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Life’s Lie: You Can Be Anything You Want to Be

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Life's Lie: You can be anything you want to be.

No, you can’t. If that were true there would be a lot fewer janitors and a lot more astronauts. Olympic swimmers will not become heavyweight boxing champions, and professional basketball players will not exchange positions with professional horse jockeys – no matter how much they want to.

The idea that we’re all born with an unlimited list of occupational possibilities to pursue is a heartless assertion to foist upon children and a set-up for adults. The U.S. Army was closer with “Be All You Can Be” – meaning you can define and realize your potential. Your potential — no matter how gifted, educated, and experienced you are — is not going to include the overwhelming heap of possibilities that is the scope of every human being’s potential combined – and it shouldn’t.

How in the world can one expect to reach even one goal when entertaining, or worse, seeking thousands of them? The idea that we can be anything we want to be lacks focus and insures failure.

The truth is we all have limits. That’s good news, not bad news. Without a firm grasp on what it is we can and cannot do, we have no hope of living life to its fullest. To get that grasp, we must attend to the three types of limits: real, situational, and self-imposed. All can be altered, although altering the latter (self-imposed limits) is usually easier and more effective, especially when dealing with the limits imposed by the former (real and situational limits).

Real limits include our physical person (e.g.: height, the number of working limbs, sight, hearing) and geographical location (e.g.: birthright, citizenship). Situational limits include where we currently live, our present income and education level, and the proximity of others in our lives. Self-imposed limits include (a lack of) confidence and imagination, and substance abuse.

Self-Imposed Limits

These limits are almost always composed of feelings rather than being tangible liabilities, and are the easiest to tackle. To be sure, “easiest” is relative to how difficult it is to resolve a real limit, like a missing limb or having an incurable disease. Substance abuse is usually the result of a self-imposed limit. Resolve one and you’re on your way to resolving the other.

For most people it’s easier to start on the outside than the inside. It’s not the best bet, but let’s start there since that’s where most people are comfortable.

Let’s Go Out

If you’re in need of counseling and/or are using (substance abuse) and you’re looking to get help and/or get clean, find the resources in your area that will help you do this. Start with your local hospital or clinic, community center, or outreach center. Prepare for some major changes as you find new (not using) friends and start living life at the front instead of from behind a fog (of drugs and/or low self-esteem).

Boot the negatives from your life. This can and often does include certain family members, some friends, and where we live. Most of us can’t just up and move, so at least show the downers the door – then move the door as soon as you can. This is the external solution.

I’m Going In

The internal solution is getting negative thoughts out of your head, specifically the ones placed there by negative (and sometimes abusive) people. Counseling is the best way to learn new ways to think and process your feelings, and to improve how you see yourself. Visit the library and read (for free) all about the ways others have done this.

In the meantime, this is the logic that worked for me. If some significant person in your life told you you’re stupid and will never amount to anything, consider the source. Seriously, approach this from the most logical angle and then apply your emotional response.

Critiquing the Critic

A happy and successful person does not go around saying critical things to other people, especially those they say they love. Regardless of how educated, wealthy, and respected by others a critical person is, that they would criticize someone else speaks volumes of how unhappy and unsuccessful they really are. Those who respect a critical person are usually critical themselves, have never been criticized by the person in question, or haven’t heard that person criticize others.

If the critical someone in our life is a loved one, it doesn’t lessen how much we love them to stop listening to them. They’ll be fine when they no longer have your self-esteem to use as a dartboard. When you gallivant off in search of greater things, they will find a new target for their misery. The miserable always do.

Dive! Dive!

Let’s go a little deeper now. Be respectful of who you are and be grateful for what you have.

When you show yourself respect, you send the message deep within that you’re a valued person worthy of bigger and better things. This isn’t a lie, even if you don’t believe it. Disrespecting yourself sends the message deep within that you don’t deserve anything better. This is a lie. You do deserve better. Start respecting yourself by keeping your person and your home clean, smiling at yourself in the mirror, and looking up at the sun or stars every time you catch yourself looking down at the ground. No happy and successful person has ever said, “I got to where I am today by treating myself like shit.”

