Doing things differently since 1984
It’s no secret that, as we grow up, we have to revise what we thought we knew. Generally speaking, we all work out that Santa Claus isn’t real, that monsters don’t live under our beds, and that mom and dad aren’t actually perfect. I still remember how betrayed I felt when my 6th grade math teacher informed us about negative numbers – debunking the myth I had been taught up to that point that a number minus a bigger number was always 0.
There are a lot of reasons we lie to or mislead our kids – whether it is to protect them from the evil or ‘adult’ things of this world, to avoid an over-complicated subject, or to convince them to do something we feel is right. Whatever the reason, most of the time we mean well.
However, I can’t help but notice that there are some of these “childhood truths” (when I say “truths” I mean “myths”) that don’t always seem to get revised in adulthood, that really should. I could name a bunch, but there is one really sticking out to me today:
“You Can Do Anything if You Believe in Yourself”
I can understand why we tell this to our kids. In a [nearly] free market society, if you don’t believe you’re going to be able to do something, you won’t. You need motivation, and, for the most part, that means self-motivation. It’s also healthy to dream. However, if you really think about it, you’ll realize that the above statement is absolute idiocy. Not only that, but it is dangerous, leading people to major disappointment in life.
Here’s an example: If you’ve seen American Idol, or your country’s equivalent, you’ve seen it – some shameless person stands in front of the judges and says “I’M going to be the next American Idol.” They believe in themselves. And then they start their song…. And it’s terrible. You groan or laugh loudly on your couch just to drown out the sound coming out of their mouth. The judges shoo them out the door and the contestant vows to the camera, “Those guys are stupid! Especially the British one! I’m going to be famous!”
That, my friends, isn’t self-motivation; it’s self-delusionment. Obviously, just ‘believing’ in anything doesn’t make it a reality. Just like not believing in something doesn’t make it not a reality. This may come as a shock to some, but you can’t ‘believe’ something in or out of existence. This includes talent.
Here is another, more practical example: Sally Dreamsbig has just graduated high school, and wants to open a bakery. She’s wanted this ever since her mom bought her an Easy Bake Oven at age 7. She knows she’s a good baker, and she knows she would love it, and she knows that’s what she wants to do. So at age 19 she gathers all her ideas, writes an immaculate and inspiring business plan, bakes a few of her best samples, and trots down to the bank to get her loan and her dream started.
The bank…. says no. She hasn’t got any credit history. She only has a few hundred dollars saved up. She has no experience. No way. Though – the banker admits – her chocolate ganache is delicious.
What did I do wrong? She wonders. Her plan had been laid out perfectly in her mind. She knew her goal. She knew she would be perfectly capable of making this happen. She believed in herself… but the bank didn’t believe in her! Her dreams are shattered. She spirals into depression. Nothing else seems even worth considering…. This was all she’d ever wanted.
You see the problem? If you’re self-motivating yourself to a certain goal, and “life happens” in whatever form and you are obstructed or delayed from getting there, you can lose your motivation. And then you’re stuck. No, believing in yourself isn’t enough. There are too many factors out of your control. You aren’t God.
So what’s the heart of the message? It’s about not giving up. You can’t ‘believe’ your goals into the present, but you can keep yourself walking toward them – or, perhaps, looking around and finding a better goal. We can’t know the path, but we can at least choose to walk it. You can believe in your ability to put that next foot forward.
So by all means, believe in yourself – but let that be your motivation to improve your abilities, get yourself educated, save your money, make wise decisions, and perhaps even lower your expectations for a while. After all, we only live this life one day at a time.