If you’re like me, you grew up being told that you could be whatever you wanted—astronaut, dancer, artist—anything at all. I grew up with the confidence of my own abilities behind me, but that may not have been a good thing.
There’s something I like to call the Dilemma of Choice. It’s basically living in a time and place when you seem to have every option in the world—what to do, where to go. Everything comes with a choice. Everything is customizable. And while this wide array of options can be exciting, it can also have a paralyzing effect.
I write this mainly from the standpoint of choosing your career. When you’re told you can be anything you want, it can be good advice. Most people can train to learn just about anything in the world, with or without a natural talent. It may take longer and be much harder without one, but it can be done. But there’s a part that I feel is left off of the praise and encouragement: you can be anything you want, but don’t try to be everything. Otherwise, it can lead to a kind of choice paralysis.
This can affect people in any situation, be it about their job or otherwise, but it’s especially harmful when it comes to something serious like an attempt to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. Because for me, telling me I can do anything is like saying I should do everything.
Let’s look at this from the opposite end of the spectrum. I certainly wouldn’t advise going in the other direction with all of this and telling a child that one day they’ll work in a very specific job and that they have no other options. That child certainly won’t be confused about which career to pick, but they also won’t get to explore other options that might be better for them.
But telling someone they can do whatever they want can be limiting in its own way too. For people that think like me, how do you possibly make a decision? And then stick with it? Maybe it’s time to be a little more realistic: you can be anything you want within the realm of your personality and abilities. It sounds horrible, but I think it can help a lot of people.
For instance, you might want more than anything to be a musician. But if you have such terrible stage fright that you never progress beyond playing the piano alone in your own house, perhaps choosing to be a musician as a professional career isn’t the best choice for you.
And there’s no denying that while most people may not be overly satisfied with their jobs, someone’s got to do them. That isn’t to say some people should be stuck at horrible or unsatisfying jobs forever, all because we need people to make coffee drinks or because the accounting won’t take care of itself. But sometimes you’ve got to realize that you play a small part in something very large, and you aren’t always going to be the star of the play.
By telling someone they can be anything they want, it almost says to them instead, “You can and should do anything. Since you have such options, you should always be exactly where you want.” How many people got told that the sky was the limit and currently aren’t at their dream job?
Again, I’m not saying to decrease someone’s self-esteem or self worth by telling them that they can’t be anything they want. I’m only saying to encourage responsibility with the idea. Don’t set yourself up for failure by reaching so high that you end up falling all the way back to the ground. But don’t be content to stay on the ground forever either.