The kids and I were watching a favorite movie of mine, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” last night.
It’s based on the true story of Chris Garnder who, hard on his luck, becomes homeless with his five year old son. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it. While playing basketball with his son, Gardner says:
“Don't ever let somebody tell you... You can't do something. You got a dream... You gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can't do it. If you want something, go get it. Period.”
I turned up the volume to about 50 and asked the kids, “Did you hear that?”
Kids: “Uh, yeah. It was kind of loud.”
Me: “But, do you get it? Do you see what he means that you should never give up?”
Kids: “Uh, yeah. Okay. Can we have some more chocolate chips in a bowl?”
Later, after the chocolate chips were put away, and the kids were snug in their beds, I contemplated the quote. When someone tells us we can’t/shouldn’t do something or that we are not good enough, we can have one of two responses:
- Believe them and prove them right. This is when you give up and think, “Yeah, they’re right. Who was I to even think I could do that anyway?” You see this all the time when a parent, coach or teacher tells a child that they are “bad”. The kid responds with “Let me show you just how bad a I can be,” and lives out the self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Believe in yourself and prove them wrong.
Guess which option I like better?
Most of the time we are told we can’t do things by people who love and care about us, but want to protect us. They do not intend to be discouraging, they intend to take care of us. I can think of two incidents in my life where I was told I couldn't/shouldn’t do something I really wanted to do.
The first time was when I was 23. After a long application process, I had been accepted into the Peace Corps to go to West Africa (Mali) to teach people about forestry: planting gardens and such. I had absolutely not one minute of experience in this field, but still wanted to go for the experience. My mom, doing the job of being a mother, let me know she questioned if I could and should do this. While I saw her as discouraging me from a dream, she saw it as being a mother bear and protecting her young from what could have been a stressful and miserable two year commitment. In the end, I didn’t go. I’ll never know if this was the “right” choice or not. It was just the road not taken. But, seriously, can you imagine me planting fields in Mali? At least I could do some serious fertilizing!
The second time this happened, was just a few months ago, and you will remember it well if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile. I got a stress fracture in my hip in October 2010. My doctor, a competitive runner, knew I had registered for the Boston Marathon for April of 2011. He supported me recovering and coming back to run the race. I started physical therapy in January with a therapist I had never met before. Within five minutes of meeting me, she told me “Running Boston is not a good idea, I don’t see it happening.”
I was devastated, pissed, destroyed (read HERE). Yet, I also knew she was doing her job, which was to protect her patients and to move them towards recovery in the best way possible. Running a marathon did not fit into her treatment plan. As I began to recover and regain my strength, I eventually got her blessing. Four months later, I ran the Boston Marathon in 4:08. Not my fastest showing, but the one I am most proud of.
Look, Ma! No crutches!
Another reason someone might tell you can’t do something is jealousy. A supposed good friend might feel threatened when you say you want to train for your first marathon, and therefore tell you “I don’t think you can do that. It’s too hard on your body, too much of a time investment, etc.” When she really means, “I couldn’t do that, and if you do I fear I will appear weaker or less than you.”
Then there are just mean people who say you can’t do it because they hate their own miserable lives and don’t want to see anyone else succeed. Or, they just plain like looking down on people and feeling superior.
For me, the lesson in all of this is to dream big, but keep your feet on the ground. Take feedback from people you love, and try to decipher their intentions. Remember people may be trying to protect you, but you need to protect your dream. Above all, “If you want something, go get it.” Don’t be talked out of it.
Have you ever been told you couldn’t/shouldn’t do something you dreamed of? How did you react?