Ask Celes – Should I Tell My Friends/Family about My Interest in Self-Help?

Hi Celes! I was wondering about your thoughts on being open with what you do in terms of personal growth and self-help? I tend to keep my “self-help” activities rather private; almost no one knows that I read several blogs on the topic, journal/mind dump, or even meditate… and I think I would be quite embarrassed trying to explain my vision board if someone found it! I get the impression many people think self-help is bogus, which is perhaps why I’m so private about it.

Is there any way I can be more open about this aspect of my life, without coming across as (what some might see as) a new age hippie? ~ Alexa

Hi Alexa!

I hear you regarding keeping your “self-help” activities private. People who don’t understand would probably write you off as some lunatic or some new-age hippie; the fact that some Hollywood shows portray these new-agey stuff in an over-the-top manner doesn’t help too. (I just watched The Bling Ring on my flight to Scotland and Emma Watson’s character’s mom came across like a loony the way she kept going on and on about The Secret, law of attraction, and creating a vision board!)

Keeping Self-Help Activities Private

When I delved into self-help, from doing things like finding my purpose, discovering my values, and identifying my life goals, I kept these things private from others too. I didn’t see a reason to tell people about them; casual attempts to talk about them would sometimes lead to weird, unsupportive remarks.

Like one time I was chatting with a secretary in my then-company, and I expressed disappointment that my then-job — selling consumer goods like shampoo and skincare products — wasn’t as purposeful as helping people grow. I told her that I would like to quit my job one day to pursue my purpose to help others grow, achieve their highest potential, and hopefully work towards the end goal of oneness in the world.

Rather than empathize, she made some out-of-place joke about how I sounded like a Miss Universe contestant, then began mimicking the way beauty pageants say “world peace” whenever judges pose them the question of what they want to achieve in this world. I just threw her a weird smile and made a mental note not to raise such topics in front of her next time.

Yet, Realize There are People Interested in Their Growth

That said, while it is true that some people are ignorant of self-help or are simply not receptive to self-help tools like creating your vision board or writing down your bucket list, it doesn’t mean that they are not interested in personal development. They just approach their growth in a different manner compared to people in the self-help arena.

For example, even though I strongly believe in bucket lists, have a huge bucket list with over 100 items, and am continuously speaking in the media about the importance of bucket lists, my fiance doesn’t have one! He says he prefers not to have a list because he knows what he wants to do and he doesn’t like the idea of having a list he needs to constantly update and refer to. That’s not to say he doesn’t have goals and dreams; he just doesn’t pen them down the way I do.

Most of my friends would probably think I’m loony if I talk about self-help the way I do with you guys. They are very pragmatic people who don’t read self-help; if they ever check out my blog, it’s because they want to know what I’m up to rather than because they want to read about personal development per se.

Yet, they often talk about wanting a job with more learning opportunities or wanting to quit their jobs because they are no longer passionate about them. They may not use terminologies like “I want to be a better me” or “I want to discover and pursue my passion”, but they share similar intents.

Be Conscious in How You Express Your Interest

So given that there are many people with an interest in their growth, there is no need to deliberately conceal your interest in self-help. Rather, be deliberate in how you express it.

Tip #1: Test Waters

With the people you are unsure of, test waters . Use benign openings such as, “Have you heard of this blog XXX? It’s a blog on personal development…”, “Have you ever read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? It’s an international bestseller by Stephen Covey. It talks about habits of effective people…”, or “Have you done a life wheel assessment before? A life wheel is…”

Tip #2: Share with Those Who Are Receptive

If the person says “yes” or says “no” but seems receptive to what you have to say, then share more.

For example, in my initial conversations with my fiance Ken, I didn’t speak much about self-help. My assumption was that he doesn’t know anything about self-help; after all, he knows that I run a personal development blog but he has never talked about anything self-helpish with me. I didn’t want to seem “hard core” by raising it in conversation; my experience is that men, especially insecure ones, get intimidated by such topics since they undermine their worth.

One time, I took a leap of faith and shared a self-help concept in our conversation because the conversation called for it. I half-expected that he would not understand it and would either brush my comment aside or “switch off”.

To my surprise, he responded with an intelligent response which not only showed a deep comprehension of what I just said, but also pushed the intellectual boundaries of the conversation. I later realized that he used to read up on personal development in his early adult years and he has a very sharp, intellectual mind, which enables him to discuss self-help concepts, even if he hasn’t heard of them before, with ease. I subsequently opened up more about my self-help knowledge to him, which paved the path for us to connect further intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

By taking a leap of faith and opening up about my knowledge and interest in self-help, I was able to connect further with this person who later turned out to be my soulmate and partner in life.

Similarly for you, by opening up about your knowledge and interest, you may find new areas to connect with people–new areas you never knew were there. For the people who respond receptively, talk more about your self-help interest with them next time. Update them on what you are up to.

