The other day an acquaintance began telling me about her younger brother. He’s an ivy league graduate with no clue about what he wants to be doing with his life.
“He’s still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up,” she said. “And everyone keeps telling him that he can do anything.” She sighed and shrugged, “He’s having a hard time.”
Oddly enough the message that her brother is receiving- “You can do anything” is actually stressful. It’s one of the most common pieces of advice I see that is a total non-starter for people.
Because if you could do anything at all wouldn’t you choose a Nobel prize winning, million dollar making, socially prestigious path that forever changes the world for the better and puts your name in the history books? And how are you supposed to know how to choose a path like that?
People who hear and believe this advice struggle because it points them to such a lofty place. It’s as though they are reaching up and trying to hold firmly onto a cloud. Their hand goes right through and comes up empty. Anything? How do I choose what to do out of anything?
I don’t think it’s true that you can do anything. Instead I would offer that you can do something that is in line with your preferences and strengths.
For example, I recently watched an entertaining documentary about the puppeteer behind Elmo, Kevin Clash. From an early age he loved puppets. As a teenager he put on shows for the kids in his Baltimore, MD neighborhood. His peers laughed at his pursuits, wondering why he spent all his time cutting felt and making funny voices instead of doing something more acceptable, like playing football. In time Kevin’s talent, enthusiasm, and dedication allowed him to join the ranks of the elite puppeteers behind the Muppets and Sesame Street. Today he is by all means a huge success. Just think back to the Tickle Me Elmo craze.
Here’s the thing. Kevin couldn’t do anything. I don’t know for certain, but I imagine he would have fallen short in any number of other professions. Yet he could do something- he could bring a red, fuzzy puppet to life and embed it solidly into the hearts of children everywhere.
The difference between Kevin and my acquaintance’s brother comes down to this. Kevin was not grasping at clouds. Instead he grabbed at an anchor, his love of puppets, which cut out a whole lot of “anything” and led him to “something”.
Explore and connect with your interests to get started on the path toward your “something”. And the next time someone tells you that you can do anything come back to earth by remembering that it is much more likely that:
1) You can do something that matches up with what makes you unique.
2) You can positively impact your immediate environment.
3) You will spend plenty of time in whatever profession you choose engaged in decidedly unearth-shattering tasks.
4) With the financial freedom a job provides you will one day move out of your parent’s house.
And that’s a pretty good start.