There is never a right time in your life to subject yourself to motivational gurus

Motivational gurus can be like rockstars without instruments. They’re equipped with powerful stagecraft and presence, and they’re truly capable of alchemy with their words. Their ability to trigger powerful emotions in their audience is an art form. 

But is that all it is – an art form? Is there value in the words of a motivational guru? Think back to the last motivational speaker you watched. Are you able to recall their core lessons? Have you worked any of their theories into your everyday life?

We’re not psychic. But we strongly doubt it.

But I *love* motivational gurus. They’ve helped me so much.

We love watching motivators, too, we promise. But you’re not using their message – you’re addicted to the high of their stage presence. You’re not genuinely taking away permanent lessons or a new lens through which to view the world. You just saw a kick-ass performance, and you’re buzzed.

That’s fine. Crying with laughter at a stand-up comedian is good for you. Marveling at the emotional range of a Shakespearian actor is an essential part of the human experience. But buying tickets to a comedy show doesn’t make you Jerry Seinfeld, and sitting in the audience for Macbeth doesn’t make you an 11th-century Scottish monarch.

Tell us this: What has your favorite motivational guru told you that you don’t already know? Here’s everything you ever heard in a motivational speech boiled down to seven points a child could’ve written:

  • Work hard.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be persistent.
  • Show bravery.
  • Failure’s awesome, so don’t be scared of it.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to dream.

You’re welcome. We just saved you $50 on your next motivator. Where else can you find these sentiments, though?

  • Pretty much everything your grandparents and parents ever told you
  • Motivational posters
  • Saturday morning cartoons
  • Endless pop lyrics (Reach! For the stars… Climb every mountain higher…)
  • Every Tom Hanks movie
  • Inside your own head

Look, we’ve got absolutely nothing against motivational speakers. If you genuinely enjoy the sensations of watching them, go right ahead. It’s a better temporary emotional high for you than taking drugs or drinking booze. Only your wallet gets a hangover.

You don’t finish the performance any happier, though – it’s right back to the struggle of life for you. It certainly won’t make you any richer, either, as you hunt for your next intravenous motivational buzz.

Nothing they’re saying is fundamentally wrong at all. You should believe in yourself. It is good to work hard. But any testimonials saying they’ll transform your life, make you wealthy, or empower you are simply not true.

We don’t live in particularly optimistic or inspiring times – it’s harder to stay energized, focused, and happy now than ever before. This reduced optimism has fed a booming motivation industry. (Can you believe that’s a thing? Motivation industry. Say it out loud. Ridiculous.) 

YouTube is drowning in motivators. Scores of religious preachers are tapping into the motivation sphere. You are being invited to buy books, courses, and happiness on tap. Instant gratification. An emotional orgasm, after which you need a long, cold shower.

You’re not buying a blueprint for success, happiness, or contentment. You’re buying a feeling, and that’s fine from time to time. However, during the critical period we call midlife, we need to stop masturbating our emotions to climax and get a grip on ourselves instead.

We need to start creating a meaningful relationship with our internal Calls To Action. 

Team Vippi says: Enough getting motivated. More actually doing stuff.

(Disclaimer: If you leave this article motivated, that’s on you.)

What motivators don’t tell you

Sure, there’s plenty of enthusiasm in what a motivational speaker might be telling you – but there’s also a groundswell of truth and knowledge in what they’re not telling you.

They’re part of an insanely profitable industry. 

According to Grand View Research, the global self-development market was worth an eye-watering $39.99 billion in 2020. By 2027, analysts predict that the figure will look more like $56.66 billion if it continues to grow at its current rate.

Of course, motivational speakers look radiant every time they step on stage. They’re f*cking loaded

You’re more valuable to motivators if you stay unhappy.

Let’s say you listened to a motivational podcast, and it inspired you more than anything else you’ve heard in your life. You go out the next day full of beans, make a ton of money based on their guidance, and stay happy and financially free for the rest of your days.

What good does that do for the motivational speaker? They just talked themselves out of hundreds of dollars worth of ticket and book sales. The only action they want you to take is subscribing to their next product.

Gurus aren’t trying to motivate you to improve. They’re trying to motivate you to buy more sh*t you don’t need.

It’s okay to struggle.

Social media culture has created an unhealthy desire to portray ourselves as living a full, happy life at all times. It’s a way to curate the world’s impression of you. The need to create a picture of a perfect life has led to a culture of toxic positivity that feeds on people’s reluctance to seem vulnerable.

Motivational speakers are part of that toxic positivity. Being made to feel like it’s not normal to struggle is legitimately harmful and solves nothing. 

Struggle and failure are the self-help you need. Failure can teach you more lessons than success ever will. Imagine a world where you never struggled – you’d have no reason to learn. 

