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Why Gurus Are Bad For Your Health

by Marianne Cantwell

So the other day someone called me a guru.

 

After I bundled them into the nearest dark alley, whacked them over the head with a baseball bat and sent them to sleep with the fishies*, I realized I might, just maybe, have a strong aversion to that word.

 

And I got to thinking about why.

 

Soon the answer descended on me from above (as it does when you’re a guru consulting your oracle dontcha know). The answer is: the whole idea of gurus is total bullshit.

 

Oh yeah, that’s why.

 

Guru implies that you know everything about everything. That you have access to some inner source of all-seeing all-knowing wisdom that, if mere mortals can only get close to, will be the solution to every problem ever..

 

Guru-ness strikes in two ways.

 

1. When someone calls themselves a Guru. In Australia we have another word for that: being a Wanker. A Wanker is kind of like a guru but usually involves holding a beer and shouting obscenities at attractive women.

Other than that there’s a heap of similarities.

2. When we bestow Guru-ness upon someone else. This is the innocent, but still dangerous, path to Guru-dom.

This happens we follow an expert (who does not call themselves a guru) and listen to them talk about an area they know a lot about. Because we are only ever seeing them speak about a topic they are very knowledgeable about then it’s easy to assume they know everything about everything. Even if they never say they do. The danger comes if we then think they hold the secret to everything we’ll ever need.

 

Having said that. Confession time. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that more than one person has called me a guru lately (yes, yes, I can see my regular readers and friends pissing themselves laughing right now. Thanks guys).

 

So, though I’m sure knew it already, I want to make it clear: I am not a guru. I don’t own any oracle-life objects and am really Very Bad at quite a lot of things. For example:

 

Things I am not so good at: 

  • Stairs.Specifically going down stairs. I haven’t quite cracked that one, and walking down without falling takes full concentration (how DO people do it?). Stairs leave me frozen. As does parallel parking. I’m pretty sure gurus have that sussed.
  • Showing up on time. As anyone who has every tried to Skype me knows. I’m either very early, or really quite late and have no idea how people find the sweet spot in the middle.
  • Hiding my emotions.I feel it, you see it on my face. That’s the deal. There is a reason I’ve never worked in frontline customer service (well, except the sort where you are plying people with alcohol and pretty much anything goes from that point. Then again, I suspect gurus don’t drink
  • Knowing everything about everything. Quite simply, I don’t. That’s the the big one. Seriously.

You see:

  • I don’t know if you should stay with your partner.
  • I don’t know if you should buy that car.
  • I don’t know 10 Surefire Strategies to always getting the best deal on round the world flights.
  • I don’t know if you should redecorate your kitchen in fuschia pink (scrap that, I know that one: no, you shouldn’t. Really).
  • I don’t know if everything will work out the way you have planned.
  • I don’t know if everything will work the way I have planned. Probably, it won’t.

 

While we’re at it there are some things I can’t do:

  • I can’t choose for you.
  • I can’t force you to make the changes you say you want to make.
  • I can’t make everything ok.
  • I can’t make those scary changes for you.

And if anyone claims they can, do me a favour: run the other way. No one can know everything, no one can sort out everything, no one person or group is the source of all wisdom. No one can tell you for sure what will happen in 10 years time.

 

Believing otherwise, even for one moment, means you are giving up the most important freedom you have: the freedom to think for yourself.

 

Here’s what I do know

 

I know that each of us can inhabit, really well, that the little piece of the world that we do know something about. My little part of the world involves what I do for you right here. You see:

- I do know to break down the barriers and choose a life and career direction that rocks.

- I do know how to build a business that earns as much, or more, than you do now and lets you do something you freaking love. Without compromising your personality.

- I do know how to ramp up your freedom potential by taking you out of the shadows and getting you noticed, big time.

- I know how to inspire you and show you ways to making all of this happen for yourself.

 

I might not be good at climbing stairs but I am pretty darn good at that.

 

What this means for you

 

A word for anyone who is moving into a field where you might be seen as any kind of expert: Take the pressure off yourself.


You do not have to be an all rounder. You don’t have to be a good at everything. And you don’t have to be a guru of all things.

 

Above all, you don’t need anyone to be your guru.

 

A free range human is better than that.

 

That does not mean you have to do this alone and this doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help. Quite the opposite: when you hit a barrier that you can’t figure out by yourself, pick out the person who can help you with that thing that you need help with right now: dive in to their ideas, learn from them and then go out there and rock out your own life in your way.

 

Even the people we (secretly) think of as gurus ask for help. Even - especially - the so-called gurus are continually learning from others who have been there before them.

 

But (and this is important) they are learning in order to build a life on their terms, not because someone else told them who to be.

