Today I want to talk about what I call the ‘bastardizing of personal development’ and the rise of the fake gurus.
Let’s face it: the siren song of easy success, fast money, and the good life is a hard one to resist.
And for the majority of people trying to find their way in the world, they will inevitably come across some questionable people trying to sell them self-help solutions.
This trend of selling re-hashed, generic personal development courses via the internet has been happening for the past ten years or so, and has finally started to cause the whole industry of self-improvement to become a meme.
I like to call this trend the ‘The Tai Lopez Effect’.
But before I explain that label, let me take a step back, and create some context.
With the growth of online media has come a lot of low-value personal development content that has almost ruined the good that it can do. Rather than be seen as a journey of inner growth, it’s become a pile of tips, hacks, shortcuts, and methods to get rich quick, and to avoid hard work.
Jump on Instagram or TikTok today, and It’s become commonplace to see motivational quotes, images, and videos espousing ‘hustle’, ‘grindset’, and the entrepreneurial ‘laptop lifestyle’.
These posts are usually accompanied by pictures of people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, or someone purporting to be rich and successful . People who aspire to be multi millionaire entrepreneurs lap them up, re-share them, and follow along blindly.
But is there actually any value in this new world of online gurus and self help courses that are available for download? Well, yes, there is value – but it’s mostly for the gurus who are selling them.
I believe we can trace the tipping point of this new low-point in the world of self development directly to Tai Lopez, his use of social media, online advertising, and willingness to do just about anything to make a buck.
Before this starts to sounds like I am against self-help courses, let me explain my own position.
The Founding Fathers of Self Help
Personally, I’ve been a fan of personal development since my early teens. I have always had an ear to the ground for new ideas, new voices, and new mediums that can help me get more from life.
One of my very first influences in the realm of self-help was Earl Nightingale, often labeled as the Dean of Personal Development.
He started his career as a radio broadcaster and slowly moved into a career as an educator on the human condition. His spoken word record ‘The Strangest Secret’ was the first to earn a gold record by selling a million copies. His life lessons were always well structured, thought provoking, and practical. Perhaps most importantly, he always credited his teachers and sources (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Napoleon Hill, Rollo May, Maxwell Maltz, William James, Dorothea Brande, and Viktor Frankl to name a few).
To try to explain the value of Earl Nightingale’s contribution to the world is almost impossible. For me, at the age of 15, he was my hero. A man I never met who profoundly impacted who I am. In fact, he’s a big part of the reason I am writing this today.
Of course, by the time I started listening to Earl Nightingale in the mid-1990s he was already outdated. His cassette tape messages had been already rehashed and repurposed several times over by more modern speakers and authors.
In the 1970s, Jim Rohn, Dennis Waitley, and Brian Tracy took over the reigns from Earl Nightingale and added to his legacy. Their audio programs were all sold by his Nightingale-Conant production company and were often introduced by Earl Nightingale himself.
Their work, while perhaps not as eloquent, was still certainly of high value. Brian Tracy in particular, took the ideas of personal development in some unique areas, and created some excellent programs on professional selling, setting goals, accelerated learning, and personal productivity.
A few years later in the late 1980s we saw the arrival of Tony Robbins. With his arrival came a more brash, aggrandized version of success that he pitched through late night infomercials promoting his Personal Power program.
Self Help in Cyberspace
In the year 1993, we saw the introduction of the internet, and the emergence of a new age of free information on almost any topic.
Soon, internet marketing, online dating, and the dot-com boom emerged as new ways to use the internet. The new gold rush was seemingly inside a computer screen, and the world of personal development soon tapped into it.
Initially, it was still people like Brian Tracy and Tony Robbins sharing their offline programs in downloadable form, or offering online ordering of CDs and books. The one benefit of this early internet period was that many more people who never had exposure to personal development suddenly had access. With the launch of Youtube in 2005, we started to see a new medium that personal development could thrive through: free online video.
“Here In My Garage”
In 2015, over 20 years after the birth of the internet, and we see the arrival of a mysterious man named Tai Lopez on Youtube.
Just in case you haven’t heard of him, he is best known for his infamous ‘Here in my Garage’ Lamborghini (up in the Hollywood Hills) video ad. This was not a video on Youtube, but rather an advertisement that ran before videos.
With his preposterously staged video, Tai talks how he has just bought a new Lamborghini, apparently through the ‘knowledge’ he had gained from reading thousands of books.
Tai goes on for almost four minutes about how he loves ‘knowledge’ more than his car. Then just when you think it can’t get any triter he mentions his training program for ’67 Steps to Success’.
Almost immediately, the online world started to hate on Tai Lopez for the banal, meretricious videos he was putting out. Search terms such as ‘Tai Lopez scam’ and ‘Tai Lopez net worth’ were suddenly appearing in Google search.