The dopamine kick you get from gurus is no replacement for the personal growth fueled by struggle and failure. Instead, motivators convince you that it’s somehow wrong and abnormal to ever feel vulnerable – and that their teachings are the only solution.

They need you to stay desperate and lead with your emotions, rather than cross-examine yourself with logic and clarity. But if you embrace struggle and approach failure with curiosity rather than fear, you can take a much more focused approach to self-development.

One clear example of this toxicity is many motivators’ common emphasis on working insane hours and cutting down on sleep. You don’t have to work hard for the sake of working hard. Hustling is an image.

Working toward a goal that has meaning to you is a worthwhile pursuit. But by keeping you burnt out, a motivator keeps you vulnerable, which… you guessed it, keeps their pockets filled.

Burnout, stress, and alienating people are not going to help you. Working hard on the wrong thing is almost as bad as not working at all. Success needs strategy and focus just as much as hard work.

Convincing yourself that you’re taking action when you’re not is risky.

At the end of the film Brazil, a likable character makes good their escape from an oppressive regime – only for the film to show that it’s all been a ruse and they’re still strapped to a torture chair.

This is “action faking” in motion. Anyone taking drugs or drinking excessive booze is escaping something. But with motivational speaking, the promise of escape from vulnerability is itself the vice.

What a motivator won’t tell you is this: consuming isn’t the same as doing. You are not engaging in self-help. You’re practicing self-deception.

They are under immense pressure to find “the next big breakthrough” in healing.

Many motivational speakers have millions of followers. Any fandom places pressure on their creator to keep spewing out content. 

cult worship

So many speakers will claim to have found the last business model you’ll ever need or the key to everlasting happiness. Here’s the thing: they can’t all have found the ultimate lesson in self-fulfillment because they’re still speaking at huge venues and writing books in search of it.

When they’re touting lessons intended to shape your very existence, it can be tough to separate what’s valuable and what’s fan service.

Motivational speakers can increase your depression

Seeing a motivational coach or guru when you’re depressed is one of the worst things you can do. Think about it: You’re offered an easy fix for what is a health problem that makes you miserable. The solution might be fun, accessible, and inspiring – who needs meds and therapy, right?

Well, if you’re following your doctor’s orders, you do. Your physician has 7 years at med school behind them. Your guru has charisma and a good haircut. And once that high of the motivational session is over, the crash to reality will leave you with the same symptoms – and possibly make them worse. 

Remember, they need you to be discontented. That’s how you stay hooked on the product.

With regular discontentment, that’s annoying but not strictly dangerous up to a point. With depression, they’re playing with a medical condition. It’s the same as weed dealers who convince their users it’s managing their anxiety when it’s probably making the long-term effects worse.

If you’re depressed, you need to seek medical treatment ASAP. No motivational guru or life coach is a replacement.

When is enough motivation… enough?

An important rule to stick to throughout life is this: Never live by the advice of people who stand to profit from your misery.

There’s no intrinsic harm in listening to motivators. It’s a wholesome way to spend an hour or two. Your upper limit for “motivation” is when you’re just trying to feel motivated for the sake of it. Here’s how to know when you’ve hit that point:

  • If you get into the cycle of bouncing from course to course or motivator to motivator and you haven’t picked up any honest advice or skills, you’re letting your vulnerability drive the bus.
  • If you’re terrified of letting people know you’re unhappy, you’ve bought into the culture of toxic positivity.
  • If you never sleep and spend all of your time working 24/7 on a doomed project, you’ve bought yourself a one-way ticket to burnout.
  • If you’re getting stressed and unhappy due to an empty bank account every month, the pile of self-help books isn’t helping you all that much.

During midlife, you don’t have the time to mess around. People are relying on you. And you have motivations already – your family, your next mortgage, your future retirement plan, or whatever drives you to keep working day after day.

Maybe you struggle sometimes, or perhaps you feel unappreciated or uninspired. But that’s fine. It’s natural and human not to enjoy every day of your life all the way through. Motivational speakers claiming otherwise are just levying a tax on hope.

When is motivation necessary?

Real motivation is necessary all the time. It just doesn’t come from external sources.

If the choice is ever between snorting a long line of cocaine and listening to a podcast from a motivational speaker, the safer way to get a dopamine hit is by sticking your headphones in and embracing the rhetoric.

Another time you need motivation is when you’re trying to learn sales techniques – not for the content of their speech, but the way they’re saying it. Motivational speakers earn the money they do for good reason: They’re phenomenal orators and incredibly persuasive.

They use such clever tactics to convince people to spend money. Listening to motivators from an emotional distance can provide some significant lessons about how to reel people in, keep them engaged, and convince them they need your product more than anything else in the world.

