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Examining the Resumes of Motivational Speakers

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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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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