“You can be anything you want to be!”

This is a common statement I’ve heard from many well-meaning people concerned about our development – parents, teachers, and friends. I’m sure that these were said with the intention to motivate me, but sometimes these statements can do more harm than good. And perhaps you can relate to it as well.

“Anything someone else can do, I can do better” – this was what my mother drilled into me from young.  It was meant to encourage me, and it did when I was in primary school (7 years old – 12 years old). I was from a neighbourhood school and I wasn’t really bright….yet. In fact, when my mum signed me up for the school bus, the bus driver looked at me and asked my mum if I would recognise the bus! I remember a time when I was studying for my PSLE exams, I broke down from the fear that I wouldn’t be able to get into my desired secondary school. Praise be to God, I was the 2nd top student of the cohort and got into a well-known secondary school – Victoria School.

Once I was there, the playing field was changed, and I could no longer live up to the idea that “Anything someone else can do, I can do better”. The fact that I tried, and failed, actually dealt a mortal blow to my self-esteem. I felt lousy and insufficient, and because of that, it made me avoid challenges rather than confront them. That was really a demonstration of the deficit mindset rather than a growth mindset.

Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want To Be

We make a huge amount of unconscious decisions every day

Many people think that they can pick up any skill and knowledge, change any behaviour, to become anything they want to be. While it is true that we can all pick up basic skills and knowledge, and consciously adjust our behaviours in specific contexts, it is challenging or perhaps nearly impossible to do it universally across all areas of our lives. And if we tried, it could do some damage to our self-esteem.

We have millions of unconscious thoughts every day, but that’s just what I think. A quick search on the internet shows we probably make about 35,000 decisions every single day. That’s an average of 24 decisions per minute! These thought processes are extremely quick, and they occur before you even know it.

So rather than work against these thoughts and processes, it makes more sense to make them work for us. To do that, we need to learn what these naturally recurring patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving are – Gallup calls them our Talents.

It takes a huge amount of energy to rewire the brain

Neurological studies show that there is something called the neuroplasticity of the brain. The brain has the capacity to change over time. It is not the size of the brain, but the neurological connections in the brain that causes us to think and behave the way we do. We start off with billions and billions of neurological connections when we were young, and over time, some of the neurological connections develop and become superb highways, while other neurological connections start to decay from neglect. And soon, when our brain is presented with a stimulus, the neurons in our brains fire off in a very specific sequence that determines our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Although rewiring the neurological connections is possible, it takes huge amounts of energy to do so. That’s one reason why a person can have major personality or behavioral changes when they face a major event in their lives, such as a near-death incident, or the death of a loved one.

How “Being More of Who You Already Are” can lead you to success

John C. Maxwell had this to say about successful people:

“What I’ve discovered is successful people have always positioned themselves well. When you see a successful person, they are successful because what they have done is they have found their strengths zone, and they have found their niche, and they stay right in that sweet spot; and they just work that sweet spot. You’ve never heard anybody that’s been in an interview that’s successful that they came up and said “the secret of my success is that I never discovered what I was good at” or “the secret of my success is that I just worked on my weakness”. No no, they are always working at their strength, they have already discovered what they are good at.”

Remember that when we work at fixing what is bad, we seldom arrive at “excellence”, instead we often arrive at “average” or “mediocre”, or what I usually say, you arrive at “not-bad”.  But that in and of itself isn’t excellence; to arrive at excellence, you have to work at developing your strengths.

If you have not yet discovered what you are good at, perhaps it is time to start now. The Clifton StrengthsFinder is a fantastic starting point if you haven’t already taken it.  You will be surprised at what you’ll find!

About Alex Wong

Alex is a Strengths Enthusiast who is both a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, and a Certified Strategic Strengths Coach. His passion is in helping people grow into the best versions of themselves by appreciating and growing their innate talents. In his spare time, Alex is a hobbyist magician and a volunteer at his church Sunday school. Top 5 StrengthsFinder 2.0 Themes: Empathy, Individualisation, Developer, Strategic, Learner