I’m sorry to do this but I am going to tell you something you may not want to hear. You have probably heard this statement spoken to you and you may have even spoken it to your children or children who are close to you. Here is goes, “you can be anything you want to be”. That simply isn’t true.
Before you get worked up in to a blinding rage or start thinking I don’t believe in the potential of the human spirit you need to really think about that statement. Unfortunately there are things, many things actually, that you won’t be able to do and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s what makes each of us so unique and special and great! We can’t all do everything!
Let’s face it, we don’t all have what it takes to be President or an astronaut or a brain surgeon. Most of us don’t have the temperament to achieve those goals. In addition, if we managed to get there by sheer brute force we will likely end up miserable because that’s not who we really are. It’s a false goal that we’ve wasted too much time and energy chasing.
We’ve all been around groups of children and we can see the incredible potential each of these lives have but by telling them they can be anything they want is setting them up for disappointment. The key is finding out what they are naturally gifted at and what their character is saying and helping them move in that direction.
I’ll take myself as an example. At one time I thought about being a cop. Actually I wanted to be on the SWAT team. I probably watched too many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies as a kid and thought packing a AK-47 and wearing a bullet proof vest to work everyday would be cool. If my parents had of kept pushing the, “you can be anything you want to be” mantra the country would have ended up with a really lousy police officer and I would have probably quit a few years in to it.
Being a cop is not a wise career choice for me and anyone who really knew me would have seen that. I have trouble taking anything too seriously, I don’t believe all rules apply to me, I have a hard time remembering long lists of facts (like laws and procedures) and I don’t take orders very well. The only thing in that whole job I might be good at is waving a gun around and yelling “get on the floor dirtbag!”.
Telling me to pursue my dream of being on the SWAT team would have been a huge mistake.
We don’t want to tell ourselves or our kids that we can be anything we want to be. We need to figure out what we’re good at and have a natural talent for and then go after that with everything we’ve got. By assuming you can do anything is going to get you so distracted and waste so much time going down career rabbit-trails that it could take you decades to find your true calling.
There are hundreds if not thousands or jobs I simply can’t do. That doesn’t make me less valuable or somehow defective. It also doesn’t condemn me to a life of doing job I hate simply because there is nothing else I am good enough at. Not at all! I can’t do anything I want to do, and there is nothing wrong with admitting that. What I can do is narrow down what I’m good at, what I do naturally, and I’m mentally and physically capable of and focus on that. Don’t overwhelm me with being able to do any job in the world! That’s not helping me one bit!
Let’s not set up our kids with years of confusion and self-doubt. Little Junior’s desire to be a teacher might be a terrible idea. Little Suzie’s idea of being a mechanic might be way off base. At a young age children have no idea what these jobs actually entail. They have a romantic idea of what being a teacher or a doctor or a SWAT team member is. They don’t understand the mental temperament required. If you’re not a details person you shouldn’t be a lawyer. If you don’t love memorizing incredible amounts of information you shouldn’t be a doctor. What you SHOULD do is figure out why those jobs appeal to you and match that to who you really are.
I’d make a lousy cop but why was that a career choice at one point? What was it about that job that I thought would be a good fit even though it’s so obvious that it wouldn’t be? What clues can I find in that job description that can help propel me toward my true calling? What I needed was the caring intervention of a wise adult who would walk me through every aspect of that job, lovingly show me where I fell short but also showed me how certain aspects I would excel at. From there we could develop a better career path based on my personal skills and desires and aptitude.
I’m sorry to tell you that you can’t be anything you want to be. Well, that’s not entirely true. The trick is making sure you have chosen the right “anything“. Yes, once you have a solid goal that matches who you really are you can achieve it – there is no doubt about that. However, making it so open-ended and convincing ourselves or our children that every career on earth is available to them will only end in disappointment and an unfulfilled life.