Learning, Creating, and My Lifelong Revolt Against “Self-Help”

Far too often in my younger life, I would eagerly share something I’d just discovered — maybe it was a new book, an innovative idea, or even just a different way to approach something I was already doing — only to encounter eye rolls from older family members. I was talking about “self-help” and they didn’t want anything to do with it.

Even my immediate family members reacted as though learning was a fixed target that they’d already reached: They’d completed the required curriculum for adulthood and a career, graduated, and had no need to go even one step farther. And so my ideas were rejected with a simple “Why would I need that now?”

The message I received? People that kept looking for new ways to improve themselves weren’t happy with their lives. The underlying belief was that “self-help” equated whining. Personal growth was part of the nefarious self-help category — a new-age pursuit at best. And the notion that we should always pursue learning sounded like a great way to get out of chores. Even at a young age, I knew I fundamentally disagreed with their definition.

I decided that brand of thinking would stop with me.

My lifelong revolt against the dismissive approach to self-improvement with which I grew up played a part in why my husband and I decided to unschool our three girls. We wanted them to view learning as the oxygen in their lives, to see learning and growth as a lifelong journey with no set destination. That the time and effort devoted to learning new skills is always worth the price. Once they mastered something new, we encouraged them to pay it forward and teach it to their younger siblings, or even to their parents.

Derek Sivers says that a core theme in his life is “learning for the sake of creating.”

That statement embodies how I’ve lived my life. Each new certification, every completed program, book or podcast I’ve absorbed has played a part in the success of my clients and brands. I “pay it forward” through what I can create for others.

Imagine being able to transform the financial success of someone else. Not only that person’s company but their family. I can tell you that being able to turn on the lead-facet for a struggling company is a great feeling. To my clients it may seem like magic; but I know it derived from the experience I, and my cadre of experts, have acquired from endless (and ongoing) hours of learning the latest approaches for site optimization, analytics, marketing automation, and content marketing.

What we do to improve ourselves can powerfully impact those around us. Uncovering a treatment in a medical practice and bringing a misdiagnosed condition that affects thousands, if not millions of people to market. Or, positioning and packaging University research that would be adopted worldwide by the largest companies in the world. Both of these big projects I’ve achieved because I kept learning for the sake of creating for others. I don’t share the projects to brag, but to inspire you.

(And if I dig even deeper maybe I wrote these last two paragraphs for my extended family and those long-gone adults that made me feel bad about my passion for new discoveries and growth.)

Madison Kanna studying for her nano degree from Udacity, while on vacation.
Madison Kanna studying for her nano degree from Udacity, while on vacation.
I wish I were conscious of the connection between learning for the sake of creating when I was younger. It’s the underlying belief we’ve instilled in our girls and still nurture and support in their adult lives and endeavors. The girls know that knowledge is their greatest asset and that it provides a gate to any future worth having for themselves and others in their lives. That is the legacy I’ll be proud to have left behind.

Learning for the sake of creating goes so far beyond “self-help.” It is not only for the betterment of self, but for those whose lives our knowledge, skills, and mastery will impact.