My good friend Perry Marshall (the Google Adwords wizard) has been embroiled in an online ruckus with some bloggers and letter-writers about the current overload of “experts” now clogging the Internet and selling their “magic” systems.
Never one to back down, Perry is examining the charges and evidence head-on, and that’s a good thing.
Any self-annointed guru who can’t handle a little rough treatment — and a vigorous dissection of his offered materials — needs to leave the stage. Just put your hype down, and back away slowly.
Teaching is, and should be, hard. At the public level, I think it’s a friggin’ crime both that our teachers earn shitty wages… and that the job doesn’t command the respect necessary to lure truly bright and motivated people with an aptitude for sharing knowledge and skills.
I slogged my way through 16 years of school, and I met exactly one teacher who took her job seriously. She taught the course, vigorously… she engaged each and every student individually, and strove to motivate you using every trick possible (from flattery to bullying, from deep discussion to specific challenges)… and she honestly cared about you.
Meeting her represented my first encounter with “real” teaching, and it rattled my cage profoundly. This was in community college, where I got a two-year degree in slacking off and partying. This teacher took me aside and upbraided me for being a brooding, rudderless wannabe writer… and gave me something that no other adult had ever offered before: Specific, useable advice.
And I took it.
It was my first experience with having a goal to focus on… and following through on that task required discipline (which I had almost no history with) and changing my worldview from “what’s the point?” to “this is what I want.”
Mind you, it still took me another 12 years to finally get my act together… but that’s why I’m diving into this “guru glut” subject.
That teacher was my first “course correction” in life. I was definitely headed in the wrong direction, and she whacked me upside the head (metaphorically, though I don’t doubt she would have used physical force if necessary — she cared that much) and sent me careening off on another path altogether. A new path that eventually opened up all kinds of opporunitities and possibilities.
Looking back, she gave me two distinct gifts as a teacher: First, that specific course of action, which gave me hope and direction. And second, a sense that — with just a tiny bit of concerned advice — there were secrets of living well that I needed to learn.
Those secrets weren’t going to just fall into my lap. They were a privilege, and they had to be pursued and earned.
Life is rough. Pitfalls are everywhere, and modern society seeks to lull you into a life-long slumber. Most people are sleep-walking zombies, terrified of risk and willing to trade in the wonders of this amazing ride for a safe, warm couch to snooze on.
Teachers are not a luxury. They are vital to living a full life.
Yet the good ones are few and far between. It’s your main job, until you learn what you need to learn, to search them out.
And caveat emptor applies at all times. (“Let the buyer beware.”)
When I started my career as a freelance copywriter, there were ZERO teachers available. Count ’em, zero. I’d been fortunate to have a few bosses, while I was still working for The Man, who gave me tidbits of advice here and there… but there was no roadmap for freelancing.
No guru’s anywhere.
Joe Sugarman and Joe Karbo (look ’em up if those names are not familiar — very important guys in advertising) offered small seminars, but not on any regular basis. Strictly for insiders, and a startling small population of insiders at that.
I met, and started working for, Jay Abraham right around the time he was stepping forward to offer more structured teaching. Still, compared with what’s available today, it was fairly meager stuff.
Mind you, for an ambitious twerp like me — chomping at the bit to devour every shred of knowledge and every trace of skill I could find — it was a cornucopia of amazing learning opportunities.
I was VERY lucky to have encountered quality teachers early in my career.
By the time I started co-producing regular seminars with Gary Halbert, in the late ’80s, more and more people were realizing the need for teachers.
That didn’t mean the best and brightest stepped forward, of course.
Still, I was happy to see so many options suddenly become available.
Today, the Web is crammed to the rafters with wannabe guru’s. (The word “guru”, by the way, means “teacher”. In case you were wondering.)
Most of ’em are just opportunists, looking for easy ways to make a buck. For many, their plan seems to be this: Slap together a course or seminar, hype the bejesus out of it, get good at making joint ventures with people bearing large lists… and see what happens.
And yes, it’s frustrating for the guy looking to learn. Who do you believe? How do you separate the crafty hype from the serious opportunity?
Thus, we get flame wars on forums about the “death of the guru”, and angry rebellions among seminar junkies over the relentless pitching going on at many events.
And, we also get many wannabe guru’s jumping in front of that very parade, claiming to be the “anti-hype” teacher.
Again: Learning is tough. It’s a process… and it’s up to YOU, the seeker of truth, to do your job separating the crap from the gems. There is NEVER going to be a golden age where truth wins out completely, and it becomes easy to find your perfect teacher.
I found ONE teacher who actually taught me something as a young man coming out of the public school system. I could’ve easily lumped her in with all the others who’d wasted my time… but I’m damned lucky I allowed her to shake me up.
The “magic” in learning comes not from any secret way to master something without effort. That doesn’t exist.
No. The magic is all about finding a relationship with a teacher who not only aces the facts… but also cares enough to metaphorically smack you around until you “get” it.
The winners in life never stop learning, and never stop seeking the truth. They’ve learned to love the challenge of encountering something new, and mastering it. They don’t whine about how hard life is — they roll up their sleeves and dig in with gusto.
I’m GLAD there is a glut of guru’s out there. The charlatans are easy enough to spot, if you just pay attention. The good ones are known, too. They may not be the most popular, or the most savvy at getting attention.
But they’re the ones who get the job done, teaching you what you need to learn.
Bitching about having too many guru’s is like complaining about having too many choices at the local sandwich shop.
Just get over your bad self. As a student, you have a job to do, and part of it is finding out the right way for you to learn.
Having choices is a good thing.
And remember — the best teachers are not necessarily good at elbowing their way to the front of the crowd.
They do, however, have the most vocal fans.