“you can do anything”…really?…

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10/11/2013 by Sarah Ritchie

You can do anything

Benjamin Franklin famously said “you can do anything you set your mind to“. This phrase sounds like it was coined by someone trying to motivate others, but is it grounded in reality, and is it helpful?

In my time teaching graphic design I saw many students enter the course with dreams of being a “graphic designer” when they graduated. The sad reality was that – after two years of teaching and development – only a small percentage of my class showed the skills and aptitude necessary to work in a graphic designer role.

All my students, however, had the potential to still work within the industry, and utilise the skills they had learned. Their role could have been as a pre-press operator, account manager, retoucher, etc. The inevitable outcome was that most of my students never pursued an alternative within the design industry. When the course finished and they could not gain employment, the original dream was shattered, and most went back to their former careers.

Telling a young person they “can do anything they set their mind to” appears commendable, but what happens when that child grows up to realise their dreams do not align with their natural talents and gifts? If a person attempts to operate outside of what they are intrinsically wired to do, they are likely to fail. For example, if you cannot sing well, it is unrealistic to aspire to be a singer (just watch the American Idol auditions). If you don’t have the height it is highly unlikely you will become a professional basketball player.

What you CAN do is to listen to your heart, be aware of what you’re good at doing, and maybe modify your dream just a bit. So you love basketball. Perhaps it is unrealistic to think you could play in the NBA, but why not become a basketball coach, or sports administrator/lawyer/promoter/manager? Why not work with underprivileged kids, passing on your love of the sport?

While we cannot become a lot of things, we CAN become a lot of things too. Try something you know you are good at, and stick with it. If you strive for a dream that is rationally-based you are more likely to find fulfilment and happiness.

If you fail, remember that’s OK too. Learn from the experience, make adjustments and move forward. You are the only one who can hold you back.

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