Says Who?

All the rules are made up.

If you were to sit down, over the course of hours or days or weeks, and make an exhaustive list of all the things you can’t do, you’d probably be wrong about 90% of it.

There are things you can’t do because of the laws of physics. You probably can’t lift a bus or make gold appear in your hand. But when people say, “Oh, I can’t do that,” they’re almost never talking about shooting lasers out of their eyes. They’re talking about goals they think are beyond their reach.

But those walls are made of smoke. You can walk right through them.

There is almost never a hard “can’t.”

I know a friend that loves brain teasers and puzzles, like mazes or crosswords or Sudoku. She’ll spend hours on one, loving every second of the mental exercise. She feels deep satisfaction when she completes one, but she also truly enjoys the process. Then I watched this same person slam her laptop shut in frustration after a mere five minutes of job-hunting. I asked her about the disconnect – why could she spend so long engaged in puzzles happily, but get so frustrated in five minutes of a task like applying for work?

Her answer was enlightening: “Because with the puzzles, I know there’s an answer. I know the solution is there, I just have to find the way to get to it. With ‘real life’ stuff, I don’t know that.”

How true that is! When we know we can do something, how difficult it is doesn’t seem to matter. How much we have to endure to get there isn’t a consequence as long as victory is assured. It’s the prospect that we’ll put in all this effort and time and pain and not get what we’re after that’s demoralizing.

So know this, my dear friend: You can absolutely succeed. I promise it. Just like with Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles, the solution absolutely exists. The puzzles are more complex, but the solution exists. You can know you can succeed – you just have to find the way to get there.

You can.

The path from where you are now to where you want to be is a lot like a maze. We’d like it to be a straight line, but that won’t always happen. But on the other end of the spectrum, we often think it’s just a dead-end wall, but that isn’t true either. The reality is that it’s just like a maze, with twists and turns sometimes, but with a definite path that leads where you want to go.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you see a job you’d really love to have and you think you could do well. But it lists requirements that you don’t meet. So many people will say “I can’t get this job.” That’s you thinking there’s a wall! You didn’t see a straight-line path, so you assumed it was a dead-end when in reality it was just a left turn. There are many paths that can lead to that job. If you don’t meet the requirements they’ve listed, but you still think you could do the job, then you must have a reason for thinking that! Write it down and turn it into a cover letter, and send it to the employer! Take that path down the maze.

You know what’s true about those “requirements?” I alluded to this in the beginning – they’re made up.

Here’s a peek behind the scenes at how these “requirements” get written: Someone in a company decides they have a need for a new employee in a particular role. There is only one true job requirement: “Be good at this job, please.” In an ideal world, they’d love to write a description of what the job is, and then say “Please apply if you would be good at this and make us more money than you cost, thanks.” But in an effort to not read ten thousand applications, they try to filter that down by adding requirements.

Here is a dirty secret: They’re guessing.

Now, these are often educated guesses. But guesses none the less. Theories. They’re looking at their existing team in that role and trying to set requirements that look similar to what their existing team has. If it’s a new role, they’re trying to look at other job listings with the hope that those are accurate (they’re not). They’re adding “safe bets” like a college degree requirement, even though no one could tell you exactly how that’s supposed to improve your performance for half the jobs out there. They’ll put “3-5 years’ experience” even though they have no data to support whether someone with that exact amount of experience is the best fit.

It’s all made up, and you don’t have to treat it like iron laws of physics. I talk a lot about employment examples because that’s my world, but this applies to anything – not asking someone out because they’re “out of your league” or not pursuing a hobby because you don’t think you have the background for it, anything.

Everything in the world that says “you can’t” is a rule made up by someone else, and they haven’t got any more brains than you have. There will be a great many things you want to do where the first option, the straight path, doesn’t work for you. But that’s just the first option! To think that means you can’t do it at all just because you can’t do it the most obvious way – well: says who?

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