For example, if you just updated your vision board yesterday, take some pictures and share them with your friends. If you recently read this interesting self-help article which you think may be of interest, pass it along. (Many PE readers do that. There is the convenient “share” button available at the top and bottom of every article in case you don’t already know.) If you recently uncovered an exciting insight during your journaling, talk about it the next time you meet.

In fact, social media tools like Facebook has made it very easy to sieve out like-minded folks. Share something related to your self-help interest on your Facebook next time (e.g., your vision board pictures, pictures of your inspirational room, a self-help article you like, etc.) and see who “likes” and/or comments on it. This gives you a clue as to whom you can speak to on self-help with next time.

Tip #3: Refrain from Sharing with Those Who Aren’t Receptive

On the other hand, if the person is not receptive at all, or is perhaps even dismissive (like the secretary I mentioned earlier), refrain from sharing with them. You want to build on your interest with like-minded folks who share similar interests or have an open mind, not combat with skeptics whose life purpose is to shoot you down. Read: 8 Tips to Tackle Naysayers

Tip #4: Share at a Regulated Pace

As for not coming across as a new-age hippie, simply ease into a comfortable pace of sharing. Don’t bombard your friends with self-help updates several times every day when you were never doing this. Start by identifying friends whom you can speak with about self-help, then open up little by little over the days/months. With each receptive response, share a little bit more the next time.

As long as you are not going around forcing people to create their vision boards and bucket lists like how some religious zealots run around the streets preaching their God’s will, you will be fine. :) No one’s going to think you are a hippie unless you act out of line, which you obviously wouldn’t from what I know about you! :)

Hope that helps, Alexa! Here’s are some related pieces:

  1. Ask Celes – How Do I Meet Like-Minded People? 
  2. How to Deal with Unsupportive Friends and Family
  3. Ask Celes – Has Anyone Ever Discouraged You From Working on Your Blog?

Image: Question mark

This is part of the Ask Celes section. If you have a question to ask me, proceed to the Ask Celes page. Check out past Ask Celes questions here.

  • Vincent Nguyen

    Glad to know there are others who have to test the waters too. I very rarely bring up all the things I’m doing (personal dev. or the ventures it’s led to) but when I am able to, it just feels so freeing. I hate having to do this “dance” though. I understand it’s necessary, but damn it, if only it were easier.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hi Vincent, I hear you! At the same time, if I flip the situation around, I appreciate it when someone is deliberate about how he/she shares a sensitive topic, because I would probably be really turned off and “switch off” completely if he/she does it otherwise.

      A very good example would be religion–I’m much more receptive to religious teachings when people remain sensitive about my religious choice (I’m a free thinker) and share their lessons from God sporadically, where appropriate, rather than constantly preaching their God’s will every time we talk. The former gives me the space to “hang around” and continue to hear what they have to share, while the latter shuts me off because the conversation can become quite single-tracked after a while.

  • Susie White

    Once when I was having dinner with my more distant, extended family who live abroad, the topic of favourite books came up, and I had a moment of considering if I should tell them it is a spiritual self-help book or if I should filter that out and give them a simple (less honest) fiction book answer. I opted to be open and honest, and the result was literally pin-drop silence and awkward looks all around the normally lively babbling table.. At the time I felt my face redden and felt like I wanted to go back in time and un-say it, but it’s nothing to be ashamed about and looking back, I’m glad I was true to myself. And who knows, it may sow a seed of interest in your listeners – even those who seem to make fun of it or who don’t respond positively immediately.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hi Susie, I’m glad that you chose to be honest at that moment! Like you said, while people may respond weirdly in the beginning, what you said may have well sowed a seed in the audience. This seed may germinate one day, one month, one year later–but it’s a seed which has the potential to make great impact.

      After all, if we are constantly receiving data consistent to our worldviews and beliefs, it’s quite hard to grow. I can think of incidents where I was caught off-guard or was weirded out by what someone said, but I was able to draw meaning out of the words/message later on in life. Being truthful to ourselves, while not going over the top and imposing our interests/beliefs onto others, is the way to go I believe.

  • Michael Martel

    I think you found a good balance in the post. As someone who has been in the personal development industry for a few years, I have found that in order for me to be successful, I have to have a good perspective of the work I am doing. I shouldn’t try to hide what I do to help myself and others.

    On the other hand, it really isn’t necessary for the first thing out of my mouth to be on the subject of self help. Always good to test the water and see what they are receptive to. At least it gives me an idea of who I want in my circle to associate with.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hey Michael, I agree! We shouldn’t hide what we are doing, and we aren’t too actually. We are merely being choiceful in conversational topics we engage in to get the best out of the conversations. If someone who is usually unreceptive to self-help consults me about self-help one day, I would be more than happy to talk about it in length and detail with him/her.

  • JadePenguin

    I haven’t had the problem of naysayers but haven’t encountered much interest either. I occasionally share articles on FB but they never(?) get any likes. Most people probably think it’s a waste of time to plan and think about growth rather than going out and doing things. Or they’re more interested in having fun and getting by than growing. What can you do :)

    I’ve actually talked to one friend about procrastination but I think he finds it a part of being human and not something you can fight.

