Friday, June 8, 2012


Can you buy a new life?

Victoria Holt
Investigative Journalist

Over ten billion dollars. That’s what the world spends on personal development programs, coaching and self-help books every year. The Secret, Awaken the Giant Within, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—do any of these books and programs actually work? Is health, wealth and happiness the birthright of us all, or is Think and Grow Rich really just a way to make the author rich? I’m Victoria Holt and I believe it’s time to put all that self-help hype on trial. Let’s see if the gurus really can change a life. Or not. With more than a bit of arm-twisting, I’ve convinced five leading personal development experts to put their powers to the test. Sage or snake oil salesman? See for yourself.

Chapter 1

Four months and five days before Victoria’s blog appeared in the Huffington Post was the worst day of Robert Rivera’s life. His wife, Roxanne Stewart—grateful to have kept her own name—walked down a sweeping staircase, her slender frame dragging two big, wheeled bags. Clonk-clonk-clonk, they crashed onto the granite stairs, each collision deepening her determined glare. Halfway down, she and her bags drew to a premature halt. It had not been her intention, but she turned to the wall, letting her eyes wander over a series of gilt-framed photographs. In one, a young man with olive skin raised a massive barbell above his head. In another was the same man, his muscle-ripped torso glistening on the cover of Men’s Health. There were more photos, all celebration and acclaim. But nothing quite like the one in the middle: five people, including the President of the United States, and him, eyes sparkling with the sudden realization of how far he had come. Underneath the frame, a brass plaque read:

White House Dinner
Acknowledgement of Service

Roxanne wondered what she was doing, staring at the past, a past as flimsy as a fairy tale. It was over, gone. And yet there she stood, staring into the dead snapshot of her husband’s eyes . . . She startled. Who knew how many times she had looked at that photograph, but only now, on what would be her last, did it hit her: That night was the start of the fall. As if from that lofty height, the only way was down. What happened? She shook her head. The time for explanations, for discussions, for interventions, was over. She had tried, God knows she had tried.

Roxanne looked down the twisting stairs. Robert had once said he couldn’t live without her. What if he . . . ? With a flick of her head, she bounced back a few strands of auburn hair that had fallen into her face and continued the last few clonks downstairs. She couldn’t live with him. If she didn’t leave now he would take her down. As she set down her bags by the door, she took a deep breath, preparing herself, and turned. Through the entrance hall, in the lounge, squeezed and slumped unnaturally low in a brown leather couch, was the man who used to be the man in the photos. His head was drooping, so that his chin nestled in the fat rolls of his neck. Budweiser cans lay scattered around his feet. As he lay there snoring, the vibrations grated through his clogged sinuses into the echo chamber of the hallway. A dark, wet patch had seeped across his crotch. Roxanne thought she might cry; but as she opened the door and dragged out her bags, another feeling came over her: relief.

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