You can achieve anything series – Part 1
A week or so ago, I promised not to write a post that promises that you can achieve anything you put your mind to it. In the comments, Cristy wondered why this belief exists?
I’ve drafted several versions of a post attempting to answer this. At first, I wrote a long response about the history of this belief, going back to immigrant miners, through to my grandparents’ and parents’ generations, and in my lifetime, the arrival of “Girls can do Anything” catchphrase, leading up to this very prevalent idea that we can in fact achieve anything as long as we work hard enough/want it enough/put our minds to it. But I’ve not researched this history enough to hit print, and they’re only my off-the-top-of-my-head theories, so – having mentioned them – I’ll drop that.
Then I jumped straight to its application in the infertility world, and began writing about that, though I’ve decided that should be my next two posts (and I confess to being nervous about posting these). But first, this message doesn't just appear in the infertility world. So here today, I’m back to some wider thoughts about the “you can achieve anything you put your mind to/work hard enough/want it enough” message that is so prevalent in society today. So, as Cristy asked, “Why does this belief exist?”
I think there are several reasons. On any given day, around any given issue, we might be influenced by just one of these, by a combination, or by all of them. You may disagree with these, or maybe you can come up with more. Please, tell me in the comments.
Self-aggrandisement: People who have achieved their dreams or who have broken through the glass ceiling are allowed to talk about this because, supposedly, they know what they’re talking about. But saying, “anyone can achieve anything they put their mind to,” is another way of saying, “look at me, I’m wonderful!” It’s humble bragging, saying that whilst anyone can do it, they were in fact one of the few who was special enough – worthy enough - to actually be able to achieve it. They look at their efforts, and remember how hard it was to achieve what they wanted, how long it took, and how much they wanted this. They want to feel all that hard work was justified, and that it was wholly responsible for the outcome, so they believe that their success was due primarily to their efforts. And of course, because they’ve achieved it, they have been anointed with credibility. They did it, so they must know what they’re talking about, right?
Altrusim: I can see that people who say this, at their best, want to be inspirational, to help others achieve what they’ve achieved. And many of us want them to be inspirational too. So they encourage, and try to spread the word. Do what I did (try hard, believe in it, or simply want it enough) and you too will get success.
Society: Our society’s moral values teach the values of hard work. My father-in-law, having lived through the Great Depression (yes, it severely affected NZ too – America sneezes, and the rest of the world catches cold) and its aftermath, believes that work is the purpose of life, that it gives your life its value, and that working hard is the highest level of virture. So “working hard” and “trying hard” are seen as virtuous attributes in themselves. It seems to me that in society these days, “wanting it enough” seems to be a more recent addition and distortion to this original concept.
Commercial motivations: So we are inundated with the message that success is within our reach if only we do X, Y and Z. We see it in the marketing of products and services – it’s always been there. We see it in the massive growth of the self-help industry. There’s now a lot invested – literally – in the continuation of this message, or its variations. They want, no, need us to believe this. We can achieve what we’ve always wanted if only we buy their products, and use their services, follow their advice, read their books, do what they did. It is all within our grasp. Nothing is out of our reach. It’s our fault if we don’t take the opportunities offered. On a macro-scale, our entire economic systems are based on promoting this message, even if the systems themselves are based on quite the opposite premise. (Though that’s another post/book/endless debate to be had, one that doesn’t belong here.)
Hope: We all want to believe that we could achieve these things though. When we say that “anyone can achieve anything if they want it enough” we are holding out hope that we too can achieve these things. How depressing to think that because of the way we look, or where we were born, or what genitals we have will be more of a predictor of our success and our value to society than our own thoughts and actions. So we eagerly buy into the idea that we can achieve anything we want, if we want it/work hard enough/believe it enough. It’s aspirational, right? And we think that that has to be a good thing.
And so it is in the infertility field, which will be my next post.