Children in our country grow up with this phrase ringing in their ears to the day of their graduation processional and on into adulthood. It’s a phrase that encourages imagination, bolsters hope, and instills perseverance. It can be tweaked to fit different objectives. It inspires, but will also drive you mad. It’s a phrase that made me believe in my dream even on the bad days during my first year of small business.
“You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”
You can get a 4.0 if you set your mind to it. You can get out of debt if you set your mind to it. You can run a successful startup business if you set your mind to it. Sound familiar? These are promises we make to ourselves. Goals with a guarantee. We inherit the you can do anything mindset from day one like it’s genetic, running through our culture’s DNA. Maybe it’s to Thomas the Train Engine’s credit that I Think I Can, I Think I Can settles into our schema at a young age. Even if your mom or dad never read Thomas to you when you were little, the idea that we make ourselves is so prevalent in America it’s possible that you simply have been breathing it in the air this whole time.
The only problem with this phrase is that, well… it’s not necessarily true. See, the variation for little Einsteins is You can be anything you want to be. I remember running those words through my mind throughout my school days. I enjoyed most of my classes – art, science, band, English. I loved my first job working outdoors, and I loved my next job working at a coffee shop. If I could be anything, my list of interests was vast. Just a few of the things I wanted to be included a marine biologist, a painter, a music video producer, a professional clarinetist, and a writer – popular belief told me that I would get to pick. And I did ultimately choose one path, narrowly avoiding decision paralysis!
Educators and psychologists have been talking about this phrase lately, wondering if it leaves too many doors open and prevents our kids from honing in on a specific area of focus, never to determine their calling and destined to spend their adult years floundering through job after job without that all-important sense of meaning. Maybe they can’t really be anything they want to be. We can’t all be rocket scientists, after all. Have we been lying to our kids?
The mindset this phrase teaches raises valid questions, but despite it’s recent criticism, I would say the belief that one can do anything and be anything is a critical catalyst for anyone pursuing a dream, which is what being a small business owner feels like to me. Just think about how off-putting the opposite belief (or more accurately, doubt) would be. Something like, You won’t be able to do that thing you really want to do even if you put your mind to it. No one ever achieved greatness with a mantra like that stuck in their head. Or at least if they did, I don’t imagine they were very happy about whatever it was they ended up accomplishing!
Often the path to reaching our own dreams is unclear, because they are our own and no one else’s – which is exactly what makes them special and important. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first year of small business, it’s that when you don’t know the way forward or have even the slightest clue how it will all work out, the best things you can hold on to are hope, and the positivity that will carry you through the trenches all the way to success, one day at a time.
(Which applies to life in general as well, for the record.)