Dyer, Wayne (1940—)

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Dyer, Wayne (1940—)

Charismatic and camera-friendly, Wayne Dyer became well-known after the phenomenally successful publication of his first bestselling book, Your Erroneous Zones in 1976. From that time, he became a constant proponent of such typically "New Age" concepts as "living in the moment" and making "choices that bring us to a higher awareness," as he told a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times in 1994. Since Your Erroneous Zones, Dyer has used books, tapes, and the broadcast media to his advantage, securing his position as a late-twentieth-century cultural icon, and a leading light in the areas of motivation and self-awareness.

Wayne W. Dyer was born in Detroit, Michigan, and began his professional career in Detroit as a high-school guidance counselor in 1965. In 1971, after earning a doctorate of education, he was appointed a professor of counselor education at St. John's University in Jamaica, New York, and began contributing articles to professional journals and co-authoring books on counseling with his colleague John Vriend. These established his credentials in academia, while, at the same time, he ran a lucrative private clinical psychology practice. His lectures at St. John's taught exercises in motivational speaking, and his upbeat, positive message was very well-received; students began bringing their friends to Dyer's lectures, and he amassed a small following.

News of these lectures intrigued a literary agent, who approached Dyer about the possibility of writing a book based on their ideas. He agreed, and wrote Your Erroneous Zones, sales of which were initially abysmal. Undaunted, its author bought up all the copies and, quitting both his teaching position and his practice, set out on the road with the books to make publishing and self-marketing history. In four months, Dyer covered all of the contiguous United States, making personal appearances at bookstores and giving radio and television interviews. By the end of his journey, he had been a guest on nationally televised talk shows and was interviewed by the likes of Phil Donahue, Johnny Carson, and Merv Griffin.

Wayne Dyer's status as a celebrity allowed him to publish more books on the same theme, and to generate an audience for his informal lecture tours. These tours cemented his following, and became the basis for the many acclaimed, high-selling audiotape sets that he recorded. His message offered something for everyone, since it was not specific to either any religion, or any particular portion of society. This was in contrast to self-help heroes such as Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey, whose philosophies were somewhat hemmed in by their affiliations and concerns with the business and corporate worlds. Dyer even resisted the New Age tag, warning his audience in one of his tapes that the New Age phenomenon and its proponents were often superficial and could be dangerously misleading.

While his books all offered variations on the same theme, that theme became steadily more convoluted and esoteric as his career continued, accruing a certain degree of mysticism to accompany his pop psychology. In Real Magic (1993), for example, he discusses the potential for spiritual experience, while Your Sacred Self (1996) further expounds on the benefits of attaining a higher consciousness. Having remarried in 1979, he and his wife were raising a family of eight children throughout the 1980s, and his books largely recounted experiences and anecdotes culled from his family life. In 1998 he published Wisdom of the Ages, a collection of essays that reflected on the essence of certain literary quotations.

Dyer often said that his own life was his own best example, and much of his appeal can be attributed to his life experience, which he used consistently as an entry point into his discussions and writings. Many of his pre-teen years were spent in an orphanage, and although he grew up to be successful, he was also profoundly unhappy until he decided to take responsibility for his own life in the mid-1970s. The fact that his ideas were based on the psychological mechanisms that worked so well for him gave him his credibility among the consumers of self-development media.

Although the book sales and attendance numbers at Dyer's lectures were a testament to his following, and his continued appearance on talk shows throughout the 1980s kept him in the wider public eye, he had his share of critics. Interviewing him in a 1983 issue of Life magazine, Campbell Geeslin suggests that Dyer's message is "a gospel in praise of the superficial" and that "Dyer is selling simplistic solutions to life's inevitable difficulties." Wayne Dyer, who was his own best advertisement in the late 1970s, turned out to be his own saboteur in the early 1990s. While remaining a hugely successful author, his increasingly mystical approach to his subject matter made him less desirable as a guest on the talk-show circuit and, while still visible, his voice and message no longer saturate the airwaves.

—Dan Coffey

Further Reading:

Alim, Fahizah. "Breaking Free." The Sacramento Bee. May 16, 1993.

Dyer, Wayne W. Real Magic. New York, Harper Collins, 1993.

——. Your Erroneous Zones. New York, Harper Perennial, 1991.

——. Your Sacred Self. New York, Harper Collins, 1996.

Geeslin, Campbell. "Dr. Wayne Dyer; Pulling Those Same OldStrings With a New Book." Life. April, 1983, 19-22.

Reynolds, Cynthia Furlong. "You Can Choose to Become a NewPerson." St. Petersburg Times. October 26, 1994.