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.
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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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