If you’re not grateful for what you have, no matter how little, anything you have or achieve will never be good enough. Ungrateful thinking will always keep you down. Start being grateful by acknowledging the fact that you’re a curious and determined enough person to be reading an article about making your life better.

Count each and every one of your belongings. Few people do this, and it seems to help those who do it. I don’t know how many things I have, but I do know how much it all weighs. For some reason, just knowing this freed me up enough to focus on other things.
Situational Limits

Situational limits are a bit more of a challenge. Fortunately, one of those is just another one of life’s lies: Getting into college is difficult and expensive.

This is not true. College is only expensive if you’re paying the bill. There are a lot of ways to get your college paid for, and grants are only the tip of the iceberg. Even if you have to take a university’s high school equivalency course and placement tests first, you’re still there – a student, in college, on the campus. Not so difficult. Once you’ve done this, go buy a school shirt with the few extra bucks you have left over from one of those obscure scholarships you found and wear it proudly.

Once Upon A Time

My mother didn’t even have a GED. She never took the SATs, had crap grades in high school, and had no extra money. Between her part-time job and funds from grants and scholarships, she was able to study anthropology, minor in art, and still pay her rent and eat. That’s badass for a kid who grew up in Garnett, Kansas and was told she’d never amount to anything. She stepped foot onto a college campus with nothing but questions and a determination that only slightly outweighed the mortal fear that she would be turned away and turned back to a life that wasn’t going anywhere.

She just walked into her local university and refused to take “no” for an answer. She braced herself for the very real possibility that this was going to be a long road that might end badly. The only answers she accepted started with the words “this is how,” “this is where,” “this is what,” and “this is who.” When one person couldn’t answer, she moved onto the next person in charge. She started out as a person no one at the university wanted to see again to being a beloved student and a sought-after contributor to the university paper. If you want to go to college and thought it was outside your means to do so, go do what my mother did.

While she was in college, she regularly kept an ear and eye out for those who, like her, just showed up one day to see how far they could get without a GED and a wad of cash – and then she helped them get it. There might only be a few helpful people at your local university or community college, but if you keep looking, you’ll find them.

Education is only one situational limit. Using my mother’s prowess is a good way to start tackling the other situational limits in life – like how experienced you are, the job you have, and the location of your home.

Real Limits

My mother had numerous complications following her 1970 breast cancer surgery and reconstructive surgery. She fought her limits for years and got nowhere. When she quit fighting, she realized how much time and energy she’d spent doing so. She instead used that time to define her limits and accept them. Once she did that, she was able to see the opportunities that were available to her. There weren’t that many opportunities because of her physical limits. While seemingly a bad thing, it actually helped narrow her focus and channel her energy and concentration.

The complications from surgery eventually forced her to move her writing/drawing hand from right to left. This was a huge setback until she realized her new-handed handwriting was still neater and more literate than that of most of her classmates in college. Her drawings took on a unique and desirable life and style of their own, even if that was very different from what she once knew. She won several art awards and maintained a 3.0 throughout college.

It took hours of a morning for the stiffness and swelling of her condition to abate so she could move, much less drive, work, and study. She had to keep her limits in mind when signing up for classes and scheduling clients. She would later die of liver cancer, but not before founding her own real estate brokerage. She refused treatment and thus avoided the sicknesses associated with it. This allowed her to work and attend college up until a month before she died.

Because she let go of how limited she was, she felt unlimited with what she could do. The irony was beautiful.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of this story is not, “If you’re not as bad off as my mother was, you can be anything you want to be” and it is not, “If you’re worse off than my mother was, you’re justified in doing nothing.” There is no moral. Do what you can do with what you have, make sure you know just what that is — for better or worse — and do the best you can at that.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • peter

    hurray for common sense. i was a rehab counselor for 35 years and got so sick of hearing teacher and therapist telling people “you can be/do anything”.
    i try not to be negative but there is world of reality out there that kids come crashing into and i;,m not one to burst bubbles but sooner or latte
    u gots to wake up and smell the coffee. i think its better to narrow things down a bit. if you wanna try something ok i’ll support you for the first shot, but if you find that the facts r smashing you in the moof, then regroup and find plan b or even c.

