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You can’t do anything you want

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

As you start this week, remember that you can’t do anything you want if you just put your mind to it. That’s a common thing some people like to tell children, isn’t it? You can do anything you want, if you just put your mind to it.

Well, I don’t find this very true in my own life. Try as I might, I can’t do everything I want to do. I can’t be taller than five-foot-two, which means I can’t reach the top shelf above the fridge if it killed me. I’m never going to swim in the Olympics, even if I started now and swam daily for the rest of my life. It’s okay—it’s just something I can’t do, no matter how much I might want to.

This bleeds in to less obvious areas in my life, too. I’m made more right-brained than left, and since I’m a believer in playing to my strengths instead of expending energy trying to improve on my weaknesses, it’s not in anybody’s interest that I become a chemist. Or a math teacher, for that matter.

It also means that because I only have twenty-four hours in my day, as do each of you, tomorrow I’m just not going to grow a luscious backyard garden, sew all the curtains in my home, run a successful business, build a new bookshelf, AND be awesome at Crossfit. I’m just not. I’m human.

So remember this about yourself, that you’re human, too, and that you can’t do everything you want to do. And that while this may be frustrating at times, it’s really a gift, these limitations. Bask in the limitations you’ve been given, and use them as permission to be awesome in your strengths.

Relish the things you can do, and don’t sweat the things you can’t.

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Comments

  1. This is somewhat sad but SOUND advice. It is not easy being the adult in a Parent/child relationship but someone has to do it.
    I would usually tell my kid that you can do whatever it is you want to do but you will not always succeed in doing it. But, if you really love what it is that you do, then you made a decent stride to make your life better and that is all we can hope for in our lives. Just a little better a little bit at a time.

    • Hmm… I suppose it can seem sad. Sure. For me, though, I’m choosing here to see it as a good thing, to be more than okay with the finite limitations I’ve been given as a human.

      • I don’t see it as sad, either. As much as I’d love to have a clean home, from-scratch meals, gorgeous gardens, perfectly 100% respectful kids,a full and rewarding life of volunteer service, a daily yoga practice complete with armstands, and be able to run a 21-minute 5k, it just isn’t all going to happen. If I convince myself that I can “have it all” I will be disappointed in the end. Instead, when I grok that I can only do some of those things some of the time, I can be content at the end of the day.

  2. It is true. I realized once having kids that I only have so many hours a day. Before I was constantly trying new things, while still having time to do my old favorites. Now, I take my “free time” and focus on the one or two things I really enjoy. And it’s actually really nice. I appreciate it more.

    Also, in regards to kids, I really don’t know how they end up potty trained. I’ve been attempting it since Friday and maybe this is one of those things that just can’t be done!

  3. Yeah it’s true that we can’t do anything what what we want.I think it’s not good to say to kids that they can’t do anything they wanted it ‘s the same as we limit their abilities and skills.Maybe the exact word to say is that “we can do what we want but not all we can succeed. There is always a reason why we can and can’t do that things.

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  4. Totally disagree. ‘ You can do anything you want, particularly if put in the time and effort’ is one of the most important and liberating messages we can give our children. They still have the chance to become an Olympic swimmer IF they want to and they need to know that!!!

    ~Kate~

    • Sure, there’s a chance, and I’m definitely not talking about those amazing times we experience all the time as a parent when we see our kids blowing our minds with what they accomplish. Our kids can do above and beyond what we often imagine for them. For sure.

      But I don’t think they can do anything they want, even with time and effort. No one’s made that way. And that’s totally okay—more than okay, really. :) We’re all made to do, be, and create an incredible amount, so I’m not talking about settling, or not rising above expectations, or anything like that.

      I’m talking about the pressure we (often accidentally) put on ourselves to try and do EVERYTHING we want to do, to by in to the notion that just because we want to do something, we can. For this week’s benediction here, I’m simply saying we are free to live within our limitations, and to even celebrate them.

    • I believe everyone is born with unique strengths and talents and that we should encourage our children to use their strengths. People face racial discrimination, physical/developmental disabilities, mental and physical health issues, etc that can create barriers in life. To tell a child that he/she and every other person in the world can be or do anything they want could cause that child to have unrealistice expectations for himself/herself AND the people around them. I do not want my children to set goals for themselves that they will be unable to reach and then have them believe that it is only because they did not try hard enough. I also do not want me children to look at people living in poverty and not have compassion because “everyone can be whatever they want if they just try hard”.

