Nineteenth Century French psychologist turned célébrité Émile Coué famously recommended that repeatedly chanting “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” would activate the subconscious mind in the process of personal improvement. This principle of positive visualization and repetition is used today in everything from affirmations to help us feel good about our crummy job to taking subliminal suggestions while we sleep to help cure us of our addiction to chocolate cheesecake. While these tools are very useful in motivating us to engage our willpower to soldier on towards our goals and to overwhelm self doubt with optimistic prattle they provide little guidance on how to develop skills we currently do not possess. If we are a well trained coloratura soprano with the orotund tones to prove it rising up to meet our mental images may help us to the role of Carmen at the Paris Opéra Garnier. But if we are not endowed with this gift thinking upon it obsessively mostly provides a convenient escape to the enchanted realm of hallucination. Mastering anything new requires that we seek out those who are in possession of this knowledge and adjoin ourselves as novitiate in their good service. As with all art craft is required to make it manifest. (more…)


“But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends.” (Ratatouille, Anton Ego)

In the vaudevillian Monte Python lion tamer skit a timid accountant named Mr. Anchovy enters a career placement office to talk to a dismissive job counselor about changing careers. The counselor informs him that his evaluators found him “tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful” and advises him to take up banking where these are actually desired traits. Mr. Anchovy explains that what he really wants is to be a lion tamer. Puzzled the counselor inquires about Mr. Anchovy’s experience with lion taming to which the little man replies that he has seen them at the zoo. He has even purchased a pith helmet. The counselor rolls film showing a menacing lion pouncing towards its prey with fangs agape and claws splayed to which the Mr. Anchovy shrieks in fright and begins to babble about a possible career in banking. The bit is a send up on people who have wild aspirations but little idea of what is involved and no experience in the trade. Mr. Anchovy reminds us we are just a “you can do it” away from being consumed by ravenous beasts or our hungry fantasies. (more…)

We see him emblazoned like a superhero on the glossy covers of popular business comic books. The Homeric photo tells the story inside – hands on the hips, powerful stance and clear thinking eyes fixated straight ahead as if he were seeing the future first. This is Outstanding Man – independent, free thinking and self-determining and if we can quickly change in a phone both into our fancy tights and matching cape we too can leap tall buildings and perilous corporate barriers in a single bound. All we really need is the right costume. Much of self-help pulp fiction is predicated on our deep desire to have a secret identity that gives us powers extraordinaire – vision, courage and ingenuity. We long to be mythologized or at least distinguished by anything that gets us beyond the reach of common middle management mortals. While there is wisdom in discovering our deepest strengths and enrolling them in the service of our growth they do not move the world as much as they are moved by it. (more…)