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Can you achieve anything you want?

Too often you hear that if you ‘really follow your passion’ or ‘really go for what you want to do’ and ‘believe in yourself,’ you can achieve everything you desire. The person telling the story is often an excellent example. It's a powerful message and we love to hear it; if we want something badly enough, the world is ours. But it annoys me because it is a false promise. I think it’s mean.

In the first paragraph of my book The Fearless Monkey I write that “you just have to dare to do what is important” to you. I should edit it really, because that ‘just’ is not fair. After all, the rest of the book tries to help you find out what is important to you and to nudge you, if not hit you with a stick, to take the leap and actually do it.

First, for most of us it is not that obvious what our passion is. We all know people who always wanted to be a pilot or a doctor and became one, but they’re the lucky ones. For the rest of us it’s not that apparent and anyway, our passions aren’t necessarily fixed, they may change. Finding out your real passion(s) takes time, trial and error, curiosity, reflection, open-mindedness and a good dose of luck.

Second, if we’re talking about making a living, not all passions are equally well-suited. We could of course take a job which pays the bills and live our real passion in our free time. But that sounds already less life-changing.

Third, and most importantly, it’s mean because the claim is unprovable. The example standing in front of you is no proof. Their success was the result of so many factors, luck being one, and to bring it all back to “really following your passion” is misleading. How many people doing exactly the same with just as much vigour and perseverance, didn’t succeed?

The meanness resides in the fact that if you tell them you have dedicated the last years completely to the same passion but to no avail, they can always respond “then you haven’t tried hard enough” or “then you still don’t really believe in yourself.”

How do they know? How can we know? The only thing we do know, is that we haven’t had the results we want yet, but is that necessarily due to a lack of effort or belief?

So, is it all bullshit? No. Part of the claim is true and that’s part of its allure. It is true that the more committed you are, the more persistent, the more you love what you do, the greater the chance of succeeding and getting the results you want.

But no, there are no guarantees. But certainly you’ll have more fun in trying to fulfill your passions. That message is powerful enough.


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