“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.” ~ Homer Simpson
Americans are in love with our “entrepreneurial spirit”. We admire winners and love stories about people who have achieved success by overcoming great odds. But there is one myth we hold dear in this culture that I find most troubling: The idea that you can be anything you want to be if you want it bad enough.
It’s a warm fuzzy “feel good” politically-correct statement, but really, it’s patently not true. I don’t believe, for example, that a legally blind person can become an airline pilot, no matter how hard they try. I don’t believe that all the kids who want to become president someday will become president. I don’t believe that anything you believe you can achieve is achievable no matter how badly you want it. I’ve seen the video of the paraplegic who climbed Mt. Everest on his specially crafted ski chair. Yay! But he didn’t accomplish that goal by himself and he didn’t do a “happy dance” there on the summit.
I think the phrase “within reason” sometimes needs to be inserted into these lofty motivational statements. I heard a comment from a young man who was dying of cancer talking about his hope for the future… which, in his case, wasn’t to be very long. His goal was to make the remaining days of his life as meaningful and as happy as he could. This was not only a lofty goal; it was an “achievable” goal. His hope was tempered with a strong dose of reality. He pointed out wisely that: “You don’t have a choice in the cards you are dealt, but you do have a choice in how you play them”. This is a truly profound concept.
My wife was impressed with a drama she once saw on TV about a middle-aged man who trained for a Marathon. He was intensely focused on the goal of winning this race; he worked as hard as one can train for the competition. On the race day he finished the race in the middle of the pack. His friends and family supported his efforts and cheered him on. Yet at the celebration his family threw for him at the end of the race, he walked past them all, went into his bedroom, closed the door threw himself on the bed and cried. They were all perplexed – You see they didn’t understand that his expectation was that he would WIN the Marathon. Perhaps the goal he had set for himself was not a reasonable goal.
The truth is that we cannot measure the scope of our triumphs against the standards set by the rest of the world. Fame is fickle and short-lived; wealth and financial success are largely the result of luck and opportunity. Only in the eyes of the Law are all men created equal: in reality, there is often little equality within the context of where, and how, we come into this world. What we determine is “success” is relevant to what is achievable within the conditions we find ourselves. The only place where there may be no limits to our abilities is within our imagination.