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Examining the Resumes of Motivational Speakers

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In his 1961 book, The Image, Daniel J. Boorstin noted, "The celebrity is the person who is known for his well-knownness."

Nearly half a century later, the ever-expanding phenomenon of self-created, self-publicized "expertainers" contains a paradoxical niche profession known as Motivational Speakers—people who are mostly successful at selling books and giving lectures about success. A sort of meta-success.

Let's take a look at a few examples:

Suze Orman

Suze Orman, Financial Guru with her own show (The Suze Orman Show) on CNBC, was not always a brilliant financial advisor. She started out as a waitress, serving up pastries, cakes, cookies, brownies at the Buttercup Bakery in Berkeley, California. At age 29, she received a business loan of $50,000 to open her own restaurant, and she decided to invest the money in the stock market. Within 4 months, she lost the money to a swindling stock broker at Merrill Lynch. (No problem: to pay back the loan, she, herself, became a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch, and eventually the vice-president of Prudential Bache Securities.) In her 28 years since leaving the bakery, she has gone on to earn $32 million by authoring seven pop-culture financial advice books and hanging out with Oprah all the time. Still no restaurant of her own, though.

Tony Robbins

tony-robbins.jpgAt age 18, having already read over 700 motivational books, Tony Robbins was, "alone, overweight, broke and sad in a bachelor apartment in Venice, California," but "within one year he turned his whole life around." He became known as, "the 19 year old kid that became a millionaire in less than one year by transforming his whole life." Of course, that mysterious million dollars earned in one year is $2,739 a day, and you certainly can't make that much selling BluBlockers on Venice Beach.

So how did he do it? The man with the malfunctioning pituitary gland (who was thrown out of his parents' house at age 17 for being "too intense") allegedly discovered he had a mutant power for selling tickets to Jim Rohn seminars. 30 years later, everyone's favorite Neuro-Linguistic Programmer and Fire-walker is selling front row tickets to his very own "Unleash The Power Within" performances for a mere $2595.

Dr. Phil

dr-phil.jpgIn Germany and Scandinavia, a "Dr. Phil" is the name of a doctoral degree. In the US however, Dr. Phil signifies something completely different; it's the celebrity moniker for Phillip Calvin McGraw. Another TV personality who hangs out with Oprah a lot, he met her when his own company, Courtroom Services, Inc., was hired to prepare her for a 3-year lawsuit called the Amarillo Texas Beef Trial. Oprah was so impressed with his work that she invited him to appear on her show regularly as a "Relationship and Life Strategy Expert." 13 books (and an appearance on The Simpsons) later, Dr. Phil's entertainment career is as strategic as ever. Not bad for a guy who isn't even a licensed psychologist!

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There are numerous other examples of these meta-successful beings: Born Eben W. Pagan, "Double Your Dating" creator David DeAngelo claims to have been a rock guitarist in a former life (but no evidence of this can be found, unfortunately). Deepak Chopra won the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize in physics for "his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness." Zig Ziglar's real first name is Hilary. And of course, Matt Foley never actually existed outside of the set of Saturday Night Live.

Un-credilble pasts aside, these expertainers have all proven in their own ways that success actually works.

Carl King is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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