Self-Improvement: The New Religion

I sit among 1300 employees at our annual kickoff meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kevin Hart is sitting across from our CEO talking about his life. He talks about motivation and the drive to succeed. The CEO asks him how he’s able to remain positive in situations where most of us would break down.


Kevin goes on one long monologue after another. He is articulate, inspiring, and a true role model. Hart was born into a poverty-stricken area of North Philadelphia. His father was a cocaine addict and was in and out of jail for most of Kevin’s childhood. Despite his surroundings, Kevin stayed positive, and eventually discovered his love for stand-up comedy. From there, it was a constant uphill battle, but once again, Kevin’s attitude won out in the end, and he is now one of the most recognizable names in entertainment. Hart explains that you really don’t know where life will take you, and that it’s important to find something that you can fully dedicate yourself to, even if it’s not what someone else would’ve chosen for you.


All the while, I’m sitting far above the two on the second level of the Kimmel center, thinking about what I’m witnessing. All around me, a congregation has formed for something which at its core, represents the human quest for growth and happiness. People have come from 3 different states for reassurance. Reassurance that their hard work will pay off. Reassurance that their integrity will carry them where they want to go, and that their attitudes will ultimately shape their destiny.


I find myself uplifted and motivated to become more than what I am today. This is more than a company meeting. This is church. This is an organized religion.


This is the current state of self-improvement. The industry has come a long way since the days of Samuel Smiles and Napoleon Hill. What was once merely a genre of books has evolved into something more like an ideology. The best coaching experts in the world have created entire communities behind their products and services.


I once watched a video of self-help guru Tony Robbins at one of his famous seminars. In front of a crowd of thousands, Tony spent 15 minutes coaching a woman suffering from depression. Tony went back and forth with the woman as the crowd cheered them on in the background. By the end of the video, he had given her a path forward. He regularly saves marriages during his sessions. Even when the focus of a seminar is on success in business, things can get deeply personal.


Tony Robbins is not a priest, nor a guru. He does not read from sacred texts or practice any symbolic rituals during his seminars.


“This year will be hard. And even after that, it won’t end. That’s part of creating a happy life: doing hard things forever”

This new religion is different. The content of the sermons is more straightforward. Instead of blindly believing in something, we’re asked to challenge what we believe today. Instead of condemning new ideas, we’re asked to embrace them. Instead of giving up worldly possessions and living modestly, we’re asked to maximize our financial well-being. Instead of believing in an afterlife free of pain, we’re asked to find joy in the struggle of this life.


Our CEO said during this year’s kickoff meeting:“This year will be hard. And even after that, it won’t end. That’s part of creating a happy life: doing hard things forever”


The church I grew up in was nothing like this. It didn’t talk much about the harsh realities of life, or the sacrifices that had to be made to achieve our biggest goals. It told us to have “faith”, to “praise god” and to pray when we were in need. All of these practices have their place in self-improvement, but we can’t expect to get anywhere without creating real, tangible goals for ourselves and placing faith in our ability to remain disciplined?


The self-help industry will grow to $13.2B by 2022 (1), and the companies who excel will be those who build not just incredible products, but incredible communities around these ideas.


I will not wait for God to save me. I will not wait for anyone to save me. I will instead practice more than I preach, knowing that it’s the only way towards lasting peace. Even now, I feel the seismic shift happening beneath my feet. We are standing at the brink of a new age of enlightenment. People are seeking the connections between the sacred and the secular, realizing that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.


Kevin Hart makes his jokes as a transition into the realities of life. There is an ugliness that lies beneath the promise of salvation. Most importantly, he claims that faith must be participative. We must all walk the path of self-knowledge if we are to avoid being destroyed by our own blind spots and outdated beliefs.

This is the new religion, and I could not be more excited to see where it goes.

1) Uță, Iulia-Cristina. “The Self-Improvement Industry Is Estimated to Grow to $13.2 Billion by 2022.” Brand Minds, 27 June 2017, brandminds.ro/the-self-improvement-industry-is-estimated-to-grow-to-13-2-billion-by-2022/.

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