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iOn the Contrary-i Meditations on Motivation

June 1, 2000
Two weeks ago, I attended a daylong AnthonyRobbins seminar. For the uninitiated, Robbins is a motivational guru who makessomething like 320 bazillion dollars a year whipping stadiums full of potentialachievers into a frenzy of can-do attitudes. I was not sure what to expect. Imerely wanted a day out of the office.

    To get an idea of what it’slike to attend one of these screaming hug-fests, picture yourself standing onthe game floor of a sports arena surrounded by 15,000 other secret achievers,all of whom are wearing some version of khaki pants and polo shirts. Now,picture your hands and 30,000 others balled into fists, punching the air aboveyour heads. You’re yelling -- hollering, “ Yes! Yes! Yes!” The concretefloor vibrates as you and your new best friends stomp your feet in a fury ofmotivational passion.

    Picture football fanserupting as their team scores the game-winning field goal with two seconds lefton the Super Bowl clock, and you have some idea of what I’m talking about.Unrestrained mania. Mass celebration. Utterly physical, feel-it-in-your-teethglee.

    I found the whole experiencea bit unnerving. 

It’s all fun and games until you pokesomeone in the crotch
   On the stage was Anthony Robbins, jumping aroundin a tailored black suit and headset microphone looking like a commoditiestrader lip-syncing Madonna. In the audience were thousands of seemingly normalpeople frothing at his every command. And we wonder how Hitler came into power.

    At one point, I caught sight of an oldergentleman in a knit vest and brown polyester pants painfully trying to playalong. He looked as if he were trying to lift an imaginary weight off hisshoulders and above his ears. His fists were moving up and down ever soslightly, as he looked left and then right like a caged wolf.

    Boy, social conformity is a huge motivator, Irecall thinking as I leapt into the air along with everyone else. Actually, Iwasn’t thinking that. At the time, I was more concerned about my blouse cominguntucked.

    But afterward, I did think a lot about thestrangeness of the whole event. I don’t disagree with Robbins’s basic cheer-- that we can control our own destinies -- but it was just a little toosimplistic. Maybe it’s because he spouted a lot of fortune-cookie phraseslike, “Looking back will never move you forward.” And, “Who you spend timewith is who you become.”

    Or maybe I’m being critical because I failedone of the first exercises. Robbins had directed us to stretch our right arms infront of us, point to the horizon, and then slowly twist our arms and bodiesclockwise and backward as far as they could go. With my arm stretched elegantlyin front of me, I twisted my body around until my right index finger landedsquarely on the beige corduroy crotch of the handsome man standing behind me.Fortunately, he was too busy trying not to smack the chest of the woman behindhim to notice. The activity was intended to show how visualization can improveperformance, and since there had been no crotch in my visualization, I felt likea flop.

    Despite these mishaps, it really wasn’t the seminar itself thatbothered me. We can all benefit from taking time out to review our purpose inlife. No, what bothered me was the fact that so many people felt compelled tospend $169 to be motivated. What does it say about our culture that we have to pay acelebrity guru to help us affirm our own unique goals? Why are we more willing to discuss our secret desires with totalstrangers in a sports arena than with our friends and family?

    While I firmly believe that one person cannotmotivate another, that inspiration must come from within, I do believe thatencouragement, support, affirmation, and positive feedback is something we cangive to each other. Judging by the near sell-out crowd at Denver’s PepsiCenter two weeks ago, we’re clearly not doing enough of this for our friends,our co-workers, our employees, and our children. 

This is materialism at its finest
   The second issue that’s gnawed at me since theevent is that we still seem to equate success with such things as titles, fame,and money. It didn’t help that Donald Trump was also on the agenda that day,bragging about his fashion-model girlfriend who probably wouldn’t be with himif he didn’t make gobs of money. Probably wouldn’t? I hate to tell ya,Donald ...

    While Robbins did make casual references to suchthings as having a good marriage or losing weight, the overall feeling I got isthat success is about big, external, American, profit-driven goals. Maybe thiswas because 67 percent of audience members were pager-wearing,commission-counting salespeople, and profit is the measure of success in theirwork. But I take issue with the notion that success should be solely, orprimarily, equated with work, money and notoriety.

    I know miserable millionaires and very happyhousepainters, and to me, the painters are more successful. But let’s face it,our culture and our companies don’t teach or encourage people to havebalanced, happy lives. Robbins probably wouldn’t fill as many stadiumsteaching people to be content; that is a little too Zen-like for our culture.But I’d rather learn contentment than how to jump in the air like acheerleader with new panties to show off.

Workforce, June 2000, Vol 79,No 6, pp. 20, 148 SubscribeNow!