When People Say You Can’t

This can be you.

I don’t believe in telling people they can’t have a pet Orca.

You know how it is when you’re just chatting along, in the middle of a nice conversation with someone you like, and suddenly it’s like slow motion as you find yourself telling this person about a long-held, deeply repressed dream for your life (like what you really wanted to be was an Orca whale trainer). As if in an out-of-body experience, you see yourself saying the words and you watch the scene unfold with a mixture of horror and excitement.

And you wait for a moment, knowing you probably should have just kept that stupid idea to yourself, as you wait for them to weigh in on the future probability of your dream coming true. You don’t allow yourself the small shred of hope that they will, in fact jump on the Free Willy bandwagon and become your biggest cheering section as you quit your current stable job and head off into the sunset (to whale training school, of course).

What I’m really asking is, do you know that feeling of desperately wanting someone to acknowledge the power of your dream, that against all odds, it is in fact possible that a year from now you could be starring with Shamu at Sea World while wearing a monogrammed wetsuit?

Well I’m here to tell you something, honey buns. Stop it!

Seriously. Stop with it all.


Well, I’ll tell you why, you big old buffoon. (I say that with love). It all comes down to probability.

There’s a fifty percent chance they’ll egg you on and tell you you should go for it. So, great. Except you didn’t really need a green light from anybody else in the first place, but whatever, no harm done in a little pre-achievement celebratory cocktail.

But then again… There’s also a fifty percent chance they’ll poo all over your idea like a dog who just ate too much cheese (gross– and why does it matter how much cheese that dog just ate anyway? I’m talking about Shamu here.) Look, I didn’t want to go here, but there’s a very good chance they’re going to poo so hard on your idea you’ll be cleaning that stain out of your idea’s Persian rug for weeks. (I took that a little too far, didn’t I?)

Trust me, I’ve been in your position. I used to want to train Shamu, too. Then I realized it’s probably not really humane, what with the whole wild animal in captivity thing… Oh wait, sorry. We weren’t actually talking about Shamu anymore. (Aw, but he’s so funnnnn)

I mean, I’ve been in the same boat in terms of asking around for other people’s advice, or offering up my dreams as sacrifice to the gods of good conversation. I know what it’s like to lay yourself bare to a friend or someone you think has your back, only to have them shoot your dream down faster than some war plane over some enemy territory. (I’m not that good with history, so I can’t provide witty specifics about the plane or its location.)

I don’t mean to make generalizations (okay, actually yes I do) but the people who tell you you can’t do something are almost always the people who never did what they wanted to do in life. They’re the bitter ones whose dreams never came true for whatever reason. And now in the wonderful circle of projection, they’re (most likely unconsciously) taking that not-so-sweet garbage out on you. By the way, I have sympathy for those people, really I do– except I’m just a little annoyed how they’re now polluting the minds of youngins’ who could be out saving the world, which isn’t really cool.

On the flip side, you’ve got the inspirational people who are very supportive of your penchant for black and white mammals that like to do tricks (the whales like the tricks, not the people). These are the guys and gals who found a way to live their dreams, and so are beautifully accepting, and nurturing, of that quality in others. Gotta love ’em.

As a function of my exceedingly loose lips and ridiculous dreams (no really, they are), I’ve been on the receiving end of more well-meaning but downright shitty advice than anyone should ever endure. I have also learned that for any given idea you might throw out there, there will invariably be supporters who say yay and detractors who say neigh, or nay, depending on their accent. So how the heck do you figure out who listen to?

Well, neither. (Duh) Because that would be like basing your future on the amount of cloud cover over Honolulu at noon.

What experience has taught me (as well as common sense probably would have done, if I’d ever thought to consult it) is that it doesn’t really matter worth a damn what anyone says about what you can or can’t do. It’s like Henry Ford said best, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

So why would you waste time soliciting others’ opinions on your future or abilities. (For the record, I’ve found it works best when I don’t talk about my hopes or dreams at all, or at least until they’re well on their way to fruition.) Your life and what it holds is up to no one but yourself. That’s a blessing. Don’t squander it.

If someone builds you up, it may feel nice, but you’re still not any closer to achieving your dream. And if someone tears you down, forget them. I mean, not literally– there’s a good chance they really love you and are just trying to protect you, but seriously, they’re useless to you in this particular situation. Cover your ears and say “LA LA LA LA LA” when they start talking. It’s nothing you need to hear.

Don’t ever let someone determine for you what you can or can’t do. That’s limiting to your life, and it’s degrading to your spirit. It’s also just plain weak. You are much stronger than that. As a human being, I know that about you already. And besides, it’s simply not up to them how you live your life. Not to mention, you don’t need their psychic baggage: you’ve got a dream to chase down, darn it!

You go be the story that inspires them to realize they were wrong and their vision of the world can crack open a little bit. You help them like that but don’t help them by taking on their own little version of themselves and their limits. I’m a person who doesn’t believe in limits, and I don’t think that’s coincidence to how happy I am.

And by the way, just a small note of observation: it’s often the people who love you the most, or see themselves as most vested in your future who will try to convince you to play it safe. It’s usually just because they love you and don’t want you to get hurt, or they don’t want to be party to such a huge failure if your show doesn’t get picked up by Sea World. Don’t take it personally. Keep loving them, just make sure to wear earmuffs when they talk.

I’ve found the best advice or guidance (which is still probably a step below that of your intuition) usually comes from a less-interested party. They don’t mind seeing you mess up! 😉