You Can Be Anything You Want to Be- Sort Of
Image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson

You Can Be Anything You Want to Be- Sort Of

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals

Back before I left Montreal, there was some controversy over an article in the local newspaper.

A former high school principal had written a letter to 2011 high school graduates telling them that they can’t be anything they want to be.

He told them that the idea that they have unlimited potential is a lie and that it’s better for them to be realistic now, accept their limitations and practically assess their choices for the future.

This incited a fury of angry responses (which I find somewhat hypocritical since – as anyone who’s pursued an unconventional path knows – the principal’s attitude is completely representative of the mainstream. Maybe not in theory, but certainly in practice).

Yet I suppose the mainstream world still likes that idealism in encouraging teenagers to dream big. It’s only in your twenties and thirties when you need to “grow up and get realistic” about your career. At 10, the dream of growing up to be a salsa-dancing, trombone-playing Darth Vader is cute. At 30? Unrealistic (except that it’s not).

When You Believe Something is or isn’t Possible, You’re Absolutely Right

The thing that I find most disturbing about this story is that if the principal’s statement – that you can’t be everything you want to be – were accepted, that belief alone could make it true.

Positive or negative thoughts alone don’t determine whether you achieve your goals. It’s action that determines your results. If you take big action, you get big results. And if you take small action, what do you get? Small results.

Here’s the problem:

Who’s going to take big action if they don’t actually believe that their dream is possible? Nobody.

And if someone with influence, like a parent or teacher, comes along and tells you that your dream is NOT possible- that it’s not even in the realm of possibility?

Forget it. If you believe that, then you can bet you won’t have the motivation to take big action to get those big results. After all, what’s the point? It’s not going to work anyway.

And then guess what? Mr. Principal was right.

It’s a Feedback Loop

If you don’t believe the dream you want to achieve is possible, you won’t take big action. If you don’t take big action, you don’t get big results. If you get crappy results, that in turn reinforces your original belief that your dream is impossible.

The cycle continues again and again, with you taking less action each time, till you become jaded and give up altogether.

The Tony Robbins Model

Tony Robbins is the guy who perfected this model. Lets take a look at how he lays it out:


Luckily, the Opposite is Also True

In the same way that negative beliefs bring about lackluster results, positive beliefs induce big action which lead to big results.

Granted, these results may not be precisely what you intended- not the first time around anyway. But something will happen. You’ll get feedback. And with that feedback you can tweak your approach to reflect what you’ve learned, taking more intelligent action the next time around.

And when you do get the results you desired because you took massive action? Well that just reinforces your belief that it’s possible, thus causing you to take bigger action, getting bigger results, etc. etc. A positive feedback loop! Nice.

The Way to Break Free is by Changing Your Beliefs

The law of attraction and all that positive thinking woo woo stuff gets a bad rap. But that’s because it’s never explained as more than a mystical cry to the universe.

Tony’s approach, however, makes a lot of sense.

We already determined that when you’re absolutely certain that you’ll reach your goal, you end up taking big action and getting big results. Sometimes this certainty comes from inspiration, other times desperation (when you can’t afford not to have it work).

But what if you don’t have inspiration or desperation to begin with? What if you’re unsure about whether your dream is possible?

Well, you’ve got to create that positive belief. You need to literally condition your mind to believe that what you want is inevitable. It’s coming. You do this by “experiencing it” in advance.

Conditioning Your Beliefs

There are sports studies that show that mental rehearsal (imagining yourself making that free throw again and again) can be more effective than actual practice.

When you visualize yourself achieving a goal, your body experiences it as though it’s really happening to you. This is incredibly powerful. It means that if you visualize on a regular basis, with enough intensity, you can literally change your potential.


Get clear on what it is you want and visualize those dreams every single day. Hang your goals by your desk. Keep them near by. Imagine them in vivid detail again and again.

This will lead you to take more action, get better results which will then reinforce your belief, leading you to take bigger action, and so on. You’ll soon gain momentum and the whole thing will become easier.

Taking Action

Don’t wait until you’ve got rock solid beliefs to get started. The belief grows once the results begin flooding in. (Again, it’s a feedback loop). Make a plan that involves doing something small and focused every single day.

Condition your mind each day, visualize yourself reaching your goal, and then act. You’ll be amazed by how quickly the things you once considered impossible begin to manifest.

Your Turn

What is a goal that you’re currently working towards? Do you use any visualization techniques to put you in a productive state?


