My society (I’m not sure about yours) is completely saturated in a “self-help” phenomenon.

There are books to guide you towards making money at home, being creative, adapting to a new job, attaining self-actualization, finding Jesus, losing weight, making friends, being gay, and an endless list of niche topics. I occasionally do editing for woman who has made a very successful career out of telling mothers they need to take a break every once in a while.

On one hand, this can be interpreted as encouraging. People want help, they want advice and guidance--and it’s there for the taking, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to Psychoanalysis for Dummies.

On the other hand, a lot of self-help literature is pure made-up malarkey and is more geared towards selling books to suckers than actually helping anyone. It’s half-baked, under-researched fluff.

However, there are some running themes in a lot of today’s self-help literature that is far from useless and rooted in good intentions. I’m speaking mainly of creativity and positivity.

You see, creativity is in all of us. We all do it, we all create psychosocial reality. This doesn’t mean the next great symphony is kicking around in your head or you’re entirely capable of ushering in a new era of architecture. It means that you have, many times in your life, been confronted with a challenge and you’ve conquered it.

How did you do it? First of all, you had a positive attitude about this challenge. Really, think about it. You never accomplished anything you didn’t want to, were unwilling to, and thought you honestly could not accomplish--unless a large amount of luck came into play.

In the right context, you can harness your creativity again. Unfortunately, creativity is a buzzword that is often misused. When something goes horribly awry in a business, for example, middle managers and executives gather their troops in a boardroom somewhere and ask them to get creative. Imagine the bigwigs at Exxon Valdez gathering their accountants and salesmen, chomping on cigars and saying, “Listen fellas, we’ve caused a major oil spill, a real environmental disaster. We’re going to need everyone to get creative.”

Well, the accountants and salesmen go back to crunching numbers and cold-calling Middle-Eastern refinery managers. Meanwhile, the folks in the PR department have got a real challenge and their running with it--not to mention the clean-up crews in Alaska.

See, that’s the keyword often left out in self-help literature about creativity: challenge. Without a challenge, you’ve got nothing to be creative about. And a challenge is something highly personal. Only you can know what is and what isn’t a challenge.

Beyond that, challenges are, by nature, difficult. They take positivity and the courage to power through fear and the unknown. To quote THEE:

“Courage does not remove fear: it simply enables progress despite fears.”

For me, being a writer is a challenge, with everything that goes with it. I’m afraid that I don’t have the intellect for it, that I’m really not a good enough writer, that the work will dry up and I’ll be unemployed. I’m sure you can draw some parallel in your life. I have to occasionally remind myself to be positive, to harness courage and move forward, to trust that I can change my reality.

Here, we’ve struck at the heart of the self-help wave. Social phenomena are a reflection of their society and one could infer that my society is afraid. We’re afraid of failure and our own shortcomings and we need to harness our courage, get creative with our challenges and endeavors and make progress as a collection of individuals and as a society. There is much more to being creative that we will explore in time, but this is a great place to start.

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