Tony Robbins is a billionaire

Always these gurus: How self-help trainers change our lives

Gurus and life coaches like Tony Robbins are on the rise right now, based on the motto: the more chaotic the world, the more important it is to find your way around. But what can we actually learn from people whose success is based solely on successfully telling them about their success?

I am not your guru. This is what the guru Tony Robbins assures about himself. He does this in front of a full hall with over two thousand people who have traveled to Florida for a six-day seminar to attend a "Date With Destiny".

At Robbins’s behest, they embrace, break out into cheers or dance to crashing basses under stroboscopic flashes. Most of the time, however, they listen intently when Robbins starts one of his life-changing personality analyzes. He spontaneously chooses a person from the audience and asks them about their fears, dreams and wishes.

Whether it's eating disorders, marital crises, or financial difficulties, Robbins has a seemingly coherent answer to everything. Within a quarter of an hour he locates the problem and identifies its cause. The only thing left for the chosen ones to do is to articulate the elegantly foreshadowed Eureka moment in front of everyone present before they are released into their new, tidy and meaningful life with a hug and frenetic applause.

Gurus for life

Robbins ’self-assessment is not without irony: He is not a guru of sentiments, but primarily a successful and highly paid businessman. His seminars and books are grossing in the millions, and his speaking fees are $ 300,000. With these and other entrepreneurial pursuits, the 59-year-old has amassed an estimated fortune of half a billion dollars.

There's no doubt about it: Robbins is the most influential and long-lasting motivational and self-help coach in decades. He is the spearhead of a heterogeneous guild of advisors for all situations who have a global following and are either worshiped or vilified as charlatans. With his book "The 4-Hour Work Week", Tim Ferriss not only succeeded in becoming a bestseller, but also outlined the design of a beautiful, new working world that has had a lasting impact on the millennial generation's understanding of performance.

With further titles in the "4-Hour" series, Ferriss became a reference for productivity and time management. Robert Kiyosaki established himself as a financial advisor for everyone with the publication of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad", although his own entrepreneurial track record has been modest to date. Oprah Winfrey, on the other hand, has been a skilful aggregator of life aids of various origins for many years. She built her public persona on this and created a media empire that is almost exclusively dedicated to the topic of self-help and self-improvement.

Gurus are by no means marginal, they form a growing industry that has reached remarkable proportions. It serves all walks of life through all channels, with real physical interaction being of particular importance. In contrast to other content that has completely migrated into the online world, it represents the essential differentiating feature of gurus.

Success as a mindset

At the beginning of the Guru Age stood Napoleon Hill. As an ambitious, but repeatedly failed businessman, he was obsessive about the search for a general formula for personal and economic success. He did so as part of a large-scale oral history project, over the course of which he conducted interviews with over a hundred wealthy entrepreneurs, including tycoons such as Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller. From these conversations he distilled sixteen rules, which he summarized in the 1928 book "The Laws of Success". It is the first self-help book of its kind and made Hill a millionaire himself.

Hill recognized that engaging with the meta-level of success can be just as lucrative as a traditional career. In doing so, he achieved something amazing: the decoupling of success and performance. Success was no longer the direct result of a value-adding activity, but became an end in itself. The removal of this causal connection made it possible to make a novel statement: Success is a way of thinking that has to be actively chosen, and can therefore be learned.

Coaching without experience

Hill's influence on today's generation of gurus is unmistakable. Like himself, many of them are self-taught without any significant track record outside of the life counseling scene. That is astonishing, since the beginning of such a career requires a great deal of trust on the part of the audience. It corresponds to the situation of having a non-pianist teach you to play the piano.

This unlikely scenario is only conceivable under two conditions. The non-pianist must first be an astute observer and have object lessons from the best of their craft. He compensates for his lack of technical skill and personal experience with empirical analysis. Second, he must have great charisma in order to be able to convey his empirically gained knowledge credibly.

Tony Robbins, who grew up in difficult circumstances, says of himself that he is an artificial character that he created according to an ideal type he devised. He cites this as proof that one's own identity and its possibilities are solely a function of the will. But where is the authenticity?

This question no longer arises with Robbins. In reality, it has long since become what it preaches: the incarnation of success. He travels around the world in a private jet and holds seminars with the support of an army of helpers. His lifestyle is strictly regulated: daily ice baths, strict diet, fitness, meditation, little sleep, no excesses. These habits are also part of the concept and have become synonymous with success. They are now part of the mantra of CEOs and stars around the world.

The willingness of a society to respond to quasi-authoritarian inspiration correlates positively with the degree of its disorientation. This willingness is particularly great in times of crisis. Religion, charisma and prescriptive slogans become the substrate from which hope and self-confidence are nourished.

Identity and meaning crises

While there was economic misery in Hill's times, today it is a crisis of meaning and identity that is at the center. Climatic, geographical, political, ethical, sexual boundaries that have long been considered reliable are fading or disappearing before our eyes. Fundamental assumptions about truth and fiction lose their power of persuasion, chaotic conditions are evoked in every nook and cranny.

For today's gurus, this crisis is an invaluable motto. The encouragement they receive and the monetary expense that their followers are willing to make for their performances represent a gauge of the obvious need for guidance in a substantial part of society. But it is also the symptom of an escapist attitude that reaches for the stars and has largely internalized the fantastic.

Gurus pretend that anyone and everyone can achieve success if he or she wants it enough. Statistically, the probability that a participant in “Date With Destiny” will be the next Elon Musk or the next Oprah Winfrey remains comparable to that of winning the lottery.

Happiness through autonomy

Belief in destiny and fate is always greatest when freedom is perceived as a threat. This was already the case with the transition from classical antiquity to Hellenism. A period of unprecedented scientific and philosophical breakthroughs was followed by a retrograde step towards mysticism and astrology. We are experiencing something similar today.

Exemplary influence and productive inspiration have given way to undisguised manipulation and propagandistic rhetoric, a situation that is increasingly being accepted.

That doesn't have to be the case, Harold Bloom demonstrated convincingly over forty years ago. In his book "The Anxiety of Influence" he pointed out the ambiguous relationship that connects writers with the works of their role models. It oscillates between indulgent fascination and the inner urge to find your own style and thus your own identity. Detachment can only succeed through a form of rejection fueled by the existential fear of a lack of originality.

Creative and spiritual salvation can be found in the antithesis of the archetypal guiding star. Such a critical confrontation with the guru is what allows him to become a figure of light in the first place. The guru is not there to be loved; you have to wear yourself out and let go of it. Only in this way is it worth its money and has earned its name.