Have you ever been told that you will never be what you want to be? That you’re not the right fit, not talented enough, not the right shape, size etc? I know I have and the more I dig the more I find that nearly everyone has as well and usually in their earlier life.
What fascinates me is what defines those who listen and have these opinions dictate their future and those who carry on with pursuing their dreams regardless.
American dancer Misty Copeland is the first African American ballerina to be the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in its 75 year history. A late starter to ballet at 13, Copeland was told by the Ballet Academy at the age of 16 that she would never be a dancer as she had “the wrong body”!
Devastated by this and the consequential shattering of her, seemingly unattainable dream, she quit ballet. Some months later she made the decision to ignore the rejection and chase her dream. Her career in dance and the accolades that follow scroll on for pages. She has recently been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Watch Misty’s journey here…
I was recently made aware of a similar story here in Australia with a gorgeous young girl by the name of Mimi Elashiry. This strikingly beautiful young girl decided, at the age of 16, that she wanted to enter the modeling industry. She approached various modeling agencies only to be told that, yes, she was stunning, but she was way too short and “would never be a model.” At 19, Mimi is now one of Australia’s most successful up and coming models with several media outlets heralding her as the new Elle Macpherson.
When discussing the remarkable prevalence of this issue with my Manager, John Scott, he went on to share his story with me. As a child and young teen John was obsessed with movies, film and all that came with it. He was asked by a teacher one day what he wanted to be when he was older, to which he responded: “I want to work in the film industry”. The teacher promptly responded by stating “That will never happen”. John has since successfully carved out a career in the film and entertainment industry holding senior positions with a myriad of companies such as 20th Century Fox for the past 20 years.
Having had my own experience with this in my late teens I have to confess that, contrary to my nature, I am not one of those who persevered regardless. I succumbed to the opinions and expectation of others, rather than following my true passion; a decision I am still battling with today.
It is easy to put a blanket statement on this and say that for some, being told ‘you can’t’ is a red rag to a bull and for others, well, they simply lack the drive. Although there may be some truth to this, there are also other impacting complexities.
There appear to be four main questions here that need answers.
- What is it that causes some to strive on regardless and countless others to give up on, what they believe to be, their true purpose?
- Why is it we take the naive and often, ill-informed word of another and give it so much weight in light of our own knowledge of ourselves and our true desires?
- What is it that makes those select few the ‘standouts’ after they have made the decision to go against the odds and fight to achieve their dream?
- What gives someone the right to have any say over what someone else can and can’t do with ‘their lives?
Having so many questions has caused me to really delve in deep in order to seek out answers. Firstly, it seems that the desire to fight on regardless depends largely on the amount of respect you have for the person who delivers the limiting comment. In John’s case, for example, he had no respect for the teacher in question, therefore the comment held little weight. In my case, it was my parents who delivered the crushing blow, holding a lot of weight as a consequence. This, in part, answers question number two. Regardless of our independent thinking, we subconsciously accept the opinions of those who we respect as we assume they have our best interests at heart, or, know better than we do when it comes to our lives.
It is at this point that I feel I need to issue a stern warning.
If you’re a parent or in a position of power, be very careful what it is you say regarding your perceived outcomes for another, especially to your own children. Whilst you may believe you have their best interests at heart, you are not filled with the same burning desire or intensity of passion for their dream as they are. Furthermore, if we’re honest, our motivations are not always as saintly as we would like to think they are, especially given today’s brutal societal standards; not just on our kids but on us as parents. Needless to say, we can’t escape the notion that our children are a direct reflection of our parenting. This has a capacity to greatly cloud and perturb our, otherwise, good intentions.
The answer to question three is the most intriguing to me. When I set about researching Misty Copeland, not only did I find a dancer that smashed my previous distaste for ballet but there was something else. Something almost too obvious to actually put my finger on. She stands out! That may seem like a ridiculous statement but it’s not. She was given a dozen reasons as to why she was not the right fit and what she needed to become to be accepted. Instead of changing herself to meet the requirements, she became so good that the institution in question had to adjust their rigid expectations in order to attain her. She is totally uncompromising in her pose, stature and motivation. When I had a closer look at Mimi’s Instagram Account and John, they too possess this quality. Clearly Mimi could not change her height, but ploughed on, making no apology and carving her place in an intensely unforgiving world. John is equally as non-conventional in his role, constantly challenging the status quo and spear-heading independent initiatives in what can be, an incredibly conservative domain.
In short, these three and many others who have attained success against all odds have carved their own path, forever changing and challenging the corporations and institutions in question to smash their own ideals in order to accommodate these irresistible talents. When you watch Misty dance, you become drawn in to a performance that leaves no room for rejection or oversight. This ‘wrong body’ fiercely demands and conquers the stage and is well beyond ignoring.
Finally and of significant importance is the answer to question four. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we have all, at some point, had or have an opinion over what we believe someone is capable of or should or shouldn’t do. It’s what we do with those opinions that is crucial. As mentioned earlier, only the person with the dream can feel the strength of how that burns within them. It is not for us to play God on the outcome of someone’s life and destiny. Sound, rational questioning of someone’s true ambitions is the only requirement when gaining a sense of how they perceive their place in the world. You may sense disaster as someone launches onto their chosen path, but it is in this place, this stumbling ground, that people have their greatest learnings and revelations about who they are and what they are capable of.
So, in a nutshell, don’t say it, don’t listen to it and get out there and go for gold! As Misty aptly states, “I will what I want!”