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.
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.
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 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.
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.