People loooooooooove to hate on the self-help section of the bookstore. Seriously. Love it.

I know because I have been hanging out in bookstores since before I could read. This is in part due to the fact that my family moved around a lot as a kid (about every 2-3 years).

As soon as the school year was done, we would pile into whatever deathtrap of a car we were driving at the time and road-trip to a new state, a new adventure, the place which would be home for at least the next year or so.

Being a new kid in a new place with no friends other than my three siblings, I spent many a summer in Barnes and Nobles and the local library.

I never paid the self-help section much mind, too busy arguing with my sister about which youth fantasy series has the best heroine (Tamara Pierce, duh) and smuggling romance novels into my shopping cart without my parents seeing them.

It wasn’t until a few years after I graduated from college, twenty-something and desperately seeking my purpose and the confidence to pursue it, that the self-help section became a sanctuary of sorts.

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[That Awkward Moment When] You Become a Blogger/Entrepreneur/Rebel-Against-All-Things-9-to-5-Related and Realize You Don’t Know Anything About Anything

When I got laid off from my job in 2012, with minimal savings and amidst the worst economic downturns in the last century or so (thank a lot, Universe), I did the only thing that seemed reasonable at the time: took an inventory of my assets (one arguably useless Women’s Studies degree; a hodge podge of coaching, facilitation, and entrepreneurial skills; and a four month old blog) and decided to become a full-time blogger and entrepreneur.

Since making that decision almost a year ago, I have invested thousands on educational courses, books, and coaching. I’ve spent hours researching, finding mentors, and studying business models I found intriguing.

For the most part, it has been money and time well spent. The fact is, successful entrepreneurs and business women can (and do!) spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on professional development and continuing education.

At it’s core, self-help is an acknowledgement that, “Yes, I’d love a little help here with this very important thing that I’m working on… and I’m not waiting on anyone’s permission in order to get it.” And that can be a very good thing. Oooooor it can be a not-so-good thing.

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Do you have a self-help/professional development addiction?

If you’re anything like me, “learning” and “researching” and “building” (in secret, of course – can’t let anyone in on your grand plan until it’s perfect) is squarely within your comfort zone.

And while all of those stages are valid parts of the business building process, the simple question of “how to” do something can mask darker, more problematic feelings surrounding your business or passion project.

“How to” can mean… I don’t trust my own instincts.

“How to” can mean… reading about this is way less scary than actually doing it.

“How to” can mean… I’m not ready. I’m scared that I never will be.

When you ask “how,” you are implying that other folks know something that you don’t, that someone else is an expert and you aren’t. While this may be the truth in some situations, that doesn’t change the fact that there is no one size fits all prescription for success.

Even the best advice out there is meant to be combined with at least one extremely volatile and mysterious ingredient… YOU. Your passions. Your skills. Your desired lifestyle. Your emotional, physical, and financial resources. YOU.

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From idea to implementation

How do you know when to stop collecting advice and actually get to work on that big, important project you’ve been meaning to launch? How do you balance continual education with action and progress and trusting your own instincts?

Over the last year, I’ve come up with a few strategies to help balance my love of learning with my business’ need for action and implementation.

  1. Limit the number of educational opportunities you engage in at one time. I’m not going to suggest that you only do one program or read one book at a time – my insatiable curiosity could never be satisfied with standards as strict as all that but I have tried to make it a practice to be limit my “currently learning” bookshelf/course list to one or two opportunities at a time.
  2. Implement at least one idea or action before moving on to your next educational conquest.
  3. Focus on what’s relevant to you. As I mentioned above, every piece of education and advice needs to be tweaked with your unique needs, wants, and talents in mind. Never every course or conference will be 100% relevant to you. Take advantage of the components that speak to you and put aside the rest.
  4. Spend money. No really. When I first transitioned into working for myself full time, I was pretty much living off of my savings (and my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s sofa). One lesson that I learned during this time was that once money came into the picture, I was a lot more choosy with what programs, classes, books, and events I invested in and my follow-through rate was much higher than it tended to be with freebies or hour-long googling sessions.

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Be honest. Are you (or have you ever been) addicted to self-help/professional development material as a way of masking insecurities around your dream? How did you/do you balance continuing education with action and implementation?