“You can be anything you want to be” is bad advice

The day was hot, candy was bouncing off the streets like raindrops in a spring rain storm. The smell of charcoal and hotdogs filled the air and patriotic melodies filled the streets. It is the forth of July, one of the most exciting kid holidays of the year. You are sitting with your family on a steaming sidewalk watching hodge-podge floats go by. At the moment your biggest concern is fighting off the other kids when the good candy starts flying. Sure you have scavenged some cheap hard candies and sweat tarts. But you are ready for the real prize. You know that someone has a bucket stocked with the real goods and the Tootsie Pops are begging to be set free.

In the midst of your candy craze you look up and see a fire truck. At this moment you see your future. You state with conviction “When I grow up, I want to be a fire[man/woman]. Your well meaning parent looks at you and says “honey, you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up”.  

What a wonderful gift to be anything we want to be. We live in a world where this has some truth. For a majority of us living in the western world there are mountains of opportunity. Some of us have easier paths than others, but opportunity abounds. We have access to the internet and wells of knowledge. And with that comes the ability to be whatever we want.

We have heard it since we were children “If you try your hardest you can be anything you want to be”. This advice came from loving parental figures who wanted us to live happy and fulfilled lives. They had dreams of us accomplishing the things they wished they could have. They saw the world was changing and opening up the doors for their children.

The problem is being whatever you want to be isn’t always healthy

We can better ourselves. We can achieve dreams. But we can’t achieve all of our dreams. Some of our dreams wouldn’t make us happy based on how we are wired.

We live in a time and place where it is easy to compare our lives with others. Comparison can be good, but also dangerous. Theadore Rosevelt famously stated “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When we compare, we take our lives and swap them for others that we deem successful. In our mind the swap is seamless. Our life is dropped into their world without a hiccup. But this doesn’t work. We are all built too different for it to work. We aren’t a one size fits all puzzle piece that connects perfectly with every other piece.

 It took me a while to realize that I would be paralyzed by some peoples lives and successes.

Growing up I wanted to be in the NBA. I thought I had a shot. My dad is still rolling his eyes at this dream. I loved basketball. I knew all the players and their stats, and I watched every game. I ate it up! I loved basketball so much, I thought I’d be a success if I played it professionally. The problem was, I stopped growing at 5’10”. To top that I was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition. This condition made cardio exercise and working out my hell. Guess what? When you are a professional athlete, your days are filled with workouts. I looked up to all these athletes and wanted what they had. I thought I would be happy doing what they did. What I didn’t realize was their day-to-day realities would be my misery. If I worked out 5-6 hours daily would literally kill me. No seriously, my heart would stop.

So no, I am not in the NBA. Do I still love basketball? Heck yes! And maybe I could still make it to the NBA. But it would probably be as a designer in the Trail Blazers front office, and not a point guard in their back court.

When you are looking at jobs and careers that look sexy and glamorous, you should peek behind the curtains. What do days look like for all of the successful individuals whose lives you covet? Do you think you would be happy in their shoes, doing all the things they do? Are their worlds and jobs as glamorous behind the curtains? A position that one person is thriving in might be emotional torture for another.

If you covet the lifestyle of an entrepreneur but can’t function outside of stability, being your own boss will crush you. That is fine. Just understand your strengths and limitations.

Being anything you want to be is an ideal concept. But it might not work out how you though. Instead of being whatever you want to be, find the role that you would thrive in. Don’t pursue careers because they look good on other people. Discover if you would be happy in those roles. Test the waters, and if it isn’t a fit, find something that is! Success is great, but not at the expense of your emotional health.