School of Hard Knocks Or Self-Help Guides?

blog pic1-1I had a conversation with an old friend recently, a man I had worked with years ago. Let’s call him Ed, because, well, that’s his name. We were catching up on the phone and I was filling him in on my book, Tao Flashes, and some of the spiritual and inspirational work I am reading and also creating myself.

I invited him to check out my web site and was surprised when he declined. In his typical blunt straight-forward fashion, he told me he didn’t believe in self help and motivational work. He said he thinks that we all need to figure it out ourselves, and shared his belief that learning comes from living.

I argued with him. But not much. Because somehow, in spite of myself, in spite of the countless hours I have devoted to spiritual and inspirational reading and writing, I heard an echo of truth in his words.

And it got me to thinking. What if we’re both right?

I agree, learning comes from living. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than having your arse handed to you now and again to get clear on your values. LIFE is a great teacher because she’s going to spank you good at some point and make you run home to Moma. And if we’re good students, we’ll grow stronger by battling the weaknesses LIFE introduces us to within ourselves, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll figure out how to turn hay into gold.

Everything we say yes or no to helps to define us, for better or worse, and we only learn as we go, or as my friend would say, learn as we live. Maybe it is in the falling down, and then getting up, that we learn to trust ourselves or at the very least, avoid the things that make us slip.

But what if we used our life stories to guide or inspire others, what if we used our experiences to make someone else’s journey just a little easier? What if we used our hurts, our hard-earned wisdom, our healing, to help others?

I for one am happy to have others, especially spiritual teachers and motivational writers, illuminate the darkness with words, light, roadmaps, and other tools to make my life’s journey a bit easier.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the hard-knocks lessons that came a knock’in on my front door….those that rattled the windows and shook my foundation, too. After all, they helped to shape and inspire me.

But I am especially grateful that during dark times, my spirit led me to teachers who offered healing balms of all sorts. From many, I learned forgiveness of self and others. I learned meditation and tools to strengthen my intuition and psyche. I learned ancient philosophies like Taoism and healing modalities of all kinds.

And in being inspired by others, I developed the confidence to share my stories and my guidance to help others.

I learned by living and by doing, like my friend Ed said. But without a doubt, my journey has been made richer, lighter and infinitely more valuable, with the guidance of others.

Experience is a teacher. But how we master those lessons, how we integrate them into our being so we don’t keep repeating them, is the hardest part of our journey, in my book. And for that, I am grateful to have teachers with tools to clear a path for me. Maybe even leave behind a few road markers.  Because I’d be lost without them.

What about you? Do you believe in the school of hard knocks, or do you appreciate motivational work and self-help tools and books?

If you’re interested in thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book, Tao Flashes. Or visit me at or on twitter @taoflashes.


16 thoughts on “School of Hard Knocks Or Self-Help Guides?

  1. Ok you… you asked for it… here u go… just to qualify a few things… “hard knocks”… not the term I would use. LIfe is the journey… life is figuring stuff out… life shouldn’t, and by the way… doesn’t.. come with a road map. more than half the fun is figuring stuff out on your own. i love experimenting… exploring… pondering… and making mistakes and learning… always looking inside… and outside… and around the corner… and behind me… trying to solve problems… and this is just me…but i could spend my time reading a book on what someone else thinks… or i could spend my time reading history books or fiction or the news… or traveling… or having a drink at a bar in the airport and talking politics with a perfect stranger… but then absorbing all this info and combining that with all my experiences… and then develop my own philosophy…

    as u know… my mom is a jungian analyst… and my dad is a philosophy professor… so as a kid… i got my share of dream interpretation and tarot card readings… we were quoted ad nauseam from I’m OK, Your OK… and forced to attend est meetings by a guy named erhard…

    not disagreeing with ur take on life… but i’ve said this to my mom a hundred times… and it has not made one bit of difference… but i say… put the self help book down… walk outside… and look for the answer to all your questions inside yourself. live your life to fullest every day… have goals and dreams, make plans and update them… have as much fun as you can. dance in the morning… dance in the evening, outside, by yourself, under the stars… who cares. go for walks… do stuff… every day… do something fun and interesting… meet people… watch an interesting program on tv… and then look inside yourself for the answer to all the questions that life offers up.. and if you can’t find the answer… don’t worry… it will come to you… just keep looking… it might come to you in a dream… maybe while you are driving… but the answer to all of life’s questions are inside you. and that is fun stuff… not hard knocks.

    ok… i’m done… back to work!

    • Boy do I miss you, my friend! And for the record, I agree with the living and doing part. I think it’s important to balance time spent with a book or in self-contemplation with actual living and real life experiences. For me, it’s all about balance..but then again, I’m a Libra, the scales, and I’m always looking to balance them! And you are right, most of the answers are inside. It’s just that some of us need tools to unearth the answers.
      Thanks for the inspiration–P.S. You always crack me up!

  2. Like you, I think both are valuable.

    My challenge is that I tend to be in my head too much — it’s where I’m comfortable. I’m able to read about meditating (or whatever), take notes from a meditation teacher and research meditation on the Internet like a champ.

    But sitting down and actually meditating? On a regular basis? That’s a lot harder for me!

    • Lori, I live in my head a lot too. But then, I’m an Air sign. Maybe you too? I do meditate but lately I have found it to be a little more challenging. So now I’m switching up how I do it so I can be more faithful–even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

  3. I should clarify also…..Life is definitely meant to be lived and not just observed, analyzed, or studied. Our experiences are our most sincere teachings. No way can we really FEEL life through others guidance…we have to jump in to experience life.

    Mark Nepo’s story of a Zen Master says it best for me:
    “It is said a great Zen teacher asked an initiate to sit by a stream until he heard all the water had to teach. After days of bending his mind around the scene, a small monkey happened by and, in one seeming bound of joy, splashed about in the stream. The initiate wept and returned to his teacher who scolded him lovingly, “The monkey heard. You just listened.”

    With the best of intentions, we often build false careers of studying the river without ever getting wet. In this way, we can ponder great philosophy without ever telling the truth, or analyze our pain without ever feeling it, or study holy places without ever making where we live sacred. In this way, we can build a cathedral on the water’s edge, spending all our time keeping it clean. Or we can count our money or say our prayers, without ever spending anything or ever feeling God’s presence. In this way, we can play music or make love skillfully without ever feeling the music or our passion.

    The apprentice was brought to tears because the monkey, slapping and yapping its way in the river, had landed in a moment of joy, and the apprentice knew that all his reverence and devotion and meditation hadn’t brought him the joy of a monkey.

    The river, of course, is the ongoing moment of our living. It is the current that calls us to inhabit our lives. And no matter how close we come, no matter how much we get from staying close with a sensitive heart, nothing will open us to joy but entering the stream”.

  4. What a great post! I hope it inspires people to appreciate both the School of Hard Knocks as well as take advantage of self-help types of reading.
    I have learned from both, and have benefitted from both. At times I wonder why those hard knocks had to be so EXTREMELY hard though…

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