Do What You Can, Ignore What You Can’t

For GenX and Y, it was the anthem song of childhood.

“You can do anything you want to do!”

We heard it from teachers, parents, coaches, and others who wanted to ensure that we didn’t suffer – even for a minute – from a lack of self-esteem. We all knew, deep down, that it was untrue. We failed at a lot of things, and most of us understood that – no matter how hard we tried – we weren’t destined to become heavyweight boxing champion of the world or GI Joe.

Still, these words had a profound effect on us. Rather than getting guidance to help us understand our real strengths and weaknesses, many of us had to venture awkwardly into our teen years still trying to discern where we should put our efforts. For some, this extended into our twenties, or even beyond.

I had an interaction the other day with someone who was struggling with knowing which direction to go. I had the sense that she was paralyzed by the possibility of “getting it wrong”. After all, if she was fully equipped to do anything she wanted to do, what if she chose the wrong path? What if she chose the wrong “purpose” for her life? Because she was afraid of doing the wrong thing, she wasn’t doing anything. She was in a state of stasis, waiting for some kind of clarity.

Clarity results from action. We uncover the truth as we try, succeed, fail, and learn. Bolts of lightning are wonderful, but the chance of being struck by one is very slim. If we want to find our voice and have an impact, we need to begin to act, today, in small ways.

A list of things for which you and I are profoundly unqualified:
Determining our legacy. (This will be backward engineered after we are already fertilizing daisies.)
Choosing our times. (We must deal with the times we are handed.)
Making others like our work. (You can’t do it. You will always have people who hate it.)
Ensuring safety. (No matter how hard you try, there is no such thing as perfect safety.)

A list of things for which you and I are qualified:
Making something, now.
Contributing value, now.
Speaking up.
Learning something new every day.
Taking small risks instead of retreating.
Refusing to allow the opinion of others to control our life.
Refusing to ignore wise advice from others.
Emptying ourselves each day.

The key to finding your voice is to begin to take small risks to express yourself each day. Don’t try to be someone else, and don’t fall into the trap of taking shortcuts that ultimately cost you more than you gain. It is a kind of poverty to spend your life chasing the limelight.

We need to do the things for which we are qualified, and ignore the things for which we are not.

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  1. elizabethskipper

    It took me a long time to realize that it’s okay to answer the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” with the answer “I don’t know.”

    Someone once articulated for me that God doesn’t have one set path for us and that’s it. There are infinite possible paths, based on the choices we make, and, like a GPS recalibrating when you decide to ignore its directions, He meets us where we are and leads us to the best possible outcome on that particular path.

    Hearing that was amazingly freeing–I knew I had made countless choices against God’s directions over the years, and if I only had one destiny, I had long ago screwed myself out of it. Now I know that I only need to do my best, listen as hard as I can, and make the choices that feel like the right ones, knowing that any path I end up on can turn out to be the right one.

  2. ClaytonPearlstein

    Well said. After reading your book and others in the creative
    vein I have been thinking a lot about these kinds of things. I had
    found myself stumbling and often times being paralyzed by the idea that I
    need to be at the height of my creativity NOW!

    I felt the
    crippling need to read all the books, follow all the blogs, learn all
    the tricks, and be able to create something of high value NOW. This I
    am not qualified to do and in the end it kept me from doing much at all.

    I am “qualified” to do is to play, read book by book (not worrying
    about how many, how fast), create for fun, follow my curiosity and allow
    it to side track me into other areas of creativity, and in general have
    fun with what I do.

    This much I am now trying to do and it has
    given me great artistic enthusiasm. I find myself piecing together all
    my creative interests (at least in my head), which are growing in
    number, and doing much much more.

    Being freed from these useless shackles brings out the best creativity.

    a father of three young children it is especially nice to be learning
    these things now, so I can teach them to let their creativity freely
    roam. I am already amazed by some of the things they create and am
    thrilled to see what their relatively unfettered minds will create in
    the future.

    Thanks for writing,
    Clayton Pearlstein 

  3. Emily Kimball

    Reminds me of this quote:
    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” 
    ― Albert Einstein

    • Todd Henry

      LOVE this quote. Outstanding!

      • ClaytonPearlstein

         Great quote.  Thanks Todd.

    • Mary Livengood

      Great quote. It complements the article perfectly!



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I'm Todd Henry.

I'm Todd Henry.

I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More

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