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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Life Endlessly Under Construction

As Millennials turn to online guides to self-improvement, they realize it is not just an ongoing exercise, but a way to be of greater service to others

When one year draws to a close and the next is in the offing, people tend to reflect on the year that passed, and look inward at how they performed. And the truth is generally stark. There is always room for improvement. As someone said, “My life is constantly under construction.”

Each decides where they need to do better in the next year – be a more loving father or mother, more attentive spouse, be more productive at work, eat healthier, lose weight and look better – the list will be endless. And as the list grows, so people seek out products and services that will help them achieve their objectives.

As the demand for self-improvement grows in multiple spheres, so the market value of the self-improvement industry keeps soaring upward, especially in the boom of technology which has given rise to brainwave synchronization, subliminal messages and the theory of the mind. The US self-improvement industry, which was worth $9.9 billion in 2016, is expected to be worth $13.2 billion by 2022.

A generation ago, In the heyday of the Boomers, the self-improvement industry was bursting with experts and gurus and household names. Multi-city, low-cost three-day seminars in auditoriums which could house 10,000 people, and one-week retreats, were sprinkled over the year for Babyboomers.

However, the baton is passing, and the boomers are aging, so are the experts and gurus. A new generation, the Millennials are gradually taking over and the market is responding to a new kind of demand.

The Millennials grew up when the economy was in deep recession, when money was tight and luxuries and leisure were sacrificed to keep food on the table. Therefore, Millennials cannot grasp the culture where people would get three days off work, take a flight to a seminar or a retreat, and pocket out money for registration and hotel stay.

On the other hand, what Millennials understand is 24/7 access to the Internet, where programs can be watched and listened to from the comfort of their home, and with no travel required. Thus, the Internet, today, is the preferred form of disseminating information. The gurus today have an easier time too, being able to reach larger audiences more cost-effectively and profitably. The Internet allows advice and guidance to be delivered through online courses, podcasts, MP3 downloads, webinars, websites, e-books, and self-help apps.

Millennials, being the most connected generation, are able to absorb different kinds of information through the Internet and social media. Through the knowledge of and exposure to self-improvement concepts, Millennials are constantly raising the bar for themselves.  A recent survey indicated that 94% of participating Millennials were personally committed to self-improvement, and were willing to spend around $300 monthly on different methods of improving themselves.

As can be expected, self-help organizations, books and online support groups focused on diverse topics, have sprouted without control in recent years. While the America Self-Help Group Clearinghouse had 332 self-improvement organizations on its member list, it  now has over 1,100 groups, that either meet online or in-person. According to internationally recognized professor of psychology at Scranton University, Dr. John Norcross, at least 18% of Americans will meet with at least one self-help group during their life.

As Millennials explore the concept of self-improvement, there are some who consider it as “addictive.”  It is addictive because it lulls you into the belief you are progressing. Says, one millennial, “While you’re reading a self-help book, you’re telling yourself you’re being productive. The problem is when you finish, you’ve got to take responsibility, and instead you just go onto the next book and the cycle continues.”

The point is, when a person embarks on the journey to self-improvement, it never stops. And, there is the danger of getting trapped in the feeling of being superior to everyone else. However, self-improvement is not perfection. It is only an endless line of attempts at becoming better than what you were.

Furthermore, a brutal reality check shows that no one will be remembered for the extent of their self-improvement. People are remembered for the service they rendered to their fellow beings. In the end, the purpose of self-improvement is to become a better human being, understanding that no one is perfect, and that there is no greater joy than lending a hand to someone in need. Therefore, execution is the key creating fulfillment for all. And what this means in the end, is a life well-lived.

As American novelist, Ernest Hemingway said, ““There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

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