By Barry Maher
If you value yourself more, if you have a higher opinion of yourself, you will probably be able to accomplish more. The positive thinkers are right about that. Only too many of them forget to include the probably. They tell us, you can if you think you can.
At a rubber chicken dinner, a fairly well known positive thinking guru of the Pollyanna school was seated next to rising young corporate executive. Both were scheduled to speak after the meal. While they were eating, the guru explained to his less enlightened companion that—in spite of appearances to the contrary—every man and woman is entirely the master of his or her own fate.
This is something we’d all like to believe. And it seems that the more successful we are, the more we want to believe it. It makes the universe far less capricious and threatening. It makes our place within it far more secure.
It also reinforces our individual merit: “We’re successful because we’re good and we work hard. Luck has nothing to do with it.” Still this particular rising young corporate executive wasn’t convinced.
“You don’t think you’ve made it on your own?” the guru asked in surprise.
“Largely. My own efforts were probably the biggest factor. But I could have been who I am and done everything I did and still have fallen short or even failed. I have to admit there was a bit of luck—a few fortunate accidents along the way.”
“Luck and accident are the failure’s excuse,” the guru insisted.
Unfortunately, being of a somewhat dramatic turn of mind, he waved his arm to emphasize the point. A busboy was passing behind him carrying a tray of water glasses. The guru knocked one right into his own lap—just as the emcee stepped up to the microphone to introduce him. Wet, cold and uncomfortable, he gave his entire presentation standing behind the lectern. Few noticed; still the speech wasn’t up to his normal rousing standards.
Next it was the young executive’s turn to speak. He moved out from behind the podium and stepped in front of the lead table.
“Accidents happen,” he began. He picked up a glass of water and held it up. Tilting it until it was about ready to spill, he held it over the head of the company CEO seated behind the table. The CEO looked up. The audience tittered nervously. Then the executive walked down the length of the table, holding the glass over the heads of each of the confused dignitaries.
“And into every life some rain must fall,” the executive continued. He turned to the audience. Then he slowly poured the water over his own head, drenching himself and his obviously expensive suit. The audience actually gasped, then the gasp yielded to scattered laughter. “But rain is just rain. They say you can drown in a teaspoon full of water. Too often too many of us drown in what may be a bit more than a teaspoon but hardly ever qualifies as an actual flood.”
“So what do you do in a real flood?” the irritated guru called out.
“Swim—just as long and as hard as you can.” The executive smiled. “A little water doesn’t have to be a problem. But pretending to be dry can’t keep you from being all wet.”
Pollyanna positive thinkers say, “You can if you think you can, that you have no limits.” That can work, until you run head first into one of those limits and crash and burn. You get discouraged, lose self-confidence and maybe quit altogether.
You have limits. I have limits. The streets are full of people who are unshakably convinced they can do all manner of delusional and megalomanical things. They can not. Crazy people step off rooftops absolutely certain they can fly. The expression “loony birds” does not come from the fact that they succeed.
“Circumstances?” Napoleon sneered. “What are circumstances? I make circumstances.” And he did. To a certain extent. For a while. Until circumstances and overconfidence unmade him.
You have limits. I have limits. We are human beings, we are limited, we are fallible. That’s reality. Never mind the pat little sayings that try to convince us otherwise.
Here’s my not-so-pat little saying: “We can do far more than we think we can.” It doesn’t have much of a ring to it. It just happens to be true. We have limits but they’re expanding limits: and running up against them can be great practice for expanding them in the future. In all likelihood you’ve never pushed those limits anywhere near as far as they can be pushed. Most of the time, we’re stopped by the limits we impose on ourselves long before we’d ever be stopped by the limits imposed by reality.
I don’t know what your potential is. If you don’t know either, maybe it’s time you should try to find out. With the possible exception of daytime TV, potential is the most useless thing on the planet—if it remains only potential.