    Maybe if I were to share my goals and progress more openly, people would get interested. I’m sometimes too shy to share cuz I don’t want to look like a quitter if I don’t succeed. Also one of my life goals is to prove that people enjoy work and challenges. If I can’t be productive myself, what am I preaching about?

    Tldr: Share with friends how a self-help technique allowed you to achieve a goal and they might see the merit in it? :D

  • JadePenguin

    One more thing – I never refer to it as “self-help”, rather “self-development”. Self-help could come across as “My life is a mess, I can’t get anything done and I need help”* while “development” simply says you want to become better than average :)

    * – nothing wrong with admitting that if your life IS getting out of hand, but won’t motivate others to get interested

    • Celestine Chua

      Hi Jade, I like the distinction you are making here! Interestingly, that’s the very reason why I distinguish PE as “Personal *Excellence*” rather than “Personal Development”, because P.D. may give people the impression that you want to “develop” yourself because there’s something to fix. But *Excellence*? Now that’s a different ballgame altogether! All of us have room to become better, to reach for higher heights, and there’s never a ceiling or a stop to that one!

      • JadePenguin

        “Development” also sounds like fixing? Awwww dam :/

        But do people know what you mean when you say personal excellence if they haven’t heard of your website?

        • Celestine Chua

          I don’t know if they are confused or need clarification, but I always describe what I do as “helping others achieve their highest potential”. Then I just introduce “Personal Excellence” as my business name. I never say “I help people achieve personal excellence” at onset, so that helps to eliminate any chances of confusion I’d say.

          Yes, I think some people would see p.d. as fixing even! For example, an easy response I can imagine lazy people would give is, “Personal development? I don’t need any development; my life is fine enough as it is.” I personally also feel that p.d. doesn’t accurately express my message anyway, which is why I went for p.e. for the blog name early in the beginning.

  • Calae

    Hey Celes! Thank you SO much for answering my question! I was so afraid after I sent it that it was somehow offensive/close-minded, but seeing that you responded really made me feel better!

    I think what you say here is excellent about the balance, and I like the analogy you made below in the comments to someone who discusses religion/God’s will/the like. I believe it’s a good way of staying true to who you are and what you believe in without ostracizing others who may not be so interested in that kind of thing.

    I think I’m perhaps just overly nervous to talk about it at all. My one friend and I “hang out” often by being on a Skype audio call with each other, and often I’ll begin to do things like work out my fears for the anti-Procrastination course (we’ll have long stretches of silence as we each do our own thing!), but if he asks what I’m up to, I usually lie and say something like, “Just browsing the internet.” I think though that maybe next time I’ll try saying something like, “I’m writing down what I think might lead to my procrastination.” and see where it goes.

    Again, thanks so much for the response! It gave me something to think about. =) Hope you’re having a great time in Scotland!

    • Celestine Chua

      Thanks Alexa! :) I think that new comment would be a good way to test waters. As a test-waters comment, you can also go with something more broad-based like, “I’m working on this exercise from this anti-procrastination course I’m currently taking,” which will give more context than directly jumping into the topic and saying that you’re writing down what might lead to your procrastination, which may catch him a little off-guard.

      If your friend is curious, he may follow up with, “Oh, what kind of course is that?” or “What does the exercise involve?” or “When did you take this course?” Then that’s your cue to start talking more about it! Watch out on his reaction; if he gives more positive cues, then share more; if not (which doesn’t mean he has lost interest by the way, just that maybe he’s done for now), you can wrap up for the moment and continue what you are doing or change the topic. Then continue the conversation next time.

      By the way, I think it’s so cute that your friend and you do the Skype audio call thingy with each other! Reminds of how my best friend and I would “hang out” on the phone in the past, just doing our own thing in the background!

      • Calae

        Haha, thanks, Celes! It’s really fun hanging out virtually, especially because when I’m not at school I live far away from most of my friends. It’s awesome having a great friend that wants to spend time with me, even if it’s over Skype most of the time!

        I like your idea of something to say even better, as like you said, it doesn’t get too specific right away. I appreciate the advice, as always!

        On a semi-related note, I was wondering: where would you put a vision board? Right now, I have mine in a note in Evernote that I can call up when I want to. I know the best place is somewhere I can see it a lot (ie on a wall near my desk or as my computer wallpaper), but as a student who has to take her computer everywhere/has to share a room with a roommate, I’m a bit hesitant to put a vision board in either of those areas. I feel like vision boards especially have that scammy, bogus feel to them for most people who don’t know about them.

        Thanks again!

  • Rico Compagnie

    The best scenario is to be with like minded people, even better is if these like minded people are your friends and/or your family. I highly recommend to open the conversation about self-help.

More in Ask Celes
Ask Celes — How to Keep Calm and Make a Good First Impression in 15 Minutes or Less

How do you put your best foot forward when you have a short time to make a good impression? I've...