I was on Facebook today and I saw a post from a woman that said “this is what bliss looks like” with a selfie attached. Then she told us that we could be blissed out too. It was a choice, and she could help us with her online course. My first reaction was anger. Not today sister. I’ve been challenging The Spiritual Capitalism Crew for a long time now (people who try to make money off our longing for God) and it astounds me that there is still so much of it out there. So much fake flakery. What happens when her partner dies or her kid gets sick? Did I mention she was white? It’s a lot easier to focus on your “bliss” when you’ve got 2 salaries and you live in North America. You get me? And THEN immediately after I got another post about signing up for “Shine School” Learn to Shine Bright. I actually LOLed.
We’re still buying this? We are convinced that this will make us feel better?
I’m not judging. I’m in deep. I’m a self-diagnosed self-help-aholic. From vaginal weightlifting to a didgeridoo playing over my naked body to opening the cosmic grid to talk to my angels, I’ve tried it all. I’d like to consider myself an expert in the field. So…I thought this particular excerpt about my addiction was in order…
THE ACADEMY OF DREAMS
…I’d signed up for multiple email lists from online spiritual teachers who’d leave weekly messages in my inbox about the money they were making through positive thinking and how believing in the power of their inner goddess got them more subscribers – and every time I read one of these articles my anxiety grew. If I wasn’t seen—I was nobody.
What was I doing wrong? I was working my ass off. Dreams coming true should be easier, there should be flow. That’s what everyone said!?
And then one morning, after clicking through page after page of retreats I could attend and Facebook groups I should like, I found something that resonated. It was the real deal.
I called Margaret freaking out. “I found the thing! I found the thing!” I yelled into the phone.
“s’cuse me” she asked. I kept chattering on “I’ve found the answer. So I’ve been doing a lot of research and I really think I’ve pinpointed what I need for my next step.
She didn’t respond so I continued…
“You know branding is so important and my website is way too DIY and I’ve been thinking, like really meditating on the ways I can keep my voice unique, get more subscribers, have notoriety and make global impact…”
“Uh huh” she said.
I’m going to The Academy of Dreams!”
“S’cuse me?” she said again.
“Hang on. Listen. This is an online spiritually conscious business school that’s dedicated to helping women achieve their career goals. This is feminism in action.”
I begin rambling the course directives off the website into the phone.
“The curriculum includes hands-on training to build and design a website, find your audience avatar, boost your conversion rates and do it all from the place of the divine feminine.”
The Academy of Dreams acronym was TAOD and the tagline was Bliss based business. As in, you would find your bliss if you took the course.
“Em, what about that time you were hypnotized in Hawaii?” she asked.
“It worked for a while. It was useful.”
“What about the demon extraction with the shaman in Vanuatu? Wasn’t that the thing?” she asked again.
I reminded her that it obviously wasn’t “the real thing” because this was “the actual thing” now.
And The Academy of Dreams was the thing. There was no denying it. The online optics were incredible. The CEO promised to teach the basics of entrepreneurship for women, by women. The eight-week course cost two thousand dollars, which seemed pretty good value considering we received podcasts from the founder herself and PDFs with a gorgeous design. Once we paid in full we were welcomed into a private Facebook group where all TAOD alumni hung out and supported each other. This was a group of women who wanted to follow their dreams, run their own show, have a spiritual life and make tons of money.
Margaret took a deep breath. “Em, you know, we’ve had this exact conversation before right?”
“You mean about some hippy that duped me with their flakery?”
“What about the blog?” Margaret demanded. “That’s going really well for you! You’re reaching lots of people! You have tons of fans.”
“No Marg. I have a small fan base. Loyal. But small. I have barely a thousand twitter followers. I’m pathetic.”
“What about the radio? Your documentary just won an international award!”
“It was an honorable mention.”
I’d been collecting a lot of skills over the years in my search for meaning. I was a multi-certified yoga teacher now. I’d been trained in thai-massage. I’d led a hula-hooping workshop by mistake once and most recently an ad agency had contacted me to see if I wanted to be the face of their “vaginal wipes” campaign. But it was never enough. I wanted more, more, more.
“Marg. I want to be seen.” I said. “I want to be stopped in the street and hugged.” This was the truth. And TAOD would get me there.