 

That, in my humble opinion, is the only guru lesson worth learning.

*not really. I just watched too many Tarantino movies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Helen-Bennett/570420207 Helen Bennett

    Aahhh lovely Marianne.  
    In the yogi world a guru is simply someone who shows you the light. Today you may be my light in the darkness.  Tomorrow I may be yours.  Or the guy in the parking lot.  Or the lady at the till.  Or the Dalai Lama. 
    Agreed that the Western World has completely distorted the concept of “guru” into a sort of “all-knowing” ethereal muse.  
    But let it me known – that in the truest sense you have indeed been my guru when I’ve needed courage to keep going.  And for that I’m sincerely grateful.

    Today it’s the leaky water pipe that’s teaching me a lesson about exhaustion and patience. Who knows what tomorrow’s guru might bring…! But I look forward to more learning. Sunny regards from SA,Helen

  • http://twitter.com/JaneAndPhilbert Gemma Regalado

    I think the “guru” term is bandied around with wild abandon nowadays, but I do think that anyone calling you a guru does mean well. I personally see the term “guru” when attributed to people like yourself as a way to describe someone who is not only knowledgeable in their area but has done something DIFFERENT and got themselves noticed, and on top of that, inspires people to do something different or look at something in a completely different way. 

    Take, for example, the Pixiwoo sisters on YouTube. These girls are always called “gurus”, especially in the media (although they’d never really class themselves as “gurus”). All they did was translate their business as make-up artists onto the web using their personalities to create something so simple and accessible for everyone. So in the media-bullshit-bollocks meaning that describes anyone who has ever done anything different that people really vibe with, yes, they’re gurus, and I would say that actually that kinda makes you one too… 

    *runs away before getting a swift beating**peeps head around door*I would like to add that I prefer to think of you as a “rockstar”, someone to admire and to inspire me. What you have achieved is no mean feat so while you will probably never think of yourself as a guru and even actively seek to quash that title, you have opened many people’s eyes to the way things could be. In the same way that the Pixiwoo sisters have helped less people look like trolls, you have helped people to create their own lives. “Guru” might not be the right term, but you do deserve the recognition for being pretty fucking awesome!

  • Sandeolando

    Thanks Ann ( is that short for your name),
    This has been my
    weakness…until last December when I decided…I will temporarily
    remove myself from the lists of all those people I have been seeing as
    gods and listen to myself. What do I want…I know what I am supposed to
    do and I am not doing it 100% and no guru can help me there.

    Okay on that note you must be a good reader and as such I bestow
    upon you the guru of Aussie literature consult your memory oracle and
    suggest for me a good Australian novel–funny witty and plain simple
    English.

    Thanks
    Grace

  • http://www.fuckthediets.com/ Jenny Jameson

    So, you’re not the Messiah, you’re a very naughty girl!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zjz16xjeBAA&feature=related  :) :) :)

  • Vixmilne

    Love your work, nunu! (it’s what you call a no-no guru!)

  • Barbara

    This one goes in my permanent Marianne Cantwell file. I’ve also noticed that some of the folks posing as gurus are actually snake oil salesmen (and women). Thanks for the wake-up call on this. I’m still laughing.

  • Dorothy

    Is a guru not a teacher as I understand it, from reading: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/guru
    I really like Helen Bennett’s comment and agree whole heartedly.  I too have had many guru’s in my time and maybe even been one myself.
    So Marianne…..  You are a guru.

  • http://destinationumbria.wordpress.com/ Janine

    I really get your resistance to the g word Marianne. And quite right too. At least in Australia, we seem to like to take the nuances out of things and so guru has ended up meaning know-all. End of. Making it easy and fast for anyone who follows them because, of course, they need look no further than this person for what to do next. Of course it can’t be that easy. It sounds like you’ve got some interesting stories, reading between the lines. And yet the list of the things you can do far outweighs the things you can’t. Just keep doing those. You’re brilliant at it! Jx

  • http://www.free-range-humans.com/ Marianne Cantwell

    Hi grace, thanks for your comment! My favourite Australian author is Helen Garner. She has both short novellas and short stories and is wonderful at describing people’s day to day inner world (in an australian setting). Look her up!

