Paul Kilfoil's World of Travel, Technology & Sport

Posted on  by Paul Kilfoil.
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What is it with all these Self Help gurus who proclaim that anybody can achieve absolutely anything they want to, provide they believe in themselves and work hard enough? How often have I shaken my head in amazement at the absurdity of statements like "The world is your oyster - you can do anything you want to do"?

Now straight away I imagine you're thinking this guy is just a negative whinger who gives up at the first sign of difficulty or failure. Well, I assure that is far from the truth - I, as much as anybody (and probably more than most), am a firm believer in pushing yourself to achieve things that you thought were beyond your ability. It is amazing what you can accomplish if you focus, work hard enough, believe in yourself and (perhaps most importantly) have the right attitude.

Don't ever give up ... but be realistic as well

So accomplishments well beyond what you had thought were your own limitations are definitely possible, but I have a problem with well-meaning people who simply say "You can do anything you want to do". Read that statement again ; how often have you heard it said? Now take step back and ask yourself, how can that possibly be true? For example, if you really want to be president of the United States of America do you think you could manage it? I can state with complete certainty that, unless you were born in the USA, you will never become the US president, no matter how much you believe it or strive towards it, for the simple reason that the American constitution stipulates that only people born in the country may become president. So this simple example has already demonstrated the falseness of that statement.

I can think of many other examples. One of my favourites is from the world of sport, tennis to be specific. I played quite a lot of tennis when I was young and I would dearly loved to have progressed further than I did (which was not very far). But no matter how much I practiced, no matter how hard I worked at my game and believed that I could beat my opponents, the reality was that I simply was not good enough. I played enough tennis to realize how much better the players were who were above me, and how much better the players above them were, and so on all the way up to the very top players on the planet. In the world of sport there are "levels" of ability, and the gap between the levels is often vast. No amount of self-belief would have allowed me to win even one game off Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe (top players from my day), Andre Agassi or Roger Federer (more recent champions) - the difference in our abilities was just so huge that it was utterly inconceivable (in fact, it is very probable that I would not even have been able to win a single point off players of this quality ; if I did, it would only have been through their unforced errors, not my skill).

So for adults to say to children "you can do anything you want to do" is patently misleading and actually doing them a disservice. Rather tell the truth and say what you actually mean, which is "never, EVER, give up, because you can achieve far more than you think you can if you really try". That is a true statement and will encourage children rather than giving them a ridiculously false sense of what is possible.

In my opinion, what it finally comes down to is HAVING THE RIGHT ATTITUDE. This is probably the single most important life lesson any youngster can learn ... and, unfortunately, it is all too scarce among the teenagers I know, who are uniformly spoilt, expect everything given to them on a plate and have a complete sense of entitlement.

  © Paul Kilfoil, Cape Town, South Africa