I was nervous on my first day of “school.” We all had to introduce ourselves in the comments section of her welcome message on YouTube. I was immediately surprised how many women were taking the course. I’d imagined a few dozen I guess but as the comments section grew I realized that thousands of women from all over the world had signed up, it may have even been tens of thousands or fifties of thousands.
I was a great student. When she told us to write to ten of our closest friends and ask them what was wrong with us, I wrote to twenty friends. When she told us to create our audience avatar I considered every detail down to how she trimmed her pubes.
There were a few things that confused me, like the CEO herself only appeared in pre-taped YouTube videos and spent the last three minutes of every video telling us to like her page, re-tweet her quotes and respond to her only in the comments section.
I had so much to learn I let the questions go. She was teaching us how to write mass personal welcome emails, create click-bait blog headers and something called “scarcity marketing.”
She also taught us about the necessity of being ruthless as female entrepreneurs like the goddess Kali and as an example of that in action she told us if we shared any of her copy-written material with un-paying customers karma would come and we’d get sued. She also told us if our husbands were annoyed we were spending too much time working on our biz- we should give them a blow-job. That would shut them up.
I was in a coffee shop, around week three of the course, with my left arm getting sunburnt through the window from the four hours of typing copy when I hit a wall.
Everyone in the course was selling something, a coaching session, an acai berry maca based gamma smoothie, a personalized affirmation t-shirt, a course on how to find your inner goddess. I didn’t have anything to sell. I just wanted more people to read my writing.
So for the first time I logged onto the forum and I introduced myself and I started asking questions.
Hi, I’m Emelia from Trying to be Good. I’m trying to get more readers and build community. Can you talk about that as a worthy goal? I wrote.
No one commented. I tried another question.
I don’t think the hard sell works with my customer avatars? Any suggestions how to entice people more organically? Like what about just being really good at what you do?
Silence. Hmmmm. Were my comments getting through? Everyone else was writing questions and getting answers. A woman asked if she should up her coaching prices and I watched as the thread got longer and longer with “yes!” Hells yes girlfriend” “Double up buttercup” You’re worth it sister!”
Why am I the loser? I tried again.
Hi, Emelia here. I’m not interested advertising Tide or Lego on my site. Can you help me think of other creative ways to monetize ethically? I asked.
I’m not so into the promotion game. Can excellent content be enough?
Not a single response. Instead TAOD faculty came on the forum and started a conversation about start-ups that cleared $50,000 in their first week.
Then it hit me, in the coffee shop, my left armpit dripping sweat from the sun. This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. I thought we’d have one-on-one time with our teachers. I thought this woman wanted to help me shine but she was the shiny one.
I’d done it again?
How was it possible that me, a college educated, radically feminist, rebel-hearted, shameless agitating woman could get sucked into another big-business guising itself as self-empowerment scheme- again?
And then, in that damn coffee shop getting wetter by the minute, the lightning cracked. I wasn’t a seeker. I was an addict.
Shame, fear, self-hatred; it didn’t really matter why I felt like shit all the time, the rush came in the possibility of fixing myself.
I shut my laptop, got on my bike and started riding towards Margaret’s house.
I’d been calling myself a seeker my whole life but when I started looking through the lens of “addict” I realized I was the poster child.
Finding the newest thing made me high. Like, actually high. I’d get giddy with the possibility of it all. I’d tweet about my new discovery. I converted. And “new thing” took on so many different forms. Maybe it was an intuitive that knew how to break up my stagnated chi or maybe it was a webinar about how to get more Facebook likes. Absolutely anything could be used to fill the void as long as there was some creativity put into the packaging.
I needed the gold star. I needed concrete proof that someone, anyone outside my immediate circle of people who loved me, thought I was worthy, of existing on this planet.
But this was the first time it clicked that I also used experiences to keep the terror at bay. My weakest link, what I could never say no to, was the new spiritual practice. And the more it cost, the better it would be.
I rode my bike hard to get across town. My clothes were soaked now.
It wasn’t even so much about the destination as it was the search itself that I was addicted to because if for some reason I actually started feeling better, that would freak me out so much I’d have to pay someone to help me process my inability to feel pleasure.
I biked to Margaret’s house and I yelled up “Namaste” through her open window. That’s our secret joke as we thought yelling “NAMASTE” really loudly was obnoxious, therefore funny.
She let me in and I sat her down in the kitchen. She poured some iced tea she’d just made. I took a deep breath.
