“The Secret”: A Lie and A Promise

Times are tough.  Maybe you’re discouraged.  But I don’t have to tell you, discouragement is pointless.  Doesn’t help you, doesn’t help anybody you work with.  If you can do anything useful in the face of adversity, getting discouraged just gets in the way.

But still, we get discouraged.  It’s human nature.

The answer many have been grabbing at — the Kool-Aid that millions are drinking — is The SecretIt’s a book and a video that have taken the nation by storm — even Queen Oprah got on the bandwagon, big time.

In case you’ve been hiding in a cave, The Secret’s central, compelling premise is you can get anything you want as long as you want it hard enough. 


Two holes in that logic:

  1. Obviously, external circumstances do indeed have an impact on our ability to manifest what we want.  It’s not all within our control.  Disagree?  Tell it to the ballerina who wants to be an NFL star.
  2. The flip side of The Secret is that if you don’t get what you want, it’s your fault!  You didn’t want it hard enough.  So on top of the disappointment of not getting it, you get to beat yourself up for failing to make it happen with the force of your will.  

But wait …

There’s a huge nugget of truth in The Secret.  While it’s clear we can’t create our reality, it’s equally clear that we have way more influence over it than we know.  Thoreau wrote, “I know of no more encouraging fact than man’s unquestionable ability to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”  And few of us realize how potent “conscious endeavor” can be. 

You can’t control what the economy is doing.  You can control how you respond.

There’s an old Zen parable that goes something like this:  The student approaches the master to ask, “What’s the secret to a happy, fulfilled life?”  The master replies:  “An appropriate response.”

No, you can’t control what the economy is doing to you or your business.  But you can control how you respond.  You have an infinite number of potential responses.  And you have the power to choose.

Like it or not, in any given moment, in any given economic catastrophe, in any given lifetime, you choose your response.  So does everyone who works for you, around you, and above you.

Right there is the gold mine in the economic meltdown.

YOUR PATH FORWARD:  Train yourself to notice when you, or someone you work with, adopts a tone of discouragement.  Ask yourself, or them, any questions likely to elicit an honest reflection (as opposed to a stapler heaved at your head):

  • How does staying in this mood serve you?  (There’s got to be a reason for it, or you’d choose a different mood!  Who among us wants to be unhappy?!)
  • How do you behave when you think the thoughts you’re thinking?  Who would you be without them? (from Byron Katie’s work).
  • What’s causing the despair? And what other interpretations of what’s going on are possible?
  • From past experience, what have you found helpful to lift yourself out of despair?
  • If you could choose your ideal response to adversity, what would it be? 
  • Who around you (that you respect) is consistently able to keep their emotional head above water?  What might you ask them?
  • What opportunities do you see in this situation?  What can you do now toward making them a reality?

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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