The shady history of Tai Lopez, and his Elite Global Dating service, his time living with Amish, his world travels, and his love of Sam Walton, Charlie Munger, and Aristotle helped add to the mystique of who the hell this ‘knowledge guy’ actually was.
I will admit that, for the first 30 seconds, I was a bit impressed that this guy loved knowledge more than a Lamborghini.
But as more video ads appeared, it became clear that Tai Lopez was peddling a different breed of self help than we’d seen before.
Success, Freedom, and Cringe
Despite his nonchalant claims about loving knowledge and seeking a mentor, the truth was Tai Lopez’s videos were thinly veiled ‘success porn’. They have the same level of relevance to real life as a cologne advertisement.
The cringe factor was enough to make anybody close their browser.
But here’s the thing: we didn’t.
We all kept watching.
Instead of ignoring this new junk food version of personal development, we ate it up. The ‘Here in my garage’ Lamborghini video has over 71 million views as of mid 2022. Tai’s Youtube channel has close to 1.5 million subscribers and his podcast has 600 plus episodes.
The fact is that despite our love-to-hate relationship with Tai Lopez, he is appealing to a dark side of our nature. He is grabbing the attention of the lazy, gullible, expedience-seeking part of our brains and our culture. We might say we hate him, but we watch him because at some primal level he represents the quick fix we secretly want.
I wanted to write this not to directly criticize Tai Lopez, but rather to shine a light on what makes us keep watching him and all the other online self help gurus running ads at the start of our youtube videos.
The Age of The Fake Guru
The Tai Lopez Effect is a sign of our times. We’re all so overwhelmed and distracted by media that we start to believe these fake gurus might actually know something we don’t.
You can’t watch a youtube video online today without seeing a pre-roll ad from Grant Cardone, Ed Mylett, or Dan Lok trying to sell you online courses.
Rather than trying to provide something of genuine depth and value, most of these online gurus will push you to like, share, subscribe, and give them your personal information. All have conferences for you to attend. All charge exorbitant fees as a motivational speaker, coach, or consultant. They all have their own spin on the same schtick.
These new online gurus are like cult leaders flashing an extravagant lifestyle, and their followers reward them by buying the educational content they are shilling. Some of these focus on investing and trading, others on health and wellness, and some promise to help you become an influencer.
Today, it seems that there is a new fake guru or phony influencer popping up every other day. Even worse, they seem to be forming cohorts to cross-sell each others programs and speak at each other’s events. Of course, the benefit here is that they get to sell the same ideas in different packaging to new disciples.
No matter the dream – financial freedom, six pack abs, exotic travel, social media fame – they’re all conveniently bundled into an online course that usually costs $997, but (for today only) is available to you for $297.
The latest iteration of fake guru hustling is taking place in the cryptocurrency and NFT space. Even supposed non-guru Gary Vaynerchuk (who has claimed for years to be selling people nothing) has now gone all-in on his VeeFriends NFT project and VeeCon.
And of course, Tai Lopez recently purchased defunct brand Radioshack and has attempted to turn the brand into a crypto coin project called Radioshack Defi.
The Fake Guru Revolt
Luckily, I am not the only person who has grown tired of phony influencers, expensive online courses, and the constant regurgitating of basic self help principles.
There is now a movement of Youtube channels that are starting to push back against get rich quick scheme tactics, and empty promises of the online gurus. Youtubers such as Mike Winnet, James Jani, and Coffeezilla (real name Stephen Findeisen) are gathering millions of views questioning the legitimacy and value of the offerings of the internet gurus.
Some of their videos attempt to debunk the online course promises with fact checking, others confront the gurus directly ask them tough questions. All in all, it makes for some great viewing.
Going Back To The Source
For me, this whole era of online gurus, obnoxious motivational speakers, success coaches, and course peddlers spells the end of something important.
Self-help originally was a source of hope and real-world application. Today it’s morphed into a bunch of tropes and memes that make me cringe.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all is lost.
The solution has actually been with me all along.
Long before any online guru existed, the erudite wisdom of Earl Nightingale was already available in written and audio form.
Recently, I bough a bunch of old audio cassette programs from Earl Nightingale on eBay. They cost me $15 each, and I am amazed at the timeless value they still possess.
For me, they represent the antidote to this awful era of bastardized personal development. I’ve been relishing the time I’ve spent revisiting them, tape hiss and all.
The Tai Lopez Effect will ebb and flow and hopefully will someday fade away. As long as people secretly hope that there is a shortcut to success, wealth, or fulfillment there will always be room for fake gurus to make a buck.
But the sooner we realize that the hard work is in resisting the expedient messages of the fake gurus, the better equipped we will be to make a genuine difference in the world.
And, for me, that character is worth more than having a Lamborghini in the garage.