  • Feral

    I disagree completely, I believe that if somebody wants to a achieve a goal they can do, as long as they work and are dedicated. They mgiht have a harder time reaching their goal than a person who is naturally gifted at something, but I definitely think they can still do it. A human being has almost limitless potential, all they have to do is find the key to unlock it.

  • I agree with Feral that we have almost limitless potential. However, recognizing real limitations (i.e. like a physical barrier) is very important, too. Accepting who you are and of what you are capable as her mother did (switching hand dominance) is ultimately freeing. Sure, keep fighting for what you want/need/dream of but the peace that is generated by self-acceptance is priceless.

  • Kristen McDonald

    I think I am somewhere in the middle on this. I believe that the majority of the time, our dreams do not exceed our limitaions. Even as a child, before I knew my physical limitations, I never wanted to play basketball for the WMBA. I’m only 5’2″ by the way. I think our interests reflect our talents. But this only works for ordianry circumstances.

  • young rapha

    you suck

  • Akila

    this is ridiculous. of course you can be anything you want to be. you CAN. because if you WANT it, you will do anything you can in your might to get it. the people who simply fail in doing this are the people who say they want to do something but don’t follow through with it.

    IMAGINE A YOUNG CHILD, wanted to become a scientist. of course he can if he wants to. he just needs to study, get his grade in college and uni, then go to medical school. YOU CAN DO IT. if they can’t it’s because they didn’t work hard enough, but it IS in their will power to do it, because ANYONE can be or do ANYTHING if they set their mind to do it.

    if you want to do something you will not sleep because you want it so bad, and the people who do not succeed – as I have said before are the people who didn’t try hard enough or didn’t want it all that much.

    you CAN be anything you want to be, if you dedicate yourself.

  • steven fuceotla

    Who ever said that.
    i mean if you really want it and are willing to do anything that requires and you have sheer determiniation yes you can defienlyt become anyting you want to be .

  • Carrie

    In addition to physical limitations, not everyone is smart enough to do every job. People act like you’re endorsing the Brave New World if you acknowledge that organic IQ plays a role in what you’re capable of doing, but the fact remains that it just does. A person of below average intelligence is not going to be an astronaut or a neurosurgeon just because they try hard enough

  • Jalen

    ANYTHING is possible if you dedicate your time and effort into it. Regardless of any intelligence or obstacles of that matter, can stop a determined attitude. being handicapped or short of health in some cases, there is still a way thiers always a way i would die by that statement, close it fold it tens times over and multiply that by 20 i swear u can do anything you put you mind to. Reality is overrated since you people who dont believe anything is possible, obiviously somwhere along the line made bad decisions that cost you your dream, don’t put down the ones who believe and even after failer still try.

  • ImpossableIsNothing

    The skeptic lives in a world of truth that cannot be disproved as he created his own reality

  • Lucas

    I don’t know if this should even be on the internet because it is entirely false. You can be anything that you want to be. If a baseball player decides he suddenly doesn’t want to pursue baseball as his occupation any longer, and wants to become a surgeon instead, with the right education and the absolute will and maybey even encouragement from others, that man will achieve his goals no matter what stands in his way. You can’t be anything you want to be…bullshit. Don’t let this article fool you.

  • Yes Lucas, that worked out very well for your baseball player turned surgeon. Do you actually know someone like this?

    It’s no coincidence that those who criticize the article don’t hold themselves up as examples of their own assertion.

