The biggest and most damaging lie we tell our kids is this:

“If you want it bad enough and work really hard, you can achieve anything.”

We all bought into it as kids. Even though life has taught us it’s not true, we still try to sell it to younger generations. It’s the worst kind of lie. True enough to sound inspiring, yet deeply misleading.

You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and actual talent. Luck helps too.


We cannot always achieve what we want because we want it a lot. You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write without a gift for words. Some things can’t be taught. Yet these days, anyone who objects to the lie that hard work alone is always enough is called defeatist — or elitist. I am neither, but I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism became politically incorrect. It’s cruel. It takes people with potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong thing.

When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up whatever because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, it annoys me. I’m a very hard worker, but I’m old enough to know that hard work only takes you so far. I would rather work on something at which I have a chance of succeeding.

Yet we keep hearing the same enticing lie. “Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!” We always read about the successes. What we don’t hear about are the myriad failures, those who tried their hearts out and were defeated. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We ignore real gifts in favor of magical thinking.

Creating a good and satisfying career should be part of everyone’s life plans. First though, we need to figure out what we do well, then focus on it. Hone talent and build a future that works. We need to help our kids do the same. Then network like mad and hope to get the Big Break because the wild card in the mix is always Lady Luck.

Don’t buy a lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be the best they can be. Help them succeed.

Categories: Education, Ethics and Philosophy, Life, Writing

Tags: , , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. I sadly agree. Just because you have desire doesn’t make you perfect for that “world” whether it’s playing piano, singing, painting. Plus beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if others don’t see the intent or beauty, it’s left for you to enjoy.


  2. I agree, but if one is doing something because he/she just loves to do it, then success does not matter one way or the other. I have found that when I do something I love, life follows suit and gives me what I need. Success or failure should never mark the end result. There is a beauty in effort that is motivated by the mere love of doing.


  3. Agreed, that why I think that as children we should be exposed to many skill building activities, so that we have these skill sets for when we decide what we want to do in life. A child can learn almost anything, and then they have time to develop what they have learned if they like it. Great article 🙂


  4. This is wonderful! I can not tell you how much I detest idealism. When someone shows me a perfect world, I’ll become an idealist. Until then, like you, I’ll just be keeping it real…


    • Generally, I think of myself as cynical and I probably am … but I’m also realistic. I don’t know why it’s so out of favor to try to make the best of what really IS rather the forever chasing illusions. I don’t get it.


  5. Excellent post, Marilyn: I do so agree. Time this was said. xxx


    • Thanks. I was thinking about how badly my granddaughter’s education is being handled — and how many times she’s been made to feel like a freak because there are things that she really CAN’T handle. It makes me really mad. Because she’s got a lot of talent but no one (except maybe me and Garry) seems to think to encourage her to use it. She’s always banging her head against the things she can’t do.


  6. Bravo! Well said! In a world where everyone gets a trophy for “trying” (I really hate that) we need more realism in the world.


    • We also need to stop lying to ourselves and our kids. I think this whole magical “you can do anything if you try hard enough” in the end leaves a lot of people feeling like complete failures because they tried as hard as they could, but they didn’t succeed. Maybe if they’d applied their efforts to something they COULD do, it would have been a happier ending.


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