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Nope, You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be

We’ve all heard it many times.

Commercials and advertisements all promote it.

Bookstores and magazines are full of stories supposedly reinforcing it.

Graduation ceremony speakers say it.

What it is, is the idea that you can be anything you want to be.

Nope, You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be

The idea that you can be anything you want to be is a lie.

And, as business leaders and entrepreneurs, the quicker we understand it is a lie, the easier and quicker it will be for us to be what we need to be.

Conceptual Understandings

To demonstrate that you cannot be anything you want to be, we need to see four concepts.

First, factually you cannot be anything you want to be.  I want to be a professional basketball player.  I shoot the ball fairly well, but I’m 5’9” and the only jumping I’m good at is to conclusions.  No way will I be a professional basketball player despite my desires.

Second is the desire to be as successful as some outrageously successful business person (e.g., Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Bill Gates).  The question is, why try—you are not them, and they are not you.  Simply reading the books they read, working the hours they work, or wearing the same clothing they wear will not give you a better chance of being as successful as they are.

In fact, attempting to emulate a successful person is probably taking away time, energy, and focus from what it will take to make you successful.

Third, setting unreasonable expectations is always problematic.  As seen in many work environment with incredibly high “stretch” goals, employees tasked with meeting these goals often fall to unethical behavior to meet the goals, or are emotionally crushed because of failing to meet them

Finally, as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman puts it:

“Success = Talent + Luck.

Great Success = A Little More Talent + A Lot of Luck.”

            This is a bitter pill for those who want to believe we control our destiny and, therefore, our destiny reflects something about our internal qualities, such as ability, drive, or worth. All outrageously successful people are outrageously successful because of something outside of their talent and drive.

You Can Be Anything You Need to Be

Once we get away from the “be anything you want to be” myth and back to reality, business leaders and entrepreneurs need to see that success is still rooted in hard work, talent, and chance.

Hard work, talent, and chance all merge to create our success.

Chris Guillenbeau, author of Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do re-wrote of the adage of “‘Winners never quit, and quitters never win,” to be “To win, sometimes you need to find a new game to play.”

Find a game that matches your talents and your desire to work hard, and then look for ways to increase your chance of success in that particular field.  And the best way of improving your likelihood of being successful is finding something you can do that brings you joy.

You need to find what it is that will maximize your talents and allow you to be content in doing something you are really good at.

The Bible

The biblical version of you can “be anything you want to be” is from  Philippians 4:13.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Fortunately, this Bible verse is found in the context of a larger narrative that clarifies what the Apostle Paul is saying.  In effect, Paul says that the believer’s experience of either want or satisfaction is ultimately an internal rather than an external reality. It has less to do with one’s material circumstances than with a certain mental and spiritual attitude. The secret, he explains in verse 11, is contentment and joy.

Focus on being anything you need to be.  And the easiest path is to find the contentment that comes from realistically understanding your talents, your ability to working hard, and the chances of being a success in your chosen field.  Talent and hard work are your responsibility; contentment and joy will only be found with the help of God.