus too hard on how you can be better and what you are lacking in. We need to remember we are all ‘lacking’ and nobody is perfect, and if you are seeking wholeness, it cannot be from something you have to do in order to get there in the future, it comes from letting go of everything right now and accepting the present by being as consciously in the present as possible. Here you can get a sense of wholeness, and then move forward with the right perspective.

You don’t gain that perspective down the line with knowledge you pick up because you most likely have been absorbing information about how to get to that place of clarity for years — and personally, I have burnt myself out from trying to get to that place through information, but that place only becomes an intellectual concept rather than a reality.


Profit & Self-Help
Back in 2008, the self help industry was valued at 11 billion dollars each year. That’s a lot of books and motivational speeches that failed to help the millions suffering from anxiety and depression in society right now.

These numbers point to one very important fact: that unhappy people make companies a lot of money.

Simplified unhappy people are easy to control. Our society’s emphasis on productivity and work ethic — two byproducts of a capitalist and materialist system — keeps people unhappy and then convinces them that the only way out of unhappiness is to spend their money on “quick fixes” that don’t actually work.

When you’re suffering and looking for help, the self-help industry manipulates your weaknesses by selling you false hope.

So the question needs to be asked does the “self-help” industry really want you to get better?

Rest & Hustle
Hustle culture creates a toxic environment that pressures people into working constantly, making them feel like they can never say no to an opportunity. People want to have the reputation of being able to handle anything and everything, but that’s not normal and should not be an expectation.

The idea of ‘the grind’ and work, work, work mentality just simply isn’t for everyone. Create a plan, set your goals, be disciplined, and rely on your grit to grind it out. Be more mindful, be more present, make time for rest and relaxation. That’s conflicting advice. The reality of the matter is we’re all different. You might be fully invested in your career and that’s what you want, which means the first set of advice is perfect for you.

However, if your priority is your family, then the second set of advice is more appropriate. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to self-help. You’re a unique person with different wants, needs, and desires and sometimes you have to make the right decisions for you based on what you want, not on what other people think life should look like. There’s no simple solution to the complex problems we face in life.

Further to this it should all be maintaining a healthy balance which the hustle culture doesn’t promote. Getting carried away in working your life away to make your life successful is in line with the American dream but what happens when you get there? Who are the people you have surrounded yourself with? The idea of hustle culture actively promotes getting rid of child-hood friends who don’t share the same ambition as you.

To summarize I definitely feel there is a lot of value in self-help and self-improvement but the paradox I talk about. Which involves the endless repetition and cycle of self-help books I feel can bare thin on peoples mental health and detract from what self-help sets out to achieve.

There is a lot to be said about being present in the moment and paying gratitude to some of the improvements made instead of yearning to always be better.

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Edward Muldrew

Software Developer, YouTuber and all round technology fanatic. Follow me on Twitter: