Fake it till you make it; repeat affirmations enough times until you believe them; dare to dream ever bigger dreams. Online and in print, bullshit builds empires of bargain basement self-empowerment based on one simple lie.
Success, those purveyors of perfectly packaged pablum posit, is only an attitude adjustment away. Ergo, if we’re not winning at life it’s because our self-talk sucks, we’re not getting up early enough, and our dreams need supersizing. The girth of our greed needs to eclipse everything and everyone else and we need to love it hard as we expound ad nauseam about our hunger for fame. And urge people to buy our e-book, subscribe to our newsletter, enroll in our e-course, attend our webinar, and follow us on every social media platform. And let’s not forget our weekly Sunday video, that modern-day sermon of me delivered graciously to the masses who have subscribed to our YouTube channel.
Instead of conducting this ongoing act of self-deception within the confines of our own cranium, we need an audience to validate it. And, most importantly, to fund it. So we invoke the universal power of honesty, authenticity, and our collective yearning for personal growth as we rope others into our lies. And they’re not just any lies but the lies we tell ourselves, the lies upon which we’re building our own myth, the lies that make up our brand.
Along with prostitution, selling snake oil to the unsuspecting is one of the oldest professions in the world but only one of the two is respectable. Sex workers are honest to a fault: Every interaction is a transaction based on mutual benefit and there is no pretense of involving the human heart.
There can be no personal growth, no significant mindset shift, no epiphany without self-reflection. We can’t slap a new layer of designer wallpaper onto a damp, cracked wall crawling with black mold and hope it sticks against all odds because it won’t. The black mold will keep growing, the wallpaper will peel off, and eventually the spores might kill us or at least make us quite sick.
The willingness to take a long hard look at ourselves and tackle what we find — no matter how disturbing — is the catalyst for change. Slick personal branding and a cutesy tag line won’t achieve that, they’re just wallpaper over the cracks and mold of our psyche. Not that we should let this discourage us though: At first glance, we’re all slightly revolting repositories of assorted human angst. Daily life is a challenge for most of us and our brains are prone to frequent malfunctions, like depression and other mental illnesses. Our diagnoses don’t make us special, they don’t make us monsters, they don’t make us heroes; they make us human like everyone else.
So why expand so much energy spinning lies to turn our shortcomings into superpowers when failure to understand them is what keeps us stuck? Self-awareness takes effort, and patience, and a commitment to dealing with whatever truth we uncover. Lies, meanwhile, only take repetition, but do they further self-knowledge or do they hinder it?
For example, depression operates like a propagandist parasite that colonizes your sense of self until you no longer know who you are. So why would anyone deliberately treat themself this way, lie after lie after lie, taking others down with them?
Forget ever being and doing our best when we systematically refuse to reckon with reality. Sure, lies might help us manifest results beyond our wildest dreams for a while but they will inevitably entrap us. Once we start believing them, we’re already gone to far because our excessive self-importance has made us entitled. The more we have, the more we want, the more we demand, and the more we take without asking people first if that’s OK to share our every thought with them.
We broadcast them via the internet loudspeaker at any hour or day or night to try and erase the border between common sense and gullibility. We also assume people are fundamentally dumb; we hold our peers in such low regard that we reward their attention with noise, not signal. And the more attention we get, the more noise we make, like Donald Trump only without the reach or the riches.
And no, bullshittery isn’t the preserve of white or orange dudes; it’s an equal opportunity swindle. As long as you have internet access, you too can go type whatever masturbatory manifesto on the monoverse of you and hope it goes viral.
It sometimes does because we’re all mostly clueless about life, we’re all looking for answers on how to be better humans. So what is the problem with acknowledging our vulnerability so we might remedy it with curiosity rather than marketing and all learn something in the process?
When we’ve come to the point of needing to sell ourselves to ourselves to prove to ourselves we’re remarkable, we may need a stint in front of the bathroom mirror. Ask the person in front of you to show you where your heart is and keep your fingers crossed they still know the answer because you sure as hell don’t anymore, do you?
If it is still beating, how about we listen to it until we hear it is playing an ode to life because that is its sole purpose for existing. So why can’t our mind do the same? Why must it forever get sidetracked by dollar signs, vanity metrics, and the sound of our own voice, the vision of our own name, the girth of our own greed? Why can’t we see our fairy tale is an overblown projection of all that we lack, from self-acceptance to deep, meaningful bonds with fellow humans?
No lie is going to make us into another person if we don’t understand why we cannot live with ourselves as we are, constantly evolving. Evolution is messy and calls for compassion, we’re all blundering apes feeling our way forward in the dark and the only light that can help us isn’t marketing. It isn’t personal branding or a catchy tag line that turns our personal narrative into a commodity we auction off to the highest bidder so please put it away, love! The world doesn’t need to see you naked unless it’s part of your job.
No lie is ever going to expand to accommodate the extra consonant that would turn it into life rather than its simulacrum.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.