  • My wife works as a therapist on a rehab unit. Her patients, many of whom are recovering from strokes and traumatic brain injuries, are often wildly deluded about what they can do now, never mind further down the road. She helps them and sees them make tremendous progress but she’ll be the first to stand up and say that No, you cannot be whatever you want to be.

    Let’s suppose that the reason Lucas’s baseball player quits his ball-playing career is that he gets hit on the back of the head by a particularly wild bat swing and suffers an injury to his cerebellum, which among other things controls fine motor skills.

    Can he recover enough to lead a full and productive life? Sure. Can he ever be a surgeon with that sort of injury? Hell no.

  • Unknown

    This ludicrous fallacy stems from our futile tendencies to believe something based on mere psychological instinct, as it appears to provide personal benefits. The fundamental issue is that the maxim is the result of misguiding universal emotions which are completely the result of our neurological structures, and incontrovertibly, do not reflect reality. It originates from the alternate common false idea of connecting feelings with truth.

  • the reallity is what you make it to be

    Anything goes! I would say that if you try hard and truly do your best alonside a good plan of how to do it which is the most important thing,you will do it.And not just becouse I say so but there are plenty of examples that can tell you the same think.I’ll just use one. Einstein had a very low IQ and still he is considered one of the smart people in history. He was determined and had a plan. If you start cutting a tree with a knife you will not get very far,but if you buy an axe and use it you will achieve your goal. So just doing your best is not enough. Good planing & determination will get you there.

  • Tsubasa

    I disagree. Life can be hard and we may be more gifted in certain areas, but if we have a real drive to do something IT WILL be possible. I was born with Asperger’s Syndrome, so my motor functions were shit. I did martial arts for eight years, and now my reflexes are far above average. I beat a guy three times my size in under a minute, even with a 5’8″ 135 pound body. I was the most masculine guy in my group of friends, but despite that I became a crossdresser, and a really good one at that. I’ve won a beauty contest as a girl against ‘natural’ girls, and despite that I’m straight. Maybe that sounds like bragging, but for my entire life I was told that I could never, ever do either of those things, and I excel at them! I wanted to do those things, despite my handicaps or whatever you want to call them, and not only do I do them, but I do them well…

    And you can take a page from THAT!

  • roman

    ”Olympic swimmers will not become heavyweight boxing champions, and professional basketball players will not exchange positions with professional horse jockeys – no matter how much they want to.”

    If they really wanted to, they would. If they don’t, they never wanted enough! Period.

    This article, to me, is just plain dumb bunch of nonsense that I hear everyday from losers that never do anything about their life. I’ve seen miracles in people’s lives, I’ve seen people live the kind of life would make you go wow. And they all paid the prize that needs to be paid in order to live that life. Most importantly, they never listened to anyone tell them that they cannot do something.

  • maire

    To everyone who has posted saying ‘oh you can be whatever you want to be you just have to believe in it and work hard’ – i want to be the president of the united states. but i live in australia and i’m an australian citizen. is it POSSIBLE for me to become the president? No, there are many many legal reasons why this is impossible. But it’s my dream!! Are you telling me that if i work hard enough and believe enough in my dream that it will come true? You are all seriously delusional if you believe this. There ARE limits, and it is kinder to help people focus on their strengths rather than expending time, energy and money on futile pursuits that will inevitably end in disappointment.

  • Andre

    Legal barriers are illusory. Ghengis Khan didn’t ask anyone if it was “legal” to conquer China, because it wasn’t. Laws are not real things. Yes, you can be president of the USA as an australian. There are actually many different ways to accomplish this. Physical barriers are harder to dismiss. The main barrier most people face is the shortness of life (mortality). They don’t have an unlimited amount of time to accomplish their goals.

  • Mark

    When an Olympic swimmer comes in second place, does that mean the swimmer did not want the gold as much as the first place swimmer? Did the second place swimmer not train just as hard?

    I am so glad I live in reality. Humans, like all animals, have limitations. I’m sorry if that isn’t Disney enough for you fairytale types out there, but reality is not a movie.