“I think I might need to find a self-help course that can help me stop taking so many self-help courses.” I said.
Margaret brought over a pen and paper. She asked me to write down all the classes and healing sessions I’d taken since I was twenty-years-old and how much they’d each cost including but not limited to Neurolink, vibrational healing, regression therapy, traditional talk therapy, crystal bowl sound therapy, hypnotherapy, hydrotherapy, somatic experiencing, chi gong, thai chi, group facilitation, jade egg class, tantra, swimming with cosmic dolphins, rolfing, shiatsu, homeopathy, naturopathy, reiki, shiatsu, angel cards, circular breathing meditation, tea leaf readings, akashic record opening, intuitive readings via skype and goddess worship and the figure at the bottom of the paper equaled $88,257.
I could have put a down payment on a house.
And now it was TAOD.
“I think a few women probably make some money after taking her course” she said “but it’s just not a very probable outcome for the high majority. It’s the same with all your therapies, I’m sure talking to a hand puppet you endow as your inner child helps some people heal their abandonment issues, but for most folks, it’s just another $150 bucks.”
“It’s all optics,” Margaret said. “She shows you what she wants you to see. She is a ruthless businesswoman and her number one is not your wellbeing- it’s her success. This is totally reasonable of course, but let’s be honest about it.”
“Ok” I said, “you have to promise me you won’t let me sign up for one of these courses ever again!” I said.
“I can’t do that,” Margaret said. “When you get that glint in your eye, you’re unstoppable.”
“I’m a fucking addict.” I said again and put my head in my hands. “You know, this is even worse than regular old capitalism, at least that’s blatant. There is an entire industry profiting off our longing for God.”
And then the final smackdown hit. These spiritual teachers were so good at targeting my longing because they were longing too. No one had a clue about why we were here or how to cope with pain and the unknown and the entire self-help system was thriving on this collective terror. They were banking on it.
You can be sure this collective terror is activated when you see words like:
“6 figures in 6 weeks”
“3 easy steps”
“I never thought it would work for me!”
And “dream career.”
You can also assume collective terror is at work when you watch a webinar or read a book and are left with a feeling of “lack.” I’d finish a course and realize how far I had to go and how much I didn’t know yet and I’d fall into a pit of malaise for days.
After TAOD fell off the pedestal I decided I had to boycott all online programs. I was vulnerable to inspirational branding and hungry for the search. I was picking butts off the sidewalk. I was rocking and scratching. I was making calls to my intuitive in the bathroom on credit cards hoping my husband didn’t catch me.
So what if I felt the fear? What would happen? I might die.
But by this point the shame I was feeling was bigger than the fear so I cut myself off.
This was hard because my newsfeeds and email accounts were now full of webinars and free tele-summits promising me that they’d help me reach my social media platform goals.
Facebook’s algorithms had me pegged.
Every time I’d click on a site that told me their passion was to help me find my passion I’d remember that the crack was working again and I’d delete the video.
It took discipline and like any addict, I’d relapse. I’d find myself scrolling through someone’s Facebook feed and see a program that promised to help me “listen to my intuition and find my inner priestess” and I’d click through. But again, immediately disappointed I’d feel the lack. The shame would creep in… and my resolve would strengthen.
And in the space that was made from my self-induced boycott, a small voice entered my head.
What about just getting really good at what you do?
What about plodding away just because you love it?
What if you start trying feeling tiny bits of discomfort…just a little taste before you pushed it away?
Would you keep doing what you love even if you never made any money?
The last question was the most important one and to continue, my answer had to be yes.
I started to write again with no other purpose than because I loved writing. I wrote in the morning. I wrote late into the night. I wrote every day so I didn’t get nasty and short-tempered. I wasn’t interested in making anyone sign-up for my newsletter. I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I disabled Google analytics and I took the “like” button off my website. I wrote because people told me that my honesty was refreshing and I wrote so I didn’t have to up any more of my meds.
Sure, I wanted to be clapped for but I didn’t know how that was going to happen and I knew that I didn’t have the power to control such a thing. All I could do was keep working and I couldn’t spend my precious time taking circuitous routes trying to find a short-cut.
All I wanted was to tell a good story.
And to make people laugh and cry at the same time.
And to speak the messy truth that we are all fucked-up and that’s ok.
So I got started.