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How gurus exploit imposter syndrome for profit 

For entrepreneurs in particular, the internet has become the new late night television. Got a problem? Hurting? Struggling? Click here. There is a guru waiting to give you the answer to all your problems.

Instead of miracle cleaning products or exercise equipment it’s the course, the revolutionary training or seminar that promises “secrets”.

This happens despite the fact that there are no real secrets anymore. The internet has revolutionized our access to information in a way we’re only just beginning to comprehend. The chance that some formula for success is still actually hidden from you is zero.

Yet we keep getting sucked in.

Maybe it’s our enduring sense of imposter syndrome. Entrepreneurs just can’t seem to shake the feeling they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. And they can’t help but suspect that the other guy does

This has created a global culture of uncertainty for entrepreneurs. We grasp for answers in every direction we can.

Don’t even get me started on the spirituality industry. It’s 10x worse.

This phenomenon has created a terrific opportunity for some: Anyone with a dollop of sociopathic arrogance can present themselves as an expert –  wise to arcane secrets – and laugh all the way to the bank.

People will line up with money in their hand, for fear of missing out the potential “big one”. The one big breakthrough you’re hoping will FINALLY get you the success you’ve always wanted.

The crazy thing is, if you give your money (and attention) to one of these gurus and follow their advice… you very well might succeed. These gurus aren’t actually LYING. Their strategies, tactics and advice work… they’re just not new. They’re not secrets and you probably already knew them.

The truth: You’re more brilliant than you know

If your guru tells you to do this and that, and you become very successful as a result of following this advice… you might really start believing this person TRULY is the wizard they pretend to be.

But let’s back that truck up a second…

How did you decide on this particular guru, or coach or (even) mentor? 

What was it about this person that made you feel they were a good one? 

You see, somewhere inside of you, something recognized this guru as a smart one.

That something inside of you that did the recognizing… it already knew what you needed to be doing. It already knew what “smart” looked like. It recognized the guru’s advice as sound – or the tactic as legitimate – because it is smart itself. 

Just as this part of you knows what guru you should listen to, it knows precisely what you need to be doing. 

How did you decide your guru or mentor was a good one?

What intelligence did you use to make that decision?

It was YOU who gave your guru his or her authority, because it was YOU who picked the guru out. It was you who decided the guru was worthy.

Think on this enough and any imposter syndrome feelings will melt away entirely. Sure, learning things you don’t know is always a win – this isn’t an argument against educating yourself. But if you find yourself rapturously following someone who becomes your personal super-hero and role model in business?

It always comes back to you. No matter which way you slice it.

It’s been you all along. 

I have to make a confession though…

As someone who gives people advice for a living, I even tout a free online course that shows people why superhuman entrepreneurs succeed easier, faster and more often than everyone else… and how you can become one of them.

The catch to this course is that the serially super-successful entrepreneurs the course is based on… are ALL clued up to the truth: That the only guru that matters is the one inside their own head.

That, and the course is a tremendous bait-and-switch. It’s designed to make people who seek magic-bullet answers have an epiphany: They realize that self-reliance and the fundamental, unsexy science of executing on the ideas they ALREADY have … is the only real path to success. Which it is.

Perhaps the guru you’ve been looking for has been with you the whole time.


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  1. Great post, Peter. Most of the gurus are recognizing the fact that almost no one needs a lot of new information anymore because big secrets no longer sell that well. Everyone wants transformation that comes from taking action with direct one on one support and like-minded community. We want someone to help us get back in touch with our own wisdom and intelligence. We want someone to help challenge us to take the actions at know we know to take and to hold us accountable if we don’t. And celebrate with us when we do. Which is of course what great coaches and Commit Action does.

    1. Hey Andrew! I wasn’t fishing for compliments for Commit Action, but thank you… and yes, this idea is core to our mission and really the whole reason I started the company.

      I also think you might be surprised by how many businesses out there – in the self help world – revolve around selling “secrets”.

  2. You nailed it: “They realize that self-reliance and the fundamental, unsexy science of executing on the ideas they ALREADY have … is the ONLY real path to success.”

    Yes indeed, the buck stops with the man/woman in the mirror.

    Sadly, it takes many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with gurus for a few folks to figure this out!