  • wisdom

    ^^The main barrier most people face is the shortness of life (mortality).They don’t have an unlimited amount of time to accomplish their goals.

    You either succeed, die trying, or don’t want it bad enough. This works for any argument that you can’t have what you want. It can be an unhealthy way of thinking taken to the extremes but most people use this way of thinking to achieve great things. If you don’t think this way I feel bad for you because you could have achieved more.

  • Lou La

    I agree with most things you said in the post, but it is a lot more complex and mysterious than what we can understand. God and Nature works in mysterious ways. What can be accomplished or not is too much for us to predict and judge.

    Many people know about Oprah’s childhood. Not a pleasant one. Obviously she could think “all the facts” are stacked against her and remain in poverty or become something worse. But she never accepted her “fate” but changed it. Isn’t all rags to riches story similar?

    There are many people like Oprah who came up from ground zero (Marilyn Monroe, etc) That proves there is almost unlimited power in what the human mind can accomplish if it believes it can.

    So don’t rely on fate or luck, rely on your own given powers.

  • Michael

    Yes, there are people who have come from humble circumstances to accomplish huge things, such as Genghis Khan, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah. However, those people had a natural aptitude for the things they excelled at. Take a child with an IQ of 80, who wants to be a brain surgeon. No matter how hard he studies, and how bad he wants it, he is not going to be in the top 10% of his graduating class, which is what a medical school would require. Let’s be realistic. There are only 24 hours in a day. If every kid gets 8 hours of sleep, goes to school for 7 hours, eats dinner, goes to the bathroom, etc, there is only a limited amount of time that someone with a low IQ can try to gain ground on the other students who have an IQ of 130 and who are also trying hard to get good grades.

    However, maybe this child with an IQ of 80 happens to be very gifted in music. Then, if he tries hard to become the next Mozart, maybe he will. BUT, that does not mean he can become ANYTHING he wants.

  • Rayzakk

    You can be anything you want to be is a big lie. You can’t be a giraffe.

  • kenneth

    yes, you can!!! i’m a good example. if you say you wanna be a giraffe, that just shows how stupid you are. of course you can’t be a giraffe physically but you can be a giraffe mentally.

  • M

    There’s nothing wrong with trying for something. Even if you don’t reach your goal 100%. Does it matter? No. It’s in our nature to expand and evolve. If no one tried for stuff we would still be living in caves and hunting with stones.

  • TriST3

    You can be whatever you want to be in this world. fuck those who tell you otherwise.

  • Anastas Kazimir

    I agree with you, as much as I would love to work for certain government organizations in certain fields my medical disability will forever prevent that. People need to learn their limits, adapt and move on to do what they can do to survive for that is what humans do best. Nothing to be ashamed of, and those who say otherwise are very fortunate in life.

  • code47

    Haha. Love these “be realistic’ texts…yes, you can become anything if you want it badly enough, the life will give you the opportunity…you cant make excuses and achieve dreams at once…you need to decide which one you go for…its not easy, but everything is possible and i myself experienced that.

    • a person

      No you can’t be anything that you want to be. There really are some things that you can’t be. I’ve wanted to be an amazing pianist. I have taken lessons and played since I was 5. I sound terrible even after hours and years of practicing and I’ve been playing for 15 years. No matter how hard I try I will never be a concert pianist. You can’t be anything that you dream of being. That is one of the most false things that you could ever tell someone. Sorry to be a downer but that is the reality.

  • SuccessThroughOptimism

    Funny and sad. Those that once failed at some aspect of life decide it’s easier to believe the world just hands you a set of cards and you’re damned to deal with it. Instead of dusting yourself off after failure, learning from it, doing better, and not being confined by failure, obstacles or difficulty. I guess life is all about perspective. Those that become whatever they want to be are those that refuse to believe they cant be whatever they want to be. On the contrary…those that prescribe to the belief that life is full of pre-determined limitations…or don’t see the world as full as limitless opportunities are the ones that don’t accomplish much.