  • http://www.free-range-humans.com/ Marianne Cantwell

    Ah thank you! I actually agree with you. Have got so many messages saying similar things that I’ve been rethinking my response to gurus!
    The type I had in mind were self styled Internet marketing types. Whereas as someone pointed out a classic yoga guru for example always resists being labelled a guru, likes to self select students (it’s quite hard to get to work with them) and apparently is defined by their awareness of their own human flaws. Interesting.
    So while I am revising my opinion of the word and now see where people are coming from and hat it is more of a compliment I’m still sticking to my line that I am not one… and love your idea of rockstar! Will take that as double compliment so thank you immensely for your lovely words. x

  • http://www.free-range-humans.com/ Marianne Cantwell

    Thank you Helen! Feel humbled by that. I have no doubt you are doing the same for others too.
    Also you made me think, doesn’t the original meaning of guru mean light and dark (gu and ru)? I love that complexity of nothing being entirely perfect.

  • http://www.free-range-humans.com/ Marianne Cantwell

    Thanks Barbara! Glad it resonated I’m sure you have experienced the same many more times than me.

  • http://twitter.com/alisoncs Alison Clayton-Smith

    Really interesting post. I’ve been mulling for some time about how can you, if at all, stop people from giving you the ‘guru’ tag (in the sense of guru being an all-seeing, all-knowing perfect person – which as others point out is a somewhat socially corrupted view of guru). There’s a human tendency to put people on a pedestal and with that then follows clinging to everything that emanates from that guru without question. Rather like celebrities. We want our gods, we want people to look up to, and we have certain expectations in return. We may not want to be a guru but others perceive us to be. Do we have any say in that? In organisational psychology there’s been some work (don’t ask me what as it is ages since I studied this) on followership rather than leadership – you are only a leader if people choose to follow you. But what if you’d rather not be a leader? Or at least, you don’t want to be the kind of leader the followers perceive you to be? Anyway, I digress….

  • http://www.free-range-humans.com/ Marianne Cantwell

    Interesting thoughts Alison. I agree. When the movement you lead is all about people thinking and being for themselves then it’s a very big question. In all my courses etc I emphasise how important it is to find your own solution, go around the barriers without waiting for permission (that’s core to being free range!) and I think that a lot of people struggle with that.

    There was one memorable email where I told someone “a big part of the reason you’re stuck is that you’re asking for permission and validation from others around you before you start. I can’t give that to you, and neither can anyone else, you need to give it to yourself” and the reply was something along the lines of “that’s so inspiring, yes I agree! [insert a lot about childhood here]. Now can you tell me whether I can pull this off?”. 

    I expect this comes from the world of school and work where we have our authority figures and we have our ‘other people’ and if you’re not the authority figure then you are expected to follow what they do. Part of the journey of going free range is learning how to be your own boss and that takes a heap of barrier-breaking! There’s a big difference between learning the steps and learning the mindset and while most people think they need the steps in my experience 75% of this journey is mindset, hands down. That’s something a leader can help with but there will always be that complexity.

  • David

    Marianne, why can’t someone know everything?  It’s kinda limiting the human potentiality of consciousness. The rational, lower mind, which operates in the sphere of intellectual application of thought can’t comprehend what is incomprehensible. However, the deeper intuition can reach beyond such finite cognitive parameters and reveal insights that would otherwise be unattainable. I’ve met a few people who know everything, you don’t need to ask them anything to establish this and you don’t need verification of this through the conventions of blind testing methods adored by scientists and people conditioned by such requirements either. You just perceive they know everything through an unfathomable and instantaneous flight of the intuition.

  • Delroiwilliams

    Hi Marianne, really timely for me. Some of my work involves giving guidance to people, and it has been really hard to let myself accept my own need for support and development, and how much I am not good at, without it detracting from what I can and do do (!) well. Delroi

  • http://astrologymonami.com/ Perianne

    Gee u are u and don’t let no wanker tell you otherwise love!  ;->

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I love reading your down to earth posts.

  • Kevingt

    Totally, I paid money to some “guru” and I can’t believe I spent that much for some pyscho babble where I have to call them and remember their time zone.  It’s given me insight that there is no guru, and I can choose a topic and market it for sale but I would do with substance and to give someone value on what they spent.

  • http://www.career-pioneers.com/ Joanne Munro

    I really loved this article – especially the swearing! (so refreshing) I also hate the word guru, it IS wanky whatever country you’re from and for me is firmly placed in the same arena as Queen & Ninja ( ie “Twitter Queen”, “Social Media Ninja” bleurgh ) what a load of old arse.

    I wouldn’t call you a guru – what you do is invaluable but I see you as more of a facilitator. To me you help people, you advise them, and you coerce (read shove) them into having happier lives. 

    To me a guru sounds like someone who does something for the kudos and to benefit themselves in some way – but this thing you do (and I also attempt to do a bit in my way through my own site) is to help people be happy – because it’s something we have to do. You’re like the pied piper if anything I guess: “follow me people, it’s great over here!”

  • Jason Palmer

    I prefer books to blogs, looking forward to reading yours !

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