  5. avatar
    Lizelle says:

    I love your Monday morning posts – such a great way to start the week! Thanks :)

  6. So true. I’ve definitely loved the freedom of learning to be more true to myself and my own strengths as I’ve got older (the wisdom of the 30s!).

    And I agree that we can teach children to learn to uncover and play to their strengths, rather than lead them up the garden path with something that they’ll never truly excel in. If they find something fun, then I see no problem in them exploring a pursuit, but if it’s an uphill battle, better they explore something else, until they can tap into that thing that really makes their heart sing.

    I too love your Monday posts, thanks Tsh :)

  7. avatar
    Amanda S. says:

    Thank you, Tsh, I needed to hear/be reminded of this. So many times I focus on the things I am not good at instead of valuing the things I am gifted in.

  8. I tell my kids they can do and be anything that they are willing to work towards. Of course that doesn’t hold true if they’re hoping to be six feet tall—it’s just not in their gene pool. As for me, I’ve learned to embrace my limitations and celebrate the areas where I shine. Otherwise, I would go absolutely mad.

  9. So true… for small and big things alike… and life choices. This is something I’ve reflected a lot on over the last few years. I wonder if the times I feel like a failure stem from being told over and over and over “You can do/be/go wherever you want.” Always nice to hear an echo of our own thoughts from someone else. I suppose much better words of advice would sound more like “Be the best you YOU can be”. Three decades in, I’m not sure WHO that person is (for me) but I’m working on it… or at least thinking about it! :P

  10. Good words, Tsh! After a few days away, there are 500 directions I could go in this morning. I’m going to stick with the stuff I know best. :)

  11. I remember the exact moment in college when that reality hit me. I was overseas and trying to do an obstacle course, combined with mind/logic activities as part of a team-building week with fellow students. I didn’t win any of the logic games, and I barely completed the obstacle courses. Up until that week, I thought that I was the smartest in the group and that I could truly conquer the course if I worked hard enough. Turns out neither was true. That was very difficult to swallow and made for some serious reflection.

  12. avatar
    Veronica Hoenecke says:

    Love this post! I Have been thinking the exact same thing lately, word by word… Except I did became a Chemist. I knew from my first college chemistry class that I didn’t like the career. It didn’t stop there, I went and got a MS in Chemistry, truly a lot of effort for something that is not my passion. It reminds me of a great freakonomics podcast – The Upside of Quitting. As a society we put to much pressure in ourselves to be the best at everything, which drove me crazy from the first 34 years of my life (I am 34 and a couple of months). Thanks for the timely reminder!

    http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-upside-of-quitting/

  13. I’m with KateT on this one! I think telling anyone ‘you CAN’T do this’ is just a limitation we are placing on them. Who are we to say what someone will be able to accomplish. I think we CAN do anything we want, provided we think it’s possible. Maybe we can’t be an award-winning photo journalist WHILE being an Olympic swimmer, and maybe there are things that we can do that require a lot less effort than other things. There are also uplifting stories every day about people who have beats odds and done the unthinkable. Imagine what would have happened if they believed

  14. The thing about having limits on time and energy (and other things) is that we are compelled to pick the BEST things to focus on- to prioritize. :)

  15. I have some health issues, and for me it’s like what the Bible says about ‘everything is permissible but not everything is good for you’.
    I may be able to do a lot of things, but they’ll bite me back in the end.

  16. Truth. My husband went to USAFA with the intention of becoming a fighter pilot. He did everything right – got excellent grades in high school, studied hard for stellar SAT scores, and aced his classes once he got there.

    Then came astigmatism – something he couldn’t control. They told him he would likely end up in aircraft maintenance. That news led to us meeting and starting our family, so he’s more than fine with how things turned out. But of course he’ll always wonder what might have been.

  17. I find that we humans often have trouble understanding and accepting there’s an end in everything: what we can do, where we can reach, when we will be… The fear of not being able, of not reaching, stalls us many times. Your advice sounds like a door opening to accept that no, we can’t do everything, but that doesn’t make us less, the same way we won’t live forever, but that doesn’t mean that living is not worth it.

    Thanks for sharing this thought!

  18. Awesome thoughts!

    Last year during the Olympics, my husband and I had this very discussion!