    In most cases, folks believe that buying from or being in the circle of the guru is what’s required for success…when it’s actually just rolling up your sleeves and getting to work on yourself and your business daily!

  3. Peter

    I really don’t agree with you. I have seen some ways in which things that people don’t know or aren’t aware of are having a big impact on their results. With all your expertise in psychology I am sure you are aware of this as well.
    The problem maybe is that what guru X is offering is probably not actually what any given entrepreneur actually needs at any given time.
    I really do agree that just doing the work and following through like you have in your training is very important, even critical, but not sure I buy into what you say that if you just keep doing this in the end you will be successful. A lot of people have a lot of different kinds of things which can hold them back. Otherwise the success rate would be a lot higher. There are a lot of things to learn and figure out and for that guidance can be helpful.


    1. Hey Elisha!

      I think you’re right about the fact that there are a lot of things to learn and figure out. Like I said in the article, this isn’t an attack on self-education. The issue I’m addressing is the exploitation of imposter syndrome to make people feel as though there are “secrets” they’re missing which they can only get from the one guru/source.

      1. I’m so glad you posted this because I can actually cite several gurus today who are selling “secrets” for 4-5-6 figures that are rehashed & modernized from gurus they learned from years prior. I actually know the gurus they learned “the secrets” from and can trace the exact sales process, words and language used back to the original guru!

        It’s intriguing for me to watch how fresh new batches of entrepreneurs adore & worship said gurus because they think the secrets originated with the guru of today.

        Of course we are all free to invest our money as we wish, but to your point there is definitely exploitation of the imposter syndrome in that people are led to believe that they can ONLY learn “the secrets” from said guru…when in actuality there is nothing new under the sun…except for technology and new media.

        What’s mind-blowing to me is to watch people go into debt and empty their retirement accounts to pay & worship at the feet of the guru….and still not realize that it takes working on oneself and rolling up your sleeves….which leads to blaming, disappointment and disillusionment for many….

        When things don’t go as planned, they feel that the guru never came through for them when in actuality they needed to DO THE WORK and simply LEARN TO THINK CLEARLY for themselves! This is the big lesson I wish more entrepreneurs learned sooner rather than later in their journey….

  4. Great job Peter. I get the hesitancy to call bullshit on a lot of “self help” masquerading as “keeping you helpless to keep coming back for answers outside yourself.” thanks for being bold enough to pull back the curtain on some of the dark side of coaching and mentorship. I bought into a business training community this Fall to “get to business and get results and prove my commitment”. However! I knew everything they taught and just needed to do what I knew, where I was. I now found a market of empowering other social entrepreneurs to own their awesomeness and their genius and do the same. So great! We don’t need to spend all our money to get results. But the right people like you Peter reminding us what’s real, and what is simple and actionable. Success isn’t always sexy, it’s kinda mundane and boring actually. Cheers Peter

  5. Thank you for that timely piece. The internet is the ultimate (so far) platform for both the communication of useful information, and snake oil salesmen. Since the dawn of stone tools, human beings have been striving for stronger, higher, faster, richer, happier and more successful whilst also having the powerful and survivalist need to belong. If we’ve decided to find answers via an online guru, a cult, a pyramid selling scheme or another way that ensures the power is in someone else’s hands, that striving can lead us to a worse place than we were to begin with. And don’t get me started on the Law of Attraction industry!

  6. Hi Peter,

    I agree with your general thesis, as per usual. In my experience, what separates one guru from another is the degree of integrity brought to any offer. A guru with authenticity and honesty and empathy would weed out, as best they could, people not fit or ready for their product–as Ramit Sehti does by not allowing people to buy his programs if they have credit card debt. Alas, greed often takes over, from either end, and people end up conning themselves or being conned.

    Best wishes and congratulations on Commit Action–a place of integrity par excellence!

    Bob Beverley

  7. Haha, YES!

    If I read about “This secret…” one more time on the internet I’m going to explode. What I’ve seen recently is ‘This ancient secret’ because ancient things can’t possibly be on the internet because they’re too ancient.

  8. Hi Peter,

    By reading this your post was wordless. I find it interesting that many gurus (especially in the digital world) lose integrity and humility. In a world where you only get one that matters, I think your post can help a lot of gurus rethink their strategy.

    We are waiting for more content.


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