You can be anything you want to be – this is what encouraging parents usually tell their children when they are young. Just trust in yourself, trust in your abilities and work hard, then you can achieve whatever you desire. But is that really true? Can you actually be anything you want to be? If so, under which conditions? What will it take for you to get there? And what are the naturally given limits to your self actualisation? Are there even any? There are three layers to answering these questions, so bear with me as I unravel them for you.
Layer one: You can be anything you want to be
By definition, most people are average. Most of us are not rich, successful or popular. Most are not outstanding athletes, artists, business men or leaders. So when we happen to compare ourselves to those people, we usually find excuses why they are doing so well.
“Yeah, he built a million-dollar company from scratch, but his parents were rich already. Anyone could have done it like that.”
“She is a famous actress now, but she always knew the right people. She just got lucky.”
“Oh, if I was as talented as Tiger Woods, I would be a pro golfer as well.”
Here is the thing though: Talent doesn’t mean shit if you don’t develop it. Luck is worthless if you are not prepared. And money has to be used effectively to multiply it.
What success really comes down to is none of these external factors. Instead, success is always a function of the work you put in. The more you work on yourself, the better you will become at your craft. Simple as that.
This is what Malcom Gladwell means when he talks about the 10.000 hours of deliberate practice that are necessary to master any skill. This is what Geoff Colvin talks about in his book “Talent is overrated”. They are both demystifying the success stories of some of the most influential people of the last century, such as The Beatles, Bill Gates or Robert Oppenheimer. These people didn’t accomplish what they accomplished because of money, luck or talent. They got there because they worked their butts off! Only hard work leads to results.
This however then should make you wonder: if hard work is really the only thing necessary to become great at a craft, anyone who puts in the time can do it. We all have the same 24 hours a day. Depending on how you allocate those 24 hours, it is completely up to you what skills you develop. So maybe it is true, maybe you can be anything you want, just like you were told as a kid?
But it is actually a little more complex than that. So let’s have a look into layer two.
Layer two: You can’t be anything you want to be
We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
This is what Tyler Durden says in the timeless movie Fight Club. He describes how society keeps us going by baiting us with rewards that turn out to be unrealistic.
To either tell yourself or get told by others that you can be anything you want to be if you are just willing to work hard enough is a nice little affirmation. It helps you endure the grind. It refrains you from giving up. But if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we actually all have quite a lot of handicaps that are keeping us from certain professions.
I for example have a problem with my hip. No matter how hard i worked, I could never become a professional football player. It just wasn’t in the cards I was dealt. I also doubt that I would be any good as a math professor. Numbers are not really my thing, I prefer words. So even though putting in the hours in those areas would surely improve my results greatly, I don’t quite have what it takes to make it to the elite level that is necessary in order to get paid.
We have to accept the fact that human beings are all unique, all with their unique set of talents and skills, but also all with unique flaws and shortcomings. For some professions there are requirements that you and I simply might not be able to fulfil. So even though it is a nice thought to have, the answer is actually no: you cannot be anything you want to be. We are too unique from birth on and don’t fit into each profession equally well.
But wait – there is also a third layer to this question. And this is where things get really interesting…
Layer three: You can be anything you want to be
Layer three has the exact same wording as layer one: you can be anything you want to be. The only difference seems tiny, but it makes all the difference: layer three puts the emphasis on the word want. You can be anything you want to be.
I do not believe in God, but I believe that every person has a purpose in life. We all have talents that need to be discovered and nurtured, paths that need to be followed and impact that needs to be made. And I also believe that magically we all possess what is necessary in order for us to pursue our individual path.
I might not have what it takes to become a football star or a math professor, but neither did I ever have the aspiration to go down that path.
Instead, I was given exactly what I need in order to be what I want to be.
That doesn’t mean that following your path and finding your purpose will be any easier. Don’t get me wrong: that path is still paved with a lot of pain. You still will have to work your ass off. But the fact that you can be anything you want to be simply means that whatever you want to be can be reached with hard work.
Think of what you try to accomplish. Even if the goal seems unreachable at times- don’t you at least have the feeling that you have certain characteristics, certain traits that make it a tiny more realistic that you out of all people would reach that goal? It seems a little overly dramatic to use that term here, but for your specific path in life, for your vision, for your goals: don’t you feel like The Chosen One?
So I would say the following: don’t think about whether or not you can be anything you want to be. It really doesn’t matter if you potentially have the abilities to do any profession. Instead, think about what you want to be. Assess your unique personality. Find out what your core passion is. Figure out you path towards that passion. And magically, you will have exactly the right character traits to pursue that path.