  19. Well spoken! We’ve told our kids the same message, even though it is not politically correct. We want them to use their God-given strengths and talents, especially when making plans for their futures.

  20. Very important message in terms of understanding how setting limits allows us to excell. I wrote about this in a blog post here:
    http://fitfamilytogether.com/healthy-home-biz/limit-yourself-setting-limits-so-you-can-grow-and-excel

    That being said, I don’t think the criteria is only based on our strengths. I watch my son who is clever have a tough time in math because he doesn’t have the discipline his older sister has. And she isn’t so good at math naturally, but gets better grades in tough courses because she can focus and get to work.

    The key is focus, determination and a little dose of realism (not too big!) Plenty of outstanding success stories are people who were told they’d never succeed in the area they were passionate about. But despite their lack of “natural abilities” they pushed through it, worked harder than all the “talented” crew and developed skills that only come through practice practice and intensity.

    It’s about making choices on where you want to put your effort – because you can have it all (in your chosen areas) – just not all of everything!

    • “Plenty of outstanding success stories are people who were told they’d never succeed in the area they were passionate about. But despite their lack of “natural abilities” they pushed through it, worked harder than all the “talented” crew and developed skills that only come through practice practice and intensity.”

      Yep, totally!

  21. I like this post. I try to teach my kids that they can try to be or do anything but sometimes it just doesn’t work out and that’s okay. We learn so many lessons through our failures!

  22. Tsh, you’re a wise woman. :)

  23. It’s good to be reminded that it’s okay that we we can’t do everything. Often we look at those limitations and see them as failures. Thank you for the reminder and motivation.

  24. Thank you!

  25. Tsh, I always love your posts. Accepting our limitations and celebrating our talents are two things that are critical in knowing our authentic selves. Some things we’re good at, some things we’re not. We often focus on improving what we’re not good at in order to meet the expectations of other people. Case in point: I’m not a good gardener. My vegetables fail miserably. Every surrounding neighbor has a vegetable plot. Growing backyard gardens is big stuff in our area. This year I questioned, “Why am I spending so much energy on something I’m not good at and frankly, don’t enjoy at all?” If it were my passion, that would be a different story, of course. But this year, it’s out with the veggies and in with the native wildfowers. Little maintenance, lovely beauty, and much more enjoyable for me. That I’ve taken the step to embrace my lack of gardening abilities has provided a nice little measure of freedom. Makes me smile.

    • Yes with the gardening! I’m in my mid-thirties, and I’ve yet to turn my black thumb to green. Instead, I support local farmers. :)

  26. Oh. Yes. I agree and needed this permission to focus on what I know best. As a mom of two littles under three, I feel pulled in a lot of directions (for the kids! for me! for the house!) and all of them are good and best but not good and best for me.
    I can’t do everything. I won’t do everything. And I’m learning to be okay with that. And just enjoy what I CAN do. =)

  27. I don’t find it sad like the other commenter said. I just find it realistic. There are always going to be things you can’t do but others can do. But there are plenty of things that you are good at and are better at then other people.

  28. avatar
    Christina Y. says:

    I love this post, Tsh! I don’t find it sad or depressing, I find it totally real! And I feel it’s very important to be “real” with our children. Teach them to not have such high expectations that they will always feel inadequate, rather to focus on each person’s individual strengths instead of dwelling on each weakness! As my children grow, I notice more and more that being realistic with them creates much less fuss than always sugar coating the truth. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! Thanks, Tsh!

  29. Tsh–thank you for allowing me to give myself grace. It’s reminiscient of a blog post I read years ago, “Loving the mom you are.” I began making an “I Do” & “I Don’t” list. Now where is that list.

    Kamille

  30. Hey! That’s what outsourcing is for

  31. This reminds me of that Rollings Stones song that goes “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might get what you need.” I don’t have to do it all, I have a million things that I WANT to do too! But there are things that my soul NEEDS, and if I am going to be my best self I’ll find a way to get those needs taken care of. Sometimes I write before I do the dishes or fold the laundry. There are not enough hours in the day to get it all done everyday, but there are enough that if I prioritize and manage my time well I can succeed in having a little bit of play mixed in with a lot of work.

