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Dec 20th
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‘Shift’ Happens

ae_arnellWell, not quite. Peter Arnell’s book often misses the mark
The title “Shift” by Peter Arnell attracted me instantly when I came upon it while browsing in my bookstore. The word shift, to my way of thinking, refers to inner shifts or changes, and I hoped that by learning how the author had examined his life, I might be better able to make some necessary shifts of my own.

Inner shifts are a great challenge; they require that we notice our thoughts, and inquire into our inner nature. Inner shifts tend to come about when we are still, when we are in the state of “being;” they rarely come about as we hasten to complete our daily “to do” list.

Arnell is good at “doing,” and his book focuses on what he did to realize his two formidable goals: one, losing 256 pounds, thereby taking his weight down from 406 pounds to 150; the other, forging a successful career as a consumer brand marketing consultant for large companies such as Pepsi, Samsung, Reebok, to name a few.

Admirable though they are, these are external “shifts,” more accurately called accomplishments. Arnell uses his marketing know-how and calls them shifts, a word that attracts people like myself interested in personal growth. He seems to be unaware of the difference between the two, insisting that internal and external “shifts” are the same, not to be separated, a part of what he calls One Life.

“Don’t compartmentalize your life,” he advises. “If you want to feel a wide-open sense of possibility, you need to knock down the walls and open up your life into one giant space, encompassing work and home life and everything else.  I call this space One Life.”

Thus it is not surprising that Arnell advises his readers as he advises his clients: you must find a brand for yourself. A brand, he explains, will remind of you who you are, how you wish to be seen by others. It will remind you of your purpose and mission; your brand will become your symbol for change.

Arnell chose the orange as his symbol to remind him of the pounds he wished to lose. He claims that peeling and eating fifty oranges a day enabled him to focus on his goal: to lose 256 pounds. “Oranges,” he writes, “are a tangible manifestation of the power of change, of my ability to overturn my old habits, and of my approach to life. I needed that tangible, physical manifestation of change. And so, I would argue, does anyone who wants to effect profound change in his or her life.”

He tells us his daughter’s brand or symbol for change is a new tattoo, his sister-in-law, fighting breast cancer, chose a piece of quartz dangling from a bracelet to represent her wish to heal.

If only change, if only healing, were that easy, I thought to myself, as I read these childish notions.

Arnell advises: “… to make a major change in your career or your life, start by distilling who you are down to its essence. What do you want to communicate to others? What do you drive? Who do you hang out with? Where do you live? What do you read? How do you dress and behave? The answers to all of these reflect choices that help to form the brand that is you. Do you want to transform your life? Be more successful? Make more money? Lose weight? Change your career or purpose? This,” he asserts, “could be your chance of a lifetime to become one in a million.”

He believes: “It’s all about having a vision of Shift, and sticking with that vision. That is what I did when I finally decided to change my life.”

One chapter is called Find Your Message: It’s all about “Finding your inner truth,” he insists over and over as though this were as easy as tying your shoe. You have “To develop the new ‘you’ that you have in mind, you have to build it around who you genuinely are. You have to strip the old façade away, with a big file or course sandpaper. When you provide yourself with the keys to unlock greater emotional truth, you experience life through a deeper palette of colors, and you gain a truer and more intoxicating sense of life and work and what it all means.”

He dispenses generality after generality: “Personal transformation is a long-term evolution, one that you can’t always control with a rigid, artificial time frame. Pay attention to your feelings. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. A mistake might turn out to be the best thing that can happen to you. It might turn out to be precisely what you need to make a breakthrough. In fact, remove the word mistake from your vocabulary, and un-write it as a new way to define opportunity.” (Italics the author’s.)

In the chapter “The Secret Behind Shift,” Arnell writes: “ Change comes true when people notice it. That is what I learned on my way from 400-plus pounds to 150 pounds. And that is what I want to help you discover for yourself. My personal rebranding … has given my audience a new perspective on who I am and what I have to offer.  Today, I believe people see me for who I am.”

However, changing his appearance tells little about who he is. It conveys that he has the discipline to lose weight. His successful career conveys that he is shrewd and hopefully even knowledgeable in business. These are external messages and have little to do with internal shifts. Spouting clichés can make one feel wise. But clichés are the tools of advertising and marketing men who are paid to lure consumers into buying a product; unfortunately, they often buy into their own rhetoric. “If I can do it, you can, too” Mr. Arnell assures the reader. “It requires only “a slight move in your attitude, in your thinking, in your behavior, or your life.”

The individual’s problem, he points out, is that he tends to be fearful, remain silent, and is afraid to speak out, afraid to use his imagination, and so his life remains dull and static … unlike the author’s which he asks us to believe is balanced, exciting and fulfilling.

I looked for some mention of contentment, that Mr. Arnell has shifted beyond becoming a slim, successful marketing executive. I found no mention of family and friends (other than the book is dedicated to his family); no mention of inevitable setbacks or disappointments, no mention of emotional conflicts or quandaries … that are all part of the personal growth process. Instead he has written a self-aggrandizing recipe for what to “do,” in order to “shift” into a so-called better life.

No doubt major companies do well to have a brand or symbol of some kind that brings recognition to their product, but a self-examined life requires genuine self-exploration. Albert Einstein was so famous in his lifetime that his face became an iconic symbol for genius. “Einstein” had become a brand name that made people think of creativity, wisdom, and imagination. But he protested, “I am no Einstein,” preferring to be his raw self rather than a kind of brand that put him on a pedestal.

His life and his work espoused the value of introspection and self-inquiry. He advocated unhurried reflection, a commitment to solitude and patience.

Fulfilling and pleasurable as it is to be thin and successful in the world, they cannot provide us with the deeper meaning that comes from exploring the mystery of our human interior process. Sadly, clues to this process will not be found in the shallow pages of this book.

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