By Chris Sandel
So you’re reading an article about how someone has made this big change in their life.
Maybe they went from broke to being a millionaire. Maybe they taught themselves to play an instrument and are now in the Billboard Top 100. Maybe they lost a bunch of weight.
At some point in the article they make the comment, ‘Well, I know that if I can do it, anyone can.’
This comment is meant to make the person appear like any regular human being. They don’t want to come across as arrogant; rather, they believe anyone can do it if they just follow a couple of simple steps. The comment is genuinely meant to be good-natured.
The problem is that most of the time it’s total nonsense. Just because one person has done something, doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else can too.
Let me use myself as an example: In March 2015, I ran the Milan marathon. I had run marathons before — in 2008 and 2009 — but since then, I hadn’t really done any running. (I walk my dog a lot, but this is very different from running 40 kilometres.)
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I signed up for the marathon about 12 weeks before the event. During this time I went for eight training runs — that was it. Most people, when doing a marathon, will do anywhere from two to five runs a week, depending on the schedule they are following. They will normally start this training anywhere from three to six months before the event.
I started my training 12 weeks beforehand, went for one long run per week, and, for a number of the weeks, didn’t go for a run at all.
In Milan on race day, it was unseasonably hot. It was early spring, when temperatures typically average around 10°C. Instead, this day got up to 24°?C. This made it a much tougher race, with water stations being spaced further apart than would be ideal in this kind of heat.
Despite the heat and my lack of training, I ran the marathon in three hours and 38 minutes. For those who know nothing about marathons, most people are very happy to break four hours.
I did the race with four mates — three of them came in around four hours, and one was a bit over five. All had taken the training much more seriously and had done significantly more than I did.
It would be easy at this point to be self-deprecating and say If I can do it, then anyone can.
But I know for a fact that this isn’t true. I’m naturally a good distance runner, and for a period of five years in my 20s I did a lot of running. It is something that comes very easily to me. (Post continues after gallery.)
The issue is that most people don’t recognise the inherent strengths that they actually have — those quirks in their personality, physiology, experiences, or family background — that make certain activities so much easier for them.
When people say ‘If I can do it, then anyone can’, I feel like most of them genuinely believe it. But just because they believe it, doesn’t make it so. In the real world, results vary.
The biggest problem with all this is to do with comparison and expectations.
People’s assessment of how “well” they are doing in a specific area isn’t based on the own mastery or enjoyment of the situation, it’s based on how they stack up against others. We set our expectations of what should happen based on our peers’ experiences and then often feel defeated when we don’t match up.
It’s worth noting that normally if you are reading about someone’s experience in a newspaper or a magazine, it’s because what they have achieved is rare or out of the ordinary. They are the unicorn, not your run-of-the-mill horse.
But it’s then too easy to forget all this, and their exceptional story stops being exceptional and instead becomes what people consider the norm.
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I regularly tell clients that they have to live in the is world instead of the should-be world. There are lots of things that seem easier for others or feel unfair — you don’t get the same results despite the huge amount of effort you put in.
The unfortunate reality is that lots of these hindrances are things you can’t change. Whether you want to accept this, or whether you get angry about it, the situation will remain the same.
We all have areas that we are exceptional in, abilities that very few other people possess, or talents that take very little effort (in comparison to others who struggle with them). Too often these talents go unnoticed or unappreciated; instead, focusing on the mastery of others and being upset that we can’t do it ourselves.
So what’s the remedy? Play to your strengths. Do more of the things you are naturally good at or come easy to you. Run your own race.
For the stuff that is more difficult, recognise that it is more difficult. Find joy in the process and care less about the outcome. Because even if someone is better at something than you, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy doing it just as much.
What ‘inspirational phrase’ do you hate hearing?