  32. Maybe you can do *almost* ANYthing you want, but you certainly can’t do EVERYthing you want. I could go back to the corporate world and earn a lot of money but I couldn’t do that and still homeschool my kids. I could eat all those muffins that are tempting me but I can’t do that AND stick to my current eating plan. Priorities play a big part in this issue.

  33. Thank you for that – I DO feel liberated!! I totally agree that we need to work with our strengths and therefore accomplish and succeed in a lot more than we would’ve done otherwise. :)

  34. What a liberating reminder! I am a busy mom and wife who loves to play, work, garden, paint, explore and create… unfortunately I also have MS with mounting disabilities. I cannot do everything I want, plan, or used to do, and “should” do. Try as I might I can do so much less each day. This can be rather disheartening and isolating. Thanks for the encouragement to thrive where I am able:)

  35. Yes! I can’t do anything and everything–but the truth is, I don’t even WANT to do everything. I want to do a few things well and deeply, some things proficiently, and others not at all.

    I think we’re all happier doing the things we’re meant to do, not trying to do *all the things.* Or at least I am.

  36. I find this is much easier to see in my friends and those admire, than in myself. It’s easy to think: well of course she doesn’t or can’t do a few things, but that doesn’t matter look at all the wonderful things she CAN do! I find that I tend to enjoy my friends’ (and bloggers I read) gifts and find their limitations comforting. (They can’t actually do it all, what a relief.) But for some reason I don’t imagine that people see me in that same way. I see my limitations as something not that gives people comfort that we’re all human together, but as something that will disappoint them. But I need to remember that isn’t true. Our limits can be a gift. It is a liberating thought!

  37. avatar
    Christina says:

    some good points in the post. I think that some of it is particularly applicable to moms who might want/feel pressure to do *everything*.

    but I have actually always liked the philosophy that you can do anything if you want. (I recognize that that doesn’t mean you can do everything you want at the same time.) although,perhaps, the way I understand it is more like: you never know what you can accomplish unless you try. because one of my least favorite things is when people just give up. when they don’t even bother to try, because they say oh, I can’t. I’ll never be able to do that. why bother. I’m hopeless. some people out there do use limitations to beat kids (or adults down)…(by the way, I’m not in any way suggesting that your post has that attitude! just that it exists out in the world. and some people need the balance turned back to the positive.)

    but I love what Sarah at Fit Family Together said “The key is focus, determination and a little dose of realism (not too big!) Plenty of outstanding success stories are people who were told they’d never succeed in the area they were passionate about. But despite their lack of “natural abilities” they pushed through it, worked harder than all the “talented” crew and developed skills that only come through practice practice and intensity.”

    and I also see it as meaning there is more than one way to achieve things…maybe you will never be an Olympic swimmer, but if swimming is important to your life, you can still be a *swimmer*. whether through swimming recreationally, coaching others, working at a swim center, lower levels of competition or not, and so on.

  38. I think the intent of most parents when they say, “You can do anything you set your mind to!” is meant as inspiration, as possibility, a push-off point, a promise of what can come with hard work and perseverance. Most of us realize the silliness of saying it as a concrete truth, but I totally get the idea behind liberation when we know that not every choice is ours to make.

  39. avatar
    heather says:

    I love this soo very much!! thank you for the reminder and I might just need to read this post everyday!!

  40. Tsh – I love this and I think it is one of the hardest messages for us to accept in our meritocratic society ~ shouldn’t we be able to do anything we want? Doesn’t hard work always mean we will achieve? It doesn’t. One of my colleagues uses an analogy {he’s a teacher who plays in a band on the weekends, and has been a musician for decades}. He says, “When Paul McCartney plays the guitar, he goes like this.” [pretends to strum a guitar.] “When I play the guitar, I go like this.” [does same motions]. Clearly there’s a difference. We have limitations {in-born or self-imposed or societal or a combination of all three} ~ we need to accept and embrace them, and try our best, even if we don’t reach the Olympics, or run the 5 minute mile, or play guitar like the Beatles. Thanks for the reminder about embracing imperfection and that hard work does not always equal success, but that we can set realistic goals for what we are passionate about.

  41. I agree, it is impossible to do everything and excel in everything. I think, the task of the parents is to respect and encourage their children’s right to choose, not to force them into a matrix. We should allow our kids to search within themselves and discover on their own what nature has given them. And it’s so easy! Don’t lecture them, don’t give them all the answers. Let them work, explore, think, and solve problems instead. Never interrupt their activities when they are focused on something. Create a stimulating, safe, and predictable environment for development and spend as much time with them as you can. That’s how we keep our kids real and focused on their individual strengths. That’s how we raise them healthy, smart, confident, and opinionated.

