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I Can Be Anything I Want to Be
Yesterday, my mom told me the very words almost every parent is taught not to say; the words that George Washington shoved back into the mouths of the slouched colonists with the threads of the American flag; the words choked on due to the dust left behind by Micheal Jordan’s determined feet; the words that the little engine flattened as he shouted over them “I think I can!”.
My mom told me: “I don’t think that you would be good at that”.
Not, I don’t think you are good at that. She said, I don’t think you would be good at that. That means, never before has she seen me attempt this, and yet, she is already suggesting that I accept my defeat.
When I was in elementary school, my mom used to sign me up for everything. Dancing, singing, soccer, basketball, art, swimming, math team, you name it. If I complained I could not do it, she would squat down and look me in the eyes. “Elizabeth, you can be president if you want to be.” Yet, somewhere along the lines, the list became shorter and bolder, as more activities were thrown behind the locked walls of garbage cans, and others put up on pedestals as trophies. And now, I stand in my dampened soccer jersey, and stare back at the professional soccer players hanging on the walls; at the golden figures of girls preparing to kick a metal soccer ball on top of platforms that read ‘state champions’. But mostly I stare at the participation ribbon from a dance recital hiding in between two Junie B. Jones books on a book shelf that I am preparing to clean off. And I wonder, why did I choose soccer?
If I asked my mom that, she would surely pull out the video of me in my doll size tutu. Where, balancing on one shaking leg, I threaten to topple over and break the statue of the girl stretching next to me, whose only movement is that of her eyes stealing nervous glances at me.
Okay, so maybe I wasn’t the best dancer as a kid. But I fail to understand how my abilities as a four year old can act as any indication for my potential as an adult. At four years old, I wanted to be a teacher. At four years old I loved to bake cookies. At four years old, I used to hide behind the skirt of my mom during parties. Does that mean as an adult, I must be a teacher; that I must be a baker? I showed a natural leaning towards these jobs. Or what about my natural shyness at parties. This leaning caused me to lose socializing experience. Does that mean I must always hide under my mother’s skirt? I better not grow or I won’t fit anymore.
The obvious answer to all of these questions is ‘no’, ‘of course not!’. But then, why is dancing any different? Why does that one decision to pursue soccer over dancing – a decision probably half made due to other factors like carpooling and expenses– label me as the athletic jock for the rest of my life.
I have to be fair. My mom is not basing this opinion solely on my disaster as a child ballerina. At this point in my life, if I were to try dancing again, that statue-like prodigy on my right would have been right on the ground acting as my cushion. But how does my mom expect me to get any better?
This year, a speaker came to my high school, and told us to make a list of our weaknesses and a list of our strengths. He told us to throw out the list of our weaknesses. As ‘we are all individuals with different strengths and weaknesses, we must therefore focus on what makes us strong as individuals, for that is where successes will be found’.
We may be all individuals, but I have legs, and so does little miss statue over there. And therefore, God has given us both some “natural” talent to dance. Einstein said “genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work”. In reality, hard work most likely does not account for nearly that much. But most likely, with hard work, I could at least be 20% successful at dancing. Just because I made the decision to throw out dancing as a four year old does not mean I should never be able to open back up the lid.
People have a tendency to choose the known over the unknown. It’s called the familiarity principle. We have a tendency to pick one sport, one hobby, or even one occupation. We decorate our walls with it; work our schedules around becoming successful at only that one activity. Focus and hard work is necessary to become successful after all. And unconsciously, we label ourselves as the jock, the one with the math brain, the one who is always the life of the party.
I squat down next to the kitchen chair where my mom has gone back to reading the newspaper. She puts down the newspaper and I look at her straight in the eyes. “Mom, I can be anything I want to be”. Yes, I know I am not going to be president. And I probably will never be a “good” dancer either. “But I’m not doing this to be good”, I tell her.” I’m doing this, because I think I can”.