Do you believe in the oft-stated paradigm that "you can be anything you want to be if you just put your mind to it"?
Yes: 5 percent
No: 95 percent
Recently, I conducted an important study from my living room couch—with a couple of cold beers serving as my survey assistants. I counted the number of times someone being interviewed on TV said words to the effect that "you can be anything you want if you just put your mind to it." Equivalent statements included:
"Hold on to your dreams and you can achieve anything."
"Don't ever give up and eventually you will get where you want to go."
"All you need is perseverance. You will get there."
By the end of one week, watching an average of two hours a day of television, I heard statements of this kind from seven athletes, four actors/actresses, three talk-show hosts, two authors, two singers, and one business tycoon. I heard it nineteen times in one week of prime-time couch-potato television. As I was writing this chapter, I read a newspaper article in which several young entertainment stars—from rappers to television idols—promised kids that they could be anything that they wanted to be. "There is never an obstacle too big that you can't overcome if you put your mind and resources to it," according to rapper Big Tigger.
In my opinion, few—if any—of these people believe what they are saying. The media trainers tell them to say it: if an interviewer starts pandering to you, tell the audience that you are nothing special; tell them that they could just as easily be where you are. Statements of encouragement to fans and wanna-bes make the superstars seem modest, and they give those aspiring to success the opportunity to fantasize that they too could become dizzyingly famous in any field of their fantasy. But, based on my interviews, I do not believe that the people who spew out this baloney really think that you can be anything you want.
Singer Celine Dion made one of these "you can be anything" statements at a concert. But Celine has perfect pitch; they don't. Less than one in a million will get where she got in the recording world. And Kevin Garnet said in an interview words to the effect that all young basketball players can get to the NBA if they just work toward their dreams. Well sorry, Kevin, if you are 58 and can't jump, there is no way you are going to be a $100 million basketball star no matter how much time and energy you may devote to the cause.
More often than not, the reality is that hard work and a dream will not get you where you want to be. So what will?