  1. Morgan says:

    The second the word ‘can’t’ is brought into the equation, that puts an immediate negative mindset on the situation and therefore, the person (almost automatically) begins to doubt themselves and inevitably just stop doing whatever it is they were doing or stop dreaming.

    The ways you list above about how to realize your goals is absolutely right. Visualizing and taking steps towards your goal every single day is a must.

    Nothing happens overnight. It’s a constant process of struggle and as you put it, feedback. But in the end, it’ll all be worth it, if you have passion and devotion for your dream.

    Another great piece, Emilie! :)

    • Emilie says:

      Yup, exactly. It takes persistence, mindset and a good solid plan that breaks things down into small manageable steps. Supportive friends/community helps too.

      And I agree, we already have so much internal doubt to battle with, we really don’t need other people adding to that. That’s the reason I try to stay away from nay-sayers as much as possible.

      Thanks for the comment Morgan! Keep rockin’ it.

  2. Cotton Candy says:

    I completely agree that mindset makes a big difference & that people aren’t going to take action if they believe their dream isn’t possible. (I am one of those people. I have loved making art pretty much forever, but I didn’t want to be a starving artist, so I never considered that a possible career choice. Now I know it’s possible to be an artist & not starve. I don’t know if I will try to make my living selling artwork, but my world is brighter knowing that it’s possible.)

    As always, you make a very good point & you have excellent tips on how to take action & achieve goals.

    I know this has nothing to do with your point, but I wanted to point out some of the things he said are not so bad.

    Like “Do the type of work that interests and challenges you, that matches with your talents and strengths, and you will indeed be living your dream and enjoying your work.”

    Or when he says that possessions & material success do not produce lasting happiness. I also like that he acknowledges that college isn’t right for everyone.

    “…the concept that university is a requirement of a successful life has again left many who are not suited for it, or whose inclinations are not geared toward it, feeling second-class.

    No one who contributes to society, does honest work and treats others fairly is anything less than first-class.”

    But yeah, a lot of what he says is negative. I bet you could write a way better graduation speech. ^_^

    Thanks for the reminder that anything is possible.

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, I agree with you. There were some good things about his speech. They just didn’t fit with the point I was making so I ignored them.. :P And that first statement was the one everybody latched on to anyway.

      Interesting about the starving artist stuff. It’s amazing how many artists are still stuck in that mentality. My artist 2.0 article was one of the most viral posts I’ve ever written, which told me there’s a real need for that kind of information. I actually just started working on a big project related to this topic… It’s a long term thing, but I think it’ll be pretty awesome. And definitely a subject that’s close to my heart.

      Thanks for the comment, CC. :)

  3. when i was younger people would tell me anything was possible. I would reply by saying, “Cool! I could throw fireballs then!”

    I was classy!

  4. eliza says:

    I think actually accepting the truth of this post is probably the hardest step. Yes, anything is possible. So no, there really aren’t any excuses for us not to let our minds wander beyond the cubicle (or whatever figurative chains might bind us to whatever we wish we could move beyond) and not go after everything we want.

    If I’d waited until I really believed I could *actually* quit my job and *actually* just pick up and move to Europe (with no *actual* money in my pocket… heh…) I don’t think I’d ever have stepped foot on the plane! In fact, I distinctly remember landing in Paris and thinking, “no wait! Wait I’m not ready to land yet. Is this actually happening?”

    The best part about thinking anything is possible is that by conditioning your mind, you open it to all the possiblilities that are out there. This past year has been nothing like I thought it would be, and inifinitely better than anything I could have hoped for, so here’s to accepting that, really truly, anything is possible :)

    • Emilie says:

      Amazing, Eliza. I love your description of being on the plane. :)

      You’re right, we never truly feel ready for anything that pushes us out of our comfort zone. It’s when people get stuck in preparatory mode, that they become paralyzed. Eventually you just have to leap.

      And you’re completely right about the truth of this post being hard to acknowledge. It’s the reason so many people have violent reactions when they hear that I’m “designing my life” or that I moved to Portland, not for a job or school, but for me. I think that it’s profoundly uncomfortable for a lot of people because it sort of threatens their own sense of learned helplessness.

