People who know me on G+ know I’m always picking holes in those motivational poster type posts that are forever doing the rounds on social media. But why? Am I anti motivation? Far from it. If you’re my friend and you’re embarking on a new career path, or trying a new creative avenue, or attempting a new diet and fitness regime, I’m not going to be saying: forget it, you’ll never pull it off – no, if what you’re trying to do is something I see as positive then I will encourage you.
But the encouragement I offer will only be stuff that I believe to be true. I won’t lie to you just to make you feel better. Not only because I don’t believe in lying, but because I don’t believe that these sort of lies are actually helpful.
You know those posts that say “you can do that thing”, or “follow your dreams”, or “anything is possible if you just believe”? I see those things and think: yeah, right, so a paraplegic could become a ballet dancer if they only put their mind to it? Don’t you realise how utterly cruel it is to wave these kind of lies in front of people who, for no fault of their own, can’t do that thing?
Or that stuff about your limitations being only in your head. People, I hate to break it to you but we’re human and we do actually have some actual limitations. I just re-watched Chicken Run last night and saw those chickens being led to believe that they can fly… until they discover that the supposedly flying rooster didn’t really fly – he was shot out of a cannon.
You’re human, and you don’t have superpowers. You can’t fly. You can’t become invisible. You can’t travel to a different era. (No, really, the Doctor is a fictional character. Sorry about that.) And apart from the general limitations that all human beings have, we each of us have our own individual set. We each have skills and abilities, gifts and talents – and we each have weaknesses too. That’s part of what’s so great about team work (when it’s done right) – each person bringing their own strengths and abilities, and not trying to do everything yourself.
Sure, it’s really good sometimes to push yourself out of your comfort zone and take on a challenge, try something that you’re not even sure you’d be good at – sometimes that’s the road to really cool surprises (I speak from experience here), and sometimes it’s just an opportunity to learn some skills that can be useful for something else. Or to practise coping with failure – that’s also a useful life skill.
So if you’re trying to do something new and I don’t really know if you’re going to be good at it, I’m not going to wave my pompoms and yell “you can do it” – because what if you try and find that you can’t? I don’t want you to feel ashamed if that happens. I don’t want you to feel that failure isn’t an acceptable outcome. I want you to know that having a go at something new can be great and exciting and it can lead to success but it also can end in failure, and that’s ok too. Because you’re only human.
I remember a conversation with a friend way back when I was in my early twenties and the guy I was going out with had talked me into inviting this friend round for dinner. It was a scary thing for me – my cooking experience was very minimal, and I’d never cooked a proper dinner, with main course and side dishes and all that. This friend and I were used to just sharing sandwiches when she came to visit – none of this grown-up stuff!
I remember talking with this friend on the phone and when she heard the panic in my voice she said: it’s ok, I’m your friend, I’ll still be your friend even if you burn the rice.
This meant so much at the time. It helped me to calm down, and the meal was fine – nothing got burned. I’m really glad she gave me honest encouragement, rather than telling me: I know you can do it. Because neither or us had any way of knowing if I could do it or not – not till I tried!
p.s. There is another reason why I get so annoyed with some of those posts – like the one I saw recently, telling people to basically heal themselves emotionally from all the damage that’s been done to them through life. I got annoyed because I think it’s cruel to tell people to do something that isn’t humanly doable – setting them up for failure and disappointment and the shame that comes with failing at something that you’ve been told you should be able to do. And also because I know there is someone who can heal our emotional wounds, and if you’re told you can do it yourself then you’re less likely to turn to him. Which is such a huge waste! You’ve been hurt, and you carry emotional scars? That’s true, to some extent, for most of us. And no, you can’t fix it – but Jesus can.