You have seen it in many movies. The characters in the movie are all searching for an important item. The quest takes up a significant part of the movie. People often fight over the item. And yet the item mysteriously loses its importance at the end.

The more knowledgeable readers will know that I am talking about a MacGuffin. It is a device to advance the plot but it is not important to the story. It can be a map, compass or even the object of a quest. But when it is obtained, the story ends without explanation or characters are looking for another MacGuffin.

Sound familiar? Sound like the theme of many self-help books or gurus? You need to have structure or productivity or mindfulness. When you reach the objective, you find you need to shell out cash for the next book or a retreat. Did you enjoy the book? You need to go for his or her talks and hear it in person. If you are a fan, you have to listen to the podcasts or Youtube channel.

There is a reason why I like Wikipedia. Spoilers. It tells me how the movie is going to end. That is why I skipped Avengers Infinity Wars. (Spoiler alert: Good guys lose and many people die.) Before people start putting their faith in Wikipedia, I need to point out that Wikipedia does get it wrong or is at times slow to be updated.

That is the problem with the self-help industry. It is just churning out MacGuffins. The consumer is just going for a ride. Are all self-help books wrong? No. The issue is that the industry is attracting people that are not interested in their readers.

There are no disclaimers. The advice is usually safe except that nobody is advising on the dosage or duration. There is no mention of side effects. “What have you got to lose?”. The generic stuff can be even worst. This is when newbies add additional ingredients without care.

“You said you had answers!”

“ I didn’t say you’d like them.”

Quote from Old Guards

So let’s cheat and flip to the ending. Understand that people have their limitations. Young people will not have life experience. (What do you call people without children? Experts in parenting) People with knowledge may not want to share the essential part of their teachings. This means picking authors that have a track record. Note that I use the word authors. Speakers can claim that they misspoke. If you need to hear it in person, that is a red flag.

After finding your author with a track record, you need to look at his or her critics. People like Bill O’Reilly or Michael Moore failed the smell test. I know that both those authors are not self-help but they wrote stuff that inspired people. I need to state a fact. Bad people do not necessarily give bad advice. However, if the author chooses to exaggerate, embellish or is selective in applying standards, I am not keen to follow their advice on life. Much less to fix a problem in my life.

“So are you good guys or bad guys?”

“Depends on the century.”

Quote from Old Guards

This is not the part about telling good guys from bad guys. This is about seeing if the doctor can survive a taste of his or her own medicine. The best way to judge an author is to read the next chapter. Life is complicated. Life is unpredictable. The authors are mere actors in the next chapter.

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Quote from The Dark Knight Rises

When an author writes a book, he or she is nailing the colours to the mast. (In ancient times, ships could signal their intention by raising or lowering flags. Once the flag was nailed to the mast, it was harder to change one’s mind.) The idealistic position of the author is now fixed.

The next chapter is when you learn if the authors think that rules and laws apply to other people. When they are interviewed, their principles are exposed for the world to see. Their fans will quote their more extreme remarks. The people that they deal with regularly will reveal their foibles. It is when you see your author supporting the “old ways” and then discovering human sacrifice is being advocated.

So who can I recommend as a good author? I do not know. My standards are dropping all the time. Full disclosure: I purchased a subscription on Medium. I am also ready to change my heroes. I am also more ready to forgive. The ending that I can live with is the one that I write for myself.