And motivation is necessary for entertainment, sometimes. They can make you feel good, give your brain a sugar rush without increasing your risk of diabetes and get you high without screwing up your lungs. It’s only when you become reliant on their information that your mental state can take a nosedive.

How to avoid being scammed by motivators

scam alert

Not all motivators are trying to take advantage of you, but many are. There’s no certification a motivator can apply for to show you they’re qualified. It’s just one shiny image after another. So how do you filter out the malicious operators?

Only pay for courses that give you tangible skills. You can take online assessments for free to work out your strengths and weaknesses. A SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis is an excellent way of working out where your growth opportunities lie, and there are plenty of SWOT analysis tools on the Internet you can use without paying a dime.

By taking the time to become aware of the skills you need to work on, you can focus your resources on gaining fundamental, usable tools to move through your personal or professional life.

You don’t need motivation. You need the toolkit to start building toward the objectives you already have.

Besides, what looks better on your resume or promotion pitch: a certificate from a motivational course, or a qualification from an accredited institution showing you’ve leveled up to a particular skill? The latter will get you further every time.

Don’t make decisions involving vast sums of money when you feel vulnerable. This is how scammers con lonely, older people over the phone with talk of fake charities and fictional prize winnings. If you feel helpless, you might be comfortable handing over any amount of money to feel empowered.

It would help if you didn’t make big decisions based on emotion. If cold logic tells you that nothing long-lasting or practical will come from visiting a motivational guru, that’s the voice which you should be listening to. In a vulnerable state, though, that voice might be drowned out by your emotions.

Consume their free stuff first, and measure the actual impact it’s having on your life. The Instagram feeds, LinkedIn profiles, and YouTube channels of motivators are rammed with content. It’s a great way to sample what they offer for free.

So follow a motivator you like. Subscribe to them as you would a YouTuber. Then, if you’re thinking about dropping some cash on one of their courses, pause for a moment. Over the next few weeks, make a note of how often you put their ideas into practice and notice measurable improvements in your mood or bank balance as a direct result.

If the number of concrete actions and ideas is less than 5, don’t spend money on any more content. You can get what you need from the outlets of theirs you already follow, for free.

Your Call to Action: How to become your own motivator

Finding motivation when you’re in a rut or feeling vulnerable can be challenging. But life is not as simple as finding one overriding, clean motivation that pulls everything together.

Instead, you have to make motivation a part of everything you do. Remember those seven factors we mentioned in the intro? Y’know, the ones that form the backbone of every frickin’ motivational speech in history? Let’s bring them all back.

  • Hard work
  • Consistency
  • Persistence
  • Bravery
  • Embracing failure
  • Self-belief
  • Dreaming big

There’s no reason that each of these hallmarks of motivation can’t play a role in everything you do – and you don’t need to drop $30 on a hardback book to tell you that. The steps you’ll take are as follows:

  1. Have these seven words saved as a note on your phone or written on a whiteboard in your home.
  2. Whenever you have a difficult decision or task up ahead – say, a job interview, pitch meeting, tight deadline, or complex family situation – pull out the note on your phone.
  3. Ask yourself: Which of these qualities do I need for the upcoming situation? One or more of them will always apply. Hard work and persistence will get you past that deadline. Bravery and self-belief will help you ace that pitch meeting. 
  4. Know that there’s no correct answer. The best qualities for that situation are those that give you the confidence to make the right choice..
  5. If you’ve learned the skills to succeed, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding. If you nail it, awesome. If you don’t, learn from that failure, develop new skills, and keep on truckin’.

This is the loop you keep searching for when you constantly buy tickets to see motivational speakers in action or get their books. When you attend an event, you’re convincing yourself that it’s the action you needed to take all along. But it never is.

This 5-step process allows you to take the actions you need to take – whatever they are – and get sh*t done. You don’t need a motivational speaker. You need to do the things that are required of you, or the things you want to do, and do them well. 

There’s no single action that can motivate you and no solitary strategy or plan that lets you win every time. Every Call to Action you receive has different requirements. Having an approach that undercuts what motivational speakers are selling while giving you space to feel vulnerable is healthy and realistic.

Your dear Nana taught you every one of these life lessons for free. Don’t pay an intensely charismatic hack to repeat the same things.


If you’re down for a good time, head out with some friends to see a motivational speaker. Or stick their podcast in your ears while you go for a run. But don’t see them as a fix for all your life’s ills – you’ll soon find that they become part of the problem.

Keep them in their context – entertainment, or at the very most, edutainment – and they’re beguiling, intoxicating public speakers with a mastery of language and communication. Just don’t let them anywhere near your credit card information.

Team Vippi knows you have an exceptional motivational speaker to listen to anyway: Yourself.


Personal development market size, share & trends analysis report by instrument (books, e-platforms, personal coaching/training, workshops), by focus area, by region, and segment forecasts, 2020 – 2027. (2020).