  5. bonnie says:

    I very much agree with the “feedback loop” concept of this post… in that focusing on your goals and taking action everyday is the way to go. I relate it even more to being in the moment and less about visualization. Simply put, don’t just take action towards the goal – if you have a vision of the person you aspire to be “someday”, make choices to be that person right now. There isn’t any reason that in every day you can’t make big and small choices to think like that “someday” person all the time. If you are a computer geek, it’s like beta testing the next version of yourself. Just roll it out!

    However, I also wanted to mention something about privilege. The reason why a lot of people really are not ok with “the law of attraction” gurus/followers and “the secret” is not just because it’s not explained, it’s because those systems and ways of thinking GROSSLY ignore privilege. And encourage ignoring privilege issues and seeing people as all having equal opportunities, which is prejudicial.

    It’s unfair to pretend that all people have the capacity to better their situation if they were only thinking properly.

    This is just something I like to be mindful of, remembering that there are a lot of life problems and outside oppressions that interfere with our personal feedback loops. So people will come to this and be able to work with it on different levels. It’s not the same for everyone.

    And sometimes when it doesn’t work, it’s not because someone wasn’t putting enough energy towards their goals, because many people give all that they can just to get through the day in desperation, let alone work towards a goal. It’s often because there is a lot stacked against folks. Sometimes we can work hard and overcome, sometimes we need help and our situation to be more fair before any headway can be made.

    (Please note, I really liked your post so I’m not saying it’s ignored here, but I just felt it was worth mentioning).

    • Emilie says:

      Absolutely. I 100% agree. Privilege plays an enormous role in opportunity. But on the other side of things, there are definitely stories of people who came from seriously disadvantaged situations and built extraordinary lives. Tony Robbins himself is one of those people.

      Good point though. It’s always good to keep in mind and be grateful for the fact that we can follow our dreams. Hopefully those dreams involve giving back in some capacity and helping others who are less fortunate. But I think that if you can- if you have the freedom to develop yourself and reach your potential, then you have an obligation to do so. The whole world benefits when you’re doing your greatest, most meaningful work.

      Thanks for your thoughts Bonnie.

      • bonnie says:

        I totally agree re: stories of people who overcame bad + limiting situations. I’m one of those people in some ways and some of my own path was my mindset and being able to take risks, aim high. Some of why it worked was a lot of help from others, some was relative privilege to begin with (my path was easier/had less stacked against me. As I’m sure is the case with Tony Robbins who is an able-bodied, hetero white male.

        I’m also not saying the message should be changed or limited for people in all kinds of situations – being aware of privilege helps (in my experience anyway) to be more inclusive and creative within communities. Providing more resources, ideas and ways to work on achieving goals for people on all different levels! More accessibility + empowerment, regardless of status, opportunity, class, privilege etc.

        I think your message is a powerful one and can be echoed in a lot of the people I admire :) Ultimately it comes down to that sports quote (I think it was Gretzsky, but I could be wrong): “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

        I do think that with no action, no risks – with that kind of average, people become dispirited and give up, so encouraging people to dream big and take active steps is always a good thing.

        • Holli says:

          Just wanted to chime in my agreement, and point out that the very issue of privilege can also keep a person locked up in a career that hate…thinking, “I am making good money and can pay my bills, why hope for more when others have so little?”

          It’s a tricky thing to simply take ownership of oneself and recognize that everyone has the dignity to rise to reach their dreams under their terms.

  6. Whats GOOD, Emile.. :)

    Very concise MODEL! Tony did a banging ass job on that sequence. We all can do what the BUCK we want. All we have to do is change our beliefs. Once we raise our beliefs higher, the rest will follow. If you believe in something strong enough, DUH!!! well, your going to take action, among st other things to live life based upon that kicks-ass belief, Weather (brrrr) your a long lasting lover or a BOOK WORM. Your beliefs is the pinnacle of YOUR greatness!!

  7. Angela says:

    One of the difficulties for me, as someone with several, seemingly inconsistent goals, is that the majority of the goal setting psychology effectively requires us to focus on one singular goal. Achieve it, and with the new confidence, go onto the next. What has paralysed me most is not a lack of confidence in my abilities, but a seeming inability to maintain the focus on one goal. Its as though one week I am absorbed in one goal, the next week its another.

    I have read ‘Refuse to Choose’ about various methods of maintaining multiple goals, but the problem for me is keeping that that mental focus and momentum. Its as though every change in activity stops the momentum and I’m stuck again. This cycle just eats away at confidence because it feels like I never get anywhere with anything.

    I’d like to know whether any of you can identify with this problem, and you approaches to it.

    Thanks. Angela

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