Don’t Believe the Lie of Meritocracy Perpetuated by Self Help

WHY do we continually allow the conversation of self-help to be co-opted by hacks and the one-dimensional one-percent who are halfway through their life’s journey and so keen to share (and monetize) their supposed wisdom? There is something more nefarious about these bite-sized internet-friendly inspirational gimmicks.


I’m at a TEDx event. The sun is shining brightly. On the stage is a high-school athletic coach. He’s talking about resilience.

“Lie on the ground. Lie on the street in public in the MIDDLE OF THE DAY! Talk about building up your strength!”

He presses a clicker. 

On the giant screen to the side of him, we see a variety of photographs. I’m cringing a little looking at the assortment of colorful skinny jeans taking up the forefront of these pictures. In the background are bemused and annoyed passersby.

The audience claps. He chuckles. And then he continues.

“Of course, when the pandemic hit – I couldn’t be on the ground anymore. So… I decided to do something different to keep that muscle alive within me. COLD SHOWERS! I take a cold shower every morning. 

You can do the same.

Slowly. Slowly. Slowly.

One step at a time, you can build your sense of self. Sense of strength.”


Lying on the ground is so 2010.

Now, this guy is in his early twenties.

This is a small parochial crowd in a beautiful mountain town in Colorado. Everyone knows everyone. Except me. His enthusiasm and nervousness are evident. And so, I smile along and clap when he’s done.

On the way home – I kept asking myself – is this guy for real?

Lying on the ground is so 2010.

It’s 2021. 

Ten years ago – the notion of taking a cold shower and lying on the ground in the middle of strangers – was making waves through the rounds of cheesey self-help book aisles and YouTube videos. 

When I first heard of it – I did think it was a cool idea. BUT now… I look at those kinds of actions and I bristle.

I bristle because there is something more nefarious about these bite-sized internet-friendly inspirational gimmicks. 


Why did HE get the mic?

I don’t know anything about the speaker. He seemed to be an affable healthy young White guy from an affluent town. He seemed polite, nervous, and young. 

THIS article is not a critique of him.No, my irritation is directed at the systems of privilege and oppression that he has been programmed to replicate. Through his rather dated notion of lying on the ground, we see the false narrative of individualist meritocracy perpetuated…again. 

  • One person. Lies on the ground. Develops courage. 
  • One person wins Life. 
  • Now you can do it too! 


Is lying on the ground detrimental? Probably only to the flow of foot traffic. But is lying on the ground in public and taking a cold shower the only reason for his sense of security and self-esteem? 

What of his wealthy upbringing, his race, healthy athletic body, or otherwise? He has no conscious awareness of his positionality to even call out the systems of oppression. So, instead, the conversation is being driven by his unacknowledged privileges. 

When we want to talk about personal development – spiritual, emotional, and physical – I wonder WHY. 


WHY do we continually allow the conversation to be co-opted by hacks and the one-dimensional one-percent who are halfway through their life’s journey and so keen to share (and monetize) their supposed wisdom?


What are the systems at play in our world that say this is a worthwhile thing to say about? 

Why did the organizers of this Ted Talk choose him? 

Why does the system choose and reward this sense of “supposed” individualism and meritocracy? 

Why do we hold the individual success and believe that it can be a collective outcome? 

Why does our system see him as an authority on strength? 

Why do we consistently uphold unqualified leaders? 

Why do we put them in places where they can wield power and influence people? 


Meritocracy is harmful

Here’s the thing. This kind of advice would have found a place of deep resonance with me in the years gone by. 

When I was at the peak of my self-help book reading and career-fast track-Podcast-listening zone, I was open to ANY advice to be better. My life was all about optimization. I would listen to something like this and genuinely take it on. 

What is so wrong with taking cold showers? Nothing. BUT what is harmful is not understanding the COMPLEXITY around success, strength, and getting ahead. 

If we think the way forward is to take cold showers and lie on the ground… and still, we aren’t getting promoted or crumbling into a million pieces when hardship comes… that’s when we scratch our heads. 

That’s when we wonder – what the hell is going on? 

Yes, mental resilience, strength, and grounding are so important. But, for the love of the Goddess, can we stop talking about these cheesy hacks and move to a more nuanced conversation? 


You want to talk about real strength? Try this on for size

Real strength means sitting with the discomfort of being wrong without trying to explain your point of view. Real strength is being with the awful painful realization that you have been unknowingly causing harm to an entire subset of society.

Real strength is to be with your mortality. Or the mortality of your loved one without looking away. Real strength is sitting with someone you deeply love, in the depths of their pain, going to doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit – and staying. Staying the course even when you are scared.

Real strength is not losing hope and aligning yourself in the direction of joy every single moment you are alive – even though you know this might be your last moment. Your last sunrise. Your last meal.

Real strength is true generosity. That is giving, giving, giving. Giving without pulling up rigid immovable boundaries. Giving without expectation and giving fully.

Real strength is having your heart broken, shattered, and ripped up. And still believing in love. Still being open to new friendships, relationships, ventures, and experiences.

Real strength is never giving up hope in each other, in our collective power to move through centuries of pain, brutality, and oppression. 

Strength is being able to sit with the discomfort of watching, reading, or listening to the lived pain of another – without leaving or trying to comfort yourself. To be able to be with another and NOT try to get them to move through the pain in a way that makes YOU feel comfortable. 

Real strength is trying to make that change – still, after all the doors slammed against you, over and over and over again. 

Real strength says -I’m still here, trying to be an Artist.

Strength and resilience are more than just how you feel when you lie down on the ground or take a cold shower. 

Come on people. Let’s stop giving these surface ideas a platform and let’s start elevating a more nuanced complex notion of strength.  



Eva writes about creativity, social justice, spirituality and feminism. She is a Pro-Justice storytelling coach who supports social justice conscious entrepreneurs, leaders & visionaries in speaking up after years of conforming and playing small.

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