  42. avatar
    Adriane says:

    Hmmm, yes and no. Neuroplasticity and grit are powerful things.

  43. Great post! I’m a huge believer in not sweating about the things that we can’t do – or perhaps don’t have the time to get to. As parents we’re always multitasking and I find that I relish the time that I can focus on things that I’m good at and things that I really enjoy. On the other hand, I’m always up for a challenge but I don’t stress if I can’t do it or don’t enjoy it.

  44. Dear Tsh,

    I would like to offer you a different perspective on this. I do not have children (yet), but I am sure going to tell them that they CAN do anything they really want to. Let me explain my point of view.

    Ok, as you wrote, you can not BE taller, but you CAN DO get to the shelf you mention, by getting a chair/ladder, or even better – by asking someone else to get it, and then it comes with a bonus kiss, hug, and even a reason to make “thank you” cookies :) And as for the swimming part, the question we should ask ourselves is are we sure that is something we really want to do? Many people proved the whole world to be wrong when saying “you are too old/tall/small/weak etc”. But, priority is what also matters, would you rather put your mind and your time to that goal, or to your family, home, work, this amazing blog of yours?

    As for the right-left brained, I think that by being made as we are, some things come more naturally to us – we might find pleasure in doing things we are naturally better in doing, and we could find great pleasure in that, since it comes as something we were kind of born to do. I have more than a couple of examples around me of people going after some things that were not really natural to them, just to find out during the process that there were some other things they enjoy doing better, so they thanked the opportunity to pursue them instead of those they wanted first.

    Same would go for the 24 hours in a day. At some point in my life, I realized I would rather not do all the things I planned in one day, and it has been a while that I am planning my day in this kind of way, to do something, but to leave time for things like rest and family, and friends. And at one time, I get to finish what has to be done, just not in the same day, and in the process I get to make some wonderful memories, too.

    I think it all comes around in the right time, and yes, we should definitely keep in mind that we are humans, and make mistakes, but only to learn and get to the things we really want to do. So, I think we CAN do anything we want, if we just put our mind to it, the solution to “how” will appear, and after a while we will see if that is really what we want to do, or a better thing will come our way.

    Thank you for this blog, it is so good!
    Have a nice day, love, JJ

  45. Thank you and “why not cause I want to” (accompanied by stamping feet.

  46. Thank you so much for writing this. I really needed to read this at this very time. It has been a very hectic week with sick mum, sick kids and a day in the hospital emergency ward. I haven’t been able to do anything that I had planned for this week, in terms of work, studies, kids, and the house. But obviously I just can’t do it all. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. God had another plan for me this week. May God reward you for your reminder. Thank you.

  47. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has his own limitations. You need to learn to live with those limitations.

  48. Thanks so much for this-I let out a long sigh reading this. I’m in the beginning weeks of grad school and trying to present with my 5 kiddos during their summer break…I certainly can’t do everything!

  49. LOVE this message!

  50. YES. My parents, especially my mom, always told me exactly your quote, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.” It just isn’t true, and I agree with you that it isn’t sad. It is realistic. But what a hard lesson to learn as a 20 something just out of college…I’m 32 now and feel like I’m just really understand what it means that I can’t do anything and everything.

  51. Well I am 4ft 10 . . .I’m jealous of you tallness! But I do agree with the post and I am trying to raise my son to play to his strengths. Everyone one has a special talent but we don’t all have the same talent

  52. This post is so true! I believe we have to work to our strengths and not focus on our weaknesses.

  53. I’m wondering how these ideas play out through the lens of faith. I’m a firm believer that its in my weaknesses that God’s strength is revealed. And, while in some areas I want to focus on my strengths and play them up, I also don’t want to dismiss my weaknesses. These are areas that God can grow me or by which I can succeed only through His strength. Wondering what thoughts you have on how to acknowledge the weaknesses, but not let them be my focus either?

  54. You’re right though but I have another issue. I can’t do those things which are under control of me. I have great skills regarding my profession, I have much experience while doing things for others but when it comes to myself I can’t do anything about it. I can’t utilize my skills for myself. I don’t why. :(

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